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A few words from Rob K9RST…

Murphy and rooftop antennas

Since I became a more aged fellow this past Spring, I have been trying to be more safety conscious about how I approach dangerous activities.  So, I had a replacement beam antenna I wanted to install on my Glen Martin tower.  I spent most of the morning setting up ladders, safety lines and sorting out gear.  I had assembled the antenna the night before and tested the lengths to make sure they were all correct and then I lifted the new antenna into place against the gutter.  Of course, the phone rang, and I was off to handle some urgent business issues for about an hour.  When I returned, the sun came out and the cool morning temperatures quickly climbed to a steamy 87 degrees…not the best thing for roof work.  Still I was determined to get the antenna up while I had everything in place.  Got the antenna to the roof top, used a rope and pulley to heft it into place and then tied my ladder and myself to the tower, just in case something decided to let loose.  

So there I was about 45 feet in the air, one hand guiding the antenna and one hand digging into my pocket for the u-bolts.  Sure enough, just as I was about to insert the u-bolt, a gust of wind appeared and moved the antenna and the u-bolt slipped through my fingers to the roof below…then off the roof to the deck below and then….well, I don’t know where it landed.  I secured the antenna with the rope and worked my way back down to the ground and spent near 15 minutes looking for that darn u-bolt.  I never did find it!  Fortunately, I had another one from other installs so I could finish the job…but it just goes to show you that Murphy works in high places too!

BTW, the new antenna is up and works like a champ.

Listening In

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a talk at Northwestern for serious speech majors, which was part of a program my aunt and uncle funded to promote scholarship. I went, somewhat reticent about what I was getting into, because some of these talks can be quite deadly.

I was most pleasantly surprised to learn that the speaker, Susan Douglas, was an avid ham radio fan. She has written a book on the history of radio in this country and devoted considerable space to the influence that ham radio operators had in the early development of commercial and non-commercial radio. This was not the topic of her talk, but I did pick up her book, “Listening In,” and I have been trying to gobble it down between jobs.

Basically, she tells how in the wild days before the Internet, this country developed an almost irrational passion for radio. Young men and boys were glued to their shortwave radio sets trying to discover what they could do. As she tells the story, you can feel the fever in the air. In the early days, there were few rules, and although radio was largely seen for the good it could provide, there were some bad eggs (were there ever not bad eggs?) who took advantage of circumstances to have some fun.

For instance, it was common for some folks to pretend they were speaking for the Navy and send ships out to sea just because they could! Apparently things reached a peak when the Titanic sank. As news spread of its demise, some amateur radio folks passing the news around included rumors (sounds like Facebook today) – e.g., “Yes the ship sank, but all of the people were safe.” Well, nothing was even close to the truth, and as a result of the cacophony and chaos then on the bands, the government stepped in and developed protocols and band plans (even that sounds familiar today).

There is one entire chapter devoted to “Why Ham Radio Matters” and it isn’t just about the public service work we do. For her, the true excitement of ham radio is that we have built a small sub culture that uses radio to reach out to distant lands, and to have our imaginations excited by voices from the great out-there. Reading her book brought back many of the reasons why I got into radio in the 50’s and why I continue to find it so fascinating. For me, it is a retreat from the visual world that is my work, and also the fascination that with a simple wire and a small radio, you can hear the world. I highly commend the book to your attention.

This comes just as we begin our annual Field Day Pilgrimage. For many of us, it means dusting off our field gear and preparing for 24 hours of pure operating. I know this does not turn some of you on…but there is a real joy in trying to reach folks around the US and Canada and to overcome adverse conditions.

However, if you are not inclined to burn the midnight oil, please come out Saturday June 25 to socialize and enjoy the day and the food!

Grandkids and ham radio

So, I was thrilled a few weeks back when my way-too-exuberant three year old grandson took a liking my ham shack.  He seemed to enjoy pretending he was at the mic…and would find all kinds of ways to get his 2 foot 10” frame up on the chairs and then up to the mic.  It was funny! (If not a bit dangerous!)  Well, the other day I watched in complete horror as he did what most kids eventually do…he hit every single button on the face of the radio in about one millisecond, including turning it on!  Instantly, the radio went into total spaz mode (this is different from the spaz mode it goes into when I do something, because I can usually remember what button I hit.)  Well, I just spent nearly 35 minutes, running down all of the buttons, trying to find the one single button that he hit that was preventing me from getting the receive audio on!  Yes, I felt like a complete dummy, and yes, I had to get the manual out…but on the bright side, I got up close and personal with the old Pro III.  (He actually hit a little button on an accessory pad that turned the mic on!)

On other fronts, I felt like a 3-year old myself, trying to transfer my files from one computer to another.  I know, this is supposed to be easy – and this one is a Mac to boot, but for some reason, there is a simple, secret handshake that you have to use to make the real files appear (no, this isn’t as simple as copy and paste).  You have to hold the “Options” button until a secret screen appears and allows you to go further.   How did I find that out? The Internet, of course. I can see how many people have given up on technology and have hunkered down into their quiet lives without cell phones and smart phones.  I ran into one of my former Boy Scouts (he is now in his 30’s) a few days back and he basically said, he had given up on technology. He has a cell phone, but for outgoing calls only.  He never –NEVER listens to voice mail and does not do email! He can’t stand Facebook or Twitter or even a Smart phone with Apps!  He likes to just meet up with people face to face!  

Imagine that!  Maybe there is hope.

(March 6)  Well, I finally dusted off the rig and worked the ARRL WW SSB contest this weekend.  It was great to hear 15 meters open up.  First, though, I had to find my microphone!  Seems that my grandchildren have taken a fancy to my microphone – they use it for pretend stage singing.  Although I have to admit, I am amazed how the three year old figured out that it is something you talk into.  I caught him standing on my  desk chair by the rig and hanging onto the microphone talking away.  Maybe he was imitating me?  Anyway, it was a riot, until I needed to find the microphone (he also unplugged it and ran off with it.  I found it in the toy box.)  So, back to the contest.  I knew I wasn’t going to be very competitive…just would be able to get on and do a couple of little runs throughout the weekend.  I started on 40 meters very early Saturday morning and to my amazement, I found a bunch of folks to work.  I worked most of Caribbean in about 30 minutes.  I had to run out and came back later that morning and found 15 meters alive to South America and later to Europe.  If I could hear them, I could work them.  Well, that is something new….haven’t had that experience in a while!  So, while I didn’t set any land speed contesting records, I did have a great time getting back on the air and demonstrating to myself that ole station still works fine.  Oh, I do have a nagging tower issue that I will have to address when I can get back on the roof.  The rotor jams about 90 degrees?

Meanwhile, to keep life interesting, I had to reformat my laptop’s hard drive.  I have had nothing but trouble with it for the past few months and have tried everything, save sending it out.  I have had  IT engineers from McAfee India all over the machine for weeks, and they couldn’t get it to work.  So, I did the dangerous thing. First, I saved all of my files, which are mostly ham files, and then I got the recovery disks out from the file cabinet.  I pushed the disc in with some fear and followed the loading instructions.  Well, it didn’t take long to erase the entire drive and is now in the process of rebuilding hard drive.  We will let you know how it goes, but all of this is a preamble to what Mark Klocksin is going to talk about at the next Club meeting—managing your PC.  I had 50,000 little ham applications (WinLink, APRS, Packet, PSK, logging software…you name it…) on my laptop and I am sure many of them were conflicting with one another.  I am hoping that by starting over, I can more carefully rebuild the drive so that it will work more effectively.  Unfortunately, I will be missing Mark’s talk…so I hope someone take notes!!

I had such good intentions of writing one of these Blogs every month.  Then we went to Yuma for Holidays and time simply got the best of me. Fact is, I have been in one of those end-of-the-year funks that catch us all between closing out the records from one year and starting a new business year. There are countless chores to complete.  Plus, I had the pleasure of working on the final touches for our Winter Banquet, which demands much more detail work as you get closer to the date.  Once again, we had a very successful event.  84 people attended and a good time was had by all.  Our Speaker, Steve Jajkowski, really did keep us all on engaged as he described the history of commercial television in Chicago.  It was much more complex and dynamic story than I would have thought.  He came with power point slides showing some of the key players and some of the local celebs, many of whom built their broadcast careers here. We found out that even our own Trudy Kaplan (Jordan’s wife) has her career start with Channel 3 as an on air personality!


Repeaters. Bears repeating!

Meanwhile, the club has been blessed with a couple of really terrific volunteers, who have been diligently working to improve our two meter machine. Warren Pugh, Dave Hewitt, Ron Harroff, Don Whiteman, Mark Klocksin, Ed Burckart, Mike Swiatkowski are just a few who come to mind.  For the past month, we have been up and down that tower trying our best to make incremental improvements to the 2 meter repeater. As I write, we have deployed only the two meter machine in the space, so that we can isolate some of the technical issues.  As you may recall, Techny, which used to be our home for about 10 years, is basically a brick tower with steel girders supporting the structure.  Our antennas and equipment are indoors, which is an advantage, but this also presents challenges. One floor below us is a complex cell tower site….they have those familiar rectangular antennas mounted in front of each window.  Since we are upstairs, separated by a thick concrete floor from the cell boys, we don’t see too much interference (we think)…but we may have been trying to put to many of our own services up there and that is where we needed to sort out our equipment.  For the moment, the 220 Mhz repeater is down, the APRS/Digi and BBS are also down.  As we refine our work, we will slowly bring these services back on line.


Historic Snow Day

I am sure most of you are aware that we got hit with a sizeable snow storm event this week (Feburary 2, 2011).  I shoveled three driveways myself and have the back pains to prove it.  One of the great, fun things (if you can call it that) that comes with these storms is that you are forced to be home with your radios (and your wife!).  I spent some quality time on my scanner listening to the various police and fire responders who had to work the event (actually, my wife sat alongside as we listened to the various reports of accidents and stranded motorists.)  I was thrilled to discover a web site that lists every single frequency listed to anyone in the Chicago area (I am not a scanner fanatic…so pardon my naïve enthusiasm.) is not a site for the casual user.  They list hundreds of frequencies that you can monitor over their internet site, and, if you choose you can find the frequencies of interest to you and program them into your own radio, which is what I did.  I never did turn on TV last night.  It was a radio night.  I also monitored some of the ARES nets in Wisconsin and Indiana and got all excited about buying a HF amplifier. Frankly, this may be the only reason for me to even think of owning an amplifier.  During times of real emergencies, it would be good to be able to effectively get a signal out on 80 or 40 meters.  Sometimes it takes events like these to bring you back to your senses and give you the time to reflect on the things that are truly important in life.

See you on the bands.


Murphy Showed Up

Murphy stopped by with his entire family and settle in at my ham radio shack …

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Blame it on Wallmart, Part II

A week later, I ordered the parts I needed to fix my computer monitor. I ordered a few more than I needed because the shipping cost was a flat rate of $13. I also ordered more connectors than I needed because, well, why spend $13 shipping a $2 capacitor? So, some of the parts arrived …

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Parts? What parts?

This isn’t what I had in mind for this month…I will still write up a blog on my experiences in Washington, DC to visit the Marine Corp marathon to see how they handle their ham communications…but on my way to the blog this month, this happened:

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Marathon Prep

Rob prep’s for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

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NSRC Serves the Evanston Century

Over the weekend of September 12, many of your fellow club members spent a fine day in the outdoor air helping 2200 avid bicyclists challenge themselves for the annual Evanston Century. It was another amazing event …

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