What happens when you drink coffee? You have a hard time sleeping, right? Have you ever wondered why you have trouble getting a "quality" nap the afternoon before a 48 hour contest? For me it's that morning coffee. After I stopped the Friday habit, I was able to physically prepare for the contest in a much improved way. Save the coffee for 0000Z that evening - - you'll be amazed at the results!
I'm amazed at the number of top notch CW contesters who can't copy conversational code. Sure, you can fire a call sign and exchange to them at 50 WPM, but don't dare ask what antenna they're using. In my book, code speed is more than ceremonial; it's one of the many factors that separate champions from everyone else. Never give up on improving your ability to copy QRQ CW. Finally, there's something that we learned from the 1980s that's worth remembering: faster IS better!
It may seem obvious, but labeling items in your shack such as antennas, amplifier settings, relays, etc. is a must! If you haven't taken the time, revisit this area of shack housekeeping. Many station owners also label their coax feeds, and/or rotator and control lines as well. It just may prevent a catastrophic failure when you get serious in this fall's contest season.
Practice curing yourself of the bad habit of writing down callsigns/exchange information on scrap paper while operating. This adds unnecessary overhead to your operating style and has become especially pointless with the advent of computer logging. The best way to reduce your "paper-dependence" is to simply eliminate any access to note paper altogether. Remember: if you want to walk, you got to get rid of your crutch! (tnx K1ZX)
Take a standard mouse pad and punch or drill holes in the pad to correspond with the three feet of your keyer's paddle. The paddle feet are now touching the table top, so the height of the plastic your fingers touch is correct. However, you now have a giant surface area of rubber designed not to slide, holding the paddle in place (tnx K1VR).
Keep a few prepackaged CRT wipes handy during a contest. Looking at a dirty computer screen for 48 hours can be very distracting as well as creating unnecessary eyestrain. You'll find them at K-Mart and most good office supply stores (tnx AA3JU).
The months of August and September are filled with great warm-up contests for the fall season. Check out the contest calendar and get involved. One way to add "db" to your signal is to get your callsign in the minds of others. How do you do that? Get radio active--today!
OK, not everyone has the circumstances that allow for 3 towers with stacked yagis on all bands at your station. There are more reasonable things that any contest station owner can do that don't require megabucks. And, with the contest season rapidly approaching, now is the time to implement! Consider your station from an antenna switching, external noise filtering, band changing perspective. Pay attention to some of the construction/configuration ideas being promoted in sources such as CQ Contest, the NCJ, or the Contest Reflector. There are literally dozens of low-cost improvements that you can make to your station that will improve your scores. Be aggressive; check 'em out!
Are you continuously frustrated by your paddle moving about your operating desk? Now, I don't mean the kind of "virtual" movement that occurs after 48 hours of non-stop contesting, but the type that happens while you're trying to send "Mississippi." One friend recently suggested that you take a quality mouse pad and drill holes that align with the feet on your paddle. Not only will it provide a more comfortable operating position, it will hold that paddle exactly where it belongs!
It seems that country prefixes are constantly changing. I still don't have all of the former Soviet republics completely figured out. Take a few minutes and review the latest country lists. It may direct your calling patterns in the next contest. Nothing is worse than calling a station for 10 minutes to eventually realize that it's not a new country. The opposite scenario (a.k.a. "lost opportunity") is even worse!
If you're like me, there are probably dozens of little problems in your shack. Here's a few examples: burned out lamps on your 930, Tailtwister control box, and amp, an intermittent coax switch position, torn headphone pads, a sticky "A" on your keyboard. Like most procrastinators, after you fix these things (usually in minutes), you say: "Why didn't I do that 2 years ago?" Well, fixing the small problems in your contest shack won't make you a better operator, but it will make your comfort level rise; and so will your scores. Get out that soldering gun. Are you up to the challenge?
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