Today I pulled out my portable radio and went to Marymoor Park to volunteer for the 2010 Tour de Cure. While I have volunteered at public service events before today was full of some firsts. Among them are:
- This was the first event for me in the Seattle area.
- This was the first time I was positioned as the "shadow" (1) for the event director.
- This was the longest shift I've ever worked. I was on station from 6am this morning until 5pm.
- This was the first time I came home with 3 pounds of cream cheese. (2)
It was a good day though I'm tired and sunburned now. I'll certainly be helping out the ADA in the future and looking for other public service events too.
- The shadow position follows a key person and acts as a bridge between them and the amateur radio operators assigned at various locations during the event.
- There were three pound tubs of cream cheese that were donated for the bagels and a few were unused. Most of the leftover food was donated to a food bank. The food bank wouldn't take them so they were just going to be thrown out. I might not be able, and certainly should be allowed, to eat three pounds of cream cheese but at least some of will be used. Need any cream cheese?
I mentioned projects I wanted to build in my last post. I thought I would make a list of the projects I have been planning so I can start to prioritize them and gather all my notes in one place. In no particular order they are:
Saturday while cheesentoast and hollyqueen were out gallivanting around the city I drove to outer Monroe to attend Eldon's (WA0UWH) eBuild-A-Thon and BBQ. I built the MintyBoost from Adafruit. I had a blast and the thing worked on the first try!
There was a bit of an adventure getting to chez WA0UWH. First, I knew about the construction on I-405, so I mapped a route that took me along back roads. Following the steps from Google Maps, I crest the hill and expect to see my destination. Instead I saw a quarry on the right and a horse ranch on the right and a whole lot of nothing in the valley. I drove around a bit and was about to give up when I remembered my phone had maps and luckily I had added WA0UWH to my address book. The map should have had me turn off a mile early and take a different road. Backtracking I followed the map on my phone which led me down this country road. The map showed the road continuing on, but there wasn't a road. Just a gravel drive that looked like an access road for some power line poles in the distance. As I sat there thinking about what to do someone drove out of the access road. He told me there were a few houses back along the "access" road. So me and Zero headed down the road and I found Eldon's place just as described in his directions. The lesson today? Know how to read a map. :)
There are so many projects I haven't done because I didn't have tools or space, but now I have access to both. The problem isn't finding a project, it's picking which one should be next. Laser harp? Near space launch? Radio? Antenna? I am leaning towards a projects I saw in QST for an automatic power switch for a radio in my car. When you turn off the ignition it powers the radio for a few minutes before turning off. This allows any communications in progress to complete before losing power but I won't drain the battery if I forget and turn off the radio. I should also talk to Eldon about drilling a hole in the trunk of my car to mount an antenna.
I had episode #25 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast playing in the background when the phrase N0BML snapped my attention to the audio. See, I wrote KD0BIK asking for a copy of the plans for a battery box. Jerry read my email on the show and mentioned that the plans were still available.
I told myself to spend more time doing stuff instead of reading about doing stuff on the internet. I also decided to complete a couple of long term goals I've had. Namely, to learn CW and to upgrade my amateur radio license to the highest class available, Amateur Extra.
Tonight's practice session with K and W led to a 99.4% accuracy rate. So it's time to add R to the mix and work at it until I get more than 98% correct.
Our first Arts & Crafts Night was a success. hollyqueen make Chicken Soup. cheesentoast finished a necklace. omg_teh_funnay sat around being a smart ass. I baked biscuits and read some supporting material for some projects I want to work on in the coming months. A low-key night but as the first one I am going to call it a success.
Preparing for posting for National Preparedness Month has reignited my interest in amateur radio. The thing that keeps knocking me off track is that I get wound up with living in an apartment so I don't have a place to install antennas or put together a large amateur radio station. So I keep reminding myself of how much fun I do have when I play and that any activity is better than no activity. There are lots of things I can do with the radio equipment I do have. So I have a list of projects that I can do now and another list of projects that I will do in the future.
The future list is waiting on saving up a bit of money to buy new gear with HF capabilities. Because there isn't much room in the apartment for radios my plan is to put together a rig that could be used while backpacking. Then I'll take that to different areas in the area and operate from islands, mountain tops, parks and whatever. I also need to learn Morse Code so that I can use some real small portable units.
Another thing I need to keep reminding myself is that "mike fright" is a common affliction of radio operators. That is a fear of pushing the button and actually talking to people over the radio. Tonight I overcame that fear and pushed the button to join some folks on the Nine O'Clock Net. I was given a nice welcome and no one pointed out the few mistakes I made. I'll have to keep chatting with these folks and get over that fear.
So the first big project on my list is getting one of the radios installed in Zero. I sit in traffic often enough, why not use some of that gear to talk to people while driving around? I have the radio, I just need an antenna, some coax and the kit to mount the radio in a different location from the control head. Oh, and finding someone with some tools and a bit of skill with installing radios in cars. ;)
This is probably not very interesting to anyone else but I've been thinking about it for a while. When I passed the General exam to upgrade my amateur radio license I didn't have the FCC issue a new call sign. My thought was that I will be upgrading to an Amateur Extra class license soon and why go through the hassle of changing twice.
I'm still going to upgrade but looking at the pool of call signs all the nice short ones have been issued. I could pay the money (about $12 every 10 years) for a vanity call sign; get a new sequential call sign issued by the FCC which would be just as long as my current call sign; or keep my current call sign. I'm leaning to this third option because I already have history with my current call sign and accepting a sequential one would take me from KD7LAH to something like AA7RQ. One letter shorter but not as nice as say KE9V.
If I go the vanity call sign route the following are available right now: K0BML, K7BML, W7BML and N7BML. Zero is good because that's the number for the disctrict where I was born. Seven is the number for the district where I live. BML are my initials. K, W and N are the first letters of the call signs issued by the FCC that I could use for an amateur radio license.
I'm leaning towards keeping my current call sign. I've had it for 8 years now.
Update: I just read the fine print for the vanity call sign program and I can't get a 1x2 call sign unless I have an Amateur Extra class license. Looks like it's time to hit the books and get that final upgrade.
September is National Preparedness Month (NPM). In the past I have posted information and links to help people get prepared. I still have quite a bit of information to share, but I was wondering if anyone was interested. If you are interested, what kind of information would you like to see? Some of the topics I can cover are:
- How to design and implement a disaster plan.
- What to keep in your Go Bag. (A “Go Bag” is a backpack or other small bag you keep handy to grab and go during an event.)
- Tips for creating an emergency stockpile in your home.
- How to communicate effectively during an event.
- Amateur radio and how to get your own license.
- How Amateur radio is used during emergencies and disasters.
- The difference between an emergency and a disaster and how to prepare for each.
- Questions and Answers.
So shall I roll up my sleeves and start coming up with some posts? I was just thinking that September is NPM, but events can occur at any time during the year. Maybe I should post about this during the whole year, not just this one month. Something to think about.
Update: There has been enough interest so I will prepare a month of preparedness posts for September. I welcome any questions because I would like to provide information that you can use.
CQ CQ CQ de KD7LAH/AG
In English that means that I passed the FCC Element 3 exam and now have General class privileges. I do not officially have my General class license until the update appears in the FCC database. That could be as short as 2 days if the VEs submit the paperwork electronically or as long as 14 days if it goes by mail. Starting Tuesday I'll have to start watching the FCC updates to see when my new license is issued.
My callsign, KD7LAH, isn't going to change because I would have been issued a new callsign that is similar (2x3) to my current one. Of course I could get a vanity callsign. It's only $11.70 and as a General I could pick a 1x3 callsign that starts with K, N or W. I would rather save the money.
Next up is the Element 4 exam for an Amateur Extra class license. The test for that is 50 questions out of a pool of 785 questions. The questions are harder and involve more math. Another kink in the plan is the question pool will change at the end of June. So I'll have to get cracking on studying for that test.
Well enough with boring you all with the details of my weekend.
73 de KD7LAH
I'm off to the next class now. I'll be taking lunch around noon and the class is in the cafeteria between building 40 and 41. Hint, hint... ;)
I’m about to head out from work to have drinks with my co-workers and VP of Engineering. After that it’s the monthly Eastside Amateur Radio Support (EARS) meeting. Friday after work I’m heading to the Microsoft campus to take the MicroHAMS General Class License Course. The course runs from 7-10pm on Friday, 9-5pm on Saturday and 9-1pm on Sunday. At 1pm on Sunday I’ll be taking the Gernal examination and if all goes well I’ll get a new callsign in a week or so.
Next week I have to start cleaning out stuff and packing for our move in June, finish up the net control script to start hosting the EARS weekly nets and continue preparing the training class on traffic handling.
This weekend I attended the 2008 Communications Academy that was held at the South Seattle Community College. It was two days of talks on a variety of topics related to emergency communications (emcomm). I was originally going to write up a much longer post about my time but instead I’ll hit the highlights and if anyone wants to know more I’ll add some details.
There wasn’t much new information for me on Saturday. The sessions I attended only covered areas of the topics I already knew. I was hoping that with 90 minutes there would be some deeper discussion, but such was not the case. I did enjoy the lunchtime talk by Dr. Charles Simonyi about his time on the International Space Station as a space tourist.
The last session on Saturday covered Radio Mobile, a free software package for predicting radio propagation. Radio Mobile can download digital elevation model (DEM) data from a variety of sources. This allows the software to add in the effects of terrain to produce very accurate predictions. I’ve been having some problems contacting a few repeaters in the area and I with Radio Mobile I can experiment with different antenna configurations without actually installing them.
Sunday held a lot more interest for me starting with the keynote talk about coming attractions in emergency communications. For instance there are approximately 9,000 amateur radio operators who regularly report emcomm activities. Of those about 1,900 are in the Western Washington Section which is 17% of the total across 71 sections. Go us!
In the break after the keynote I was approached by a member of Bellevue EARS and asked if I would be willing to begin a weekly radio net* for the group. I was a bit surprised but as we talked it was clear that they thought something of my abilities and so I said I would consider it. I’m not an official member yet as the city is still processing my background check, so I wasn’t comfortable bringing up the idea to the Emergency Coordinator (EC) directly. I suggested that they should bring up the idea to the EC and that I was willing to serve.
After lunch I had a chance to talk with N7SIC, the EARS EC, and he was supportive of the idea. He has wanted to have a weekly net for the group but has been overloaded with his EC responsibilities. My next step is to verify that I can reach the repeater with my radio setup and if not to find a place to setup a portable station. There is the possibility of running the net out of the Bellevue Emergency Operations Center if I can pass the double deep inspection to get an access badge.
We also talked about me running a training on NTS traffic handling and the proper way to pass messages back and forth. If this happens I hope some of you will help by coming up with some messages to send to friends or family. I’ll post more about this when the time comes and ask for messages.
Another interesting section was about customizing Joomla! for ARES groups. This talk included a demo of what the Seattle ACS group had created and the lessons they had learned from attempting to customize Joomla! instead of creating a plug-in. The best bit was the news that the group is creating a plug-in of their customizations and will make it available so none of us have to reinvent the wheel.
The last session of the conference was about the new wireless alert system that is a result of the Warning, Alert and Reponse Network (WARN) Act the president signed into law as part of H.R. 4954 the SAFE Port Act. A part I like about the WARN Act is that it included specific timelines for implementation and while the individual mobile service providers do not have to implement the system they are required to notify consumers at the time of sale of that fact. Here are a few notes from the talk:
- The current recommendations specify a 90 character English text message. This is the minimum amount of text that can be sent and reach all current mobile devices.
- Alerts are a one-way notification only and not an information service. There is no guarantee of reception.
- If you look at the US as a whole Spanish is spoken in only 1% of households. If you break this down by counties there are 37 languages and 16 character sets spoken in 1% or more of households.
- There are various levels of alert messages. Consumers can opt-out of all levels except Presidential alerts.
- At the beginning alerts are specific to a county. They will be sent several times an hour so that people travelling into an effected area will receive the alert. The mobile device is responsible for supressing duplicate alerts.
- The audible alert and vibration pattern used for WARN Act alerts can not be set by the consumer or used for any other mobile device function. The consumer can choose audible or vibration notification.
- Alerts can not interrupt a voice call in progress although the consumer may be notified by a beep or screen update.
- There is no fee to subscribers for the alert service, unlike 911 services.
I for one think that these can be useful alerts. The problem is folks who will take down the mobile network as they all try to call 911 or family when they receive an alert. Of course this isn’t a new problem. Just try to make a mobile call at the scene of an accident now.
* A net is a scheduled time for people to meet on a given frequency. Some nets are informal and hams just have a friendly chat. I will be running a directed net which is has formal procedure and policies. This will be a chance to practice the skills that are used during an actual emergency, so that during an actual event everyone will know what to do.
P.S. That ended up pretty long even after I skipped some topics. Oh well... Hi Mom! I think she's the only one who would have kept reading this far.
I don't make New Year's resolutions. I do like to set a few goals for myself and here are a few things I would like to accomplish in 2008:
- Upgrade to an Extra class Amateur Radio license. Once I have my new license and callsign I will be moving all of my contacts to use the new callsign. All of the "HollyKing" routes will be kept.
- Learn CW! When the FCC changed the Amateur Radio license structure in 2007 Technician class licensees, like me, gained access to some CW portions of the 80M, 40M, 15M and 10M bands. So why not use them?
- Build a CW station. There are lots of inexpensive kits available. A battery, transceiver, automatic tuner, keyer, paddles and length of antenna wire is all that is needed to get on the air and make some contacts.
- Build the ARES Boom Box. Just another part of my long term plan of a go kit for emergency response.
- Make a significant dent in debt. I haven't finished putting together a budget but I would consider a 33% reduction a success. A bigger dent wouldn't be unwelcome.
- Reduce the amount of stuff. I've been working on reducing a while but 2008 is going to be the great culling. We have to move in June as the management company isn't going to renew our lease here. They're going to remodel and raise the rent to a level that I find unacceptable. hollyqueen and I are city kids so we're going to get ourselves back in the city. So the more I cull the less I have to schlep.
- Volunteer more with organizations like NW Seaport.
- Participate in some public service events. It helps out some fine organizations and is good practice for communicating in less than ideal situations.
- Write a few more short stories.
There were a few nice things in 2007, but I remember far more sadness and stress. So I'm not sorry to see 2007 go.
I look forward to 2008. Happy New Year everyone!
Last night I collected all the various parts and setup my amateur station again. This involved cleaning off the top of my desk, plugging in the power supply, connecting the radio to the antenna, connecting the radio to the power supply and finally turning on the power. Everything worked and the magic smoke is still inside the radio. Yay!
I didn't actually transmit yesterday because I wanted to evaulate the RF exposure I might receive. According to the information provided by the FCC's OET Bulletin #65 I don't have to perform a formal evaluation. I went ahead and performed an evaluation just to see what the results would be. The result is:
|2m (144 Mhz)||70cm (440 Mhz)|
My radio, a Yaesu FT-8800R, can transmit on the two meter (144 MHz) and seventy centimeter (440 MHz) band. The transmission power can be adjusted to one of four levels. The controlled column is the distance, in feet, from the center of the antenna it is safe for people who are aware of the transmission source. The uncontrolled column is the distance, in feet, from the center of the antenna for people who are not aware of the transmission source, for example my next door neighbors.
So I've learned that I can't transmit on full power in my apartment because there is no way that I could place an antenna that would be 10.4' or 10.61' feet from a neighbor. So when we move I'll have to try for an upstairs apartment that's on the outside edge of the building.
Tonight was the weekly net for the Redmond ARES group. As I've mentioned before I was dreading this more than a bit. I had a knot in my stomach and was really tempted to just turn off my radio and skip another week. I didn't though. When the call came for visitors to check in I keyed the mike and clearly spoke my callsign. When I let go of the button I could hear someone just finishing their callsign. I had transmitted at the same time as someone else and thanks to the "magic" of FM radio they won and their signal made it through. It happens, so I keyed up and tried again. As I let go I heard the tail end of another transmission. I tried a third time and didn't hear anything when I released the transmit button and wasn't recognized by net control. A few more attempts and it was clear that my transmissions were not being received. I don't know what's wrong, but at least I tried. I have a week to figure out the problems and get things working before the next net. In the meantime I'm going to send an email to the emergency coordinator (EC) for the ARES group. I'll apologize for dropping the ball and ask if they'll have me back. That's going to be a fun message to write.
After attempting the net hollyqueen and I watched the last three episodes of Dr. Who. We've now caught up with everything but the last holiday special.
Last year I was involved with the Redmond ARES group. I went to meetings, joined the weekly radio nets and participated in a couple of training exercises. Then pretty suddenly I stopped. I stopped because I volunteered for more than I could handle at the time and instead of admit it I just quit participating. As time passed the feeling of failure grew and it became harder to motivate myself to participate. Even writing this post is an exercise of will because it’s easier to hit the delete key and ignore the whole mess. Easy, but I think it’s the wrong answer.
First, I should stand up and face the music. So I screwed up. It’s not the end of the world. I’ll make mistakes in the future. The key is admitting to them and taking corrective action. Learning from them as it were.
Second, I really enjoyed playing around with the radios. I liked being ready to help out in a disaster. Providing support for bike rides, parades and other public events was also a lot of fun. There are a few challenges to operating radios when you live in an apartment but part of the fun is figuring out a way around those challenges. How do I get three days worth of supplies and equipment into a small portable pack?
Tonight is the monthly Redmond ARES meeting, but I have already promised to help cheesentoast move. That means I have until Sunday evening to rig up one of my radios to join the weekly net.
Today $little and I went to Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center. We had a great time! I had been before but this was his first trip and he was bouncing around to check out all the displays. Score another win for me!
We talked a bit about amateur radio and he's interested in learning more about it. Now to figure out something we can do together. I know about Kid's Day but that's not until January. I bet I can get in touch with another local amateur and setup a time to chat on the repeater. I should also send off an email to the leaders of the Lake Washington high school amateur radio club and ask them for some suggestions. This isn't that bad of a problem to have.
Today cheesentoast signed the papers for her own apartment which will be available on Monday. So she'll be moving out next week into her own slice of the "American" dream. On one hand I'm going to miss having her close at hand. On the other our place is cramped with three people so having more breathing room will be nice. It's not like she's flying off to the wilds of southern California or another country... ;)
hollyqueen has decided to keep her desk downstairs which means I'll have the upstairs room mostly to myself. I've been thinking of what to do with the space and here are some of the things under consideration:
- Move the games and puzzles under the stairs so they are easily accessible when we are ready to host some friends.
- File all the boxes of papers into the filing cabinets.
- Move a lot of non-clothing stuff in the bedroom closets into the office closet to give hollyqueen more room.
- Setup the old PS2 with the dance pad and the alternate input on my monitor for some DDR goodness.
- Dig out some radio gear and setup a small 2-meter station.
- Rearrange the books on the shelves to sort the books by category.
- Create a small crafting/project space and organize all my projects.
Basically I want to make a space where I can spend some time working on my existing projects and hobbies instead of going out buying new ones. One key thing I want to maintain is the ability for the room to be used for guests. It would be great if people could come for a visit and we didn't have to stick them on the floor in the corner.
I'll need a name for this area. I'm thinking about the cheesentoast Memorial Research Lab. CMRL for short. ;)