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Monday, June 30, 2008

Post-Field Day

Another Field Day has passed. I ended up with the Smoky Mtn club for the overnight shift.

I joined up with my friends Jason (KF4VDX), Tom (KE4WFJ) and Dwight (KI4RRI) and we convoyed up to their site called "Shorty's Lake".

We got there around 11PM as we had watched a fireworks show from Maryville's "Freedom Fest" over at Jason's. We checked out SMARC's new trailer where they had 2 CW stations running.

Two other campers had a 6m station and the voice HF station. They apparently had some issues earlier in the day, with a generator and an HF rig dying, and a thunderstorm shutting down ops for about an hour and the winds knocked over a couple of antennas. By the time we arrived it was clear skies and cool temps.

After grabbing some leftover burgers and hot dogs, we checked out the HF station in David, KE4FGW's camper. It seemed there weren't that many contacts being made on 40m and when I got in there, I found they were using an FT-100D Yaesu, same as my radio at home.

I quickly found two things wrong. One is that the station was operating at a 24 watt maximum, and the second was that the SWR indicator was coming on intermittently.

We attached a tuner and things weren't that much better. I couldn't land on a frequency to be the "fox", and ended up being the "hound" for much of my remaining time there. Many contacts were having to ask for our callsign (W4OLB) and/or our report (4A TN), or they'd just give up and move on to another, more louder station.

I wasn't as successful as I had hoped, but Field Day is like that. You adapt, improvise, and (occasionally) overcome the obstacles.

I took a membership application and will probably join. I doubt I'll be very active, like I was with other clubs in the area. It seems my track record is not very good with clubs for some reason. With the RACK club it was just a butting of heads against the "establishment". With METERS it was an objection to the inevitable requirements being lain by the ARRL to require hams in Tennessee to take mandatory EmComm training (something I am fiercely opposed to because of the fact they want volunteers to pay to volunteer their time, but I'll save that for later), and with a couple of others it was personal conflicts.

So naturally I'm a little wary about joining. I don't want to get caught up in politics or personal conflicts or anything that'sgoing to end up alienating any more friends. If I do join as a member, I will not be very active if at all, except to participate in Field Day.

Then again, I said that about the other clubs I joined.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Boom DX-ah...

With apologies to the Discovery Channel...

Something I came up with while bored and watching "Deadliest Catch"...

If you got better / additional lyrics pass them back to me.

Yes...I know I have too much time sometimes...but you'll have this stuck in your head all the rest of the day...

*Code in the background*

Ham 1: It never gets old huh?
Ham 2: Nnnnope
Ham 1: It kinda makes you wanna…break into song?
Ham 2: Yyyyep

*Music*
I love the HF
I love the cloudy skies
I love big towers
I love when E-Skip flies
I love the ham world
And all its sights and sounds
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah

I love the morse code
I love ballooning flights
I love repeaters
I love the satellites
I love the ham world
and its technologies
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah

I love the gray-line
I love DF’ing
I love my hamshack
I love contesting
I love the ham world
and its communities
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah

I love Field Day
I love ragchewing
I love the hamfests
I love homebrewing
I love the ham world
it’s such a great hobby
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah

I love antennas
I love SSTV
I love the APRS (pronounced AY-PURS)
I'm lovin' QRP
I love the ham world
and all it offers me
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah
Boom DX-ah...............

Monday, June 23, 2008

Field Day and all that jazz

Field Day is upon us this week. It's one of my favorite activities, however, this year I am orphaned on Field Day unless I can find a club or group willing to bring me in.

My first taste of HF came on a Field Day in 1994. the local radio club had their Field Day and I was pretty keyed up about it. I stayed for almost the entire 24 hours, camping out in the back of my pickup overnight and went from a novice contester to a near-pro in those 24 hours.

I love contesting but don't have enough morse code experience to really take maximum advantage of the points on a Field Day outing. Basically Field Day and the Tennessee QSO Party are my two big contest events.

The TN QSO party used to fall on my wedding anniversary's weekend. Now it's a couple weeks earlier and I can actually participate.

I've promised myself I would bone up on my code skills. I was able to copy 13 wpm back when General Class licensees needed 13 wpm for their license. I've just never had a code key for use on CW. I've got a straight key, but I'm not comfortable with using one.

I've done many a Field Day under my call sign, but some CW guys said it got a little tiresome hearing my callsign in CW. Lotsa dits in those letters.

I've had the best and worst of times with Field Day. I've had one of them at my home, two at a friend's house, and others with various clubs. I spearheaded a Field Day with the club I got my first taste of Field Day with, but there were issues with that one that I choose not to talk about.

Another Field Day was held at a site where we used my callsign. About an hour into the event (it's technically not a contest) a bus pulled up and some guys from ORNL who have their own group of hams were coming to do their own Field Day from the same site. Apparently there was a small mixup and they were told by the park service the site was "already reserved for them" when it fact the operator thought they were with the group I was in.

But it was no big deal. They joined up with us and they ran the CW. We contacted all but one section in North America thanks to them.

We had a very good Field Day and planned to do it again the following year, but politics and a couple of friends breaking up kinda got in the way of that idea. So I did the right thing and stepped away. I went to another club's Field Day and had a better time.

I'm not sure why, but politics seems to follow me everywhere, and the harder I try to avoid it, the more I get caught up in it. I can't get away from it no matter how hard I try sometimes. But I move on and go to the next better thing. It was due to politics I didn't participate in a couple of Field Days at all.

This year I just don't know where to go for Field Day. There's two clubs I refuse to participate with, one club that no longer does it, one group that screwed themselves when they picked the wrong guy to judge as the "problem", and I don't have enough equipment to operate as a home station (class D) much less on emergency power (class E) nor Mobile (class C).

I may hook up with the group I went to last year for a few hours. I tend to get involved in the overnight ops since a lot of people who stop in tend to stay after dark.

In any case, be listening for me. If you're participating overnight, I'll be the one in Tennessee getting loopy at around 4 AM begging for contacts, or having a "morning show" mentality with anyone who's left with me to write down the contacts I make. That tends to bring the contacts out of the woodwork.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

UX-24 recovered

Other than the usual dings, the UX-24 payload looked much the same as it did when we launched it from the RACK Hamfest last Saturday.

I drove with Carl up to get it. I thought we'd talk to the guy who found it, but he wasn't there. He left the payload on a chair on the porch. We left him a $20 gift card for gas (Should buy him half a gallon) and some pics and a copy of the Metro Pulse article that featured our flight attempts to cross the Atlantic.

We're going to send it back up again some time in the next couple of months to test out a homemade zero-pressure balloon to see how it holds up. Hopefully we'll be landing on dry land come March of 2009 or sooner.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A simple matter of dots and dashes

This day in history: Samuel Morse patents the Morse Code.

Samuel F.B. Morse receives a U.S. patent for his dot-dash telegraphy signals, known to the world as Morse code.

The code Morse devised in partnership with Alfred Vail uses a system of dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. It went into practical use in 1844, after he and Vail produced a working electromagnetic telegraph transmitter. Vail worked on various refinements to the transmitter before leaving the business altogether in 1848, feeling that he was being low-balled on his salary.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I'm getting nostalgic

TWIAR contributor Philip Neidlinger got put on the ARRL site this week, and they talk about his forte, discussing Dead Electrical Dudes. He's been getting more popular with his segments, and it seems like historical discussion of ham radio (namely Bill Continelli's Ancient Amateur Archives) is gaining popularity. I myself was very captivated at Bill's discussion of the "very first broadcast" on what was considered broadcast radio in the 1920s during TWIAR International 176. You need to check it out if you haven't already.

I find that Bill is a great storyteller. One of my personal favorites is his personalized recount of using scanners and a portable radio to navigate out of New York City during 9/11. He was in another building south of WTC Tower 2 and heard the plane fly over as it slammed into the tower.

What is striking was that he only mentions the actual events he saw of the World Trade Center in one sentence, noting them as "horrifying", then proceeds to discuss how he evacuated Manhattan on the trains that were initially thought to have been shut down for longer than expected. It was somewhat refreshing, considering how desensitized most everyone is regarding 9/11. We know people jumped. We know the towers fell. We know that so many died that day. It was nice to know that this personal recollection didn't repeat the same story we've all seen replayed over and over time and again.

I highly recommend you give it a listen. It can be found here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

UX-24 found

Received a phone call from a surveyor in Sevierville who said he found our balloon we launched Saturday!

Not much more until we get the payload back, but it was found "'near a shoreline". It will be interesting to see if the payload landed in water and floated downstream or if it landed close to the water and the antenna was underwater.

More as I get it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Followup to hamfest activity

Today was a good Father's day.

I got a new wallet and a tool belt from my girls. They knew I needed a new wallet, and the little one just knew that I needed a toolbelt to keep my tools organized.

We launched UX-24 yesterday. That's #24 in UTARC's balloon flight series. Nothing fancy, just a 10 meter transmitter on 28.215 LSB and a 350 gram latex balloon.

We lost GPS lock after about 27000 meters (nearly 89,000 feet) due to the limitations of the GPS onboard. We knew it burst when the balloon started warbling during a transmission soon thereafter. We pretty sure it made 90k feet.

We obtained lock after it dropped below its design limit, and the last transmission was near Newport, TN. Carl and I separately drove up to the area some 10 hours later and we never heard it. My friend Jason and I got to within .21 miles of the payload and got nothing.

Who knows, perhaps someone in the area will come across it and call. We may never see it again, but we didn't lose a lot with this one.

I got an antenna and mount like I wanted. But still not sure where I'm going to mount it or where I am going to put everything, and I'm still not sure if I'm going to put in my tribander, 742 Kenwood, but I have the antenna in case I ever decide to install it.

This wasn't a 100% perfect weekend, as TWIAR's mail server is wreaking havoc. It's sending upwards of 8-12 messages of the same thing. The medianews mailing list sent one of George Antunes' emails some 8 times. What I tried to do was to remove and then restart the mailing list. After I deleted it, I come to find I can't create a new mailing list!

It's doing the same for mail forwarding. I re-created everyone's mail forward and sent them all email asking how many msgs of the same email they got, if all the info is right, etc.

The reason for all this is that our host apparently had a tornado hit some equipment where the mail server was housed. He's taking care of his paid users first, so I'm not going to complain. There's things more important right now.

Dale, TWIAR's "file guy" had some damage to his internet connections and has some good connections and was able to get some connectivity to upload all the files. I can only do 256k max for upload (2meg down). He has upwards of 10 megs UP!!! I don't know how he pulls off such luck, but if I were to upload, it would take me 4-5 hours, and I'm on HIGH speed!!! Dale gets it done in less than 30 minutes! Domino's can't even deliver a pizza that fast anymore...

I need to get some sleep before I put in for a tough week at work. Until next time...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hamfests, balloons, and bad weather

Well, Dayton has come and gone, and once again I missed out.

I haven't been to Dayton since 1999. That was when my wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child.

Ever since then, something's come up to take the chance of going to Dayton out the window. No money to go, usually. This year, though, the high gas prices and work commitment kept me from going.

But I'm going to the Knoxville Hamfest this Saturday. My third year going since a big blowup I won't go into. Due to the ballooning project I've been involved with, however, things have gone along better and I attend strictly to do the balloons and occasionally buy something.

I need an antenna mount and a dual or tri-band antenna, and plan to sell a couple of radios I no longer need.

I've always enjoyed going to hamfests, for several reasons:
  1. Camaraderie. It's nice to put a face to a voice you hear on a local repeater or a callsign you hear.
  2. Bargains. I get a lot of stuff cheaper than from eBay. No shipping fees!
  3. The sights. Oftentimes I just stop and stare at the porcupines in the parking lot or the trailers in the flea market with equipment you only see at a hamfest.
The University of Tennessee ARC is going to try and launch a balloon, if the weather cooperates. Nothing big this time around. Just a demo to show people how it's done.

The first time we launched a couple of years ago, it was called "pie-in-the-sky" and we threw a bunch of moon pies on the payload and sent them up. Why moon pies? It hadn't been done before!

Last year we sent up a video camera but lost the payload. I hope to one day go up to recover it, but it's (literally) an uphill climb to get to it.

After the trans-Atlantic flights this winter, I was hoping we were going to do a zero-pressure demo, but time is not on our side.

The way the weather is going, we may not even get around to doing a launch. The forecast is currently 50-50.

I hope it's not as bad as the weather today. We had nickel-sized hail here at the house (I was at work) and some real close lightning strikes.

Not as bad as Iowa, though. Tonight a tornado hit a boy-scout camp and so far 4 are reported dead.

It's bad when weather hits like this, but it makes SKYWARN and weather spotters all the more valuable.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Back from camping

What a weekend. Camping in North Carolina is certainly an experience.

To quote a famous book, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

For the first of June, it was way hotter than expected, and hotter than normal for this time of year. Usually the heat waits until Field Day weekend.

Just getting out of the driveway was a problem. The damned minivan wouldn't start! We jumped off with my Trailblazer, and then head off. To sum up that experience, the battery ran down if we kept the doors open longer than 5 minutes. I got that taken care of when we got back home (after a jump from the campground manager). Still under warranty, free replacement battery...thank you Advance!

There was a family from South Carolina next to us, but they were away from the campsite when we arrived just after noon on Friday.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived was this eerie sound of the Cicadas coming around for their 17-year cycle of life. The sound was a constant high-pitched whine, almost like a transceiver on a dead frequency or just above a frequency where someone is tuning their radio. To have that sound all around you was somewhat haunting.

We surprised the girls when we showed them their cabin. Designed for the kids to have something to do and even use as a shelter as we'd find out later.
Kids' Cabin

We spend the day setting up and settling in. Of course I run to Wal-Mart to get supplies. One surprise for me was that we had AC at the kids' cabin! First thing to get is fans, then extension cords.

The kids enjoy the creek next to the cabin, barely knee-deep for the girls at it's lowest point so I don't have to worry too much.

We meet our tent neighbors and they have a 3-yr-old, and she and my girls hit it off from minute 1. It was a good thing too, because our next set of campers weren't so good.

They show up around 6, and set up across the creek from where we were, things are good at first, but as the night wore on, they wore out their welcome real fast. I learned that they apparently have "family issues" with one guy who may or may not have smacked another's sister. Fortunately all this went on after our girls finally crashed. My tent neighbor (Sean) and I were hesitant to call the campsite manager, thinking he'd just give a warning, and there were only two campsites that would have complained, and pissing off the neighbors and waking up with slashed tires, slashed tent, or slashed me was not what I wanted.

Then things got weird.

One of them apparently was tripping out in a big way. They would walk by our campsites on the way to their cars, and were all the time arming and disarming the system, so we'd just hear "*beep beep*" every so often.

Then one of them would "whoop" every once in a while only to get told to STFU by his friends. Twas quite entertaining, to a point.

While this was going on, my wife and I dealt with a deflating air mattress that we decided was best deflated all the way and throwing a sleeping bag on top of them and crashing for the rest of the night.

I know my wife got little sleep, same as I. Riding on 3 hours sleep the night before, and suffering through heat and stressed out from the battery on the minivan, I finally passed out and I slept through Sean's apparent confrontation with one of them after hearing "*beep beep*" for the upteenth time.

The campsite manager was called out later on and did kick them out, around 6 in the morning.
He told us there were "no warnings" and that he'd have "backup" if they were out of control. Lesson learned for next time. Sean told us later he heard one of them remarking about how much Kool-Aid one of them drank, so it was apparent to him they were high on 'shrooms during the night. I thought it was the DTs from moonshine or something similar myself. Shows how much I know about drugs...

My wife, the kids, and I made our way to Catawba Falls the next day. It was a nice trek. I learned Lauren loves talking on the radio. It was an FRS radio but still I think I have a future ham in the making.

Catawba Falls

2 hours after we came back the most intense thunderstorm I've encountered in years built up right over our campground. I was using the Wi-Fi to update TWIAR's podcast, and at first I thought it was jet aircraft. Only when it got closer, and louder, did I take notice.

The wife and kids took shelter in the cabin, and I grabbed our dog and huddled in the tent to test out the water resistant spray we put on. Lightning struck real close several times, and I wondered if I should abandon the tent and go to the car. But just as quickly as it came, it ended. The tent survived with only minor leaking, and the dog, well, she's pretty scared of thunderstorms and she was a handful during the storm. I'm just glad she didn't leave us a present during the storm. The area must have been really dry, as the creek next to our campsite never rose after the storm, and after all that rain, I thought for sure there would be flooding.

The great thing was that the storm brought the oppressive heat down and shut the cicada's up until the next morning.

With all that excitement, I was wiped out and went to bed early and solidly slept despite being on little cushion. I was worried my back wouldn't like the hard, flat surface, but didn't have any issues.

The van died again as we packed up to leave, and that canceled our plans to go up to Mt. Mitchell to catch a view of the world from the highest peak east of the Mississippi. It was actually a godsend, as I was still exhausted from very little sleep and having to get up early in order to pack up. Traveling to Mt. Mitchell would have delayed our getting home and my getting some much-needed sleep.

Funny thing, as I type this, a hitchhiking bug just crawled across my shirt. He looks like an ant with huge antennae. I don't think I've seen them around here, so I assume he tagged along from the campground.

Overall, the trip was fun. Shroomed neighbors and oppressive heat aside, We're making plans to go back with my brother along for the ride. If only I can find a way to run QRP...


Friday, June 6, 2008

Out for the weekend

I'm going to take my family camping this weekend. The first time we've gone in 5 years.

I'm not big on the great outdoors, but I'm willing to suffer just to see how this turns out.

I plan to take the spare time and catch up on past editions of TWIAR/International and (hopefully) have some content for this blog forthcoming.

This campground sold me on the fact they have Wi-Fi!!! Now that's roughing it!!!

My sister-in-law (ex-ham, got her license at 13, let it expire) will be holding the fort until our return, and she just returned from Iowa (away from those tornadoes, thank heavens) and minding the cat.

Until then, have a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

All that work for nothin'

Well, I spent about 90 mins late last night composing a post about my history with TWIAR, only to have my firefox browser lock up on me and everything went bye-bye...

Needless to say this is not the kind of start I want. But, I will plunder on.

George gave me the go-ahead to affiliate this with TWIAR, so it looks like I'm off and running.

Stay tuned.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Let the fun begin

Well, I'll take a shot at blogging for TWIAR (if George will allow it) and see how this goes.

Some things I want to accomplish with this:
  • Discuss topics covered in the current week's version
  • Discuss topics TWIAR may have missed
  • Discuss issues and activities I'm involved with (ballooning, contesting, SKYWARN, etc.)
  • Discuss my ham radio life, what there is of it
  • Occasionally discuss off-radio subjects as I see fit
I'll get started later in the week as I get the blog page tweaked the way I want it.

A little bit about me:
That's all for now. I also have a twitter page (though I don't actively use it except once/week) in case you're interested.

Thanks for stopping by.