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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Having a blast on Digital

ICOM 706 with Signalink USB for Digital
When I went to the Dayton Hamvention last month, one of the goals I set for myself was to try a new mode of communication. All my time as a ham (with the exception of APRS a few years ago) the majority has been on voice. I've dabbled in CW and PSK31 but typically on other people's equipment, and they were the operators.

I've not been able to do much in the last few years on other modes. The last 3 years I haven't had an HF antenna because we had hail damage to the roof from a thunderstorm a few months prior and when it came time to replace the roof I took the G5RV antenna down, and never put it back up. I wasn't impressed with this particular G5RV I had anyways. I've owned them before and had good success, but this particular one has been trouble. I couldn't get a good signal on 10 meters, and several of the bands were "tunable" but I wasn't getting out to places I should have been able to reach. I figured I would get a new dipole up SOMEDAY...

Last February I finally got a dipole. 20 meter double bazooka to be exact. I've heard mixed reviews but decided to try it out and see how good/bad it was. Well, I finally got it up after a few days but it wasn't in the most optimal spot. It was barely 15 feet above the ground and was hooked up to my 6m dipole's support wire, which caused it to sag. To add insult to injury, my luck on 20 meters was no where to be found. I figured I'd wasted my money.

Fast forward to last month, when Dayton rolled around. I invested in an off-center fed (OCF) Windom (often referred to as a "Carolina Windom") that covers 80 meters through 6 meters and also invest in a Signalink USB sound card. The Signalink connects between the computer and the radio and converts text to digital encoded signals that are then sent to the transceiver and out onto the airwaves. It is then picked up by the receiving station, to then decode the message and convert it back to readable text. Sort of like an ultra-slow-speed modem. The Signalink is simply an external sound card, but rather than try to rig up cables from your computer to the radio, the Signalink takes the leg work out of it, and is pretty much universal (given you use the same radio) to any computer.

About a week after I returned from Dayton, I put together the Signalink. All I had to do was open the case and rig up the jumper wires on the circuit board, which took about 10 minutes. Once I got it set up I then installed the drivers onto the computer, which took about 20 minutes due to the computer being an XP artifact. I installed DigiPan for use on PSK31 since it was highly recommended (and freeware) and after rebooting, and some trial and error I was able to get the computer to make my ICOM 706 transmit. I tuned up the double bazooka dipole and listened on 14.07015 for any incoming signals. Almost immediately my screen lit up with activity. 

DigiPan screenshot. "Waterfall" of signals at bottom.
The bottom of the screen shows a "waterfall" that is a visual representation of the signals coming in to the radio on that frequency. Imagine if you were to key up and use your voice on 14.07015 (and just so you know, you're not supposed to use voice on that frequency, only digital or morse code) your signal would take up the entire swath of the "waterfall" that's on the screen. With PSK31, several conversations (QSOs) can be conducted at the exact same time, and all you have to do is move your mouse pointer to the line on the waterfall that you want to look at, and the program will start to show you that specific conversation in a separate pane.

I began setting up my "macros" or pre-set messages, with my call, location, grid square, and other useful information. After a few minutes of hammering out my messages, I looked on the screen and found a station that I wanted to try contacting since their signal was pretty strong on my waterfall.One nice feature about the DigiPan is that when a CQ is called, it gets highlighted on the pane that shows all the detected QSO's going on, so that you can select the conversation you want to try and get involved with.

I replied to a CQ made by N5SLY in Sherman, TX. I wasn't sure if I should be jumping in to things rather quickly. I have used PSK31 before, at Field Day events and at a friend's house, but this was my first true test of communicating with my own equipment and I wondered if I was entering the wrong protocols, verbiage, information, etc. Was I going to get chewed out for typing out the wrong information? Was I typing fast enough? As I entered the deep end of the pool, I had second thoughts, but they were quickly removed after Leland replied back with a very nice QSO. 

Over the next 90 minutes I managed to get 4 other QSO's in the log books and found out quickly that the old paper log book is going the way of the dodo. Most everyone I was talking with, or seeing on PSK31 was using some means of electronic QSO confirming that didn't involve QSL cards. Call me old-fashioned, but the thrill of getting a postcard in the mail from another city, state, country, or continent makes me happier than something that appears on a computer screen I can print out anytime. Yes, it's less expensive, but the act of getting something physical in the mail is something I always preferred.

Over the next 3 weeks, I have managed to put together about 70 QSO's off and on when I have time for PSK31 including 25 countries. I then decided to up the ante and try PSK63. Basically PSK31 at double the speed, but with more susceptibility for errors. I managed to make 2 contacts so far, but it doesn't seem to have the allure of it's slower counterpart.

As I was exploring the capabilities of my Signalink I started studying up on JT65. My friend Jim was encouraging me to get in on it but I had never heard of it until recently. Basically, you take the fewest characters on the slowest baud rate imaginable and send out your JT65 signal in synch with everyone else. The transmission starts at the top of every minute and lasts for about 50 seconds. There's a 10 second pause to allow for the software to decode the signal. Then, you spend the next minute in "Receive" mode, listening and decoding any incoming signals. If everything goes as planned, you can have a successful QSO in 7-8 minutes.

JT65-HF screenshot
What's amazing is that, like PSK31, it takes up little bandwidth, can decipher several signals at once, and can even break each signal down with their signal strength in to your radio. The recommended software is JT65-HF and like DigiPan is free to use.

The transmissions are extremely brief, yet the QSO's are long. Twitter, for example, limits you to 140 characters per "tweet". In freeform (where you type whatever you want), you're limited to 13 characters. That's "thirteen". As is, after twelve, before fourteen. Pretty much everything else is pre-formed based on the buttons you select as the QSO goes along. 

You do not send the standard signal report. There's no"5/9/9" here. The signal report is based off the software's reception of your signal from the radio, measured in decibels, or dB. -.01dB is the loudest signal, with about a -24dB being the weakest copyable signal. I was able to copy Russia with a -22 dB signal and the Czech Republic with a -21dB. The weakest I've been heard is -17dB.

It takes 50 seconds to send these few characters and the other information used by the software out. And you thought 14.4 modems were slow!

And if you want to know what JT65 sounds like, tune in to 14.07615 and listen at the top of every minute. It's almost like WWV. You hear a lot of tones at the start of the next minute, which continues for 50 seconds, then a silence for 10 seconds before the cycle restarts. The tones sounds like an ice cream truck with it's music on dying AA batteries, or if the Beatles tried to play Helter Skelter through a calliope. It's eerie but funny at the same time.

My first JT65 attempt wasn't a success. For 20 minutes I called CQ and got no responses, then tried to answer some CQ's with the same lack of success. I re-arranged my Double Bazooka antenna away from the side of the house and higher up. Then this past Friday night I decided to try again. I went to the JT65 frequency on 20 meters and listened for a few minutes. I saw a DX call appear on my screen and decided, "what the hell" and called to the station. It was ZL3HAM. And they answered me back! I thought it couldn't possibly be the country I thought it was, but I then looked him up in QRZ and lo and behold, it was indeed NEW ZEALAND! My first JT65 contact is on the opposite side of the globe!!!

How I visualize at JT65 transmission
Already in less than 4 days, I've racked up 14 QSO's with off-and-on time on the radio. In fact, 9 of them were done while I typed out this post! It's definitely a good use of time while transmitting a message.

So, if you're in the market for a new adventure in ham radio, why not give PSK31 and JT65 a try? Invest in a Signalink USB and get started right away. PSK31/63 and JT65 are just the beginning. Perhaps SSTV or some other mode is in my future?

As for the 80-6m Windom, I'm planning on putting it up within the next two weeks to try more bands, and hopefully get back on 10 meters. I did renew my 10-10 membership while at Dayton, so I'd better be putting it to good use, I suppose...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hamvention 2015 - A trip 16 years in the making

Yeah, it's a selfie!
In May of 1999, my wife and I were celebrating the news that we were expecting our first child (soon-to-be Lauren, K4LRN), and we broke the news to several of our friends as we trekked to Dayton, Ohio for our 3rd trip to Hamvention. For those who are not hams, or for the 2 or 3 hams who haven't heard, Hamvention is THE hamfest to end all hamfests. It is a bucket list item every ham radio enthusiast should endeavor to do at least once in their lifetime.

It's been 16 years since my wife and I made our fourth trip, along with our 2 kids. Quite simply, life got in the way. There were times I was ready to make another pilgrimage to Hara Arena for Hamvention, but something would always get in the way. Most recently in 2010, I was ready to go, but my gall bladder had other plans.

Fortunately this year, the stars were properly aligned and I was able to go, along with my family. I wanted my kids to experience what it was like to be in one of the largest gatherings of geeks, technophiles, and gadgets in the world at one time. Usually, school is coming to an end around this time, so they have finals to study for, or some other end-of-year commitments that they need to attend that supersede a sojourn to Hamvention. This year was no different, so the plan was for us to go up on Friday after school. Jes then suggested for me to go up with a friend (Jim, N4UHZ) on Friday and enjoy Hamvention by myself, and they'd come up Friday night and we'd go Saturday and possibly Sunday.

Cincinnati, on the road to Dayton
My journey started, as does all journeys anymore, with tension and drama. My wife and little'n Amber both came down with a stomach flu that sidelined them from Mother's Day until Friday. There was talk that they'd stay home, which I didn't want to hear. There was a lot of uncertainty about where exactly I was going to stay, when I would go up, when I would head back, who I was heading back with, etc. 

I had flashbacks to last Labor Day weekend, when I was preparing to go to Shelby, only to be awakened 4 hours before I was to leave by my wife who informs me of an engine "noise" (but "not to be worried because the Service Engine Soon light hadn't come on") and long story short, the money I had set aside for Shelby went into replacing the alternator on her car.

Fast forward to last Thursday night, and my wife tells me (as I'm asleep, preparing to get up at 3 for my trip up) that she may not go because her stomach is still sour from enduring a week of this stomach bug. Let's just say it created tense "discussion" prior to me leaving.

Eventually, Friday morning came and they felt better, Amber going back to school after being out all week, and I headed up to Dayton with Jim. It had been a long time since Jim or I made the Dayton Hamvention trek. In fact, his last trip was in 1999, same as me. We had been to the Dalton, GA hamfest last February and have always had fun driving together. We catch up on lost time, yak on his TS-480 Kenwood, talk about life, the universe, towels, the usual things...

Inside Hara Arena
He showed me his ICOM D-Star radio, the ID-5100A. It was my first exposure to D-Star (every time I tried to look at a demo at a hamfest, someone always had to hog the space and REFUSE to allow me in to check it out) so I got to see it in use for part of the trip up.

I'm trying to decide if I want to get involved in D-Star, or perhaps Yaesu's System Fusion, both, neither, or something else entirely. Both have their advantages/disadvantages.  It was impressive to see in action (finally!) but I've got more research to do.

We did have a "hiccup" on the way up, as we got sidetracked somehow and ended up on I-64 heading towards Louisville, KY as we were driving into Lexington. I'm still not sure how it happened. I just happened to be checking my smartphone for traffic conditions through Cincinnati when we made the discovery, as if the signs for Louisville weren't enough of a giveaway. It ended up being a 30-minute detour. Maybe we needed more sleep than we thought...

When we did make it up there, it was approaching 10AM. At last we finally arrived to our mecca. He went to the flea market, I went to the indoor areas to check out some of the displays, new toys, gadgets, and gizmos. Some of the indoor vendors had stuff I was looking for, so I quickly filled up my backpack with goodies.

I also checked out a forum on contacting satellites with HTs and purchased a replacement battery and charger for my aging FT-530 2m/440 HT. This will be important later on. Around 1PM, I finally made the rounds through the indoor areas and headed out to the 'boneyard" and went about 100 feet in, quickly passed through a tent that had nothing to do with ham radio (but had everything to do with junk) and was checking out another vendor when suddenly I hear "drip...drip...drip..." and look and see dozens of people running for cover. 

Dark skies loom overhead of the flea market
And just as quick as I saw/heard the popping of raindrops, the most torrential downpour of rain that was practically biblical came down upon the masses. There was no buildup, it just happened.

I was already under a tent when the cloudburst happened, so I waited it out for 10-15 minutes. I slowly pulled out my rainsuit and put it on as the rain began to subside, and braved the last of the rain, and surveyed the aftermath. So much merchandise was abandoned to the elements. Printers, computers, RC copters, and radios all damp or outright soaked with rainwater. It was amusing and disheartening all at the same time.

Gordon West, WB6NOA
I considered Friday a good day for indoor activity but a complete bust for being outdoors. Had I gone out to the boneyard first thing when I arrived, things probably would be different.

That night, Jes and the kids (and my mother, but I'm not allowed to talk about her on the internet, shhhh!) arrived and we got settled in after a long day for everyone. We get up and going and by 10AM we're back at Hara, and my kids get their first taste of what it's all about.

Aaaaand they're ready to go by noon.

It was hot and muggy, both indoors and out. Amber's stomach was still sour from her stomach bug, and so she was not in the best of shape. But if there's one thing that two girls have that I'll never have, is that the vendors and salespeople LOVE kids, and they got a lot of free stuff, inside the Arena and out in the flea market! From pins, to buttons, to phone chargers, to selfie sticks (yes, Kenwood gave them each a selfie stick!) it seems that the appearance of kids really brings out the charity. That alone was enough to encourage them to stick around for much of the afternoon.

And I was going to make them stick around until at least 3:45PM. The reason was because of a raffle that I wanted to attend. Remember that battery and charger I bought for my Yaesu FT-530? Well, that purchase got me a raffle ticket entry for a brand new Yaesu FT-60R dual-band handheld radio that W&W Manufacturing was giving away. The catch was that you had to be present to win. So I had a good feeling that if I showed up, I was in good shape to at least have a better shot than most others to win. 

Prize winner!
So I head over there (and casually try to encourage my family to stick around for the drawing, but send them off to sit in the lounge to wait) and there's about 2 dozen or so others sticking around for the drawing. I see the number of tickets they have and there's quite a few, so I figure that the number of tickets-to-number of people showing up ratio was in my favor.

The first ticket was read off, and everyone anxiously looked around to see if someone was going to holler they were the winner. least the kind of silence you'd expect from a semi-crowded assembly hall. Going once...twice...onto the next ticket.  Again, anxious glances from those all around looking to see if their ticket matched the new winning number. Fortunately I memorized mine just before the drawing began (I've since forgotten, I've slept since then! The last 3 were 328...I think...). Ticket #3 is drawn.

As the ticket is read off I go through the ticket number in my head and they match up. I look down and confirm it and yell out "YO!" and show my matching number, to the collective groan of the rest of the folks who dared to challenge the odds.

Most of the items I picked up at Hamvention
I parade my new radio goodie to the family, much to their surprise and after a couple of pics with W&W we head out to the parking lot, and back to our hotel. We are all exhausted, but accomplished.

We decided to head home early on Sunday, and not go back to Hara. I'd purchased/won/was given all the goodies I needed to get (an 80-6 meter Carolina Windom dipole, Signalink USB for PSK31, and a 3-position antenna switch among other things) and the kids had school work to finish up when they got home.

Overall it was a wonderful experience despite the weather. The kids had fun, despite their issues with the humidity and their stomachs. I'm glad they got to take it in while they are young, so that they might be able to appreciate it before they grow up too fast on me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Radio Shack (1921-2015)

According to reports, RadioShack is about to file for Bankruptcy, selling 1/3 of it's stores to Sprint Corporation, the remaining stored being liquidated.

The bankruptcy filing may occur as soon as just a few hours, ending a legacy that was both a resort for ham operators and experimenters and a near-parody of its former self by moving away from its radio, computer, and maker roots and gravitating towards cell phone sales and satellite TV and radio that focused less on the tech and more on the bottom line.

From Bloomberg:
RadioShack Corp. is closing in on an agreement with creditors and other parties that would put the retailer in bankruptcy as soon as Wednesday night or Thursday morning, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

As part of the deal being completed, RadioShack would sell leases on as many as 2,000 stores to Sprint Corp. and Standard General, its largest shareholder, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The rest of the electronics chain’s more than 4,000 U.S. locations are expected to be closed, the people said. The filing could be delayed as the parties hammer out final details. 
I was in RadioShack this past weekend and went to almost all of the stores in Knoxville, seeing what was left as many of the stores clearanced out their inventory (I think they shipped their scanners to stores that were surviving) and many of the stores were already picked through.

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III
I would still patronize the stores (albeit less frequently over time) and the way the stores looked in the 1980's versus the 2000's are like apples and oranges. I can remember going to West Town Mall and walking into the back of the store and tinker with the TRS-80's (affectionately called "Trash-80's") that were on sale. I'd have loved to own one, but the $2500 price tag (in 1980's dollars, remember) was beyond my price range, or that of many people I knew.

One time I was in the mall and my mother turned me loose in Radio Shack (back when it was TWO words) while she looked for boring stuff in other stores (clothes...UGH...what boy under 14 wanted to shop for THAT?) and I spent 2 hours playing a poker and blackjack on a TRS-80. I got so involved (and no salesman could try to sell anything to a 12-year-old kid) that eventually my mother came up to me yelling "WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!?!?!?". She apparently had been madly searching for me all over the mall for about an hour, and because I had been in the back corner of the Radio Shack, out of view of anyone looking in from the mall entrance, she'd thought I had taken off to the arcade (another favorite hangout of mine) and when I wasn't at either place she panicked. I think she was 10 steps from calling the cops, because if she hadn't taken those 10 steps to the back of the store, then I am certain that my face would have ended up on milk cartons.

TRS-80 Color Computer 2
Playing with that TRS-80 got me into computers. Playing with Apple II's in school furthered that addiction. One Christmas, Santa Claus got us a TRS-80 Color Computer II. It was, for me at least, a dream come true. I spent my Christmas vacation in Speedwell, TN at my grandparents house toying with that "CoCo" on my "monitor", a new color TV, a glorious Zenith 12" with wood paneling and rabbit ears. The whole time I was in Speedwell, I think I was in the upstairs attic/bedroom learning BASIC programming on that thing. And if I rebooted or turned it off, everything I worked on for HOURS was gone...because there was no storage device. There were no hard drives in the CoCo, and if I wanted to save anything, a cassette tape drive was over $100. I mainly used it for playing cartridge games and tinkering with BASIC.

Over the years, I would visit whenever we made a trip to the mall, and when I got my driver's license, the visits got more frequent. When I had a technical issue, almost every employee had an answer that was right. They knew their stuff, and they were helpful. When I got interested in ham radio, my first rig was an HTX-202 2 meter radio.

I had a minor run-in with a couple of RadioShack employees while I was waiting to get my license in the mail (this was in 1993, right before they had electronic filing and fast turnarounds. I was waiting for 2 months before I got my license). While I was looking over an HTX-202, one of the salespeople said that I couldn't purchase a radio until I was able to show my license, so that they could verify I was using it legally. He did let me put it on layaway, which I was planning to do anyway since I didn't have the entire $199 to buy it. 

As I waited...and waited...........aaaaand waited for my license in the mail, I went to a meeting at the local radio club and met some new friends. As we talked, I mentioned I was waiting to get my license so that I could get my HTX-202 out of layaway, and when they asked why, I told them what I was told. All of them hit the roof, wondering who in the hell would tell me that. It turns out I could buy a ham radio whenever, I just couldn't transmit on one.

Maybe it was misunderstanding on my part, or on the salesperson's part, but they all wanted to raise tee-total hell on whoever would keep me from getting a radio. I tried to keep it low-key and said not to worry about it. When I FINALLY got my license in the mail, I headed to Radio Shack to get my new rig. When I approached the salesperson and asked to pick up my radio, he mumbled "'s YOU!" and ran to the back. I still to this day don't know how he meant it, if it was because somebody called and chewed the store manager out, or if the guy remembered me putting it in layaway. Or both.

An electronics experimenters kit like this was sold
in the 80s at Radio Shack. I lost count the number
of times I begged for one.
I've owned 3 Radio Shack rigs over the years. A mobile 2-meter (HTX-212) rig and the HTX-10 10-meter rig. All of them have been rock-solid and worth the money I paid (either retail or hamfest prices) and they were true workhorses. 

Unfortunately, it was in the mid-90's when things changed drastically for "the Shack". When I was a kid, I remember getting a catalog and all the gadgets and gizmos were amazing to look at. I can remember putting so many products on my wish list for Christmas. A remote controlled tank, an electronics experimenter's kit (to make an AM radio!), the talking Atomic Robot, all sorts of electrical toys and products to waste time with, and over the years, the experiment toys and gadgets went away one at a time. Toys to tinker with trickled down. As I would come into a store to look for parts for my ham radio addiction, the knowledge level of some salespeople drastically declined. 

Case in point: I needed RG-58 coax for my mobile and asked the salesperson where the "coax" (as in, co-AXE) was, and he had the "deer in headlights" stare and asked me what I needed an axe for. I said "no, coaxial CABLE" and he directed me to where the cable was. And he tried to sell me on RG-59 (cable TV coax) and I said "no, I need RG-58 for my ham radio" and he tried to sell me on the RG-59 "because it was a later version". Who knew that coaxial cable could be upgraded to new versions?!?!?

Retro logo
Over the years, the questions I would ask about solder, connectors, and antennas would go unanswered, except by the occasional employee who either was a ham themselves or was in college at a technical institute to earn a degree, and they were the diamonds in the rough. The ones that didn't know would just try to turn the conversation into a sales pitch for a cell phone or Sirius radio. I would often leave in disgust because they went from "You got questions, we got answers" to "You got q...BUY THIS PRODUCT YOU DON'T NEED!"

As I made my rounds in the different RadioShack stores last weekend, it was obvious the situation from the way that the store looked, to the way the employees behaved. There was a sense of unattached attitudes and the salespeople didn't seem to want to be there. Don't get me wrong, others were helpful, in that way that Wallace Hartley and his band played "Nearer, My God, to Thee" as the Titanic sank in the cold north Atlantic. I did purchase some items that were being clearanced out. I have a mount for a mast on the side of the house and some scanner items, such as an antenna and a programming cable for one of my handhelds. I even picked up a mini-RC helicopter I've been torturing the dogs with around the house. 

So as I wrap this up, let me just say that it was a great store for tech geeks and makers to get their goods and at an affordable price. Mostly. Unless you wanted a TRS-80 in 1980, that is. Otherwise, they were good to go to in a pinch for spare parts and stuff you already knew you needed. Also, police scanners had a business thanks to RadioShack. I hope to catch a sweet deal on a digital scanner but I'm not holding my breath. I think that the "high end" stuff got moved to the stores that weren't currently closing. But I'll keep looking, being the vulture that I am.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

1500' climb straight up (filmed from a quadcopter)

How many tower climbers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one...with bigger brass ones than I have:

The view, taken via a quadcopter RC remote, gives an amazing view of what it's like climbing a (now defunct analog) TV tower in South Dakota to change a light bulb. Even though the tower is no longer used since the FCC made the mandatory change to digital from analog and leaving some TV transmitter towers simply landmarks until they can either be torn down or get a new tenant, the lighting has to be maintained in order to comply with FCC and FAA regulations so that aircraft aren't at risk.

It's a pretty neat video. They did an amazing job filming a job that takes a lot of "moxie" to do. I hope they pay him well.

If that weren't impressive, the company that filmed this also filmed a 300' tower being taken down in Jackson, MN from ABOVE the tower. 

I'd like to know how in the world that they were able to film sound without the propeller noise drowning out everything?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jason Roach, KF4VDX, SK

Jason Roach, KF4VDX, and his wife Kris
This is a post I've been dreading to publish for awhile now. One of my best friends ever, Jason Roach, KF4VDX, became a "silent key" this past Thursday after an 18-month battle with prostate cancer. 

I don't know why he was called to Heaven so soon (he's my age) but there must've been a good reason. He was never one to turn his back on a friend in need and up until a few weeks ago was still making trips to the mountain top to work on his repeaters as well as that of a friend's. Any time I needed someone to help me with an issue he was ready and willing to offer his support.

It's been almost 2 years since another friend of ours, Tom Ogle, passed away (also from prostate cancer) and while we were attending the burial, Jason commented how he was having stomach cramps and pain. None of us put much thought into it at the time, but over the next few weeks he seemed to continue having issues. Whenever we talked on the radio, he kept complaining of "problems", but never elaborated, other than heartburn and cramps in his stomach.

He finally went to see a doctor and he received the news that he had prostate cancer, stage 4. But, unlike Tom, there was a sense of hope. His doctors seemed more optimistic and proceeded to work on getting his tumor removed. However, setbacks seemed to always occur. He was set to have surgery to remove the tumor, but during surgery, the doctor couldn't because it was too big to extract. Then, a "spot" was found on his liver. Then the chemo didn't affect the tumor. The list goes on.

I tried to be there for him, but at the same time let him fight his battle without getting in the way. Every time I talked with him, on the phone or on ham radio, it always seemed to be something causing a setback or delay in getting treatment. He was in and out of the hospital several times, but never gave up hope, even as the weight came off and his strength waned. He fought until his last breath.

I never gave up hope, either, but at the same time I saw the toll it was taking physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially. In the back of my mind, I could tell over the last few months there wouldn't be much time left unless a miracle happened. Sadly, that miracle never came.

I've known him for about as long as I've been married. He really enjoyed weather, the same as I do. As East Tennessee SKYWARN grew into a well-respected community, Jason, Tom, our friend Chuck, and many others including myself comprised a team of people who helped relay severe weather reports to the National Weather Service in Morristown. We all became a well-oiled machine and provided reliable information to the NWS when called upon.

During a "dark period", which I will not discuss, there were a lot of people who turned their back on me, believing that I was the bad guy. But a few hams showed me who my true friends really were, and both Jason and Tom were right there by my side. There were others, absolutely, but Jason was more than vocal about letting people know why he was my friend. There were times I felt completely isolated and alone, and Jason was always there to talk to me on the radio and the phone when he was able to do so.

When people began to "see the light", and I got back in to SKYWARN, Jason helped me pick up where we left off, getting (most of) the so-called "band" back together. I never forgot that act of kindness, and I always worked to show him my eternal gratitude.

His knowledge of electronics, radio, and music was incredible. Like me, he was an 80s kinda guy, although he preferred hair bands, where as I've always enjoyed new wave and synth pop more, but we both did crank up AC/DC without hesitation.

We enjoyed Field Day, SKYWARN, and just talking on the radio in general, whether it was on one of his repeaters or on simplex, or even 10 meters. He'd message me whenever there was a band opening, and I would join him if I had the time.

The night before I left for vacation last month, I ran by the hospital to see him. He was noticeably weak, his voice was gone to barely above a whisper, and he was frail. That's probably the first time I truly saw the seriousness of his illness. I stayed for just a few minutes, as his son was there, and I felt like he needed that time together. I told him I needed him to get out of the hospital to help me set up my tower and get my hamshack remodeled, and he'd have to climb the damned tower. He just rolled his eyes at me. I did say I planned to take him to Dayton someday for Hamvention, because I wanted to go back (I've not been up there since 1999). He'd never been and seemed to like the thought of going up there. Whatever I thought would raise his spirits, I did my best to say.

However, that would be, in effect, the last time we had a conversation where he was coherent and alert. I'd gone to see him several more times in the last few weeks, but he was always in and out, heavily medicated, and it pained me when he would talk and I couldn't understand him.

Thursday night, I saw a message on Facebook and had an awful feeling. I told my wife and we rushed to the hospital. He was not conscious, shallow breathing, and his heart rate was in decline. We said our goodbyes, shed our tears, and as I took Jes home, I called our friend Chuck, who wanted to see him, and so I rushed him back to the hospital. As another friend (Josh) arrived, his heart rate dropped sharply, and when Chuck and I got to the room, he was gone.

It tore me up to see him wear away to practically nothing because of cancer. He was 44. Medical experts say that men shouldn't have to worry about having a prostate exam or colonoscopy until they hit 50. I would STRONGLY encourage all men to have an exam if they hit 50, but be aware of any issues with your digestive system no matter what age you are. I had my gallbladder taken out at 40 and just a few months ago had a colonoscopy after a test came back recommending one, even though I am "too young". Fortunately my colonoscopy came back negative, but it was a nervous time for me. It certainly made Jason feel at ease when I told him I had a clean bill of health.

I'd like to conclude with a story about how much of a sense of humor Jason had. He could be a prankster, both on the air and in person. One night on the radio I was testing out a new MFJ desk mic and trying to calibrate it so that my audio wasn't too "hot". Jason and another friend of ours, Eddie, kept having me do 10-counts, adjustments to the mic, etc. At one point Jason asked me where the radio was in relation to the room, saying he thought he heard an echo, and wasn't sure the source, and I told him I was in the far corner, across from where the closet was. Jason asked me what was in the closet, and I told him in contained the boxes my radios and microphone came in. He then instructed me to press the "lock" on the mic, and go back to the closet and get the box, and talk while I did so, in order to test the microphone's sensitivity. I did as instructed, telling them in elaborate detail where I was in the room and talking loudly, then quietly, and trying to give them a good idea how sensitive the microphone was. When I un-keyed the microphone, Jason replied (with a great sense of pride I might add), "Congratulations, Greg, on coming out of the closet!". This became one of his favorite inside jokes I'd occasionally get reminded of, whether I wanted to be reminded of it, or not...

Thanks, Jason, for being my friend. Now and always, you will be missed.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A decade of decline?

I found this interesting while checking out Google Trends.

If you enter certain search terms, you can see the amount of traffic generated by the search terms going back to 2004.

So I tried "ham radio" and "amateur radio" for comparison:

Check out the full report and see what you think.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Keep Austin weird...

Steven Anthony Garza
An Austin man is facing charges after police say he tossed a drone and a ham radio over the fence because he was tired of his neighbor “getting in his head.”

Steven Anthony Garza faces an assault charge in connection with the incident. According to the arrest affidavit filed by Austin Police, Garza stormed into Matthew Hammons’ yard while Hammons was using his amateur radio equipment to talk with his father. Hammons told police Garza charged him while making gestures indicating he was looking to fight. Hammons told officers Garza first broke his radio’s antenna and then headbutted him; Hammons went inside.

While inside his home, Hammons told police he watched as Garza threw his Yaesu 857-D radio and a personal DJI Phantom drone over the fence causing $4,000 in damage.

More of the story here: