Conditions

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The SKCC for the Intellectually Challenged



The SKCC for the Intellectually Challenged

Introduction

Why am I writing this? Well, in the four plus years that I have belonged to the SKCC, I have picked up quite a few nuggets of information and techniques that have greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the SKCC and CW in general.

Like a lot of new ham operators, I was glad the FCC did away with the code requirement. That was a hurtle I didn't think I could jump and kept me away from getting my license for many years.

Little did I know that after getting my license, I would be spending 99% of my time on CW.

The SKCC web site has a wealth of information Everything you need to know is there, but it can be overwhelming trying to sort it all out. What I hope to do here, is to give a simplified view of the SKCC and how to use all the tools available to enhance the experience.
Here is a link to the main web page: Straight Key Century Club (SKCC)

The SKCC

The SKCC is a group of CW operators who enjoy using mechanical keys to make CW contacts. The goal of the group is to encourage members to make contacts with other members to achieve personal goals and promote the use of CW.
Your skill level is not important, but it does enhance everyone’s enjoyment.
The members and officers are pretty laid back but are very active in their club duties. They are very responsive to any request or issue.
They have a user group here: SKCC User Group

Software and Online tools

Software, I believe, is the key (pun intended) to the SKCC success. What software does best is routine repetitive tedious tasks repeatedly without complaint, something us humans hate to do.
One thing I am not going to do is explain how to use these programs. The old term applies RTFM! If you don't know what that means, Google it. The authors of these programs have spent a lot of time writing the help files. Please read them. Most are searchable and there is always Google or Bing, if you are of that camp. There are also user groups that you can search.
Warning to Windows user: Some of these programs write data into the directory that the software is installed. The windows directories “Program Files” and “Programs Files (x86)” may not allow you to write to these directories. Therefore, you may have to install these programs elsewhere. Mine are at C:\.

SKCC Sked Page

Where to meet people. It is not a spotter page per se, but more of a chat board. Great place to hang out. My SKCC QSOs really took off once I started visiting the sked page. It was a little intimidating at first. I wasn't sure what to do and it took a while to get comfortable. But finally, I relaxed and have made some good friends there.
One approach is to logon but stay “Away”. That way you can see who is there and send them a PM (private message) to request a QSO. New numbers are in great demand, so if you are visible on the sked page, you might get overwhelmed with request and panic, not that I did that..HIHI.



The Sked page is here: SKCC Sked Page. There is a help file here: SKCC Sked Page Help

SKCCLogger by AC2C

Don't let looks deceive you. This is a very powerful logger, especially for SKCC QSOs. The only thing it doesn't do, is to upload logs directly to either LoTW or eQSL.cc. But that is easy to overcome.
Its ability to analyze your logs and detect your goals and generate reports that can be used to earn your goals is outstanding. I have used it exclusively for almost all my SKCC logging needs. It can be also be used for sprints.
The program can be downloaded here SKCCLogger Download
Ron also has a user group here: SKCCLogger User Group

skcc_skimmer by K7MJG

This is a windows console based SKCC member RBN (reverse beacon network) program. No fancy GUI just the info you really need to know. I use this for my regular QSOs and for WES. You can have multiple copies running with different configuration files. This is a real-time update program. That means it periodically updates the members you have sent a “de THEIRCALL”.
For this program, the three things that you should supply to the configuration file are: your call, the location of your log file in adf (example: mylog.adi) format and your grid square. You may also adjust the SPOTTER_RADIUS parameter. I have mine set to 200 miles radius. This gives me about 6 RBN stations that are near to me.
Another interesting feature of this program is if you call CQ, skimmer will report where your call is being heard, regardless of your radius limit. This helps to see if your signal is getting out. It is also a good indication as to how long it takes for the skimmers to decode your call. One thing you might also get from this is how good your sending is. RBNs are software tools connected to radios that listen to CW on the bands. If your sending is not good, then your call will never be decoded. So, practice your sending or you might never be heard.
You can download the program here. SKCC_Skimmer download

VOAProp by G4ILO

GUI for propagation prediction software. Based on Voice Of America propagation prediction software.
This software helps you determine which band may work for a particular station. Though it is not perfect, it will give you a good idea of what bands are good for the time of day.
You can download the program here. VOAProp GUI

SprintLogger by K2RFP

Not a must but I like it for WES and SKS. It can also be used for cwfun events. The reason I like it is because for sprints, I start with a new log and then start skimmer with it pointing to the K2RFP log file. I also run skimmer without reading the sked page see below.
SKED = {
'ENABLED': False, # usually is set to True
'CHECK_SECONDS': 60,
}
This tells me if the calling station is already in my log. Save a lot of time. After the sprint, I import this log into my main SKCCLogger file.
You can download the program here. SprintLogger by K2RFP

Awards

There are many awards that you can achieve with the club. I am only going to talk about what I believe are the top five awards. One thing to note. There is no cross-log checking for awards. I believe this was intentionally done because some people don't like to summit logs or don't like to be bugged by people to submit their logs. Since there is no monetary value associated with SKCC awards, it was felt the honor system was good enough. (IMHO)

Centurion

The easiest, but the most critical. Why? Because a lot of members never reach this first goal. They may have joined the club for reasons other than awards. Myself, I was looking for help learning CW. I never really paid attention to goals, was not interested.
It was a follow ham that I used to talk to on 2 meters that got me interested in chasing some of these awards, Matt AA1JD. He would talk about the SKCC and some of the events and so I decided to try and get some of these awards. Once I got into it and started figuring out some of the tools available, I was in all the way. Matt was first on my list for Centurion.
Some things you might want to think about. If you are calling an unspecified CQ and are using an electronic keyer, please also have a mechanical key hooked up. Why? If a SKCC member responds to your CQ, he would like to exchange numbers. That means you will have to do the exchange with a mechanical key. If you do not have one connected, you can't do the exchange. Also, if you are looking for SKCC members please call CQ SKCC. It really helps other members who may want to exchange numbers, but are not sure that you will do that. Also, it wouldn't hurt to give your number for any exchange, providing you are using a mechanical key, e.g. “MY SKCC NR <YOUR_NUMBER>. The other operator may not know about the SKCC and he might ask you about it. Never hurts to advertise.

Tribune(s)

These awards are a little confusing and daunting, at least to me they were. However, once I understood what each level meant, it was a piece of cake. Well, maybe not that easy. Mark, K7MJG, has a very easy to understand chart that explains all levels from Centurion to Senator.
The basic Tribune award requires you to make 50 unique number exchanges with Centurions, Tribunes or Senators since the date of your Centurion award. However, if you want to achieve a Senator award, you need another 350 unique number exchanges with Centurions, Tribunes or Senators. This is quite a lot so breaking it into 8 - 50 QSO blocks seems like a good idea. At least you have manageable goals and other members can see your progress with the SKCC_skimmer program.
You can view Marks chart here. Award Chart

Senator

THIS IS NOT THE END! You are almost there! The hard part is over. Getting that last number for Tx8 was a tough one for sure. Enjoy this part. Getting your Senator will be a walk in the park compared to reaching Tx8. Remember you start over with contacts. So, any T or S station you QSOed with to get your Tx8, can now be QSOed with again to get your S.
But don't let it end here. All too often hams reach the Senator level and just go away. Why? IDK. I guess they were looking for a challenge and are now on to other things. Who knows. The more members who are active, the easier it is for others to reach their goals. We do have some members who are Sx5 so keep at it.

WAS

There are four primary WAS awards WAS, WAS-C, WAS-T and WAS-S. Please see the explanation of each of these awards on the SKCC web page.
Since this is a relatively new and small club and reaching Senator is not easy, not all states have Senators yet. In fact I was the first Senator in Vermont and only got that in Jan of 2016, so not quite two years ago. North Dakota, for example, doesn't have any Senators. But the good news is portable operation is permitted so a Senator from one state can travel to a state that doesn't have a Senator and exchange numbers for people to get their WAS-S award.

PFX

Prefix award where the SKCC number of the prefix is added to the prefix score. The interesting thing about this award is if the SKCC number of a station you work is greater than the number of a previous prefix you work, you get to add the difference between the two numbers to your score.

Activities

There are several monthly activities and one yearly activity. These activities are a great way to get more new numbers for awards. I usually get quite a few numbers that I need for awards participating in these activities. None of the sprints permit WARC bands. I am not going to go into a lot of detail here. The web site has all the info you need to operate these activities.

SKS

Two-hour sprint. Always held at the same time every month. Much like other sprints.


SKS-E

This is a special sprint that is more EU friendly. But NA participation is allowed. Also has some accommodations for QRS operators.

WES

My favorite, the Week End Sprint. This is a 36-hour event, of which you are only supposed to work 24 hours. I like the “work a few then take a break” aspects of this sprint.

K3Y Anniversary event (not a contest)

This is a month-long event held every January. This is the only event where all Ham bands, including WARC bands are permitted. The goal is to fill in as many K3Y/X band slots as possible. One thing to note here: Try to get as many DX K3Y as soon as possible. It turns out there may not be DX K3Ys for the whole month so get them while you can. I missed out on SA last year because very few SA stations were on late in the month. Those that were, were on late (after 00:00 UTC) and only on 20 meters. Which from my QTH in VT, made it impossible to get a contact.

SKN

Monthly SKN is truly the reason the SKCC exists. However, over the years it has become less important since all the other activities seem to generate quite a bit of CW on the air.
First night of every month. Not much is said on the web site about it. I assume it uses the same rules as the ARRL SKN. No logs or QSO counts are submitted.

Brags

A monthly - month long “event”. Contacts with other members not included in other events and not yet QSOs with that month.
I try to work at least 3 brags a day. Doesn't always happen, but I manage usually get between 50 and 100 brags a month.

Final Comments

The SKCC is not for everyone, but it seems to fit my personality. I always felt that there should be some objective to obtain or some skill to be mastered. The SKCC seems to provide me with both.
As of December 31, 2017, there are over 18,000 members. Granted not all members are active, but enough are active that you can always find a member on the air almost any time and almost any band.
There are many other clubs that emphasize other aspects of CW. Each are very good at what they try to accomplish.
I hope these few pages will be of use to others and come join the fun of CW.


7 comments:

  1. Great Blog, Dave! I don't usually read personal blogs, but I did yours, and I really liked it. I even learned a thing or two here (hi hi). I will refer back from time to time.
    Curt WA2JSG 3018S NJ

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  2. Hi David,
    May I post a link to this on my Blog: KA5DWI Propagation Studies.
    Nice write up.

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    Replies
    1. Art feel free to do so. This is a public Blog and the more links to it, the more it shows up in searches

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  3. Enjoyed reading your blog. Nice concise write-up about SKCC. Great club to be a member of for a CW enthusiast. 73 Karen W4KRN VA 4495S

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    Replies
    1. Karen,

      Thank you very much. Sorry it took so long to to add this comment. I am still figuring out how it all works. It appears I net to approve comments before they are visible on the blog.

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  4. Note: I forgot the SKS can not use any spotting networks. So I removed the reference to it in the skcc_skimmer description.
    Thanks for catching this Jay W8ES

    ReplyDelete