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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mt. Pleasant, WI is not kind to ham radio

If you're a ham operator, or the father of one, and you or a member of your family have special needs, stay away from Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin.

The town's planning commission ordered that a tower belonging to the Markstrom family was to be taken down after it was determined that the Markstroms did not secure the proper permits to erect it.

But it's not so much the planning commission, as it is the neighbors who all of a sudden claim that the tower's interfering with their TVs. The complaints were brought on after Jim (KB9MMA) and his son Samm (KC9POP) had their community service during severe weather attract unwanted attention by local officials and neighbors. Samm is 10 and has issues with Cerebral Palsy.

Granted, I don't live there, and I'm certainly biased when it comes to ham radio towers and the right to have one (I will NEVER live in an HOA thanks to their micro-plutocracies that base their "laws" on the almighty $$$ at the expense of individuality and the freedom of expression) but when the neighbors call a ten-year old a "media puppet" and are indifferent to the public service he's been awarded, the negative attention given to the neighbors is warranted in my opinion.

It looks like several media outlets have reported the story and there's even a facebook page dedicated to the cause.

However, now that the commission has spoken, it looks to be a lost cause. Jim has said he may sue to keep the tower, but at this point, why bother? Get the hell out of there, and move to a place that has wide open spaces, and welcomes the community service that Samm employs in order to get out of his shell that his disability has encased him.

And if Mt. Pleasant, God forbid, gets hit with a tornado, I would certainly hope they have ample warning. They would, if they'd allow one ham and his son to keep their tower.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Doppler-gangers

Due to the nature of the subject, I've omitted names and callsigns.

Over the last few weeks we've had several individuals causing malicious interference across several repeaters here in East Tennessee. One was caught a few weeks ago, and turned out to be a non-ham. Of the few others that have appeared, one has been very clever in hiding his (or her) signal quite well, but a few have been able to pick them up. While we have a few leads as to who the suspects are, we haven't singled any people out (yet!).

So, last night on my way home, I checked in to the local SKYWARN net and listened in to the gang wrapping up the net as the weather abated. However, as I was checking on some weather approaching from Nashville, we suddenly heard a dear carrier, covering up all signals.

My immediate reaction was that the NWS station had left the mic stuck in the "transmit" position. However, the NWS station chimed in on another repeater that they were not the cause. So the next natural suggestion was that we had a QRMer.

However, something told me it wasn't intentional. The normal interference we had heard was someone scratching a mic, retransmitting signals from HF, or the occasional bodily function. This was just silence. However, a couple of other hams were convinced it was intentional, because they'd been getting QRM recently.

I stepped up my drive home and arrived and put my home station into action. I swung the beams south and immediately got a spike in my signal strength (about S-7) to the southeast, towards Pigeon Forge. We'd had a couple of leads of QRMers from that area, so I started to think we had a bead on the signal from that general direction. However, another ham advised they had a strong signal near McGee-Tyson Airport, directly south of me. I swung my beams due south, and the signal shot to S-9, almost full quieting! Now, all I needed was another ham with a beam to triangulate a general location.

Unfortunately, no one else with a beam was listening, or wasn't hearing the signal.

I got on the repeater's output frequency and sent out a simplex transmission that we were actively searching for the signal. The repeater owner was listening and managed to shut the repeater off through a control link on another band, preventing damage to his repeater.

A DFer with a doppler unit was in the area, so I advised he head towards the airport. While the DFers were doing their manhunt, I got on the repeater's output frequency again and advised that I had the signal to the south and requested input from users who could hear the signal and give a direction or bearing. Unfortunately, no one was giving beam headings or any signal report. I gave out my phone number and a couple of hams called and gave me some signal strength reports, but again, not from a beam, just what they picked up on their HTs.

About 30 minutes into the situation, we new this was not intentional. No one with common sense would risk their equipment just to harass other hams, especially during a SKYWARN net. 3-4 DFers got in on the hunt, and they had bearings near the airport, but further south. As they got closer to the transmitter, I began looking up hams in the QRZ database who might be in the area. I would ask for street names to try and see if there was any hams who lived on particular streets. After they gave information on one street, I called out a ham's callsign and address, and they sped towards that position. Another ham knew they person and called him on the phone. It turned out he was not the QRMer. The DFer's briefly stayed, using the time to get another bearing before continuing on.

Suddenly, the signal developed noise. it had now been transmitting for over an hour and I figured the radio was beginning to overheat. It went from S-9 to S-7 on my radio's signal strength meter. Some thought the drop in signal was an indication it was mobile, but I didn't hear "picket fencing", indicative of a mobile station on the move.

As the DFers moved in closer, the signal suddenly dropped out. Was the radio dead? The hunters made comments that the radio must've died, but suddenly it reappeared, then cut out again! Suspicion arose. Was this intentional, and the guy was messing with us? Was he monitoring us and shutting off the transmitter the closer the hunters were getting?

Suddenly, it came on again. Then off, and on...it appeared to me that the transmitter was shutting itself off due to thermal protection. We knew we had to find it before the radio was permanently damaged, or worse, started a fire!

We were approaching 2 hours, when suddenly one of the DFers picked up a strong signal near the house of a well-known ham. We finally had our culprit.

The ham had gone out to tend to some business and had just plugged in an ICOM radio he had just acquired. His wife was home and allowed one of the DFers in to check the equipment, and the radio was finally turned off. It turned out the mic had a short in the wiring, and was shorted to transmit.

The radio itself was warm, but not terribly hot. The power supply, however, was able to fry an egg, from what I was told.

It was a successful "hunt" and with the terrain and occasional "kerchunk" from hams trying to figure out why the repeater wasn't on, the DFers were able to resolve the situation in good time.

It was a great exercise in direction finding. Hopefully the lessons learned will make the hunters better when it comes time to locate the actual QRMers on the repeaters.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

You think YOU have a strong opinion about ham radio...

Check this guy out:



The "Truth Revealed About Ham Radio" by Bert Fisher K1OIK – that gives his humble opinion about what he views is wrong with our hobby and some hams within it.

I'd treat this like I treat other hams who have strong opinions (like, oh, I dunno...me!) and just remember what they say about opinions...

Still, it's a very entertaining 10-minute diatribe. I find truth in much of it. And yeah, I've done several of the things he rails on (HIHI!).

By the way, Google Blogs rolled out this new template, and I decided to give it a try. Give me feedback on it. Like? Dislike? Better or worse than the previous template I used?

Monday, June 7, 2010

South African ham/amateur satellite chaser deemed "threat to US national Security"

Well it seems like ham operators, when they're NOT breaking the law, are apparently threats to national security here in the US. Even when they're not American!

Greg Roberts (ZS1BI) is a ham operator in South Africa. When he's not on the air, he's looking into the air. More specifically, into the night sky, chasing "birds", or satellites.

6 weeks ago NASA launched the super-secret X-37B space plane in cooperation with the Air Force. The launch was not announced ahead of time and the orbit of the space plane was kept quiet.

However, Greg and some other observers were able to determine it's orbit based on a chance encounter by one observer, and then reviewing past launches of top secret spacecraft and theorizing when the plane would pass over his location. Sure enough, he was able to not only confirm it's orbit, but he was able to determine it's altitude and orbital inclination, and published his calculated orbital elements online. Satellite observers around the world were able to confirm these predictions as the space plane circled over their locations.

Within days, publications around the world, from the New York Times and others all were agog over how an "amateur" (Greg is actually a retired professional astronomer) was able to accurately predict NASA's new toy.

Well apparently Sector 7 isn't too thrilled with Greg's "amateurish" antics. An article in the South African Times informs us that Greg is now labeled as a "threat to U.S. National Security".

I find it amazing how the US is so concerned with how an amateur from South Africa found the super-secret X-37B, yet they didn't seem too concerned that perhaps the Chinese, or North Koreans, or even our modern-day ally Russians might have found the satellite using the exact same methods employed by Greg, albeit more sophisticated (expensive).

And yet HE is the problem.

Perhaps the CIA and whatever other national security agencies should focus on real threats to US national security, and not worry about the petty observations of people like Greg who are just providing a service to people who might not get access to such information.

I mean, I am a taxpayer after all, so this is my space plane too, is it not?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New York ham cited for talking while driving

From YNN:

Sunday morning, Steve Bozak (WB2IQU/HL9VX) took a drive to Troy. On the way, he talked to his buddies using his ham radio. But he didn't expect to talk to a police officer next.

Bozak said, "He assured me that I was not to be talking on that cell phone. I said this isn't a cell phone. It's an amateur radio. He said it's all the same."

Bozak was issued [a] ticket for talking on a mobile device while driving.

So it appears that law enforcement is targeting ham operators (and possibly CBers) who hold a handheld radio to their ear in order to hear what's being said.

I suppose the lesson here is to use a mobile with a very loud speaker, or whip it over to the curb every time you want to key the mic.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of talking while driving (I can't recall how many times I've nearly been hit by someone distracted on their phone) but I have never had any problems while using a mobile or HT in my vehicle.

Bozak faces a $100 fine and plans to not only contest the ticket but seek an amendment to the state law to exempt ham operators from the statute.

Stay tuned, and drive safe.