Talking at Penguicon. Eventually.

Things are a bit on hold for this year's Penguicon, as far as KD8OMY and me doing a talk or something there. They never really got back to us until just recently, and with everything else we do going on, Neither of us feel we'll have the time to do a decent job at it this year, so we're rather hold off and maybe next year we'll do it. Neither of us have done one of these before, so we're starting from scratch - can't exactly just pull out an old PDF presentation and read off old notecards here.

But, maybe for Penguicon 2012.

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Making a multiband EFHWA antenna

I saw this Make article on making a multiband EFHWA antenna posted on Reddit.com today, and thought I'd share.


New Side Project

We had a board meeting tonight, and afterwards we were talking. Our Net manager for the Tuesday Night Net is having a problem printing to a USB printer rather than a serial printer. We thought about a driver that "fakes" a COM port while actually routing the connection to a USB device (my HT connects to a computer this way. If only the Kenwood software worked), but then anyone else that runs the net would have to set that up, and not all hams are, shall we say, computer experts.

So, I think I'll see what I can come up with as a web app. That way it's very easy for our net manager to hand off a net to someone else to run, without having to worry about setting up any software or sending them any data, and the printing issue is irrelevant. The existing software is a DOS based program that I suspect has been in use a long time, so maybe something more updated and flexible wouldn't be a bad idea.

So, we'll see. I'll be hosting it on github, so when it gets going soon here I'll link to it. If anyone's curious, it'll be in Python using Pylons, just because that's been my latest "thing to learn and play with in spare time" thing lately. The requirements are pretty minimal, so at least to start, it shouldn't be too long-term of a thing to get to a usable state. Maybe more long term, I'll make it something other clubs and groups could use, either as a self-hosted thing, or just something they could make an account on and use.

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Quick updates

I normally hate blog posts like this: just an assortment of excuses why I haven't gotten off my butt and done anything on the blog or whatever. In this case, though, it's been a while since I bothered with the blog, and I don't want it to fall into complete disuse, or appear that it is.

In short, it's been busy. The most obvious reason is that it's the end of December, with all of the holiday commotion that it entails. I've also gotten a new job that I'll be stating in early January at Wayne State University. I actually started applying for one job there, and ended up with one a little higher up the ladder, so I've had to make some trips up there, mess around with paperwork, and so on. Add to that my usual work, and so on, and I just haven't had a whole lot of time for ham radio things, and much of what I did have was dedicated to writing up meeting minutes for the club, since I'm the secretary now.

I haven't been doing much with the hobby lately, but I'll soon change that. I still need to get the HF station going, but I'll probably give satellites another try soon, too. Well, as soon as we start getting more than a blink of daylight, anyway. Right now it's a little hard when the only daylight we get is during working hours. Soon, though.

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2010 Detroit Free Press Marathon

The Free Press Marathon was Sunday, and was pretty interesting. I'd never volunteered for something like this before, so in the days approaching it I was slightly worried about forgetting something or missing some detail, but all went pretty smoothly. I think part of it was that I had been given a good amount of information about the overall communications plan that didn't really pertain to me, so for someone coming into this when most there seemed to be coming back having done it before, it was a little overwhelming. Fortunately, though, I was assigned to a Fluid Station (Fluid Station 13, specifically) that was halfway through the race, and on the far edge of the course, so it wasn't dense with spectators or otherwise hectic.

Not knowing how traffic would be, and knowing that the roads would start being closed off around 6am, I got up early - around 3am, and got ready. I don't recall exactly, but I think I found the station at around 4:30 or 5am, and drove a little longer to find a somewhat nearby parking spot, which ended up being just on a side street about a block away. I happened to walk up to it right as the truck was dropping off the supplies for the station, but being as I was there just to do communications, I had no idea what was going on with them, so I left them alone. Each fluid station is staffed with a group of volunteers, often from companies or sports groups. I think around 5:30 or 6am the group doing this fluid station (an athletic clothing company, Lululemon Athletica) arrived and started setting up. Suddenly one of the cheap (but quite bright) LED flashlights I had brought proved their worth, since pouring little cups of water in the dark is a wet and annoying task.

At about 7am the start of the race was announced on the radio net, but being that we were some distance down the course, we didn't see the first runners (actually, they were ones doing the course in specialized wheelchairs) for a while, though I didn't make a note of the time. They trickled in, then we saw some small groups, and then the floodgates opened. There were a lot of runners.

My job there was just to observe the runners and course, and report back to the radio net any problems, hazards, medical issues or emergencies, and that sort of thing. Aside from some cars that were driving on the course, though, none of that came up. I did jump in and help keep the people handing the cups off to runners supplied when the bulk of the runners came through, though, since they weren't able to keep up with the people they had there - like I said, there are a lot of runners, and unsurprisingly, they're thirsty.

The only real hiccup or problem I had there was that my HT didn't quite seem to hit the repeater very well - it was enough that if I spoke slower and enunciated carefully, and maybe held the radio up a bit, they could understand me, but I get the impression it was pretty noisy. Fortunately I brought both my cheap mag-mount 2 meter antenna, and my Arrow II antenna. After testing my signal on the repeater before the net started, I walked back to my car and grabbed the mag-mount, and put it on the metal fence behind the fluid station, and tried again. I was told that now I was "full quieting" on the repeater. That obviously limited my mobility, but at some points when I didn't seem to be getting through well, I'd quickly change antennas. This is when I suddenly decided I hate SMA connectors. BNC connectors would have been so much easier and quicker, but so it goes.

After a little while, the "weary wagon" passed by, and the race, for us, was over. I hung around a little afterwards as they cleaned up, but soon thereafter I checked out of the net, and meandered the streets of downtown Detroit until I finally found a way to get to southbound I-75.

There's plenty of articles on the Free Press website, but if you're curious, these pictures are from the fluid station I was actually at (in them, I was probably right behind or to the side of the photographer): One, Two, Three. Another highlight was seeing some of the runners - who could refrain from laughing when you see a runner at a marathon, dressed like this?

Overall, it was interesting and even a bit fun. The runners very often thanked the fluid station staff for volunteering, sometimes quite loudly and enthusiastically. It was enjoyable helping, if only in some very minor role, to make the whole event possible and run smoothly. I plan on being there next year, although maybe next time I can manage to get a little more sleep beforehand.


I’m On HF (sort of)

After ten or eleven years, I finally have an HF radio. I still need to get a tuner and set up a better antenna, but even with just sticking the leftover wire from building the power cable in the SO-239, I can pick up a little bit (although it's noisy, and not much). So far, though, it's pretty awesome just doing the limited listening I'm doing now, but don't plan to leaving it at that for long.

Being in an apartment puts some rather severe restrictions on antennas. I'm on the second floor at least, so I have a little bit of height working for me, since it'll have to be indoors. I'm thinking I might try a form of magnetic loop, or any number of other options I've seen people talking about blogs and whatnot. I'll definitely post what works and doesn't work when I get into that - the web has plenty out there, but a lot of "see what works for you", so maybe if I detail it, it'll be of use to someone else, too.

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Election Results, New Radio On The Way

Simple enough - everyone that was nominated by the nominating committee was elected unopposed for their positions, which includes me. I'm now the Secretary for the Motor City Radio Club. I have to start getting off my butt now, and go to board meetings. At least there's food. Jerks, they know exactly how to bribe me into going.

In other news, I have a Kenwood TS-430S on the way, courtesy of another ham on Ebay. A 20 or so year old radio, but they're (relatively speaking) cheap, and I've heard they're good solid radios, and the low-frills design means they're a decent "first radio". Despite being licensed for around 11 years now, I've never really operated on the HF bands, so this is like starting a whole new hobby to me.

I'm thinking I'll ask someone in the MCRC if they'd mind me taking it over to their station and just running through the bands and making sure it's all fully functional, since this is part of me setting up my first HF station (still need to get an antenna tuner, for example). I meant to ask at the meeting, but forgot, so maybe I'll just mention it on the Tuesday night net. Part of me setting up my shack will involve some experimenting with indoor, low-profile antennas and operating with low power (the joys of apartment-dwelling amateur radio), so that way if I don't hear anything during that, I know it's the antenna, not the rig. I'm not too worried about the selling trying to screw me, as he's been extremely communicative so far, and even emailed just to say "let me know if there's any problems" and noted that he always worries a bit about that when he sends out a radio. I think if he were trying to be devious and screw me on it, he'd be like most people there and do the bare minimum communication. Naive maybe, but talking to a human rather than a form mail helps, in that regard.

It's planned on being delivered Tuesday, so maybe very soon here, even if only limitedly, I may finally break into the low bands.

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Some MCRC Updates

Despite what laziness with updating the blog here might suggest, plenty has been going on.  In September, we (the Motor City Radio Club) had our annual picnic at Elizabeth Park in Trenton. All summer it's been miserably hot and humid, but this one was worth going to anyway. We even had a small transmitter hunt of sorts - Stan K8SB noticed that a homemade 2 meter yagi that Bruce KD8JTZ had brought along was radiating, even though it wasn't connected to a transmitter. Seemed a little like the beginning to an episode of The Twilight Zone until it was pointed out that it was connected to an active attenuator.

This month's meeting was fairly routine, but was of importance because it was the night we do nominations, with the actual elections for club board positions happening in October. So far, the only nominations submitted are the ones put forth  by the nominations committee (as mentioned in The Spark Gap):

  • For President: Ken Lux, N8TDF
  • For Vice President: Neal Freeling, W8LYP
  • For Secretary: Mike Ward, KC8LPZ (I might be biased, but I'm voting for this guy)
  • For Treasurer: Dale Problenz, WA8FRD

I'm told that the club has a bit of a curse with secretaries - for the past few years, they always have to resign/leave/etc before the end of the year-long term, for one reason or another. Fortunately, I don't think that should be an issue with me at least, so maybe I can help break a bad tradition.

Also coming up is the Detroit Free Press Marathon, which I have yet to actually go volunteer for, but plan to (as in, later today, now that I've remembered to do it). It sounds fun, and I've been meaning for a long time to start helping out with events like that. The biggest challenge, I expect, will be getting up early enough for it. I'm not much of a morning person.

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I’d Tap That

There was no way I could pass up posting this.

Thanks, Steven.

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Talking At Penguicon

I've mentioned Penguicon before, so I'll skip the introduction to it. In a nutshell though, it's an annual science fiction and open source convention in the Detroit area, and I've been going for a few years now. The topics that come up there range from an hour-long talk on Godzilla that a friend attended, to a presentation about PHP by the guy that wrote it. Guests there have included people like Randall Munroe of XKCD, Eric S. Raymond, Bruce Schneier, and so on and so on. You get the idea - it's pretty great.

Obviously, I've lately been getting back in to amateur radio, and last year brought along my HT. Someone had put up signs showing a talk-around frequency on 440Mhz, but that seemed to be the extent of the amateur radio activity there. I did meet a few other hams there that saw my HT and introduced themselves (it worked great in that capacity, enough that even when I didn't plan to use it at all I left it on my belt), but that's about it. So this coming year, I plan to help change that a bit along with Adam, KD8OMY.

Adam and I have both been going to Penguicon for a few years, so the idea of doing a few talks sounded enticing, if not a bit intimidating. We're still in the planning stages and I'll post more about it as it develops, but I thought I'd share what we have in mind at the moment, and any feedback or comments are more than appreciated. We're still very early in this, we haven't even really talked much to the people at the con about doing it, so things are still very fluid.

So, some of the talks we're considering doing:

Intro to Amateur Radio
We're definitely going to do a very entry-level introduction to the hobby, although possibly with a cooler name. I think it'd be best to assume they barely know what a radio is, and go from there, with the intent that even attendees that are just there for webcomics and science fiction sorts of things would be able to walk in and learn the basics about what the hobby is, what we do, a little about how it works, and so on. It'd probably be more about the hobby in a practical way than a technical way, although a mixture of both.

Open Source and Amateur Radio
It just makes sense at a convention like this, and it's a topic both Adam and I spend some time with, both of us being Linux users. Some open source software we thought about at least mentioning includes:

Satellite Communications with Amateur Radio
Kind of an obvious one, since I've been getting into it. I'm kind of on the fence with this one though, just because it's a bit more of a niche. It'd be great if we could do a live demo, but I don't know for certain the date of Penguicon 2011, so I can't check for satellite passes yet.

Digital Modes in Amateur Radio
Packet, APRS, PSK31, maybe even a brief mention of Echolink. Not sure how much we'll be able to demonstrate instead of purely talk about, but the more the better.

Homebrew fun
Not sure exactly what we'd do with this one, but homebrewing electronics is an interesting part of the the amateur radio hobby. What would be the point if everything we did was just store-bought and plugged in, with no understanding of what was going on? This could also be done as more of a "Intro to Radio Electronics" or something, too.

We probably won't do all of these, maybe two or three, but that's what we're thinking about at this point. It was also suggested that we have a VE testing session at the con, but that'd be a bit more involved to plan out and get ready (we're just a pair of Generals, so we'd have to get other VEs in to do it), and this is our first time, so we might have to skip that, at least this year.

Let me know what you think, either in the comments here or emailing me at my-call-sign@arrl.net. I'd love any comments, feedback, or suggestions.

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