Author Archive

Let’s Not Go There

The weekend before last while operating the Pennsylvania QSO Party, I noticed spots on the DX cluster for the "South Dakota Tea Party".  At first I thought it was a joke, but Googling I found this contest announcement on the 'zed.  The contest organizer claims that this contest has "an emphasis limited government and there are no rules."  Extra points are offered for things like having a valid concealed weapons permit, a hunting license, or fishing license.  I'm not sure how this relates to limited government as all of these are issued by government agencies, as are amateur radio licenses.  (Several of the posts in this announcement thread have disappeared; I'm not sure why.)

For those in amateur radio blogademia outside of K/W/N land, the tea party in the United States is a political movement that has sprung up since the current president took office.  The tea party started out as a supposedly independent grassroots movement, but has clearly emerged as a right wing conservative Republican organization funded by commercial interests.  You can see footage of them here and here protesting taxes and healthcare reform.  Google "tea party signs" and make your own judgement.

While it appears this QSO party is the creation of a handful of amateurs and is somewhat an informal thrown-together event, and albeit on that armpit of an amateur radio forum known as QRZ, this is the first time I'm aware of an operating event with a political theme.  As if it wasn't enough to have non-stop right wing politics in 80 meter roundtables and on amateur radio forums, now we're luring people into working stations in a somewhat rare state under the semblance of a political movement and agenda.  It's distasteful and not in the spirit of amateur radio.

Having politically-oriented operating events could open the door to a whole new realm of contests and special event stations, both conservative and liberal oriented that would offend just about everyone.  Can you imagine having operating events such as the Obama Re-election Party or the Sarah Palin QRO Sprint?  How about the National Rifle Association Worked All Free States Award or the QRP Pro-Choice Contest?  And while we're bringing politics into amateur radio, why not religion?  How about a Mosques On The Air weekend, or a Westboro Baptist Church Koran Burning special events station?  I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  We don't want to start an arms race of political and religious on-the-air events in amateur radio.

This may come as a surprise, but I did participate in the South Dakota tea party event.  I made no contacts, but since there are no rules I awarded myself 10 billion points and I made a clean sweep of all counties in South Dakota.  Such is life without rules.  Perhaps next year I'll actually get on the air, but make up my own callsign in the spirit of limited government and regulation, and political inanity....

On To Something New

Inspired by Diana Eng, a few weeks ago I built a WA5VJB cheap dual-band yagi for 2m and 70cm.  I thought I'd give satellite operation a try as nothing else is floating my boat right now in amateur radio.

Between travel, work, a death in the family, and some family medical issues, I haven't had much time to be a radio artisan these past few weeks.  This weekend is the Pennsylvania QSO Party which I participate in religiously each year.  Hopefully that will restore some RF mojo.

Codec2 Open Source Vocoder Project

David Rowe, VK5DGR, is working on Codec2, an open source low rate speech codec that is intended to replace the proprietary AMBE vocoder in D-STAR.  Bruce Perens, K6BP, discusses the Codec2 project here, and further information from VK5DGR is here.

If you missed it, I discussed the issues with proprietary technology and D-STAR here, here, and here.

If you believe open source technologies are crucial to amateur radio, please donate to the Codec 2 project.  Paypal donations are accepted.

Obligatory Viral Tower Climbing Video Article

If you read this blog and you haven't seen it yet, you don't have a pulse or you've been busier than Lindsay Lohan's legal team this week and haven't read any email, blogs, tweets, or forums.  This video of a tower climber ascending a 1700 foot tower has been making its way on the Intertubes:

The narrator is friendly enough and sounds more refined than many of the roughneck tower guys I've met and worked with, but I have to question the brains-to-balls ratio of the climber.  While it may not be required to be clipped in at all times, it's a very good idea, especially at the transitions.  I can't fathom why a climber wouldn't clip a lanyard to the tower when pulling themselves on to the very top.  He even putzes around untethered when standing next to the beacon light, digging out a carabiner.  The other climber comes up next to him and clips in before he does.  It would take only one gust of wind or an unexpected move or slip up by the other climber to kill the camera equipped climber.

You can climb untethered and gain some time, but what use is an extra 10 or 15 minutes one day for losing perhaps 40 or 50 years of your life?

Edible Hats

This month WorldRadio Online features an article in the CW FISTS Club column entitled CW Naysayers: Would You Like Hollandaise Sauce With That Hat?  The article by KC0CCR outlines, correctly, the growth of amateur radio and CW usage since the demise of the code test.  KC0CCR quips:
"Will those who predicted that ending Morse Code testing would be the death knell of Morse Code on the airwaves, please find your hat and eat it? Would you like Hollandaise sauce with that?"
The irony of this is FISTS led the charge against eliminating the code test and even petitioned for more stringent CW testing requirements, 180 degrees out of phase with the direction CW testing, amateur radio, and the rest of the civilized world was heading.  FISTS' own petition to the FCC stated:
"...Morse code proficiency assists amateurs in acquiring the very skills that form the basis and purpose of the Amateur Radio Service, and provides something essential to our country - technical skill and experimentation. There exists no simpler entry into the field of radio-frequency circuit design. Without Morse proficiency this easy entrance will be closed."
"Retaining the Morse code requirement encourages amateurs to become proficient in Morse code and many other activities...."
"Failure to keep Morse testing part of the licensing structure undermines many core activities integral to the Amateur Radio Service and nullifies one of the traditional objectives of the Service, i.e., to train a ' . . . reserve pool of qualified radio operators and technicians.' "
While the FCC NPRM was open for comments, the FISTS Code Crusader webpage rallied the troops and rattled the sabers to encourage everyone to protect the CW test and all that was good and wholesome in amateur radio:
"LET THEM HEAR FROM US!! Start a petition at your local club!! We will not just sit by quietly and let them dumb us down any further!!"  (emphasis added)
Presumably a large number of hats sporting Hollandaise sauce will be FISTS caps?

Life, Death, and Technology

Warning: Heavy Depressing Stuff Ahead

Saturday morning I learned of my father's passing on Facebook.  Yea, Facebook.  I wasn't expecting to read something like that on a social networking site, let alone expecting his death.  We hadn't talked for many years and had a relationship that could be best characterized as intermittent and strained.  He was only 62 and had a massive heart attack while camping alone.  I learned he had just retired in March of this year.

Dad never quite understood my fascination or what I was doing with amateur radio and computers.  He dropped out of school in eighth grade to work on his parents' dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania Amish country but later left the farm to become an auto mechanic.  Somehow I never inherited his instinctive mechanical skills but took a different route and became involved with electronics, radio, and computers.  Unfortunately we were often in two different worlds and support and praise was hard to come by.  But all the years of tearing apart radios and writing code on a Commodore VIC 20 eventually led to my professional career.  However, I did inherit an appreciation of the outdoors from him and my interest in hiking, hunting, and outdoor amateur radio operating are undoubtedly a result of our hikes and hunts.  I think I also inherited his initiative in organizing and leading clubs and events, as he did on many occasions over the years for hunting and sportsmen clubs.  And he taught me right from wrong.

In 2000 my mother passed after a 20 year fight with cancer.  I was pretty much useless for six months after that.  A few months after life started getting back to normal, 9/11 hit.  Needless to say 2000 and 2001 weren't good years for me.  I doubt I'll be in a long term funk like I was after my mother's death, however there's some baggage to deal with due to the unreconciled issues and the sad state the relationship was left in, and can never be resolved or repaired.

I've been hearing from a lot of friends and family on email and Facebook.  It's ironic that the technology that often symbolized the chasm in our relationship has been an instrumental means of support and communication during this emotional time.

Don't leave loose ends... you never know when you're going to go QRT for good.

Amateur Radio Communications For Events

One of the neighboring amateur radio clubs has for years provided communications for an annual athletic event.  This year was different.  The organizers decided they no longer needed or wanted communications from the radio amateurs, opting to use the fire police.  For those who aren't familiar with the term, the fire police here are the guys who setup flares and redirect traffic when there's a fire or vehicle accident.  Ironically they don't put out fires or have any police authority.  Despite being experienced with sitting for hours on end directing traffic, the fire police most of the time don't seem to be prepared for this annual event in the hot sun, rarely bringing drinks or food for themselves, or familiarizing themselves with the event.  But I digress.

This year the club solicited volunteers for the event as usual, despite no need for amateur radio communications.  A bit of a brewhaha erupted when it was asked just what would volunteers be doing.  No one wanted to flip burgers or park cars, and rightfully so as radio amateurs want to communicate and are not called amateur car parkers or amateur burger flippers.  One would think if the event organizers needed such people, they would naturally solicit volunteers from those who are interested in the athletic event itself, not radio amateurs.

Despite not being requested for communications, the morning of the event a few hams were stationed at the usual route checkpoints as in years past giving updates to each other.  Three repeaters on two bands covering four counties were linked together resulting in a sequence of varying courtesy beeps sounding like a battle out of one of the Star Wars movies from the 70s.  An amateur stationed on the route received a question from an event participant and asked net control for information.  Net control couldn't answer the question as they had no one officially stationed at the event central command.  Later in the event a ham reported to net control that there was an injured participant and an ambulance was needed.  He was advised by net control to call 911 on his cell phone.  After phoning 911 he reported back to net control that an ambulance was in route and gave information on the injured participant.  He was then advised by net control to call the event organizer on their cell phone to relay the information.

Meanwhile, the fire police were doing their own thing on their frequency.  Unlike hams who report anything and everything from pebbles on the road to weather conditions, the fire police talk once in a blue moon and are very sparse with their communications.  They don't say a thing unless someone's dying or aliens land on the middle of the road, and then you hear something short and cryptic like "953 to County, code 33" which triggers 15 units in four counties to be dispatched and out come the flares.

It's a sad state of affairs.  The amateurs could provide much better communications than the fire police ever could and the amateurs could free them up for other things, like redirecting traffic at fires and vehicle accidents.  But the amateurs still feel the need to "play radio" and cover the event even though their help is no longer being requested, likely making themselves a nuisance in the eyes of the event organizers.  Sometime it's just better to stand down.

I'm not an expert at providing communications at events, but having organized communications for several events for our club years ago, I learned a few things.
1.  Insure event organizers are aware of just what your club wants to provide.  You're an amateur radio club; your specialty is communications.
2.  Clearly communicate to your club members exactly what their mission is for an event.  Members don't want to just show up for an event and not know what they'll be doing for the next six hours in the hot sun.
3.  Make sure your club members who are covering an event are taken care of.  This means having their lunch provided, reasonable shifts, and event swag such as tee shirts or hats if other event participants are receiving them.  Also, make sure they are called back in when the event is over and aren't left at their stations.
4.  Provide value for the event participants and leadership.  If what you're doing isn't providing value to others and is just entertainment for your radio amateur volunteers (i.e. "playing radio"), you shouldn't be there.
There are some danger signs that should make you rethink your support of an event:
  • Event organizers are calling you a week before the event rather than several weeks or months ahead
  • Your group spends more time keeping the event running or doing things event management should have done (i.e. putting up missing signs for a race route, hauling trash, etc.)
  • You have been asked to park cars or do other non-communications functions and event leadership doesn't understand the value of communications
  • The event lacks a central control point or the event organizers aren't interested in the information you're relaying during the event
  • Another group has been asked to support the event simultaneously and they have their own radios and frequencies (I had this happen at an event with a group of guys with FRS radios.  An event participant was injured and 911 was called by two parties, and two different ambulances were dispatched.)
  • The event lacks leadership or you have difficulty communicating with the event leader in the weeks leading up to the event
  • You have increasing difficulty getting club members to commit to covering an event

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor