The Annual HARC/NARA Combined Meeting

It is the annual combined Huntsville Amateur Radio Club (HARC)/North Alabama Repeater Association (NARA) meeting. This meeting is generally the first meeting after New Years and the program is a state of the North Alabama Repeaters report along with a preview of some of the enhancements that are planned for the coming year. It is probably the largest meeting of hams in Huntsville except for the annual ham fest that is in August.

The membership numbers of HARC have been growing in the past couple of years. I don’t know for sure but I suspect the membership in NARA has grown as well. I’m not exactly sure why. I suspect it is a combination of several factors. For one thing, the license structure has gotten simpler in recent years. The morse code requirement has been dropped and there are only three levels of license instead of five. The tests questions and answers are published so that you can target your study to the specific topics that you will be tested upon.

Another factor is the proliferation of less expensive ham radio gear. Many of the new radios are based on high speed digital circuitry instead of analog circuits. This results in much more capable radios that are cheaper to build. It also makes home brew radios simpler to design and put together.

And yet another factor is a resurgence in interest in providing emergency communications and relief during disasters both natural and man made. There are also a number of hams that are still interested in the competitive nature of collecting contacts with other hams in other countries around the world. There is also an element of competition during contests to see how many contacts one can make in a given time period.

Whatever the reason, the hobby is growing faster than at any other time that I remember and I’ve been following it for well over forty years. I just thought of another reason that it may be growing so much lately. People have gotten a taste for global social interaction from the internet but they are getting a bit tired of the bad behavior that seems so prevalent in many venues on the internet. Radio is largely self policing and is a much friendlier community in general than the internet. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Night Life in Huntsville, Alabama

I went to the Huntsville Amateur Radio Club (HARC) meeting tonight. My friend, Bob, got a plaque for being Ham of the Year. Then they had a very well done video about the club’s Field Day activities this year. Our club has earned first place in our division for seven out of the last ten years. We did very well this year but it remains to be seen whether we came in first again or not.

After the meeting, Bob and I checked out the grand opening of the new Straight to Ale tap room at Campus 805, one of the local Huntsville craft breweries. They had an impressive real time video menu that displayed what was currently on tap and what was in line to be tapped next. They also had a room full of pin ball machines.

After we finished our beer there, we walked done the hall to the Lone Goose Saloon where there was a guitar duo called Chelvis & da Bean playing. We had another beer and were impressed with both the music and the venue.

I get out so rarely, it’s nice to take advantage of the lively night life that Huntsville has to offer. I can’t wait until Straight to Ale has their Brew Grass Jam at their new digs next month.

Ham Radio Experiment

Yesterday I transmitted on ten meters for the first time. I used two different radio transmission modes that I hadn’t tried before. One was continuous wave or CW which is what hams use to transmit Morse code. The other was Single Sideband or SSB which is a technique for compressing speech into half the space on the air.

The ironic thing was that, due to numerous factors, no one heard me. Notice, I said I transmitted on ten meters, not that I had made a contact. The frustrating part is that my friend Bob was listening for my signal. Ironically, we were texting each other with our smart phones trying to get the radio to work.

We have so many more options for communications today than even ten years ago. There are cell phones and the internet that allow everyone the opportunity to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. It changes the way that we think about ourselves and others. When one method of communication doesn’t work, there are several others that present themselves to get the job done.

We will try again with a different antenna. Since the radio is installed in my car, I may try moving to a different location to see if we can make a contact that way. Once we do get it to work, I’ll have added a couple of more ways to communicate, not only with my friend Bob, but with new friends I make from around the world.

The Annual ARES Christmas Dinner

Tonight was the annual Huntsville/Madison County ARES Christmas Dinner. ARES is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. We get together one night a week and practice setting up an emergency communication network. We get together once a month and meet to discuss emergency communications topics. We often have a presentation on one aspect of emergency radio or another at these monthly meetings.

Once a year, we have a Simulated Emergency Test (SET). The leadership gets together and concocts an emergency scenario and we react to the simulation as it unfolds. It involves deploying radio operators to various served agencies, The Red Cross for example, where we help coordinate a rational response to the simulated emergency. It gives us an opportunity to see how complete our “go bags” are and practice our skills in a more realistic environment.

Anyway, the Christmas Dinner is a once a year opportunity to get together socially and meet each other’s wives and husbands. It was a nice dinner. I enjoyed it. It was a practical demonstration that even nerds can be social upon occasion.

Electron is Awesome

I finally got the current version of Netlog, my program to help me create logs of the ARES Training Net, moved over from being a web app to being a desktop app in the electron framework. I had to require jquery and schedule the init function to be run 100 microseconds in the future instead of depending on the apparently non-existent onReady event of the document. Figuring this out took me several minutes but it really wasn’t that difficult at all. I suspect that getting it to run as an app on windows and linux will be even easier. I wouldn’t be surprised if getting it to run on Android and iOS wasn’t fairly easy as well.

I suspect there will be a bunch of applications that work this way in the near future. I might even get them to let me write an app in Coffeescript at work. I doubt it. It’s a little bit too free wheeling for the corporate environment. I guess that’s my main problem. I’m too much of a rebel to excel in the corporate environment.

I spent all of my time yesterday learning about photon and electron and forgot about writing my blog post. Well, in the spirit of moving on, here is my blog post for today. Tomorrow is another day. I hope I can get my momentum back and post again tomorrow.

Code Practice the You Tube Way

I got my code practice in a little bit differently today. I was looking at You Tube to see what kind of videos they had of people with QRP (low power) CW (Morse code) radios. They had several videos of people building the kit that I have, the Pixie 40m ham radio.

Another video featured the MFJ Cub and in addition to showing how it went together, the videographer showed his first contact with it. I was able to copy most of it. He had put subtitles on the screen but I tried to copy the code without looking at the screen. I’m not quite there yet but I’m becoming confident that I can do this.

The key thing I’ve learned this time around (I’ve attempted to learn Morse code on numerous occasions) is the importance of learning the code at speed. Morse code sounds different at twenty words a minute than it does at five words a minute. At five words a minute, you get all hung up in dots and dashes. At twenty words a minute, you hear the sound of entire letters. That is when you can start to recognize the sound of entire words. And that is when you can copy code straight off the radio.

It is an exciting thing to learn a new skill. I am getting excited by the prospect of getting on the air old school with nothing but a key and headphones between me and my radio.

Ham Radio High Jinx

I have been much more active in ham radio the last couple of years. My activity has been accelerating this last year in particular. I have purchased a quad band radio that has allowed me to branch out and start communicating on 6 meters as well as 2 meters and 70 centimeters. I haven’t got an adequate antenna to use the 10 meter capability of my radio though. I don’t have a place to mount one on my vehicle if I did have one. 10 meter antennas are longer and more massive than the shorter wave antennas like 6 meters and shorter.

I live in a two bedroom apartment on the ground floor. I have not figured out a way to put up an antenna indoors. Consequently, my vehicle is my radio shack. That is a major reason why I haven’t ventured into HF activity (that’s 10 meters and longer). I am building a little low power (5 watt) radio that will transmit CW (Morse code) on 40 meters. When I say building what I should say is that I am carrying around the kit of parts in my pocket. I need to carve out some time and start assembling it.

When I have built it, I should be able to put up a simple antenna and get on the air. That is, if I learn to send and receive Morse code. To that end, I have been attending a class every Friday night and practicing as often as possible in between. I am beginning to be able to copy code if I listen to it over and over. I expect to start getting a lot better at it soon. I’d like to have my little 40 meter Pixie (the radio I was talking about) built by then. I have a little over a month before the class is over. I am drawing the line in the sand here and publicly stating that I intend to have it built and tested by the end of the CW class.