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Friday, April 30, 2010

You never know who's listening...

Last Saturday night, before this whole brouhaha with K8JSM stirred up a hornet's nest, I did something I wasn't sure I'd ever be doing again - participate in a SKYWARN net.

My friend Jason was recently appointed the coordinator for the area and this was to be his first real test in that role. He was used to it, though, since he and I would team up with a couple of others and run the nets years ago. When a new coordinator was named, all he would do is call Jason or another friend of mine, Tom, and get them to run the nets. So they were used to the pressure. I decided to listen in and help, because that's what friends do for one another...

The weather system that moved through had already killed 10 people in Mississippi and was bearing down on East Tennessee.

The National Weather Service (NWS) had been sending out messages warning people about the severity of the system 48 hours beforehand. The last time I recall the NWS being that cautious was when a tornado tore through Mossy Grove several years before. However, by the time it arrived around midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning, it lost most of its energy and was scattered storms.

It still managed to put an E-F2 tornado in Greenback, just southeast of where I live.

As that tornado was touching down, one local TV station was on the air broadcasting the storm's approach to Knoxville.

As I tuned in to the net, several people were checking in and reporting the usual - heavy winds, lotsa lightning, nothing happening, my bunions are killing me...the typical stuff we'd normally get.

But then, one ham who was doing an overnight paper route called in to report he was in contact with another delivery person who "saw a tornado" in Greenback.

In the past, I usually shunned this type of 3rd party reporting. I recall one such net where we spent 15 minutes scrambling to get confirmation because someone heard on a police scanner that the fire department was reporting a tornado down in Anderson County near Oak Ridge, and it set off a panic. That report ended up being discounted, but it tied up our net as we struggled to get some sort of visual confirmation from those listening, many of whom ran to their police scanners to listen for the report from the fire department.

But something was different about this report. I knew the guy reporting it and he wouldn't just throw a report out like this without some sort of credible evidence (he and Jason are close friends and I'm sure Jason lectured him about it a dozen times over). Dwight (the ham reporting) made sure to preface his report and said "I'm getting this '3rd party', but another driver just told me he saw a tornado in the Greenback community."

So, I decided I was going to run upstairs into the living room and see what the meteorologists were reporting on TV.

No sooner than I step out of the radio room do I hear one of the two meteorologists on TV exclaim: "And we've just received CONFIRMATION of a tornado in Greenback, this is by AMATEUR RADIO..."

I about had a heart attack.

My first reaction was "what weather net are they listening to?" and I scrambled back to the radio to start scanning for other nets (none were taking place other than in northern Georgia and middle Tennessee) and I quickly grabbed the mic and told Jason to "call me immediately" so that I could let him know the TV station was listening, and possibly erroneously reporting a touchdown. No sooner did I un-key the mic when another ham piped in that the TV station was listening and reporting the tornado touching down.

Well now that the cat was out of the bag, we (as in all of us on the net) had to spend 5+ minutes doing damage control, stating repeatedly that the report was 3rd party, unconfirmed, and that we were working to get visual sighting of damage or of the tornado.

Suddenly other hams start reporting that they're getting reports of ambulance and fire dispatches to homes damaged by tornados and other emergencies. The hams were using specific addresses, and that was always a big no-no when I was calling the nets.

Eventually, the TV station corrected their report, but did mention reports of emergency dispatches were being sent to the same addresses we were hearing, indicating something happened out in Greenback.

Eventually, it came to pass that there was indeed a tornado in Greenback, but the rule of thumb we always employed was not to confirm what we ourselves didn't see.

Dwight didn't do anything wrong, because he did preface that he was getting the information 3rd-hand. However, the TV station was either rushing to get the story out on the air or was not entirely hearing the report by Dwight, and assumed that the tornado was confirmed.

Technically speaking, we couldn't confirm if a tornado did touchdown (that's the NWS's job when they do damage surveys after the fact) but the last thing I want to see is SKYWARN in East Tennessee getting discredited because we're hollering "TORNADO!" when in fact it's not been confirmed, or just something we hear elsewhere.

It's been a couple years since I was involved in SKYWARN. It's gonna take a little bit of time to get used to things again. Getting things back on track is going to have to be priority one, but getting the media on track with what we do is apparently another priority entirely.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Followup on K8JSM

The more I looked into the story of Joseph Sean McVey, K8JSM, the more intriguing a story this became.

Because, according to the airport police in Asheville, NC, this is the face of domestic terrorism:

That's right, folks, this mugshot represents a much bigger threat than Iran obtaining nukes, the Taliban, or even outsourcing to China...This 23-year-old amateur radio buff, civic-minded person who has no criminal background (other than run-ins with Ohio authorities) is threatening our livelihood.

I must admit at first I thought it was a case of some whacker trying to impersonate a police officer with his strobes flashing, brandishing a sidearm, wearing an earpiece and "talking into it", etc.

Then I began to read more and more about this person, and what was developing was more a case of overzealous law enforcement rather than an overzealous ham radio operator trying to impress anyone within sight, showing off that he was in emergency communications.

It also was another flagrant display by the media to quickly demonize and criminalize whomever might threaten President Obama without stepping back and fully assessing the entire situation with some form of objectivity. Even though there was nothing political about the situation, a quick rush has been made by some media to portray McVey as a right-wing extremist lunatic with fantasies of snipers and sadistic thoughts of extremist conservatism coursing through his twisted, sick, feeble mind...

Seriously, both McVey and the authorities at the airport are to blame, in my opinion, and here's why...

First, let's look at Sean. Honor student in school, bright kid, loves music, radios, and target shooting. Is this the profiling of a monster? If anything, he's a nerd. I should know, I was one. Still am.

Now, in the last few days since his arrest we've found, thanks to the monster-making media that he's had issues with law enforcement in the past. He's also been ticketed for having blue flashing lights on his car in 2006. And now we find he *gasp* was critical of President Obama on his Facebook page!!!

So NOW it begins with the media. Demonize McVey as a right-wing extremist who probably is a member of some secret militia in the bible belt. More on that later.

So back to Sean. Yes, he can be over-the-top on wanting to help when help is not asked for. As I posted previously, I've dealt with folks like him in the past, wanting to be Dudley Do-right. They have the best of intentions, and their hearts are in the right place. But sometimes, instead of helping, they hinder the situation, or in some cases escalate it because law enforcement may not know what the person's intentions truly are, other than being a nuisance and getting in the way. To some degree, that's what's happened here.

If he had his strobes flashing, sidearm brandished, and was telling people to get back or was directing traffic, yeah, that could be cause for some concern with law enforcement. But if all he did was park his car, get out and watch Air Force One taxi, minding his own business, listening to the radio traffic on his scanner with an earpiece so as not to disturb others, then, other than having the sidearm, there's no serious cause for concern?

Regarding the sidearm, although I support the right to have a gun, and believe strongly in the 2nd amendment, even if it is legal what Sean did, showing up at an area where the President of the United States was (or is) is not what I consider the smartest move to make. That alone is probably what triggered the officers at the airport into action. Bad move on Sean's part.

And speaking of the police, I'll just go on record as saying, again my opinion, the police acted appropriately...to a point.

There was a time years ago when I was the ARES emergency coordinator for Knox County here in Tennessee. Big responsibility. I dealt with overreacting hams and those just waiting ever-so-impatiently for the next big emergency. Not unlike McVey, really. I've also dealt with law enforcement and government officials who didn't care for ham operators. One official whose name I won't mention (because I don't remember his name) thought they were the scourge of communications "experts" everywhere, and despite my reminding him I was a ham and trying to inform him the positives of recent events such as a tornado taking out all other reliable communications in one remote area of East Tennessee except for ham radio, he refused to be swayed otherwise. He let one bad encounter ruin it for the whole hobby in his mind, and I had better things to do than to persuade him otherwise.

The Airport Police stopped McVey and questioned him, but even though he was legally allowed to carry the weapon (both as a sidearm and concealed) they continued to pursue the issue and find some sort of excuse to make an example out of McVey. When they finally pulled said excuse out of some book they probably had to blow the dust off in order to open, that gave them Carte Blanche to rifle through his car under the guise of "probable cause". And lo, what do they find but formulas and calculations for bullet trajectories...clearly they have a dangerous man on their hands. Look again at that mugshot above...

I tend to think the arresting officers probably knew he was a ham and had it in their mind that, just like the county official I referenced, this kid was part of a hobby they detested, and felt they needed to make an example to all hams as to what would happen if any hams got in their way. Yeah, it's probably a bit much for a conspiracy theory, but considering what craziness has come from this whole situation so far, you never know, really.

The airport police claimed they ran his driver's license number through the database and it came back invalid. I find it deliciously odd that only after he was detained, booked, photographed, and charged, that they then magically found that they entered his information into the computer incorrectly...

So this charge of "going armed to the terror of the public", has anyone ever even heard of such a charge? Then, in order to make an example out of McVey, they set bond at $100,000? For a misdemeanor? Then they say that, even if he posted bond he might still remain in jail??? Is that even legal?

The airport police chief even said he did nothing wrong "individually"...
Taken individually, none of things McVey did was against the law, including carrying the gun, Airport Police Chief Jeff Augram said. It was the combination of McVey’s behavior and the things he had that drew the charge, Augram said.
So if I understand correctly, he didn't do anything wrong, but because of his behavior and his ham radios and scanners, he got arrested?

I'm so seriously tempted to head over the mountain 90 miles away to the Asheville Regional Airport/Hair Care/Tire Change & 30-min Lube/Discount Cigarette Outlet/Fireworks Warehouse (tm) and take my handheld Yaesu FT-530, Radio Shack scanner, a listing of frequencies for the airport, a bottle of water over 16oz, and a picket sign that states:
I AM A HAM RADIO OPERATOR, SUPPORTER OF THE 2ND AMENDMENT, AND A SCANNER ENTHUSIAST. THAT MAKES ME A TERROR THREAT TO THE PUBLIC
and just stand there in front of the Airport's Police Station/Mobile Home. Wonder what will happen...hmmm...maybe individually, with the radios, the sign, and the water, I'm in the clear, but put them together...

I myself probably did more research than the media in finding out about who McVey really was. Why was he in North Carolina? His mom lives there. He even posted this fact online last year. Only now is the media catching on. Why did he have all these radios? He's a ham. Looking at his Ohio license plate would have answered that question immediately. Why did he have a gun? He was licensed to.

Almost immediately the media were trying to put this kid in the electric chair without so much as a peep of fact, just innuendo. After all, here was some lunatic from out of town with rifle formulas, police scanners, and carrying a gun wanting to see the President...

Only after the media starts doing their JOB does the truth come to light. He's just a harmless kid with a fascination for radios who wanted to see Air Force One.

Coshocton REACT reacts (video)



In the end, I think that McVey will not serve any more time other than what he served after being arrested. He'll probably get a lecture from the judge but nothing more...

If anything, McVey has a golden opportunity to sell his story to one of the news channels (probably Larry King Live) or a magazine publication. I'd love to talk to him for a TWIAR exclusive, but we can't afford what he'd probably be asking.

Still, I wonder two things: What effect it will have on McVey's civic-minded activities (will he continue to be an overzealous and anxious kid filled with piss and vinegar and wanting to save the world?) and what effect this whole incident will have on ham radio.

God forbid this incident inspires the feds into trying to micromanage ham radio more than they already do, or even worse levy restrictions on civil agencies like RACES, ARES, and SKYWARN. Hopefully the Obama administration won't launch their media dogs into a smear campaign of ham radio, either. The last thing amateur radio needs to be is a foul talking point on the news channels.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guy arrested as Obama leaves Asheville a ham

A man was arrested on Sunday near the Asheville Regional Airport after he was stopped near the airport's car rental parking lot as President Obama was onboard Air Force One taxiing out to depart. Agents stopped Joseph Sean McVey after noticing he was wearing a sidearm and using a handheld radio and talking into a headset. Agents ran his driver's license number and it came back invalid. When asked why he was there, he stated he wanted to see the President.

Not exactly the best thing to say when you have a gun at your side.

He's detained and possibly facing an array of charges. Currently he's charged with "going armed to the terror of the public" (?) a misdemeanor, yet with a $100,000 bond. I'm pretty sure they'll find others to add.

When I heard he had a light bar, siren, and antennas on his car, I immediately looked on QRZ and found there was a name matching his, callsign K8JSM. His age matches with his description (he says he was born in 1987, and the article states he's 23) and he said he goes by Sean, the middle name in the article.

Unfortunately while it seems like his intentions were not terribly concerning (he said he was interested in seeing the President, and just seems like he was just going out as a Secret Service wannabe) he's going to be in a big boatload of trouble. It's going to make ham radio operators look bad as well, depending on how the media plays this out. The article linked earlier talks about the scanners, antennae, and radios he had. It could lead to a few articles or not-so-subtle references to how some in ham radio think they either represent the law, or worse, are above it.

The folks at Hamsexy are talking about it, (their term for these kind of hams is "whackers") and QRZ is also discussing this person. These forums have even found a YouTube video of him chasing a storm in Coshocton County, Ohio and reporting hail. He's also a member of REACT and apparently they have a strong presence as several REACT members were tending to a downed tree. He even is good enough to post the transcripts of his transmissions. What was more amusing to me was the discussion of the proper sizes of hail.

Face it, there's at least one person like Sean in your area. I can name at least two here in East Tennessee. Hell, when I got my ticket I thought about a light bar, headlight strobes, and magnets all over the truck I drove. Yes, we want to be able to have all the equipment at the ready when something does occur, but parading around the countryside with a few lightbars and magnets on your cars when you don't need them can set a bad example for others to follow.
Ask yourself if it's really necessary to have your vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree or a portable discotheque when you're on the road responding to whatever emergency you need to go to, or when you're doing a public service event (marathon, bike race, etc.).

Now several of my friends have the amber lights on their cars or trucks. The small one or two-light system is fine. Subtle, maybe. But the big ones that span the hood of your car and make people wonder if you're with the local utility or some other public service, that's over the top.

God forbid you get red, blue, and/or green ones, indicating you're government/emergency service...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CQD CQD MGY...

Sorry I haven't posted in 3 months. Fact is, I haven't done much radio to talk about.

Lauren's too busy with school to get on the air, but all that may change. We're moving our bedroom back downstairs, where all the radios reside, so we may both be getting a little more airtime. Maybe even Jes will partake in some on-air activity.

I turned 40 last week. Not too happy about it, really, but you can't stop it from happening. It was uneventful, a couple of dinners, and a weekend in Pigeon Forge with the wife.

There they opened a new museum called "Titanic" on Thursday, almost 98 years to the day it set sail on its ill-fated maiden voyage, and we went to it on Sunday. We took pictures of it and naturally, the antenna is what attracted my attention. Since this is a mockup of the forward half of the ship, the entire antenna wasn't there. However, I still contemplated what the resonant frequency of that mockup was...

It's hard to see from this photo but the 4-wire antenna is suspended from the mast in the front to the 2nd funnel (on the real Titanic, there was a 2nd mast positioned behind the 4th funnel, or "dummy" funnel).

The museum did an excellent job in maintaining the historical accuracy of all parts of the Titanic. Radio buffs will be extremely pleased with the way the radio officers John Phillips and Harold Bride are portrayed. They sent distress signals right up until power went out in the radio room and the ship was moments from going under.


Sadly, John Phillips (left) died. Harold Bride survived the sinking, passing away in 1956.

There is a page dedicated to the Marconi room of Titanic I highly recommend. It includes the radio traffic messages passed between Titanic and many of the ships who were rushing to her aid. Titanic used the callsign "MGY", which it was assigned in January of 1912. You'll see the calls of "CQD MGY" (CQD was the predecessor to today's SOS distress call) and the ships that responded.

This photo is the only known photo to exist of Titanic's actual Marconi room. It's a double exposure photo taken by Father Frank Browne who disembarked Titanic at Queensland, her last stop before crossing the Atlantic towards her destiny and history. Had Father Browne remained on board, not only would he have most likely died, but the photos he took would have been destroyed by the sea, and with it, many of the unique photographs only Father Browne was able to capture, including one of Titanic's Captain Smith, and that of a child playing on one of the decks, the only photos of their kind known to exist.

If you make your way to Pigeon Forge (or Branson, MO) do stop in and pay a visit. It's well worth the time and money. We spent about 3 hours in the museum (self-guided) and there's information about Titanic even the most hardcore of enthusiasts will discover. There's even an interactive exhibit that will show you the Morse lettering and will allow you to tap out your name on a touch-screen straight key.

I may even start calling my radio room a Marconi room...if I can ever freshen up on my CW...but that's another story.