Computers and Information.|
The budget contester might wonder if a computer is really a necessity for his station - after all, people have been managing with paper logs and dupe sheets for years. The answer is yes, its a very good idea to go down this route, for a number of reasons. The computer not only looks after the logging and duping, it will also tell you about the multipliers you need, inform you of your operating rate, remind you of pre-arranged skeds, and carry on sending perfect morse hour after hour whilst you eat your sandwiches. At the end of the contest, it produces a correctly-formatted log that you can email off to the organisers and save yourself the price of a stamp, a big envelope and a lot of neat handwriting. You'll even get a reassuring acknowledgement-email to say your log has arrived safely. And because computers are becoming very much the norm, it won't be long before some contests refuse to accept handwritten entries completely.
Do I need the latest model ?
Computers these days are getting very fast and very clever; as you might expect, the price is quite high as well. The good news for the budget contester is that the latest model is definitely not required if all you are interested in is a bit of contest logging and a CQ generator. The majority of contest loggers, including the Irish 'Super Duper' suite of programs by EI5DI will run on a fairly basic machine; in the case of Super Duper a 386 or better, with at least 4Mb of memory. These machines have little commercial value these days and are thrown away all the time - you should have no problems getting hold of a discarded system from a friend, or in my case, a local 'Skip'. (Dumpster.)
If you want to do a little more with a computer than simply logging QSOs, I would suggest a 486 as a minimum system for emailing, and a Pentium 75 or 133Mhz for Internet access. Again, all of these are really very old and you should be able to pick them up for almost nothing. The lack of processing speed compared to the modern systems will not make any difference to a logging program, unless you get above the 4000 QSOs per hour rate !
The selection of a monitor is often determined by what comes with the computer, but if do you have any choice, don't go for one thats too cheap, as these have a low refresh rate and can be a strain to the eyes over long periods. When choosing the monitor position on the operating desk, you should site it so that the top of the monitor is at eye-level when you are seated in your normal chair. Any higher that this and you may get neck-strain after a long contest.
Information-gathering is an important aspect of contesting both before and after the contest. With internet access you can find out all kinds of information, such as contest rules, propagation forecasts, qsl addresses as well as reading the results when they are published or leaving your contest comments on one of the various email-lists or reflectors. A few years ago it was necessary to subscribe to one or more amateur magazines to find out what was going on - now this has all changed to the benefit of the budget contester. I hope you will return something to the world amateur radio community however, in exchange for all of this free information by posting your own website with information about your speciality. You can even get free web-hosting if you are a ham, thanks to the generosity of the people at QSL.Net.