Sunday, May 27, 2007

What the Prefix, Kenneth?

Contest University had 11 professors and 21 different classes. Each student was limited to about a dozen sessions but the binders distributed had slides and notes from all classes so we could see what we missed. Since I had been assigned all of the classes I had listed as highest priority, it wouldn't do for me to complain about not seeing one session or another, but I confess that there were some I thought would have been fun to see had their been time. One such class was the Basic Contesting taught by Doug Grant (K1DG).
It isn't that I expect to find any dramatic revelations in the class notes. On the contrary, I hope I do not. Instead, I am looking for validation that I am studying the right things, am worried about the right issues, and am honing the right skills. There is value in hearing, "that's right. Keep working on that." For example, the slides provided the results from a survey of the some of the top operators. When asked what factors are likely to improve skills most they replied:
  • Operating at a Multi-Op station (biggest factor)
  • Joining a contest club
  • Going on a DXpedition
  • and Getting on the air between contests
There were other factors weighted as well. Note that Buying a better radio ranked at the bottom of the list. No surprise there.
There were other factors mentioned as important in becoming a better operator. One was Studying old logs and scores. This is just one aspect of improving your logging accuracy, something I know I've harped about in this blog. It does a disservice to everyone if you travel to an interesting place, work a station, then fail to log the contact properly. In a contest such a goof will cost you points; for a DXpedition it will cost the QSL manager time, and possibly a worthy operator a QSL card with all of the hard feelings you might imagine. UBN reports are sometimes available from contest sponsors which report QSOs that are Unique (a valid call sign that nobody else happened to have worked), Bad, or Not-in-log. Seeing where mistakes were made may help prevent future ones.

Not surprisingly, many of the most effective changes you can make to your station is in that area between your ears. Learning the difference between valid and invalid prefixes and call signs, for example, can help eliminate logging errors. In contesting, there are a few stations (and call signs) that are famous. Running across them even if you get a partial copy should trigger instant recognition. Examples include* (from the slides) ZD_Z, G3_XW, TF3_RA, V_1JA, and P_2T. Can you fill in the blanks?
I was ocassionally able to recognize when something rare would pop up in a pile-up while on Montserrat. I was able to work New Caledonia, San Marino, Ascention Island, and Cape Verde because I recognized that the call signs (prefixes) were from an "interesting" place. If I hadn't been aware of this, if I had just continued working the strong stations, I would have likely missed these more rare QSOs.
Believe me: I'm not patting myself on the back here. Though I happened to have spotted these, I now shutter to think of all the ones I missed. I am only now realizing how much work I have to do to really learn and internalize all these prefixes and their associated geography. As I glance through the call sign lists like those found in the Nifty DX Field Reference I am embarassed at the number of prefixes I do not immediately recognize. I'm sensing another software development project in my future. I'm imagining a drill-and-practice program to test me on my call sign and prefix knowledge. Hmmm. In the mean time, I will continue to page through the big binder of slides from CU and try to pick up more tips.

* Answers are ZD8Z, G3SXW, TF3IRA, VO1JA, PJ2T. I confess I knew only half of them. Obviously, I need more study.


Blogger i121171 said...

That is a very interesting post dear Scott. I'm quite curious to know more about the binders distributed. Are they available on Internet in a pdf format ? Could I ask to Doug Grant to have one of them just for my own curiosity ? Thanks a lot.
Maury i1-21171/IZ1CRR

May 28, 2007 2:11 PM  
Blogger NE1RD's Blog said...

Thank you for the note. I do not know if the Contest University organizers will publish their slides. K3LR is probably the person to contact to get these answers.

-- Scott (NE1RD)

May 31, 2007 10:02 AM  

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