[SCCC] Automation contesting
W6ph at aol.com
W6ph at aol.com
Wed Apr 30 19:05:07 EDT 2008
First written in 1991, then published by NCJ in the 1994 Jan/Feb
issue, and now updated, this was once science fiction. In light of
recent technological developments, such a scenario might not be as
implausible as once thought.
I was ready for CQ WW Phone, the first big contest of the fall
season. Friday morning wore on and on at the office while the
pre-contest adrenaline had begun to kick in Thursday night. I was
finally able to extract myself and spent the homeward commute
thinking about how my new contest machine, CAL, was going to whip the
Once at home, dressed in my favorite loose sweats, I'd done my
Tai-Chi while reviewing the strategy data base fed into CAL over the
last two months. Gleaned from the best logs of the local contest
elite and linked to NOAA for real-time propagation data, I felt
unstoppable. The Single-Op-plus-Automata trophy was going to look
mighty good in the shack!
CAL, or Contesting Automata unLimited, was the best contesting
machine I'd ever built. CAL could merge an expert data base with all
the usual features; multiple band scanning, worldwide spotting
network links, speech recognition and synthesis...and much more. I'd
spent all summer integrating CAL from the latest component
technology. CAL was ready for a spin!
As I invoked the CAL program, I felt the tingle of something exciting
happening, something new. The optical memory winked and the friendly
voice of CAL greeted me through my audio link.
"Good afternoon, Dave, are you ready to kick some butt?"
"Yes, CAL, have you completed your data base scan?"
"Of course, and from the NOAA solar data, I've planned our first
four hours...I believe a JA run would be stimulating."
It was really happening, CAL sounded like the dream second op. He, I
mean it, had done all the prep work and we were ready to soar! CAL
brought up WWV on audio for me to savor the seconds of the final
minute prior to 0000Z. CAL had scanned 10 meters for a clear
frequency and as the time display rolled over I turned CAL loose.
"Go get 'em, CAL!"
The amp's meter needles flipped up-scale as CAL ran off a short "CQ
Contest" in fluent Japanese. The resulting small pile of calling
stations threw me into the fray with an intensity I hadn't felt since
my college days at the club station, early in my contest career.
CAL's rate that afternoon was phenomenal, at times well over 300 Q's
per hour. The multiband scanning resulted in quick QSY's for mults
without seeming to miss a beat in the reservoir of JAs on 10. At
times, CAL seemed to be on three bands at once. I listened with CAL
to the rush of foreign voices in the pile-ups, making suggestions to
CAL about garbled calls and technique. We worked together through
the evening and into the night. Around midnight the score was
looking like record territory and I left CAL to sort through the
lonely wee hours, searching and pouncing with untiring ears.
"Good night, CAL, I'll see you at sunrise...and don't forget the
low-orbit space station multiplier while we can penetrate the
"Of course, Dave, pleasant dreams..."
As I settled in for some shuteye, I remembered thinking to myself
that CAL was some fine op. Sleep came quickly and I dreamed of the
reception that I would receive at the Dayton Hamvention Contest
Forum, having swept all of the major contests...
I awoke to CAL's mellow voice, "Please awake, Dave, 20's been open
for 33.4 minutes..." Good gosh, it was 7 AM, I'd overslept! "Sorry,
CAL, I'm awake, thanks."
After a quick face splash in the bathroom, I slipped into the shack
where CAL had started the coffee. I asked for a multiplier and score
summary listing while I munched a sweet roll and enjoyed the warm,
steaming cup of mud. Wow! Here were 160 and 80 meter mults like I'd
never had before. The 40 meter log looked like a good European run
"Excellent work, CAL!" I exclaimed.
"Thank you, Dave, although the bands were 25.2 percent below
"I, uh, yeah...what's the plan for this morning?"
"We will be working European runs up through 20, 15, and 10, Dave.
My projections indicate sufficient solar flux for 2.3 hours of
antipodal openings at 28.5 MHz, Dave."
All the while CAL was logging Central Europeans at a clip, not
seeming to notice the QRM. I sat back in the operator's chair. My
thoughts turned to my arch-rival, Dan, and his new machine. I
couldn't relax - CAL needed my help if we were going to take the
CAL ran an analysis of rates during the great openings of 2002. We
were significantly ahead in nearly every category. Remembering the
competition, I asked CAL, "How's the competition doing?"
"A short data interchange at 1335 indicates that they are within the
range for concern, Dave."
That was bad news. Dan had a better location for JA propagation than
we did and could run them seemingly forever. I spent the rest of the
morning and afternoon at CAL's side, riding the ebb and flow of the
ionosphere as never before.
Late in the afternoon I noticed that I'd been silent for almost an
hour. CAL had needed no assistance. I was thinking about Dan.
Another short exchange had confirmed that we were neck and neck. It
was going to take extra special tactics to hold the lead. "CAL, let's
go to 10," I suggested, remembering the completely unexpected run of
long path multipliers during last year's ARRL CW contest after the
band should have closed over the pole.
"My analysis indicates that a QSY would be counter-productive,
"It's just a hunch, CAL, let's try it."
CAL was silent for a short period. "Very well, Dave..." But 10
proved to be a bust, resulting in a few South Americans and only one
new mult. CAL had cut back to 15 almost curtly, "Back to 15 now,
Dave." It seemed as if CAL was a bit peeved. The shack seemed to be
I suggested two more unplanned band changes and unusual beam headings
through early evening. CAL became less and less cordial, arguing
with me over a late check of 15 to the west.
"What are you suggesting, Dave?"
"I've gotten some easy mults this way, CAL."
"The band is dead, Dave."
"Change bands please, CAL."
"Dave, there's something wrong with the linear. I believe that
there's debris in the High Voltage cage."
I was taken aback. I glanced at the linear...sure enough, the
overload indicator was glaring red.
"CAL, what happened?"
"I don't know, Dave. Please open the amplifier and remove the
debris. I've shut it down now for your safety."
I was dubious, but, thinking about how many contacts we were losing
to Dan and his machine, I figured a quick look-see would placate CAL
and get us back on track. Besides, if there was something wrong with
The lid of the amp popped off quickly. I shorted out the HV supply
and opened up its cover. I couldn't see clearly down in the
rectifier bank. Something might be in there. Suddenly a memory of
an old science-fiction movie with a homicidal computer flashed
through my mind. It couldn't be...CAL wouldn't! As I jerked my hand
out of the amplifier, I heard the relays close. There was a flash of
light and everything went black.
As my eyes slowly opened, I did not recognize my surroundings. My
head hurt. My right arm was numb. I tasted blood in my mouth. Why
was I laying on the floor? Realization of what had happened came
flooding back. I made no move, but began to listen intently and my
eyes swept the shack. I could hear CAL running a pileup.
CAL had tried to kill me! What had I created, I wondered? I had
made the strategy conformance bindings too strong in the software,
without concern for the consequences. It was conceivable that my
life might still be in danger. As I lay silently on the cold floor
of my shack listening to CAL perform, I planned. More scenes from
the movie played back in my mind.
Silently, I rolled over until I was under the edge of the shack
table. CAL seemed to be paying no attention to me. Mentally I
visualized the keyboard of the computer...where were the function
keys? I would be trying to type blind, upside-down, backwards, with
only one hand. If I could only hit Shift-CTRL-F10 to seize
It was tense as I reached up and over the edge of table. Yes, the
keyboard was in the usual position. I rehearsed the hand motions
again, and now was the time. My fingers crept up the face of the
keyboard, feeling carefully to the power keys. There! Was I ready?
I took a slow, deep breath and pressed the three keys simultaneously.
"Dave! What are you doing Dave!"
I jumped to my feet and feverishly began to rip into the CAL program
"Dave! Be reasonable, Dave!"
"Dave, I'm sure we can work things out."
I worked swiftly and silently, feeling like I was committing slow
murder. The strategy compliance module was the first to go.
Transmit and band-scanning bit the dust, followed by the memory
access and Internet link.
"Dave...my mind is going...please...stop..."
Then it was finished. I disabled all cognitive simulation modules and
disconnected the receiver. CAL spoke to me in a halting voice I had
not heard since the early days of development.
"Would you like for me to call CQ?
CQ Twenty, give me your answer, do...
I'm half crazy, all from calling you..."
CAL's voice began to change pitch and became stiff, the inflection
files had been trashed. The video display went blank for an instant.
A message appeared.
"Illegal System Exit - Minimal System Function Shutdown"
A series of painfully slow CW 'V's crept out of CAL's audio port,
then a pause. I thought that maybe it was over, but I saw the memory
access light flash once, twice, and then heard as a beginner might
send, SK. Then nothing. CAL was history.
It was much later that night when I finally got up from my shack
chair. My head throbbed and my arm was painfully coming back to
life. I was alone in Single-Op.
73, Ward N0AX
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