A few words from our club’s president …
So, last weekend about 30 of us provided radio and support for the Evanston Bike Club’s North Shore Century. This is always a great fall event, attracting thousands of bikers (2300 this year) and raising lots of money for charity (last year they gave away close to $40,000! Yes, $40K). Over the nine years we have done this event, we have really grown in sophistication and numbers. We have teams at all of the 7 rest areas; 8 or 9 ham radio operators with vehicles, radios, APRS trackers and a bike person on the course assisting distressed bikers (flats are the most common, but there can be serious accidents as well). We also have 3-4 hams that travel with the bike SAG (Support and Gear) people, with portable radios and APRS trackers. We also had one bike mobile ham. This year we added a new feature…we tried out a sophisticated event dispatch system that worked extremely well, thanks to the incredible diligence of Dave Hartnett, who spend hours learning how to program the thing.
Basically, people call an 800 number that rings in our command tent. From there, we can formulate a response, based on where the trackers say our vehicles are. We are very proud of the service we have provided, the sophistication of our tools and the team we have assembled. In fact, we now almost outnumber the bike SAG folks.
We did have our share of nagging problems. Our repeaters worked well, but not to the limits of the course. The routes run from Dawes Park in Evanston to Kenosha and back…that is a huge distance. Plus, there are serious terrain issues along the lake and a growing amount of radio traffic. Next year we need to do a better job of figuring out a net control system.
I have brought my favorite little Army tent down to the lake shore to serve as our HQ. And my car was as packed for this event as it is for Field Day…tents, poles, antennas, coax and generators. GAS. Well, somehow some gas spilled on the back floor of the car and really smelled. I thought I could get rid of the smell by just letting the air to it, but it overpowered the interior all event day. That Sunday and Monday, I aired the car and took all of the floor protection surfaces out. I thought that would work. I left the doors and windows open…and by Wednesday it still stunk. Time for some Google therapy…how do you get rid of the smell of gasoline? Dear Heloise? How do you get the smell of gas off…hands, clothes, cars…each was a different category. You can find the answer to almost anything on the Internet! So, I tried the first suggestion: spray Febreze on the carpeting in the car?! Seemed kind of extreme, but what the heck, I tried it. The effect was immediate! It smelt great and I thought, SUCCESS! I closed the doors to the car and slept on it. Next morning, I jumped into the car and was greeted with the most putrid mix of gas and sweet perfume. It was like the Avon plant exploded over a refinery. It was not a pleasant mix. Left the doors opens to see if that would work and over time, the Febreze would overpower the gas fumes, but it never eliminated it. So, back to the Internet…solution #2. Coffee! Seriously. You were to throw ground coffee on the spots and let it sit for a few days. Seemed odd to dump good coffee on the floor…and so I took my wife’s favorite flavored coffee (not my preferred Mexican brand) and low and behold it worked…except for the lingering smell of the flavored coffee. So, I got a can of cheap ground coffee and dumped it on the carpeting and now the car smells better. Not perfect…But livable. So, is there a moral to this tale? My wife would say don’t volunteer (and don’t mess with her coffee)…but another option might be to make sure you have fuel cans that are designed for transport (they do make such things, and they are expensive, but it might be less than dumping decent coffee on the floor!)
The bike event…well, it was a huge success. Thanks again to the great turn out from the ham radio community. I continue to be amazed how generous the ham radio community can be for things like this…makes you proud.
73 Rob K9RST
For the NSRC, fall has become one of our biggest planned Public Service seasons of the year. I say planned, because these events support various causes and are all well planned out in advance. Contrast that with events that are less predictable (Katrina, tornados, etc.). When I worked for the Red Cross as a volunteer, I was grateful to the 40 or so people from around the Chicagoland area who supported our little communication truck, the ECRV. Since then, the Red Cross has abandoned that strategy for other solutions, but our team was composed largely of ham radio folks! I learned then that ham radio people can be trusted to do big things.
I am very pleased to be leading the support for Evanston Bicycle Club’s North Shore Century and Bank of America’s Chicago Marathon. Both present challenges, technically and physically. But what they have in common is the need for good volunteers.
For the bike event, we were asked to help them with a problem. They had no way to keep in contact with their SAG drivers (these are the folks who drive along the course and help distressed cyclists.) Our first year, we observed how they did their work and realized that indeed, no one answered their phones! We put together a radio network, then an APRS network and now we have a very sophisticated dispatching program that we are unveiling this year. We have nearly 30 hams who work alongside the 16 or so bicycle club volunteers to support the 2000 riders, so we have become critical to their event. The best part of it, though, is that these folks have come to see what ham radio can really do…and we can do what we do because we have seasoned pros who are dependable.
For the Marathon, the year after their huge hot weather meltdown (they had to close the course due to a hot weather emergency), they started to look for better ways to manage their course-wide communications. Other marathons had used ham radio operators with varying success…and reluctant as I was to step up, we accepted the assignment to help. Kate Saccany, Jerry Martin and Craig Dieckman and I took on the task of building a support team even though we had no idea what we were doing, where we would get volunteers or what resources were available. We quickly found plenty…repeaters, clubs, and trained volunteers (trained in Emergency Communications or who had taken the FEMA ISC courses). Over the years, we have proven to be a dependable team, so much so that they keep asking us to take on more responsibilities. Our work has even been recognized publicly by FEMA officials who were assigned to observe our work
I have been eager to support all of these events because I think it has given a public face to ham radio. Certainly for the Marathon, the Chicago EMA, Police and Fire Departments have seen a different face of ham radio—people willing to serve, willing to accept responsibility and who understand command and control. Clearly, the Marathon is a very serious undertaking, but I have loved what we have done and extremely grateful to the 115 hams from 4 states who support this event. That said, we always are looking for people. With that many people involved, there is always about a 25% drop out rate, year to year. This year, the NSRC is one of the lead organizations, both in providing leadership and volunteers. But we have clubs from as far away as Peoria joining in as well. This is a team effort. In fact, there are people from 11 different clubs represented.
For a while, using ham radio for public communications had been abandoned in the public service sector. Part of the issue was our own doing…too many hams thought they had total control over the emergency communications scene…but then cell phones, the web and other products basically rendered us useless to many groups. Fortunately for us, many institutions are beginning to rediscover what ham radio can mean to their organizations, and so we have been given a new opportunity to show that we can be useful. It does mean that we have to be mindful of our client’s goals. We serve…not the other way around…is the new mantra.
Meanwhile, the word has gotten out and I have been asked by countless other organizations to help them as well. It is difficult to say no! But we have to be selective with our time and talents sometimes.
I support the Marathon because I am a huge Chicago booster. I think the event is good for the city, ham radio and emergency communication.
If you have an interest in helping with any of these planned events, drop me a line. As for the unplanned events, the best thing is to become engaged with a local EMA office, or served agency. They are all looking for good volunteers.
It all started with Don Whiteman. He declared he was off to his annual summer vacation and was going to be monitoring 40 meters. In the past, this has been a fun way to connect with Don and make sure my station was working. Well, that is where things went sideways.
I called Don on his frequency and he reported my signal was very, very weak. Plus, I was blasting RF throughout my basement shack. RF into the stereo sound system. It was even making a work light at my edit console flash on and off! This had never happened to me before…and obviously signaled that something was very wrong.
As a rule, hams are a hardy, independent lot. We like to solve our own problems. And so I set out on a journey to track down the issues. Of course, I never seem to have the time to just sit down in one setting and do it – other duties call: wife, family, work, club assignments – which is to say that it has taken much longer than I had expected.
I started at the rig. My grandson likes to pretend he is on the radio and often pushes buttons or dials he shouldn’t but that seemed fine. I changed jumper cables, tried different bands (this only happened on the 40/80 dipole). I check connections, the Internet and mentioned it to a few of you. Eventually, I braced for what seemed like the most obvious choice…check out the antenna. Well, that is not so easy. You see, I have one leg of my dipole strung up on a parkway tree, but the easiest access is to walk through my neighbor’s backyard to release the support rope. Last year, the older lady who owned that house and never minded, moved and sold the house to a young couple. I have tried to explain my antenna farm to him in the past, but I could clearly see that it made no sense whatsoever. Lots of questions, some leading, some naïve, all with a twinge of attitude that suggested: “Do I really have to put up with this junk next door!” So, the point is, I try not to ruffle feathers, but I did need to explain that I had to bring the antenna down and see if it was ok, which meant I would like to walk through his backyard. He shrugged approval and moved on to the kids and their pool. My wife was never keen on this stealth operation so I had to do my work when both were gone. Now, dipoles are best done with two people…but hey, you see the time constraint I was under and I was certain this would be a very quick fix. I found my opportunity last Sunday when the neighbors went to Church. I had an hour. It was intensely hot outside, so I knew my wife would not be outside either…so I start operation “Drop Down!”
I jump through the bushes and released the support rope and ran back to my yard to check out the antenna. But, the rope was stuck. A knot in the rope was snagged on a branch. I tugged and pulled, but I could not get it free. I put all of my weight into it and all that happened was some branch near the top would sway. Now I was getting concerned. I went inside the house and made a cup of coffee to think of other ways to release the rope. When I returned, I pulled the rope aggressively and suddenly it was free! So I pulled the dipole down and discover a major slice just below the connector. So, I fixed the cut and went to pull the antenna back up.
God and physics work in mysterious ways. So, I am back in my neighbor’s yard, and I am pulling the support rope back up…only to hit that snag again. Got binoculars out and found that I had placed that rope in the perfect yoke of a branch. Right through the “Y” and the knot could not climb over the valley. I brought the rope down and added some electrical tape, thinking it would help ease the way. Nothing. I tugged, I pulled, I swung on the rope with all my weight. I wrapped the rope around a pipe and used that as a lever. Nothing. Checked my watch and church was to be over in about 10 minutes. The neighbors would be back soon. I took a bio break and sat to think what to do? I could reshoot? I could re-tie the knot? I decided I would give it one more try. This is where God and Physics come together. I went back to the support rope and gave it a big pull and suddenly found there was no resistance! The knot was free. Somehow, the wind, moving the branch, and the gentle pressure on the line did the work! Who needed all of that brut strength! I was thrilled and started to effortlessly pull and pull and pull…and wait…this seemed like I was pulling too much! Sure enough, the knot holding the rope on the other side came loose and was free. I was pulling the antenna down! This is where a buddy would have helped but you know how that goes. I did get the antenna up before the neighbors were home.
Is there a moral to this tale? Many, I am sure but I am using this as a plug for you to attend Dave Hewitt’s talk at our August 12 meeting about setting up your HF station, and advising you to make sure you check ALL your connections – with your spouse, your neighbors and your antenna!
73 Rob K9RST
Field Day is fresh in our minds. Thanks to every single one of you who were able to attend or participate. It was a fabulous weekend event…and hot!
Three days before Field Day, I was making my way to my storage locker to pull Field Day equipment to be staged in my garage. I was also chatting with some other members of the team who were doing the same for their own departments. All the while, I kept thinking, why are we doing this? What is the purpose of Field Day? I even sent myself a little voice memo…basically reciting the ARRL party line: Field Day is an opportunity to show our communities what ham radio can do in the event of a disaster. I guess that is rationale for fighting the heat, the bugs and the weather. Still, it does seem kind of crazy. I mean, we had a whole year to plan. How many disasters give you that much lead time? So, that definition doesn’t really hit the mark. Then I got to thinking, Field Day is really about sacrifice. People willing to go to extraordinary lengths to complete a task. That seems like a better working definition and certainly better characterizes the ham radio people I know. For some of us, there was the intensive week of prep time away from family and work. For others, it was giving up a valuable weekend to practice our radio skills. On Friday, we had about 20 people sweating in the hot June sun to set up antennas and towers. They could have easily stayed home to watch soccer or read a good book. Instead, they joined in on the brutally, tough work, on a scolding summer heat. I know, we aren’t getting younger and the tasks are becoming more physically demanding. The point seems to be that Field Day demonstrates the sacrifice we would make to help our communities. And it is not just the leadership team that makes sacrifices.
When it came to operating radios, even that can be arduous and demand sacrifice. Ask Bill Lederer what it is like to sit for 12 hours straight working CW! Or try 80 meters on a stormy summer night! Your hearing goes batty; your voice becomes raspy and tired and you lose your brain. Or imagine what your brain is like after working 20 hours to set up and then you operate for 4 intense hours on radio duty. At 6 am, suddenly, all of the calls sound like alphabet soup. It takes a large number of dedicated folks to brave the elements administer this self-inflicted stress, to make the sacrifice.
There are rewards as well. Watching the young and old working on HF for the first time and catching the fever of making contacts can be thrilling. Or the excitement of commanding the band with a commanding run until you or your logger drop. It is rewarding to introduce people to this hobby who had no idea what this thing could be; it is showing our public service officials see what we can do. It is explaining to our elected officials why Field Day even exists. And, yes, it is also for seeing old friends. It was great to see Mike Wolf, return back with family in tow or seeing Leo, sporting his 4 day beard! For me, I was really glad to see Greg Lapin. He served as my Field Day operating mentor years back (and thanks for being part of the clean-up crew).
I had the opportunity to teach 15 Cub Scouts about radio, electronics and fun. Wow, it was really a treat to see something that you spend days working on come to life.
Then there are the unsung heroes…many of you don’t know Greg Karlove…but he spent many hours behind the scenes creating tools to solve some of our more vexing problem. How do you put a two inch mast into a tower with a 1-1/2 channel? How do you make waterproof connectors for the towers? How do we hoist a 300 pound tower without killing anyone? Dave Hewitt spent weeks and lots of personal resources creating an attractive GOTA station, and he let us use two of his personal K3 rigs. He had hoped to bring in a Flex radio for display, but when Ron Settle could not make FD because of a family crisis, we had to drop that from the menu. Ron Settle, Mark Klocksin, Ron Harroff and Don Whiteman spent two solid days building the 40 meter beam…then Murphy showed up. Thanks to the quick thinking of Warren Pugh, Jordan Kaplan and others with multiple runs to the hardware store, we got that beam up in the air and working. You may not know that Ed Burckart always puts in the ground rods and has made it his duty to take them out. This is no small task, and in the heat we face it was scary tough. Don Whiteman, Mark Klocksin, Randy Brothers, Dave Hewitt, Warren Pugh spent weeks tweaking the rigs to make sure they worked properly and interfaced with the computer for logging. How about the chefs, Larry Leviton and John Wass? Did anyone thank them for the hours they stood behind a steaming hot grill, in 90 degree heat cooking burgers for us? Chuck Saunders and Hy Alexander accepted the job of leading the antenna mounting team with no real experience in doing this job. We needed some leaders and they accepted the responsibility and handle it well. Sacrifice.
Field Day is great fun, but it demands real sacrifices by many, many people to be successful. I have been chair of this event for 15 years…and I am very, very grateful to all of you for sharing the load. You have to understand, before I was President of this club, I was Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout Troop with 100 scouts. I love camping and the outdoors…and so this is my chance to continue that tradition. Plus, I always wanted to go on some DXpeditions…and Lake Forest might be the farthest I ever get!!
A couple of years back, we divided some of the Field Day the responsibilities: I took on most of the bonus point issues and physical support (the three T’s: towers, antennas, tents) and Randy Brothers managed all of the operating tents and related issues. Since then, we have developed some strong band captains and a great leadership team. Together with all of you, we have made this a true Club event. And one that I am very proud to be part of. Field Day is very much worth the sacrifices we all make for it every year.
So, there I was standing in front of this kindly older lady who runs the business department for the Glenview Public Library. I was there to request a couple of dates for VE sessions for the Fall. She suddenly stopped her research on dates and asked…”This is for the ham radio group? Do people still do ham radio? What are you doing again?” Well, this opened the door for my 2 minute elevator speech about what ham radio is today. Yes, Helen, we still are around and stronger than ever in some ways. And, not only are we an educational organization, we often perform public service for events like the Chicago Marathon, or Skywarn to support the Weather service or we can provide support for larger, more serious catastrophes. Well, that seemed to appease her curiosity and got us talking about the good old days, and her father’s interest in radio. Why did all of our fathers play with radio?
Yes, ham radio exists, but we have hidden ourselves away in dark basement shacks. Even more, our antennas are in full retreat in many cases. We are not visible anymore…which is the entire point of Field Day. At least for one weekend a year, we drag our gear outside to show the world what we can do. Yes, we have made it a friendly contest but we have not done a great job of bringing the world to us. Partly that is our fault. We have chosen a site that has many amenities, but it not the most public of sites. Fact is, it is darn hard to find public spaces that would allow us to operate…some people put Field Day on in malls and parking lots. But far too many have elected to move their operations inside the public service facilities that many of the clubs have now as partners. Nothing wrong with that strategy! At least they have air conditioning! But, it doesn’t bring our story to the public. Telling the public our story through the media has become almost impossible as well, unless you have some peculiar angle that catches their attention. So, what does all of this mean? It means each one of us has an obligation to try to bring our friends and neighbors to our site. Bring them out and show them around. Show them that we have some pretty exciting technology and yes, ham radio really does still exist.
At our next meeting, we will be discussing many topics that relate to being prepared for emergencies, the likes of which Field Day is meant to simulate. Personally, I love the challenge of setting up stations in the outdoors, fighting Mother Nature and getting on the radio. Our Field Day has something for everyone, and I invite you to participate. Want to help some Cub Scouts learn about radio? Join me in teaching them at the Field Day site. Want to help cook? Yes, we have people who do that too! Want to operate? We have SSB, CW stations to operate. There is a GOTA (Get on the Air) station set up just for those of you who have not been on HF much and want to try it out. We also have a bonus station working 6 meters…the tent I call the Grabowski tent - you call and call and call, and sometimes you wake up the 6 meter gods and get slammed with pile ups. It can be both fun and maddening, but you don’t know what is out there unless you call. So, it rewards only those who work the band (sometimes)! We also have many flyers to send out to various places to encourage the public to find us.
Everyone is welcome to join us for our Field Day feast…we encourage you to bring a side dish, salad or dessert. Whatever is left over feeds the people who work overnight on the bands! The feast begins around 4:30-ish.
Field Day really is a feast celebrating ham radio. Come on out! (And bring some mosquito repellent and sun screen…this Field Day is outdoors!)
73 Rob K9RST
This past spring season has been marked with a number of changes, not all fun ones to acknowledge. For one, I was stunned to learn that Bill Rowe, AB9SV, became a SK. The news was even more shocking for many of us because we had just seen him. There is a funny thing that happens to us in this hobby…we work hard together, we play hard together and we kind of meet people where they are in life. So it was with Bill. He was an incredible volunteer for a number of ham radio groups, but I worked most closely with him on the Chicago Marathon ham radio support team. For this he was a tireless volunteer. He pulled together his own team of people, organized them and then ran the aid station. More of us knew Bill for his work with Skywarn. He had a number of key roles, including being a net control operator for the liaison net. Bill had one of those disarming smiles that showed that he clearly understood what was happening, but he would never express it publicly. His eyes and smile said everything! I loved that most about Bill. He had a quiet way of just getting things done. So, to be honest, I never asked what he did before he was in ham radio. It wasn’t until I spoke to his son, Bill Jr. that I learned of his incredible career in electronics. Makes perfect sense…but I just never asked him what he did. Turns out he was a pioneer in the emerging television industry and holds several patents for his work at companies like Zenith, Philips and LG Electronics. So, shame on me for not asking more about Bill’s early life. I often get so focused on mission…achieving a goal, that I don’t always stop and just listen. So, I have a new New Year’s resolution! I will miss Bill and will keep the memory of his warm smile alive.
Meanwhile, long time NSRC Board member, Scott Irwin, W8UFO, announced that he will be leaving town for job opportunity in Florida. Scott has been a very significant, behind-the-scenes player for us here. If you have been to our web site, worked D-Star, been to one of his classes, took an Exam from him, worked with him at one of our numerous public service events, then you know the impact he has had on our ham community. I have asked him several times how he came to get this unusual call…it is a story worth asking him sometime. We will miss you, Scott – and yes, I realize that you won’t be that far away, given technology, we will miss having access to your knowledge and your can-do spirit. Thank you for all that you have done for us and ham radio here.
Spring also seems to get people out of the doldrums of winter and start thinking of warmer times. Well, your NSRC Board has been doing just that. We are on the verge of revealing several new ideas…for one, we are thinking we will have a NSRC picnic, time and place to be determined. It might replace or be part of the Fox Hunt, or a separate event all to itself. Like many of these ideas, we’d love to hear from you about what you want from your club. The winter banquet, for instance: it seems that many people like the format and the location of the current banquet, but would prefer a different time of year. Well, we have been playing with several scenarios, including moving the event to a different venue (Chevy Chase is going to be doing major renovations next year, so we have to find a new venue anyway.) Stay tuned, as they say.
The biggest sign of end of winter for me is the annual trip to Dayton. As many of you know, I leave on Wednesday to go to the QRP seminar known as “Four Days in May.” About 200 people go to the seminars that run a wide range of topics. Some can be quite entertaining and historical; others can be very challenging technically. Either way, it is what Dayton has come to mean for me…a way to meet up with others with similar interests. I know there is a good bunch of NRSC folks who will be going to the Contest University classes this year, also on Thursday at a different hotel. The point is you can come to Dayton and not spend your entire allowance, meet up with good old friends, or make new ones. You might even learn a few things along the way at the many seminars they hold. You can count on rain and a few surprises…some not so pleasing to the senses! Remember when the sewer lines backed up at the Hara Center! That made for a very memorable day in the steamy hot, outdoor flea market!! This year, there is a movement to get a NSRC group photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning at the main entrance, where the ticket windows are, on the southwest side of the building. If you are in town, stop by and be part of the group photo.
That’s it for this month. Thanks for keeping the RF hopping with good conversation, good cheer and great times. See you all at Dayton.
73 Rob K9RST
I just completed working the Shamrock Shuffle with a small team of ham radio operators who help provide communications for the medical teams in the field. We were a small team, maybe 12 people – four at the headquarters and the remaining split out to the two aid stations on the course. We have been doing this work now for about 5 years and the Shamrock is the tiny brother of the Chicago Marathon, where we also provide assistance. But just before I took off for the weekend of fun, I had a chance to listen to the RAIN report who had presented a condensed version of Mitch Stern’s Dayton forum on preparing for public service events. And while I agree with 100% of what Mitch said about being prepared, I wanted to add one more angle.
To me, the very first piece of business is to make sure you have a client relationship with whomever you serve. I tried for years to involve ham radio with my local community and came up very short (most towns on the North Shore feel they can handle whatever comes their way). I moved my focus to the Red Cross, thinking surely they could use radios in their ops…only to find that they had come to rely entirely on computers and satellite technology. Where I have found a home has been with the multiple levels of local runs or other type of races. This started with us with the Evanston Bike Club’s North Shore Century. We have deployed APRS and radio teams to help support the bikers in the field who had become injured or whose bikes had broken down. Over the years, it has developed into a very a strong relationship with the organizers. Eventually, the organizers from the Chicago Marathon sought us out as well. That, it turns out, is a more complex relationship and as we need to be very targeted in the services we offer. But in both cases, it is absolutely essential that we recognize where we fit into the food chain. We serve them!
In Boy Scouting I often heard the term, “servant leader.” I always found that construction weird…so I did a little research and found the term has deep historical roots (related mostly to how a King should govern his people); but that it took a more modern spin in the 70’s when Robert Greenleaf coined it for modern use. Now it is being used in multiple settings from political to religious. To me, this idea resonates on many levels. People did not want ham radio operators around because we became arrogant. No one had radio in those days and now we have been replaced with a zillion new technological toys. We are not on the bleeding edge. Plus, many of the organizations I spoke with had bad experiences with the ham teams. Most hams provided their own gear, offered their own time, but then they started to become less focused on the mission and more focused on building empires. At the Red Cross, many years back, a group of hams pulled all of their gear out, when things did not go their way, and left the Red Cross with no communications. Same thing with the Marathon. In this context, I could see why people did not want to have a group of hapless volunteers hanging around. Forget all of the public service preparedness business and building go kits, if you bring the wrong attitude to the party, you will not be invited.
So, we have been successful in recent years serving all of the organizations I have mentioned, simply because we have made a relentless effort to focus on them and not us. We still come prepared. Carry our own gear. Provide our own parking and pay for our own expenses. But, we don’t need special vehicles, or special tents or equipment…we just serve.
So, next time you work on your go kit…make sure you add the most important tool in the bag…your attitude. Bring your willingness to do whatever is required for the job and people will come to appreciate that we do bring more to the party.
73 Rob K9RST
My work schedule has been taking me on the road this month and my first stop was in Halifax. Nova Scotia. I did get a little worried when I checked my bags with United when the young man asks, “Where is Halifax?” OK. We can all be forgiven for not knowing our geography, but he is in the airline business? (and in fact, I had to look it up on a map myself!). Halifax is in a time zone that is 2 hours ahead of us…so you get some idea of how far away they are from New York.
Working as a filmmaker has its unique challenges…especially when visiting our friendly neighbors to the north, where the government heavily protects their movie industry. So, I have to be somewhat cagey about what I say at the border about the purpose of my trip. I know, I could tell the truth…and that could work, but often they will stop me and tell me to go back home because they don’t want Americans taking Canadian jobs. I found the key to my gaining entry in the past was to point out that I was hiring Canadians…so I was stimulating their economy…but rather than even get into that discussion, I decided to concoct a small story. When asked, “What brings you to Halifax, Mr. Orr?” My response was..”personal, visiting a friend.” His follow up question was, “Where did you ever make a friend from Halifax?” Reasonable question, so I answered, “Ham Radio.” Well, the ruse worked, as he let me enter, but I did not have a good plan B. I did not have the name of a single Canadian operator from Halifax at the ready. The thing is, it really shows the incredible respect that Canadians do have for the hobby…it still is a common way to communicate across their vast country and so I didn’t mind drawing on that to help me safely enter the country (and I wasn’t doing anything illegal anyway, just wanted to avoid long lines at Immigration!)
Halifax is actually a wonderful city, loaded with fascinating Maritime history. Turns out it lays 100 miles from the place where the Titanic sank, and many of the dead were buried here in a solemn cemetery overlooking the harbor. It is also the spot where the largest explosion ever took place, prior to Hiroshima. Two merchant marine war ships collided in the harbor during WWI, and literally blew the town down. 2000 people died. It was an amazing part of history that I was not aware of, and found the way people responded to the scene just amazing. Boston, for instance sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid and so started a strong bond with the people of Halifax as a result. Sorry, folks, no time for radio work on this trip…but next time. I hope to go back one summer or fall when the weather is nicer.
Like many of you, you are probably going a little stir crazy with this cold weather. So, I thought I would work the ARRL SSB DX contest. I had a great time working stations, mostly on 10 meters…I worked almost everything south to Argentina and a raft of Japanese operators before I had to make room for the grand kids.
One ugly casualty, however, was my PC. I fired it up…and it had been a while since it was fired up…and found it was dead. Toast. No response. So, I spent part of the contest tearing the power supply apart to see if I could resuscitate it. No luck…and it was an XP…make sure you hear Mark Klocksin’s talk on what to do with that old XP machine at the next club meeting. So, off I went to my friends a Krex and asked them to rebuild a computer for me. I still like the fact that you can build a custom computer and don’t have to choke down the Apple with no serial ports, DVD drives, expansion slots…some things never die!
73 Rob K9RST
I got to spend some quality time on the road this past month. That is always fun, although not when the temperatures are 21 below with wind chills twice that! I was in Winona, MN to work on a continuing video project for St. Mary’s University. It was exhausting just getting dressed to go outdoors. At least four layers were needed and no skin could be exposed or you would freeze within minutes. I had to work on my tires and just having my hands open to the cold and wind was stunning. On the other hand, I wish I could describe the beauty of the scene as well. There was this magical evening light falling on the Mississippi river basin and the howling wind was whipping the snow into a froth. It was both magical and frightening. Definitely glad I was inside my warm car for most of the journey. Anyway, having spent 5 days driving around MN and WI, I had lots of quality thinking time.
My last Prez Blog generated quite a bit of interest in various areas (story of my early education in South Bend working at WSBT – and the transmitter clean up days). I have been experimenting with Twitter…it still seems odd to me, but I can surely see the benefits of the service, especially for short blasts of news or last minute updates on things. For most items, all you have to do is type #andthename (i.e. #Superbowl) or whatever people call their conversation and you can be included in a long stream of observers and commentators. I have also found the best use of this service is to send alerts to people with links to movies, or articles. I have been sending these NSRC Prez blogs out to my greater Twitter world followers. Of course, to follow me, you have to request permission to “follow” @roborr. To be completely honest, I am still struggling to understand all of this. However, I do think there is a place for this Twitter thing. Facebook, on the other hand, I am still on the fence. I have a Facebook account and occasionally I will see what the kids are doing, but I am generally suspicious of the way they don’t protect your information. So, here I was thinking all high and mighty about these things only to find that our own government has been snatching information for what appears to be good reasons and the virus boys in Russia have been hacking our credit card accounts. So no place is safe anymore.
When I got home, I was greeted not with a warm friendly hello but with an urgent request to fix the oven! I dropped everything and went to it…only to find that there are no schematics online or in the service manual. First, I tried to make sure we didn’t do something silly like program it wrong (remember when ovens only had one button…on and off…or a temp setting). This darn thing is operated by a small computer! Still didn’t work…but I could hear relays clicking, so I knew it was something more electrical than computer. Digging further into the deep recesses of the oven, which sounds simple but really is a pain in the can to get to, I finally found the problem. The 220v line that feeds the system had cooked itself! It was completely melted down. I did service my oven a few weeks back by putting it through the self cleaning mode, but apparently, I have since learned, never do that! All it does is cook the components. So, I have been rebuilding the electrical elements and was almost ready to finish the job when I realized I better check the heat rating of the 10 gauge power cable. Wow…I needed to have wire that is rated for 125 degrees Centigrade. I Googled the to see what the rating was for the wire I was going to use and found it was nowhere near what was needed. I did spend several useless hours trying to find a place to buy the right wire and finally just went online to order the stuff. I should also explain that a local reputable service company charges $200 for the first hour of a service call and they would not be available for a week. I figured what could I lose? I am a ham radio guy…I should be able to handle an oven! So, the parts are on order. It has been an interesting journey and I did finally find the schematic buried way in the back. I am very optimistic. Either I have either beat the system or I will be buying a new oven soon! Stay tuned.
When I was growing up in South Bend, I was a member of a Scouting Explorer Post at WSBT. We did all sorts of production work including helping with remote broadcasts (we had to haul those huge cables that were needed for the cameras in those days). We also produced a weekly radio show that, in retrospect, did more to prepare me for my career in video production than almost any other activity. Anyway, once a month, the station would shut down overnight for transmitter maintenance. We went once to help out and it was quite an education. Basically, they would tear the entire place down completely, clean and replace tubes and components preemptively.
Not that I am even that organized, but generally, during the holiday season, I try to do the same to my ham shack (and office). First off, you would be amazed how much dust collects amongst all of the radio gear and secondly, it gives you a chance to refresh your memory about why you installed things a particular manner (good practice #27…label cables!). My station, like most of ours, started humbly enough and then, as we acquired new radios or accessories, we quickly would add wires. Soon you have a hairball! So, I am in the process of totally re-engineering my ham shack for the umpti-umpth time. I have a new solar panel powered battery backup system I have been working on for far too long. One of my Scouting friends returned one of my boat anchor radios, the Kenwood TS520, so I have been trying to figure out how to get that installed. Also, after a season of public service work, my UHF/VHF radios are just piled high. Need to organize and build a go-kit (there’s a New Year’s resolution!). Amongst the biggest issues I need to straighten out are my coaxes. In the old days, I would use almost any piece of coax I could find and use it. As I have added radios, I am now finding I am using the wrong type of coax for the band or now it is time to replace the older cables with newer ones that might be better suited for the assignment. That is typically part of my summer maintenance program (I call it a program but really it is on a when I get to it basis.) This seems more true to the case, as I learn more about good radio and engineering practice, I re-build my humble shack.
So, call it a New Year’s resolution or whatever, but it seems to be a good practice to continue. My biggest issue is the computer that I have been using in the shack. It is a Windows XP driven PC and the time has come to move it up to the next generation of computing technology (There is always something to change).
I often wonder if we are the last of a breed. I am speaking mostly of people who love the power of radio to beam RF to various devices and learn about new applications. It is true that the current generation of young people feed on “Apps”…perhaps that is where their passions will lie. My cousin’s son is an IT engineer and has been working for the past three summers with Microsoft building Apps. Apparently, he has a real knack for the skill as they are offering him a very nice job (with a commensurate salary) when he graduates. You don’t hear about those opportunities in the radio field so much. Building a career in commercial radio is very bleak these days. Cell phones might be the closest field to radio, but those have become small computers and with phones as an afterthought. Clearly, the engineering passion for the younger generations definitely is computer driven. So, that’s why I wonder if we will ever get the numbers of young people into ham radio? Seems to me that when I was younger (and couldn’t afford much), I caught the fire for radio. That early interest was fueled when I finally could devote more time and resources (meaning money) to the hobby. I watch my own grand children. Every day they come down to play with my iPad…oh, they do enjoy pretend to talk on the radio and messing with all of the buttons in my shack, but largely they are obsessed with the interactive experiences they can enjoy on an iPad. Something to ponder while the temperatures outside are so frightening!
For me, I am grateful to get my ham shack back in operation and have renewed my vow to make at least one contact per day. I wish one and all a healthy and joyous New Year.
73 Rob K9RST