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Thursday, July 31, 2008

GPSL this weekend

Last winter I had plans to attend the Great Plains Super Launch for high-altitude ballooning. It's an annual event held in the midwest and this year is taking place in Kansas City.

UTARC had committed to attend, and I was going to go as well, but rising gas prices and my commitment to go back to San Diego next week took precedence, and I'll be unable to attend.

If any hams are in the area, I highly recommend going. If you're interested in high-altitude ballooning, near-space research, or are just curious, I would make plans to head out there.

I did get t-shirts for the kids, the wife, and myself. Unfortunately they'll be worn in abstention.

As for San Diego, I'm going to make a bigger effort to hit some repeaters as I get time. I'd like to at least say I've talked in California rather than just to someone in California.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

San Diego bust and Houston, we have a problem...

I returned home from San Diego last night. It was definitely a trip I won't forget anytime soon, especially since it looks like I'll be making another trip out here about a week from now.

I tried in vain to chat on any of the San Diego repeaters I could hear. I listened to the nightly net and participated in spite of my lack of warm reception. I didn't bother emailing the answers in, as I was not in the mood to be snubbed.

I plan to go a little more prepared next time. I'll try to research the area's repeaters a bit before I head out. I also plan to keep my repeater directory in my carry-on bags. While returning home from San Diego, we had a 2-hour layover in Houston which turned into almost 5 hours because of mechanical issues disguised as "fallout from Hurricane Dolly" when I asked the counter agents. While in Houston, I passed the time with my FT-530 and tried to bring up something...ANYTHING in Houston, and could not key up a single repeater on 2m or 440. I didn't know if there was a tone on any repeaters, so I tried a few. I scanned around with my Radio Shack scanner and got nothing on 6m, 2m, 220, and 440. It was DEAD for a Friday night...in Houston??? I ended up passing the time scanning the Bush Intercontinental Airport frequencies and listening to air traffic.

A trip to San Diego might be a dream for some, and I did have a good time while out there. But it's definitely not something I look forward to returning to in a week's time. Mainly it's the job I'm doing, but also the fact that I'm gone for two weeks straight. It stretches my wits to no end to be out for so long. Not to mention the fact that school is starting up in about two weeks for my girls, and I look to be missing that while I'm away.

This is an opportunity for me to improve myself where I work, so I have to go. I just hope I can keep from snapping and ending up live on San Diego TV in a high-speed chase that ends up on TruTV sometime in the near future...

Hopefully my repeater hunt will be better next time. I'll be a little further north in a place called Del Mar, and I'll have some co-workers with me as well. I hope I can complete at least one while I'm on the road.

Dale, our trusty TWIAR file uploader and audio guru and bandwidth hog, is out of town this weekend and unable to upload, so I'm doing that right now as I type this. I don't have the pipelines like what he has out there, so it takes more time to upload. They should be good to go com Sunday morning.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Live from San Diego

One of the things I always wanted to do was visit the West Coast and touch the Pacific Ocean. I honestly thought I wouldn't have that opportunity anytime soon in my life. Especially these days with gas prices and skyrocketing fares on travel really put that thought in the backburner of life.

That infamous "rainy day", we keep saving for always comes sooner than later, so trying to save up for a big trip usually ends in trying to keep my house, car, kids, or me tuned up.

So I come into work one day and get called into my boss's office. My first reaction is typically "what have I done NOW?" to warrant a trip to the principal's office. Needless to say my reaction to "We may have to send you to San Diego for training" was a shock to the system.

I won't bore with details, but I'm in the home stretch of a nearly two-week stay in San Diego, specifically La Jolla (pronounced "lah-HOY-yah") north of the city, next to the golf course Tiger Woods recently competed against Rocco Mediate, bad knees, and the odds to win the US Open. I took a late night walk Friday night on that course over to the coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific and watched the ocean. Absolutely amazing.

Emotionally and mentally I'm exhausted, though. And I still have 4-5 days to go before I can head eastward on that jet aeroplane. The fact I have been away from my wife and kids has really taken a toll on me. But I suppose it takes this kind of event to realize what's important in my life, and my wife and kids are having it just as rough. It always breaks the heart to hear your kids cry because they miss daddy.

The California life is definitely unique and a place I recommend visiting at least once in life. The thing is, I may be coming back out here again real soon.

I have seen the vast scope of San Diego in the relatively short time here. I've witnessed beautiful sunsets, amazingly beautiful weather, amazingly beautiful women, fog and more fog, parasailing without a motor, the San Diego Silverman, expensive prices, wonderful Italian, Mexican, and fast food, a nude beach (no, I did not strip), a gay pride parade (NO, I DID NOT PARTICIPATE!), the San Diego Zoo, and a trolley tour through many parts of the city.

I arrived last Monday, but it wasn't until Friday night that I took out my FT-530 Yaesu and tried to scan the area for repeaters. 2 meters is a bust. I can hit some repeaters on Palomar Mountain, but can't tell if anyone can hear me. No one answers back. I tried a repeater link system on 448.900 (An unusual repeater pairing for me to experience) and could not get in. It is either toned to where I cannot get in, or I'm just not making it. They have a nightly "late-night" net at 11PM Pacific which has a trivia question quiz and I participated by sending the NCS an email with my trivia answers. I sent an email detailing my plight for not making it in to the net and my answers. I got a one-word response: "OK". Not exactly friendly, if you ask me. He did ask for internet relays and gave his email address, and I did oblige. Too bad he didn't give me the courtesy of a "welcome to California".

This net also apparently has a QRMer who is disrupting the net. He did it Friday and Sunday nights (he's doing it now as I type this but he never does it when I hit the recorder) and it sounds like he's a regular occurrence.

He sounds like Jack Gerritsen, who was in Los Angeles, CA and was a problem during maritime emergency nets, but didn't have any real actions taken against him until the Coast Guard got involved. However, last I heard he was serving 7 years.

It would be nice to have at least one QSO before I leave San Diego, but the odds are not in my favor, as I can't seem to hit any repeaters. I'll keep trying, and see what happens.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Remember when Radio Shack was a radio store?

I can remember years ago walking in to a Radio Shack store in the mall and being constantly amazed at the gadgets and gizmos that lines the walls with the latest in technological wonders.

Remember when they sold crystal radio kits that you pieced together to pick up an AM radio station?

I can remember begging to get one of those 150-in-one kits for various electronic experiments. I wanted to build the lie detector to see if my brother was telling the truth about what he did with my action figures.

Alas it was not meant to be. Mom couldn't justify the spending of it and I was deprived of becoming a ham operator earlier in life or an Electronics Engineer in the making because of this depravity.

But life moves on. And Radio Shack is now just a place for electronic toys that you can buy practically anywhere (often at a better price) rather than a place where you can find electronic toys to learn with.

That was Radio Shack's niche. You learned about electronics and you learned how things worked while having fun at the same time.

Now, it's just "buy this cell phone" or "buy this satellite dish" or "buy this MP3 player".

Back in the day, a Radio Shack employee had to know the stuff they sold. They knew Ohm's law, how a computer worked, and what component needed to be replaced if you had a problem with you radio-controlled car. Now anymore you get the kind of look a dog has when it hears a high-pitched sound when you ask them if they have solder.

Case in point, I was looking to install a mobile in my car last week and went in to a Radio Shack store, won't say where. My request was simple: "Do you have any molex connectors?". His response, "Huh?" echoes through the empty store (save the blaring of Robocop 2 on the TVs being displayed).

I try to explain what I need and he responds "We used to" and went back to his daydreaming and watching Robocop 2. Such a shame, really. Why should he bother with someone who knows more about electronics that he does? You'd think I'd go to an electronics store or something...

My experience in this misery was momentarily uplifted when I spotted a roll of RG-213 for cutting by the foot, and figured this wasn't as bad a place as I might give it credit, since I normally don't see this kind of cable at a regular Radio Shack, and I asked a question (given I wasn't able to look online at that moment) about the attenuation on this versus RG-8. Again, "Huh?". I restated my question: "How much better is RG-213 versus RG-8 on the different radio bands?".

His reaction can be summed up as follows:


Now, I know I should know better about Radio Shack and the lack of tech it's become, but one thing I've always been taught is that a store's employees should at least know SOMETHING about what they're selling, and if not, point you in the right direction to get the answer.

I'm sure he could tell me about the great deals on the cell phones his store carries, or that he could make me a sweet offer to get satellite TV, but when it comes to real technical questions, this guy was not going to have a clue what I was talking about.

I don't want to belittle Radio Shack employees in general, because there are those that know a little bit more than the average Joe, and I try not to let one apple spoil the bunch, but this is not the first time I've encountered clueless Radio Shack "answer guys". Over the last 15 years I've been a ham, I've watched the dumbing down of employees and it's sad to see that the company has basically taken the tech out of the picture and put in the sales, sales, sales part of it.

Now, to their credit, they still are the place to go for scanners and weather radios (I got one of the first generation SAME weather radios when they became available) and they have a good selection of shortwave radios, so they still have some niche markets to cater towards.

I still shop there for connectors, couplers, and adaptors, and every now and again I will peruse the overpriced knickknacks that line their stores, but when the employee concept has gone from being tech geeks to pushy salespeople who know little about what they're selling, it's not a good sign of things to come.

So for now I'll yearn for the days of the HTX-202 and the 5/8 wave mag-mount antenna that were the staple of my early days in ham radio. But I gotta stop by there and pick up another coupler for my home station before they close. I hope they don't try to sell me on satellite radios, however.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Can the press pick something other than "Ham it up"?

Every year around Field Day, the media inundates the masses with amateur radio articles about this great event, and every year, many of them take the simple way out of concocting an original thought and throw a meager story in the back of the "Lifestyles" section with the words "Ham it up" in the title (i.e. "Area amateurs will 'ham it up'...", or simply go lazy and headline "Ham it up" in 72 pt font with a subtitle explaining what they mean, and dashing the hopes of some who might think it was a pork barbecue session.

Here's a few examples from this year's batch.

And it's not just Field Day. Hamfests also tend to bring the phrase back into the limelight as well.

It's not that it's obscene, or derogatory, or condescending. It's just cliched and unoriginal.

I would encourage anyone who's arranging PR for their club or group to encourage their media contact to refrain from using this phrase in their story. No headline, subtitle, placement in the main article, not even in the captions of any photos.

I hope it isn't just me on this thought.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

FIreworks on the 4th

Happy Independence Day. Hope no one blew their hands off or lost hearing in a bottle rocket fight...

I participated in the first Independence Day parade in downtown Gatlinburg, which starts 1 minute after midnight. It was my 2nd year doing it, and had a lot of fun. But something happened before, during, or after the parade, where I apparently jumped from the float and landed wrong and now my right foot is bruised. So I've spent all of the 4th nursing a sore ankle. I didn't feel it at first. I walked the course of the parade with no issues. After the 90 minute drive home from Gatlinburg, I had trouble climbing out. I thought it was just stiffness, because both legs were hurting. Then when I woke up, it was all I could do to walk into the living room.

The fun really got going when I went to WalMart to look for shoes for my little one. I ended up doing a lot of (unnecessary) walking and was royally hurting when I got out. The family went to Texas Roadhouse for dinner and on the way home I saw a really intense thunderstorm to the north. I got home and turned on the radio in time to have a severe thunderstorm warning blare across the weather radio.

Fortunately it was isolated, but intense. Nickel-sized hail and 70 mph winds were in the storm cell. But no one was really doing anything on the frequency so there was no net.

My new neighbors entertained the neighborhood with more fireworks than New York City, I think. We watched the sky light up with lightning to the north and fireworks to the south, west, north, and east.

So the fireworks came from my neighbors and mother nature.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The SOS turns 100

“Send SOS,” one of the Titanic’s radio operators supposedly said to another after the famous ship struck that infamous iceberg. “It’s the new call and besides this may be your last chance to send it.”

That “new call” is 100 years old today, and people around the world who owe their lives to that piece of Morse code may reflect this morning on its importance.

More on this story here.