Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Don Jones is someone who probably would never been an acquaintance of mine had it not been for Amateur Radio. Outside of radio, we couldn't have been more different, but through our common interest, we shared common goals. Both Don and I were active in our respective county's Amateur Radio clubs and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service.

Our paths first crossed during Field Day in 2006. Even there, our stations couldn't have been more different. Don had set up the 75 meter station (3.5 MHz) while I had set up the 2 meter and 70 centimeter station (144 & 432 MHz). That year, VHF / UHF propagation was awful while the low bands were hot. Consequently, my station made the fewest, and his made the most. I was so happy to hear that Don was operating in West Virginia during this year's field day, most certainly doing something he enjoyed in his last hours.

One of the biggest ARES public service events in our area, the Hike Across Maryland, occurs every two years, and Don was a key part of the 2007 operation, and I was a first timer. My role was tough in one way, and Don's another. I only had to worry about operating for a short time, but in an area where radio signals are difficult to get out, while Don didn't have to worry much about his signal coverage, but had to be on the air for more than half the day having to bring his power source with him.

As his health declined, I we didn't see him as much, but he still made it to the occasional hamfest, and dinner meeting. The last big thing in my memory was when I took the FCC Amateur Radio Extra Class exam. He was part of the volunteer examiner team that gave me the test. I had taken one of the last exams before the Morse Code proficiency requirements were eliminated. Even though it wouldn't be required in less than a week, the VE team still brought the code testing equipment with them. I almost wanted to take it, but, well, I'd already passed it, and only needed the written exam to upgrade.

Those who don't know some of the traditions of Amateur Radio might not understand the title, Amateur Radio operators often refer to those who have passed away as silent keys, abbreviated SK. The prosign (a Morse Code thing) SK di di di dah di dah also means end of contact. Hams, as we are also known are issued licenses and call signs by the FCC, similar to that of your favorite TV station IE: WJZ, and Don's call sign was K8DSJ, with the DSJ being his initials.

I'm starting to understand something

When I mentioned to a few people that Amy and I were going to take in her four month old (at the time) sister, the response I received was shocking to me. It was as if we were saints, seriously, the praise was over the top. I didn't understand it. There is a child that needs parents, we are parents, and I think we are pretty good parents, so what else were we going to do? And wouldn't anybody who could do the same, do the same?

I'm starting to get it, this has been a pretty painful period in our life, something I never expected, at least not so much so fast. To make a long story short, she was taken into Social Services before we were ready. I never once thought that that was going to happen, as far as I knew she was being well taken care of (and she was, but what happened is a totally different story), living the quiet country life. The worst of it was that one telephone call to me or Amy and the baby would be with us instead of in the system. Not that we were completely ready but in that situation, a stop at Wal-Mart on the way home would have been all we needed to get through the first few days.

Maybe some of that praise was because others knew what we were about to get involved in. I was oblivious, and I put my heart into it, and I'm paying the price, and I'll continue to do so as long as there is hope. And that is what I think folks were so praising of.

Monday, June 29, 2009

NE3R 1B MDC : ARRL Field Day 2009

ARRL Field Day 2009 was much different for me this year than it has been in the past. It is the first time I operated as a single operator five watt portable station and handled everything myself. I didn’t do a ton of preparation either, mainly just analyzing the bonus points that I thought I would be able to earn during my operation and making a quick list of the things I needed to bring with me.

Before setting out on my own Field Day operation, I answered a call to help set up one of the largest Field Day operations in the country, W3AO in Howard County, Maryland run by the Columbia Amateur Radio Association, and the Potomac Valley Radio Club. I should have taken the time to count all of the towers, but there were at least nine, probably more. Their operation uses over one mile of coax, and not the cheap stuff either, the thick low loss coax, which is probably a little overkill, but I guess you can say that about a Field Day operation with a class of 20A, which means they’ll have up to 20 transmitters operating at the same time.

Saturday morning, I started packing for my Field Day operation. I did forget a few things, like the antenna analyzer, which I didn’t really have time to use anyway. It took me about 3 hours to setup, which consisted of getting the HF antenna strung between two tall trees, putting the VHF antenna on a mast, erecting the large operating tent, and setting up the batteries, radios, and computer. I would have had things setup much faster if I hadn’t messed up my first two attempts of getting the line in the tree. I used a bow and arrow to fire a fishing line over a tree, then pull the antenna support line over. The first time, I had a perfect shot over the tree, but my knot slipped and the second time, I pulled the antenna support line too far and I couldn’t reach it. Then I couldn’t get a good shot over the tree for a while, but eventually, I got one that worked out OK. Getting the line over the second tree was a breeze, first shot and all was well.

I got a little bit of a late start operating, and I found that operating 5 watts was going to be a little harder than I’m used to as many stations I tried to contact didn’t seem to hear me. I was using CW (Morse code) most of the time, which is a good low power mode, but my code skills are not what they should be as I have to search the band for a signal, listen to them for a while, getting bits and pieces of what they are sending until I am sure I have it all, then I call them. This has worked out well in past field days running 100 watts, because just about everyone would come back after one or two calls, but with 5 watts, I’d go to four, five, six, or more calls before giving up and searching for a new station. I made a few contacts using the digital mode PSK31, which was interesting. I suspect that many stations operating PSK31 were not experienced contesters (not that I am either) but they seemed to be a little slow, especially compared to the CW operators. I also made a few voice contacts near the end. CW and digital contacts were worth two points each, while voice contacts are only worth one. I guess the big question is would I have made at least two voice contacts for every CW and digital contact I made. Since I was only operating 5 watts, I’m thinking no. My antenna was a multi-band parallel dipole which was oriented to have most of the signal going north and south, so I worked a lot of stations in Florida, the South, New England, and Canada, but fewer from the west. If I had more than one antenna or could have changed the direction of the one I had, I probably would have done a little better. My 193 contacts were worth 360 points multiplied by 5 based on my operating class for 1800!

I did OK with bonus points, but I could have done better. I got one hundred points each for: operating 1 transmitter on emergency power, sending NTS message to the section emergency coordinator, handling ten NTS messages, alternate power contacts, and copying the special W1AW Field Day bulletin, plus fifty because I’ll submit the score via the web form. I’m sure I could have made a satellite contact for 100 points if I would have remembered, but I missed two good opportunities, and the media publicity 100 point bonus is easy, you only have to write a press release and send it out, it doesn’t actually have to get published! My QSO points added to my bonus points put my overall score to 2350.

I was tired, but when it all ended at two o’clock on Sunday, I had to take everything down and pack, which took about two hours. Taking everything down by myself, I had time to reflect on my operation, and how I enjoyed it, but definitely felt that something was missing from previous years, the people. Amy and the children had been with me for at least part of the last few Field Days, as well as an entire club of other ham radio operators. I also thought about some of the other aspects of Field Day, but mostly about the ability to set up a radio station anywhere and contact stations across the country. Also on my mind was weather the NTS traffic was a realistic part of the emergency communications aspect, especially with the method I used to send it called a book. Basically, I sent the same message to ten people, so I only had to give the common parts of the message once, then give a different message number and addressee. After some thought, I figured that that actually might be pretty common. For example, if you have ten shelters in the field and the command center wants to give them all the same message or many folks in the shelter wanting to send a welfare message to family saying that they are OK and where they are.

That was Field Day, in a nutshell. Since I was operating by myself, I didn’t think to bring the camera. I should have, because my setup was pretty neat, looking a little like the Field Day logo this year, without the tower and large yagi antenna.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WMATA aka DC Metro

The Metro board complains too much. They complain about the lack of funding, and blame everyone else for their failure to take cars out of service that the NTSB had said were no longer safe. I’m a semi-frequent metro rider on the red line, and I get annoyed with the higher fares and lower service, but what am I going to do about it? Well, it isn’t bad enough for me to do anything about it. Metro can take all of their older cars out of service today, and simply run fewer trains, and leave people on the platform, waiting for the next one, and the next one, and the next one. This would surely get their attention, and their frustration would be heard by the politicians for sure, and the funding would come. Instead, they keep these older cars in service, and risk lives, knowing that they can just blame congress, DC, Virginia, and Maryland when something goes wrong.

South Carolina Governor: Mark Sanford

So, I had a bit of a blog entry started about Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Governor who disappeared for a few days and his staff said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. I had written a lot about the trail, but I’ll save that text for something else, but I’ll focus on the other part of what I wanted to say.

Everybody seems to be complaining that the governor didn’t leave anyone in charge while he was gone, to which my thought was, are the leaders of South Carolina that incompetent that they can’t made good decisions while the governor is away for a few days? I don’t know, all the hoopla over this (before we found out what he was really doing) seems so over the top. What could possibly happen that wouldn’t be taken care of by the appropriate person? Wait, they weren’t planning to secede again, were they? What this is, are politicians trying to find some fault where there really isn’t one.

Now that the truth is out, well, it’s going to be an even bigger circus, and unfortunately, they are going to use a silly argument that everyone in the state along with all the kittens and puppies could have died if X Y & Z had happened while the governor was away doing his affair thing.

Alex’s Archery Cease Fire

So, Amy was telling me the story of a parent that caused a bit of a ruckus at the archery range at Cub Scout day camp the other day. I was hoping Amy would blog it but she’s been so busy with school lately, blogging is about the last thing on her mind.

One of the rules on the archery range is that anyone can say “cease fire” if there is an emergency, but only in an emergency, and the boys were given instructions for what to do if they hear anyone at all say “cease fire”. So, the kids were winding up, most with only one or two arrows left, and a parent who was getting bored apparently said something to the effect of “cease fire already, isn’t it time to rotate”. Of course, a couple of the boys heard, and they put down their bows and arrows and put their hands in the air! Once a few boys did it, all the boys did it, because that is what they were supposed to do. The adults running the range and their Boy Scout helpers were a little confused, but then one of the boys that heard pointed out the parent that said it, who got a little talking too.
Alex hadn’t hit the target that day, the first day of Cub Scout day camp, but I’m happy to report improvement, he is hitting the target and hay bale now!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Frederick.Com Segway Video


It is sort of like a commercial, and sort of like a news report, but the content is the truth, people will get their information from the internet more than TV/Radio/Newspapers combined in the future, if not already. Frederick.Com is a great place to find information about businesses and other happenings in and around Frederick.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Amy's Tiger Cub Scout Bridging Ceremony

Amy found out at the last minute that the pack was having each den leader do their own bridging ceremony to celebrate the boys moving on to the next year of Cub Scouts. Of course, we found out at the last minute, so I thought I'd help by trying to come up with an idea. And I did. Socks. My idea was to get the boys all new Cub Scout socks that are blue with gold tops. None of the boys had Cub Scout socks, although Alex did have Tiger Cub socks, but those are blue with orange tops. My idea contained the basic elements. Amy says something, the boys take off their shoes and socks, cross the bridge, and put on their new socks. I'm not sure who's idea singing the song was, maybe Amy's, but it is something I'd probably have thought of too.

(To be read by den leader or asst)
Tiger Cubs! It has been an awesome year, hasn't it? You all started off, as every Cub Scout does in his journey, by learning the cub scout promise, motto, law of the pack, and sign. This earned you the bobcat badge you wear on your uniforms. Then you made a scrapbook, went on a hike, learned about the food pyramid, visited a museum and a radio station, learned about fire safety, and for all these things and more you earned the tiger badge you wear on your uniforms. But you didn't stop there, you went above and beyond, had more fun, and earned more awards. You built a car and raced in the pinewood derby, you figured out how to drop raw eggs out of a window without them breaking, and you raced in an outdoor obstacle course. Just look at your uniform, look at your badges and belt loops, take a moment to remember. Take a moment to smile.

(To be read by den leader or asst)
Tiger Cubs! I have bad news. This year is over. The good news is that fun isn't! It is time for you to take your place by this bridge, which represents the crossover point you are now at in your lives. When I call your name, come up with your parent, take your place in line, and stand proud.

Boy 1
Boy 2
Boy 3
Boy 4
Boy 5
Boy 6

(To be read by den leader or asst)
Tiger Cubs! For the last year you have been wearing the colors of orange and black. These are the colors of a tiger, and you have worn them proudly! Show honor to these colors, by taking off your hat, slide, and neckerchief and give them carefully to your parents for safe keeping. Consider storing these for your own memories, or pass them down to a new tiger cub who would also wear them with pride.

(To be read by den leader or asst)
Cub Scouts! It is time for you to walk among other Cub Scouts, and wear the colors of blue and gold. The blue stands for honesty, faith, loyalty, and the sky above. The gold stands for good cheer, happiness, and warm sunlight. Before you cross the bridge and begin working on your wolf rank requirements, take off your shoes and socks! Leave your socks behind, your new, blue and gold cub scout socks will be waiting for you when you cross the bridge and become a Wolf cub scout. Walk your journey in them proudly! Don’t forget to take your shoes, because you will need them for many of the activities ahead of you while working on your Wolf rank and arrow points! Now cross the bridge and put on your new socks to take your first steps in as a Wolf Cub Scout!

(Once all the scouts are over the bridge, have socks on and standing with wolf books in hand they sing...)
Scout socks they never get dirty,
the longer you wear them the stronger they get.
Sometimes I think I should wash them,
but something inside me says don't do it yet.
Not yet. Not yet.
(yells) Don't do it yet!

So, there it is. It is sort of a variation of the neckerchief changing ceremony, where the boy takes off their Tiger Cub neckerchief and puts on their new Wolf Cub Scout neckerchief. But that gets done all the time, and well, our boys don't even really like the neckerchief anyway, so what would be in that for them? Not much.

The socks though, were a hit, the boys were very excited to get new socks. My thought from the very beginning was that boys just like socks. I guess I was right. I get the feeling that these bridging ceremonies are mainly for the parents, but we wanted to make sure the boys enjoyed it too!