Completing the 2010 Trip Around the Sun

As the year 2010 comes to an end, I feel compelled to write something really insightful and meaningful as we log another trip around the sun. Perhaps some brilliant insights for the coming year? Or predictions of future technology breakthroughs?

Instead, I am writing this.

This is a mishmash of my thoughts about amateur radio at the start of 2011:

  • Tech License Class: One of the most fun and rewarding ham radio things I did this year was help teach a couple of Technician License Classes. There is nothing like engaging with newbies to the hobby to give you a new perspective on how cool amateur radio really is! I have a great set of teammates that made this class fun and successful: Stu W0STU, Paul AA0K and Joyce K0JJW.
  • Next Challenge: The challenge we see right now is helping these newly licensed Techs get engaged with amateur radio, so they don’t drop out. My belief is that the Technician License is a beginners permit that only enables a person to get started in the hobby. We are cooking up some fun activities to keep them going.
  • Public Service: We have a good thing going with the local fire district and the RACES group in our county in terms of real engagement on emergency communications. This is fun, rewarding and a good thing for our local community.
  • Dayton Hamvention: I am going to skip Dayton (again) this year. Instead, I’ll attend the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE), a trade show centered on land mobile and mobile wireless communications. For me, it has an interesting mix of emergency communications, land mobile, data/voice convergence and test & measurement topics. Oh, did I mention that it is in Las Vegas?  I suspect that it will be a better venue than Hara Arena :-)
  • ICOM IC-9100: I have been patiently waiting for this rig to move from vaporware status to reality. Maybe it will happen this year?
  • Keep On Writing: I find that writing is good therapy, so I will keep that on the list for 2011. Mostly it will be this blog and the FM column for CQ VHF magazine.
  • Operating: It seems I don’t actually get on the air as often as I’d like, certainly not for the casual ragchewing QSO. Operating events seem to be a good way for me to get some air time: VHF Contests, Colorado 14er event, Colorado QSO Party, maybe an HF contest or two.
  • D-STAR: I haven’t been spending much time with D-STAR lately and I want to increase the focus on it. D-STAR falls into that dorking around with new technology category where experimenting with it and learning about it is the main activity.  The technology continues to grow in adoption…arguably slow in real terms as the analog modes have such a huge installed base.
  • APRS: Oddly enough, I have been messing around with APRS again, mostly thinking of it as a tracking tool for hiking and other outdoor activities. Maybe we need to look at bridging APRS with D-STAR location data?

Amateur radio is clearly my #1 hobby interest, and by a wide margin. But it is primarily a hobby (yes, with a public service hook to it…at least for me). It is important to keep it in perspective and not let it turn into another job. I already have one of those.

What are you going to be doing in 2011?

73, Bob K0NR

Playing Around with APRS

In the past few weeks, I started playing around with APRS again. Interest in APRS seems to come and go for me over time. It has the technical intrigue of figuring out how it works and the fun of exploring radio propagation paths. (If you are not familiar with APRS, K9DCI has a good introduction to it.)

The web site aprs.fi has some interesting hooks built into it that maps the location of APRS stations. I embedded a map here on my weblog page that shows my home station position (K0NR) and other stations in the vicinity. I intentionally blocked stations that only exist via the internet (no RF).

This map is dynamic in that it will update to show the latest APRS activity. It is fun to try select different map styles (courtesy of Google maps). Also, you may want to look at the html code to see how this is done.

73, Bob K0NR


TSA Travel Tips

I just completed my last business trip of the year. As I was standing in the line for the security screening I was pondering the various techniques I have adopted to smooth the process. Actually, I was just daydreaming since the line was moving pretty slow. It was the family of 5 in front of me that seemed to be clogging the system.

For the infrequent traveler, the most important thing is to read and follow the instructions from the TSA. The other day I saw a guy trying to take 6 quarts of bottled water through security. Then there was the guy with the GIANT belt buckle and a HUGE set of keys in his pocket. Not good.

Here are my tips for making it through TSA screening as easily as possible:

  • Before you enter the security line (or while you are waiting in line), clear your pockets of all things metal and put them into your carry on. Don’t dump all this stuff into the little bowls they have at the x-ray machine as it just slows you down.
  • Keep an eye on the various screening lines to see which ones are getting hosed up. In particular, look for infrequent travelers that don’t seem to know what they are doing and stay away from their line.
  • If you can, stay away from the new body scanners and steer towards the lines that have metal detectors. Be aware that the body scanners require you to take everything out of your pockets, not just metal objects.
  • If you have a jacket with you, there are two options: 1) before you get in line, stuff the jacket into your carry-on bag (one less thing to mess with) or 2) hang onto your jacket but put your metal items into a pocket (best if you have a zipper or other closure on the pocket so things don’t spill out). If you are really hardcore, check out the SCOTTEVEST products with a gazillion pockets.
  • Slip-on shoes are a little faster to get on and off.
  • The x-ray machines have a roller tray that feed carry-on items into the machines. Don’t be too quick to put your luggage onto this tray. First  focus on getting the special items into the tubs they provide. That is, pull your notebook computer, your 1 quart bag of fluids, your shoes, etc. and put them into a tub. Then, as you approach the x-ray machine plop your carry-on bag(s) onto the tray. This avoids juggling a cargo train of luggage on the tray.
  • What about ham radio gear you are carrying? (Yes, this is a ham radio blog.) Handheld transceivers are not much of an issue these days, since they look so much like mobile phones. Sometimes I will pull them out and put them in a tub for screening. For larger radios, treat them like a notebook computer….pull them out of the bag and put it in a tub so it is visible and can be easily x-ray’d.

Those are my thoughts….what do you say?

73, Bob K0NR

NASA Amateur Radio Video from ISS

Well, this one has actually been out on the web for several weeks, but I finally got around to viewing it. Col. Doug Wheeler Wheelock (KF5BOC) gives a short tour of the ISS and then demonstrates amateur radio operating (2 Meter FM) from the ISS. Col. Wheeler Wheelock was very active on the ham radio and I heard him on many passes but was not able to work him.

This is one of the best NASA videos concerning amateur radio on board the ISS, so don’t miss it!

This Spewed Out of the Internet #17

Just catching up on some of the fine information spewing forth from the Internetz.

I saw this video about a flying car. Yeah, I think I might need one, but only if I’m the only one. I don’t want the crummy drivers I see on the road flying around in the air.

See what happens when Hitler finds out he worked rare DX but did not show up in the log.

Here’s a higher quality ham radio video by my friend Steve, WG0AT. See Peanut, Rooster and the Alpha Goat operate from the summit of Mount Herman. It sounds like this may be the last Goathiker video for a while, so enjoy it.

Not to be left out, NASA posted this excellent video from the International Space Station (ISS). Colonel Doug Wheelock gives a fine explanation of what it is like on his end when working the earthbound pileup. Don’t miss this one!

Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) has updated the Ten Essentials for wilderness travel. Whether you use the old ones or the new ones, give this some thought.

The ICOM IC-9100 inches its way towards being available for sale in the US. At least, I think it is. A fairly detailed product brochure is available on ab4oj.com. The latest word is that the radio will be available “soon”.

Yawn, wake me when it shows up.

Electronic Design magazine has a good tutorial on digital communications, including bandwidth, data rate and various forms of modulation.

73, Bob K0NR