June 30, 2010

Spies by the numbers

It's being reported that the activities of the alleged Russian spies arrested by the US included the use of shortwave morse code numbers stations.

Want to listen to spies?  According to a report by the UK's Southgate Amateur Radio Club, it's actually pretty easy to do.  There are a large number of broadcasts each day. In fact, there's probably at least one going on right now.

Equipment Required
First, you'll need a suitable shortwave radio, since "spy number stations" almost exclusively transmit on shortwave frequencies. If you already have one, you're probably all set. The basic requirements are that it is a "general coverage" receiver, capable of tuning between the allocated shortwave broadcast bands, to what are commonly known as the "utility bands". Most inexpensive shortwave radios are capable of this, except for the very low end models. This is necessary because most spy number stations transmit outside of the broadcast bands, although often close to the edges of the bands.  If possible, the radio should be capable of Single Sideband (SSB) reception. This is usually indicated by either the presence of USB and LSB modes, or a BFO (Beat Frequency Oscillator). Many spy number stations transmit in sideband, and most others are often best received in sideband mode.  An outside antenna is always preferred for best shortwave reception. If this isn't possible (due to apartment or townhouse rules, for example), an indoor antenna can still be used.

Stalking Your Prey
In general, most spy number station broadcasts start on the hour, with very few starting at the half hour, or even quarter after or quarter till the hour. So the best time to listen is starting just before the hour. Why just before? Many spy number stations will put their carrier on the air before the broadcast begins. Some have been known to put a carrier on the air hours before a broadcast starts. So be suspicious of open carriers, especially on or near hot number frequencies.  Here in North America, the most commonly heard spy number stations are probably the "SS/YL/5FG" stations.

Station nomenclature
A brief explanation about the naming nomenclature of these stations: the general format is language/gender/group size. The SS means Spanish, other possibilities are EE for English, or GG for German. Other less frequently heard languages include Chinese, Russian, Czech, Polish, etc.  The YL refers to the sex of the voice, YL is female (a ham radio term, meaning Young Lady) and OM is male (another ham radio term, meaning Old Man).  The 5FG means that the groups are transmitted in five figure words, that is a string of five  numbers. Other common formats include 4FG for four numbers, and 3/2FG which is a particular case of five figure words with a pause between the third and fourth numbers. Some stations don't transmit numbers, but instead use Phonetics, which are words that stand for letters, such as Alpha for A, Bravo for B, etc.

June 28, 2010

Don't Tread On Me

A group of retired Marines is asking Connecticut's attorney general to allow the "Don't Tread on Me" Gadsden flag to fly over the state Capitol on July 4 after Capitol Police refused the request saying it doesn’t fall within the state’s flag flying parameters.  The group says the the yellow banner, which sports a coiled rattlesnake and its trademark motto, is the original flag of the U.S. Marine Corps and clearly fits into the section of the policy which states that the Connecticut State Capitol can fly “flags of recognized military organizations of the U.S.A.”

But Capitol Police have denied several requests to fly the flag -- which has become a favorite nationwide among the Tea Party movement and a popular alternative to the stars and stripes – saying it is not the official Marines flag.  “The Gadsden flag was a personal standard used by one admiral during the Revolutionary War,” Capitol Chief of Police Walter Lee told FoxNews.com. “The Marine Corps never claimed that to be one of its organizational flags.”

Retired Marine Patrick Rubino says the Marines see it very differently.  “I’d learned about in the Marine Corps. It’s one of the first, if not the first Marine Corps flag,” Rubino told FoxNews.com. “They even flew it over our bases in Afghanistan and Iraq while I was there.”

Having heard that the police had denied a previous request to have the flag displayed at the Capitol, Rubino wrote a letter to lawmakers to find out why.  “I didn’t get any response from that so I just went down there and submitted a request to have it flown on Memorial Day because my brother was coming home from the Army so I thought it would be a great thing,” he said. “They denied it before I even filled out the form.”  The reason given for the rejection, Rubino said, was that the “rules were going to be changed” so they were denying it preemptively.  “And now I’m finding out they’re not even changing the rule so that the flag would be denied, they’re just denying it,” he said.  A follow up request from Rubino’s mother, Katherine Brown, to fly it on July 4 was also denied.

But the policy wasn’t always so strictly interpreted.  The Society of Cincinnati, a historic group dedicated to preserving the ideals of the American Revolution has flown its flag over the Capitol every July 4 since at least 1968. It was denied this year amid the Gadsden flag flap.  Capitol Police even approved an earlier request to fly the Gadsden Flag over the Capitol in April, but reconsidered after lawmakers dubbed it a political symbol due to Tea Party connections to the request and said it didn’t fit the state’s requirements.

In hopes of settling the dispute, a group of former Marines and supporters plan to gather at the state attorney general’s office to issue a final decision on the issue.  "We’re going to be going down on the 30th to put the paper work in,” retired Marine Tim McCall told FoxNews.com. “The Capitol Police are the ones in charge of granting or denying the request, so the idea for the 30th is to go to AG Blumenthal’s office and request that he issue a directive for the Capitol Police to comply with the law as written and stated just to get some resolution on the issue.”  McCall added that if it's not in the cards to have the flag on display July 4, he hopes the matter is at least resolved in time to see it fly on October 23 to commemorate the 1983 barracks bombing of the Marines in Beirut, Lebanon, where he served.

“Historically, it’s like when you look at a picture of George Washington; he was the first president of the United States so as a patriotic American you look to George Washington as kind of representation as the forefather of the country,” McCall said. “The Gadsden flag is the original flag of the Marine Corps, so it’s the forefather standard of the Marine Corps.”  Rubino says that’s what the Connecticut government needs to keep in mind above anything else.  “I know the flag has been adopted by another group, but what it is and who decides to use it are two different things,” he said. “We know what it is and we know why we want it to be up there. ... It's a really important way to pay tribute to our history and that’s a great message.”

You can bet that flag would be flying proudly at Tun Tavern.  

Semper Fidelis.

June 26, 2010

An Gorta Mor: The Great Hunger

 
"It began as a plant fungus that traveled in a crate of potatoes from America to Belgium in 1843. Within one and one-half years the wind borne blight had converted Ireland's once abundant potato crop in countless acres of black, rotted vegetation, precipitating the worst social disaster of the 19th century.

Between 1845 and 1850 more than one and one-half million Irish men, women and children died of starvation and disease. By 1855, more than two million Irish citizens had fled the country, most by crowding themselves into “coffin ships”, rickety vessels from which a large number of the sick and emaciated passengers would not leave alive. Fifty years after the start of the famine, more Irish-born people were living in America than in Ireland.

The Great Hunger was protracted by prejudice, ineptitude and gross human indifference.

At that time, Ireland was governed by Great Britain, the world's wealthiest empire, which had the resources to significantly lessen the effects of the crop failure. Instead, the British government, during all the years of the Great Hunger did everything in it's power to export tons of food and livestock out of Ireland. Their taxes and economic policies caused gross shortages of inexpensive food and resulted in the eviction of the already destitute Irish from their rented homes and land.

More than 160 years later, the effects of the Great Hunger are still evident. Millions of the survivors' descendants populate the globe, including over 40 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry.

We, the descendants of all those famine Irish immigrants who rest in this cemetery and in the main part of St. Mary's Cemetery proudly dedicate this memorial in their memory on October 1, 2007. Let us never forget An Gorta Mor."


The above words are inscribed in a 2007 memorial in St. Mary's Cemetery in my town of Milford, Massachusetts. (St. Mary's Cemetery also has the distinction of being the site of the only example of an Irish Round Tower in North America.)  More importantly, however, is the fact that many of the original survivors of the Irish Famine (the Great Hunger or An Gorta Mor) who eventually settled in Milford rest in St. Mary's Cemetery.
The monument was the culmination of almost ten years of hard work by caring Milford residents who recognized the importance of remembering the sacrifice and suffering of the famine victims. Over 1,000 monuments were restored, hundreds more were cleaned, roadways were re-constructed...the list goes on. As the Friends of Old St. Mary's Cemetery eloquently state on the reverse side of the monument, “It is our hope that every Irish immigrant soul that lies in this sacred ground knows how proud we are of them and of the incredible legacy they have passed on to each of us”.  


June 25, 2010

Top five most ridiculous regulations in Massachusetts


Many people know my home state of Massachusetts as being a sanctuary for liberal moonbats.  Let's just say that despite the many "normal" people living here, the state does deserve it's reputation for being over-regulated and over-taxed.   While some of the Commonwealth's more arcane laws are remnants of the Colonial "blue laws", one doesn't have to look far for examples of laws and regulations that seem to set Massachusetts apart from the "other 49".

According to The Daily Caller, if you’re planning to spend the next New Year’s Day in Concord, Massachusetts, don’t get caught nursing your annual hangover with a plastic bottle of cool spring water — you might be breaking the law.  The city of Concord passed a law in April banning all bottled water in plastic containers, effective January 1, 2011. Supporters of the law say ridding the town of bottled water is a first step toward a cleaner planet. Never mind that plastic water bottles only account less than one percent of landfill space. Who are we to let facts get in the way of a good regulation?

In commemoration of the successful campaign to rid Concord of bottled water, The Daily Caller decided to take a look at a few of the other laws that have come out of the Bay State, a land full of people who clearly think they are incapable of making personal decisions on their own accord.

1. A January 2010 law mandates that all children in Massachusetts daycare centers must brush their teeth after lunch — or else.
It is against the law for daycare providers to not help children brush their teeth after meals. While parents can opt out (either on libertarian principle or family tradition if they’re from some parts of Alabama), they can rest easy knowing that state bureaucrats are looking out for their children’s pearly whites. Heck, the state even provides toothpaste, brushes and holders! What? No floss?! There oughta be a law…

2. It is illegal in Massachusetts to deface a milk carton.

From what we can gather, there was once a rogue band of underground milkmen roaming the New England countryside defacing poor innocent milk cartons with giant Sharpie pens.  The horror! The mayhem! The curdling! Well, the state put an end to that, slapping a $10 fine on anyone who dared to vandalize a container of 2 percent.

3. It is illegal in Dudley, Massachusetts to own more than three cats without government permission.

Here’s to you, Dudley, for finding a way to push that nice lady with kitty litter in her hair and all those pussycats even further into desperate reclusion.  Residents of the town decided to impose a $100-per-day fine for owning too many cats after someone living next to the town cat lady complained about the felines ruining his yard. The cat lady promptly put her home up for sale, packed her 15 cats, and never looked back. Success!

4. Children in Attleboro, Massachusetts are forbidden from playing “tag” or other running games during playtime.
Heaven forbid an American child loses all that self-esteem his teachers worked so hard to build over the years. (Remember, everyone’s a winner!) A school in Massachusetts made national headlines in 2006 for issuing playground rules that restricted children from playing “chasing” games like tag and touch football because they were “dangerous” and “exclusionary.” In a rousing match of phone tag, a spokesman for the school refused to confirm or deny to The Daily Caller that tag is  still allowed today. Guess that means we’re it.

5. A Massachusetts fisherman was fined for saving a whale caught in his net.

As Clare Boothe Luce once quipped, no good deed goes unpunished. A U.S. District Court fined fisherman Robert J. Eldridge $500 after he untangled a whale from his nets and set the giant sea mammal free. What he should have done, the court told him, was call state authorities and wait for them do it. Never mind that the whale may have suffocated if they didn’t arrive in time. But hey, Eldridge should consider himself lucky: He could have faced a $100,000 fine and up to a year in jail. That’ll teach him.

Honorable Mention: Group in Cambridge calls for a ban on all meat on Mondays.
The Cambridge Climate Congress, established to make recommendations for climate laws for the People’s Republic of Cambridge, recently proposed a ban on all meat sales once a week to curb the “climate emergency.” (It didn’t pass.) As the logic goes, meat comes from cows, and cows emit gas (farts) that heats up the planet. Let’s take a moment to thank the selfless citizens of Cambridge for making a good faith effort to rid the world of climate change and those smelly bovine backsides.

Vatican declares the Blues Brothers a "Catholic classic"

 
On the 30th anniversary of the cult film's release, the official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has declared it a "Catholic classic".  It points out that Jake and Elwood Blues battled police, a psychotic ex-girlfriend, country and western fans and neo-Nazis in order to raise enough money to prevent the closure of the church-run orphanage in which they grew up.

The newspaper, once a dour publication devoted to weighty matters of theology and Vatican appointments, has recently embraced popular culture and devotes an entire page to consider the movie's meaning and legacy. It praises the film as an "incredibly shrewd" work which is "rich with ideas", and recalls "the unforgettable John Belushi's sneer which remains, three decades after the movie's release, an icon of cinematography".  Its approval of the 1980 film, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, is all the more surprising given some of the much-quoted lines from the film, including: "Curtis, I don't want to listen to no jive-ass preacher talking to me about Heaven and Hell."   At one point in the film they are told: "Boys, you got to learn not to talk to nuns that way."  On the other hand, who can forget Elwood's classic line: "You see, we're on a mission from God."

The plot revolves around a chaotic road trip involving spectacular pile-ups and police chases as the brothers try to reform their band and raise enough money to stop the orphanage from closing down.

The editor, Gian Maria Vian, who discerns a strong Catholic subtext in the comic caper, said: "For them, this Catholic institution is their only family – and they decide to save it at any cost."
He points out that a framed photograph of the young John Paul II hangs appears in one scene.

The paper's attempts to throw off its dusty image have not been welcomed by all Catholics. The Catholic National Register said that to an "increasing number" of Catholics, the newspaper's new-found enthusiasm for popular culture "appears to trivialise the Vatican and, ultimately, the Church".

A Passing

The nurse whose celebratory V-J Day kiss with an exuberant sailor in 1945 Times Square was immortalized in an iconic photograph has died.

Edith Shain was 91 and passed away without ever really knowing for sure who planted the kiss on her while photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the epic moment with his camera.

While Shain waited until the 1970s to come forward to say she was the woman in the Life magazine picture, the identity of the sailor remains in dispute.

“In retrospect, I should have said, ‘Hey, wait a minute!” and gotten his name and number, Shain said in 2008.

For the remainder of her life, Shain continued to honor World War II veterans by attending wreath layings, parades and other memorial events.

One day - relatively soon - they'll all be gone.  God bless the memory of them and their generation..

June 23, 2010

Caveat Emptor

It's not often that I bitch about radio equipment, but when a radio that I've owned slightly more than one year (read "just out of warranty") goes tango uniform, it's time for an SoB to do what he does best.  I bought the radio in question, a Yaesu FT-1802 new back in May 2009.   The radio ran slightly hot, but I was aware of that before I bought it.  (Hey guys, how about re-thinking that heat sink design..)  I also became aware that some of the radio's programming ergonomics didn't conform to the same ergonomics I've come to expect from it's bigger brothers, the Yaesu FT-7800 and FT-7900, which I also own.  OK, what do you expect for a $120 radio?

Well for starters, what I expect is that a company like Yaesu - one of the long time "big three" in amateur radio wouldn't risk it's reputation on some Chinese crap.  (I've read that this particular radio is manufactured  in China for Yaesu - may or not be true, but it certainly fits my tale of woe.)

In the last couple of days, the radio's power output has diminished from 50 watts to zip, nada.  Bad enough...blown final power amplifiers aren't exactly unknown.  But when the problem is compounded with a receiver going from hearing great, to "Hey what's happened to the local repeaters?" to being as deaf as me listening to Jane's honey-do list while the radio's display indicates full output power...

As George W. said, "... fool me once, shame on ... shame on you.   It fool me. We can't get fooled again."

June 22, 2010

Aurora observed from the International Space Station


Among the views of Earth afforded astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), surely one of the most spectacular is of the aurora. These ever-shifting displays of colored ribbons, curtains, rays, and spots are most visible near the North (aurora borealis) and South (aurora australis) Poles as charged particles (ions) streaming from the Sun (the solar wind) interact with Earth’s magnetic field.

While aurora are generally only visible close to the poles, severe magnetic storms impacting the Earth’s magnetic field can shift them towards the equator. This striking aurora image was taken during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on May 24, 2010. The ISS was located over the Southern Indian Ocean at an altitude of 350 kilometers (220 miles), with the astronaut observer most likely looking towards Antarctica (not visible) and the South Pole.

The aurora has a sinuous ribbon shape that separates into discrete spots near the lower right corner of the image. While the dominant coloration of the aurora is green, there are faint suggestions of red left of image center. Dense cloud cover is dimly visible below the aurora. The curvature of the Earth’s horizon (the limb) is clearly visible, as is the faint blue line of the upper atmosphere directly above it (at image top center). Several stars appear as bright pinpoints against the blackness of space at the top right of the image.

Auroras happen when ions in the solar wind collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. The atoms are excited by these collisions, and they typically emit light as they return to their original energy level. The light creates the aurora that we see. The most commonly observed color of aurora is green, caused by light emitted by excited oxygen atoms at wavelengths centered at 0.558 micrometers, or millionths of a meter. (Visible light is reflected from healthy (green) plant leaves at approximately the same wavelength.) Red aurora are generated by light emitted at a longer wavelength (0.630 micrometers), and other colors such as blue and purple are also sometimes observed.

For a ham radio operator, aurora can affect propagation conditions over the polar routes and is often used to enhance VHF propagation, especially at 50 MHz and sometimes the 144 MHz Amateur bands. At times of auroral displays, HF radio signals traveling over the polar route will develop a distinctive warbling sound. You can often hear these effects on 14 MHz SSB signals that have followed the great circle route over the polar region. During intense auroral activity, HF propagation down to the 3.5 MHz band can be affected. And if you are lucky enough to be in the right place, you can watch the spectacular visible auroral displays in the night-time sky. 

June 21, 2010

FCC strikes again: Bans 121.5 MHz ELTs, unfairly impacts General Aviation

The Federal Communications Commission took the general aviation world by surprise when it said in a recent report it will prohibit the sale or use of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters, effective in August. The Aircraft Electronics Association said it just learned of the new rule today, and has begun working with the FAA, FCC and others to allow for timely compliance without grounding thousands of general aviation aircraft. (The 121.5 ELTs are allowed under FAA rules.)

The FCC said its rules have been amended to "prohibit further certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs."   The FCC says that if the 121.5 units are no longer available, aircraft owners and operators will "migrate" to the newer 406.0-406.1 MHz ELTs, which are monitored by satellite, while the 121.5 frequency is not. "Were we to permit continued marketing and use of 121.5 MHz ELTs ... it would engender the risk that aircraft owners and operators would mistakenly rely on those ELTs for the relay of distress alerts," the FCC says.

AOPA said today it is opposed to the rule change.  "The FCC is making a regulatory change that would impose an extra cost on GA operators, without properly communicating with the industry or understanding the implications of its action," said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman.  "There is no FAA requirement to replace 121.5 MHz units with 406 MHz technology.  When two government agencies don't coordinate, GA can suffer." The AEA said dealers should refrain from selling any new 121.5 MHz ELTs "until further understanding of this new prohibition can be understood and a realistic timeline for transition can be established."

Way to go FCC.  Thanks for the forward thinking...the same thinking you used in championing broadband over powerlines (BPL)...another FCC disaster which was overturned in last year's ARRL's suit against the FCC.   It seems we can either count on the FCC to enforce issues against it's existing licensees (the BPL issue)...and also impact areas for which it is responsible.  As if general aviation wasn't expensive enough as it is...

June 19, 2010

What's new at Dayton 2010?


One of the many reasons amateurs come to Dayton Hamvention®, (the largest hamfest in the world) each May is to look over the new gear announced by many manufacturers. The number of vendors at Hara Arena can be mind boggling, especially on your first trip. The ARRL's Joel Hallas, W1ZR, summarizes the new offerings of most interest to hams. Click here for story

June 18, 2010

R.I.P. Trooper

A veteran state trooper and beloved dad of four was fatally struck by a drunk driver after he had pulled over another suspected OUI motorist in Mansfield, MA early Friday morning.  Trooper Doug Weddleton, 52, was in full uniform and wearing a safety vest at about 1:20 a.m. at the detail on I-95 in Mansfield when he pulled over the driver of an Acura who was weaving on the roadway. A few hours before the tragedy, Trooper Weddleton had attended the eighth grade graduation of his 14 year old son.  This tragedy is beyond senseless and the loss is incalculable.  Rest with God, Trooper.

Bright green comet streaking across early morning sky this week


Comet McNaught's Superlong Tail Promises Flashy Show

Comet McNaught C/2009 R1 has been steadily gaining brightness and will be most brilliant through June 16, during its closest approach to Earth at about 105 million miles (170 million kilometers) away.

Some predictions say the comet—best seen from the Northern Hemisphere—could be at least as bright as the stars that make up the familiar Big Dipper constellation.

C/2009 R1, already visible to the naked eye as a faint, fuzzy ball low in the northeastern sky, is best seen in the hour before the sun rises, said Anthony Cook, an astronomical observer at Los Angeles's Griffith Observatory.  "Because it has a hazy outline, it should be observed from as far away from light pollution as possible," Cook said.

"Between now and the 24th of June, it's visible in a moon-free sky, but after the 26th it will be too close to the sun to see."
The intensity of brightness seen in comet McNaught C/2009 R1—named after the Australian astronomer Robert McNaught who first spotted it in September 2009—only occurs once every four years or so, Cook said. (Learn about the "age of comets.")

Another comet also named by the astronomer, McNaught C/2006 P1, put on a spectacular show in 2007. It was later discovered to be one of the biggest and brightest known comets.

As C/2009 R1 nears the sun, its ice melts, releasing gas and dust that stream away into space.

This reaction forms a distinctive blue tail of ionized carbon monoxide stretching a million miles (about 1.6 million kilometers) long. Through binoculars, the tail appears about the same length as the width of the full moon in the sky.

Meanwhile, the comet's nucleus is only a few miles across, with a surrounding glowing greenish cloud of gas that is about 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) across—roughly the distance from Earth to the moon.
Cook predicts the especially bright C/2009 R1 will put on a worthy show for the unaided eye.

Crossing the Rubicon: Hams Help Coordinate Off-Road Rescue

On Saturday, June 12 around 1:30 local time, Jim Siemons, AF6PU, of Walnut Creek, California, was checking his e-mail when he received a message from a friend who was concerned that his brother -- who, along with four friends had taken an off-road adventure along California’s famed Rubicon Trail -- had not come home when expected. Siemons’ friend told him that his brother’s group had left on Wednesday with four off-road vehicles in an attempt to cross the Trail.

Siemons forwarded the e-mail to several other club members; within five minutes, he received a phone call from fellow club member Jenny Ward, KI6YBQ, suggesting that he try Amateur Radio to attempt to locate the missing group. The Rubicon Trail connects Georgetown with the west side of Lake Tahoe. Although incredibly beautiful, it traverses some of America’s most challenging off-road trails as it meanders through peaks reaching upwards of 12,000 feet. There is no cell phone coverage on the Trail and very limited official agency radio coverage, making Amateur Radio the only effective means of communication in the area.

Siemons told the ARRL that he grabbed his ARRL Repeater Directory and looked for a repeater frequency and offset that might cover the Rubicon Trail: “I discovered the KA6GWY repeater on 146.805 MHz with a CTCSS tone of 123 Hz in Pollock Pines/Placerville, California, more than 100 miles away from my location. I knew that I was not going to be able to hit that repeater with my handheld transceiver, so I put out a call on Mt Diablo Amateur Radio Club’s W6CX repeater with a frequency of 147.060 MHz with a CTCSS tone of 100 Hz.”

When Siemons heard John Ronan, K3ZJJ, operating on the repeater, he asked for his assistance. “I knew he was at the top of the Oakland hills and would have a fair chance of hitting the Pollock Pines repeater,” Siemons explained. “He agreed to help out and was able to make contact with a couple of hams who were in the vicinity of the Rubicon’s trailhead who offered to help.” Merlin Scott, KC6BFV, was volunteering at the trailhead in the gatekeeper’s hut and had access to an El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office radio. Ronan was able to relay information to a pair of Sheriff Deputies who were on patrol in the area. Siemons said he also requested that a call be relayed via Citizen Band on channel 4, as many off-roaders also monitor and use it to communicate vehicle-to-vehicle.

“I was able to report our efforts back to the families of the lost off-roaders, letting them know that everything that could be done was occurring,” Siemons told the ARRL. “I knew one of the off-roaders was a ham, but I was not certain that he had his rig or knew the local repeater frequencies. All the drivers were experienced, but that only went so far, due to fact that the snow levels are still quite high and the trail is still considered impassible at this time of year.”

By 4 PM local time, Siemons said that hams and off-roaders on both ends of the trail were looking for the group, but due to the normal rough condition of the trail and the heavy snow, search and rescue efforts were slowed. By 7 PM, the Sheriff’s Department determined that it was time to launch a helicopter and search the Trail. “A ham using Citizen Band channel 4 made contact with the group and relayed this via Amateur Radio,” Siemons explained. “The helicopter spotted the missing crew and landed on the Trail at approximately 7:30 PM and determined that everyone was healthy. One of the group’s vehicles was abandoned on the Trail due to a broken drive line, making it impossible to drive through the tall drifts of snow.” Hams and the Sheriff’s Department monitored the group’s progress until their exit from the trail. Siemons said he kept the families updated as to the off-roaders’ progress.

“I want to thank the efforts of the Deputies and the dispatchers of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, the amateurs of the Mt Diablo Amateur Radio Club (MDARC) and their W6CX repeater and the amateur operators of the Rubicon Trail and their KA6GWY repeater. This event ended well, but even if it had gotten a lot rougher, it would have been better than it otherwise would have been because of Amateur Radio!”

Cap-And-Trick

President Obama says the oil disaster proves the need to get off fossil fuels. But before we save the planet, let's save the Gulf and stop exploiting crises to deny America the energy it needs.

Saving the planet is nice, but just how do we plug the hole again? With an abundance of hand gestures, the president didn't really say in his speech Tuesday night. He did say fossil fuels were bad and green energy is good, but the people of the Gulf states don't need wind turbines right now.

Contrary to Obama's assertions, our "addiction" to foreign oil no more caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill than any addiction to nuclear energy caused the reactor accident at Three Mile Island.  If we're addicted to anything, it's energy in all its forms. We also are addicted to jobs and economic growth, and nothing in the speech offered either. Instead we were told we have to forgo fossil fuels because they're dangerous — the same reason given after TMI to stop expanding clean and safe nuclear energy.

Never mind the dead zones for aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico caused by agricultural runoff from the accelerated farming of corn to feed the mandated use of ethanol. Never mind the rain forests cleared worldwide to grow biofuel crops. Or the birds that will never be soaked in oil because they've been sliced and diced by wind turbines.

The irony is that if the incident at Three Mile Island had not similarly been exploited by environmentalists, we might not be so dependent on fossil fuels today. We'd have electricity for all those electric cars as billions of tons of carbon dioxide never entered the atmosphere.

The desire to make BP pay for the direct damage of the oil spill is understandable. The desire to exploit this crisis to make us all pay is not. The president noted that "the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill — a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses."

Horsefeathers. The imposition of renewable energy standards, as cap-and-trade is now called, would raise electricity prices, lower GDP and eliminate jobs. The only thing that wouldn't be capped is the Deepwater Horizon well.

If the president's argument is that the Gulf oil disaster is traceable to our reliance on foreign oil, let's exploit our vast domestic resources. If the argument is that BP went too far and too deep, that its reach exceeded its grasp, then it's the administration and its green allies that forced them to do so.

courtesy of Investors' Business Daily

June 17, 2010

As the Sun Awakens, NASA Keeps a Wary Eye on Space Weather

Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division, explains what it's all about:

"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."

The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts." It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

Much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming. Putting satellites in 'safe mode' and disconnecting transformers can protect these assets from damaging electrical surges. Preventative action, however, requires accurate forecasting—a job that has been assigned to NOAA.

"Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we're making rapid progress," says Thomas Bogdan, director of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Bogdan sees the collaboration between NASA and NOAA as key. "NASA's fleet of heliophysics research spacecraft provides us with up-to-the-minute information about what's happening on the sun. They are an important complement to our own GOES and POES satellites, which focus more on the near-Earth environment."

Among dozens of NASA spacecraft, he notes three of special significance: STEREO, SDO and ACE.

STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is a pair of spacecraft stationed on opposite sides of the sun with a combined view of 90% of the stellar surface. In the past, active sunspots could hide out on the sun's farside, invisible from Earth, and then suddenly emerge over the limb spitting flares and CMEs. STEREO makes such surprise attacks impossible.

SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory) is the newest addition to NASA's fleet. Just launched in February, it is able to photograph solar active regions with unprecedented spectral, temporal and spatial resolution. Researchers can now study eruptions in exquisite detail, raising hopes that they will learn how flares work and how to predict them. SDO also monitors the sun's extreme UV output, which controls the response of Earth's atmosphere to solar variability.
On April 19, 2010, SDO observed one of the most massive eruptions in years. Earth was not in the line of fire ... this time.

Flying the friendly skies: Southwest employee finds box of heads on plane

A Southwest Airlines employee called police after finding 40 to 60 human heads in a package set to be transported to a Fort Worth medical research company, the airline said. "It wasn't labeled or packaged properly," said Ashley Rogers, a Southwest spokeswoman. "They called the local authorities."

The incident happened in Little Rock, Ark., last Wednesday, she said. Little Rock police turned the heads over to the county coroner, who questions where they came from and if they were properly obtained. "We've come to the conclusion that there is a black market out there for human body parts for research or for whatever reason," said Pulaski County coroner Garland Camper. "We just want to make sure these specimens here aren't a part of that black market and underground trade."

The heads were being transported to the Fort Worth office of Medtronic, a leading medical research and technology company based in Minnesota. Medtronic spokesman Brian Henry said it is common to ship body parts for medical education and research, but he said it is rare for a shipment to be seized. "We expect our suppliers to follow proper procedures," he said. He identified the supplier as JLS Consulting of Wynne, Ark.

JLS's business license was revoked in December, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State's online database. Company founder Janice Hepler did not return phone calls Wednesday. Her voice mail indicated it was full and no longer accepting messages. But in an earlier interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, she blamed the problem on the private courier she had hired to transport the body parts. "Nothing is wrong," the newspaper quoted her as saying. "We're providing the documentation." But the coroner said the paperwork has "discrepancies."

Federal law generally prohibits the sale of human body parts, although suppliers can be reimbursed for expenses in cases of legitimate medical education or research. "It is a lucrative business. There is money to be made," Camper said. "We're hoping that this isn't the case."

This must have messed up the flight attendants' head count .

June 16, 2010

Software Defined Radio for the iPhone

First came Echolink for the iPhone.   Now a software defined radio (SDR) application is available for the Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.  The iSDR app is a portable software-defined radio receiver designed for experimenters, shortwave listeners and Amateur Radio operators -- and get this - it's free!  (One caveat: receiving live on-the-air signals with iSDR requires purchasing or constructing a quadrature sampling detector - QSD - an RF front-end device that connects between an antenna and the microphone input jack of the iPhone, iPod or iPad. Without the front-end, iSDR will play an internal audio file recording of actual radio signals recorded off the air during the 2008 CQ World Wide WPX contest.)

The iSDR developers list the following features of the app:
  • Three display modes: Spectrum, Waterfall and Oscilloscope
  • Frequency display with 100 Hz resolution with a touch to the display screen
  • Up to 44.1 kHz of available spectrum bandwidth
  • Monaural microphone input automatically adjusts display to 22 kHz bandwidth
  • Automatic display rotation
  • Recorded audio file built in for off-line use without external audio
  • Automatically detects if external audio is available
  • Five receive modes: USB, LSB, CW, DSB and Binaural
  • Reverse I/Q microphone input logic
  • User-adjustable center frequency setting
Time to scrap the old BlackBerry?

June 15, 2010

G.K. Chesterton (May 29, 1874 - June 14, 1936)

"Never look a gift universe in the mouth." - GK Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton died on this day in 1936.

To be prolific and bad doesn't guarantee that your work will stand the test of time.  But to be prolific and good and have trouble finding books written by that person, well let's just say it is baffling.  (As Dale Ahlquist (President of the American Chesterton Society - and whom I had the pleasure of seeing at this year's Worcester Catholic Men's Conference) says, "Who is this guy and why haven't I heard of him?"

His writings – stories, essays, poems, books, journalism – are infused with an unequalled joy and love of truth.

In youth, he went through a crisis of nihilistic pessimism and it was his recovery from this that led him to God and ultimately to conversion. “The Devil made me a Catholic,” he said – meaning that it was the experience of evil and nothingness that convinced him of the goodness and sanity of the world and his creator. His poem “The Ballade of a Suicide” celebrates the salvific value of ordinary things; his novel, “The Man who was Thursday,” narrates the fight for sanity in an insane world and ponders the paradox of God; and “Orthodoxy”, written long before he became a Catholic, highlights orthodoxy not as a dead and static thing but as the only possible point of equilibrium between crazy heresies any one of which would drive us mad.

He took part in all the major controversies of his age, and was a lifelong adversary and friend of socialists and atheists such as George Bernard Shaw. These controversies were conducted with passion but with unfailing charity: he never sought to defeat his opponents, only to defeat their ideas. He would never cheat to score a point: and his love for the people he fought against is something that all controversialists should imitate, however hard it may be.

Excerpted from Why I Am Catholic


June 14, 2010

Sunspot 1081 unleashes flare

Spaceweather.com reports that on June 12 at 0055 UTC, new sunspot 1081 unleashed an impulsive M1-class solar flare and Type II radio burst.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded the blast in high-resolution.
The explosion hurled a billion-ton coronal mass ejection (CME) off the sun's western limb; the cloud will probably not hit Earth. The explosion also produced a Type II radio burst. "Although the Sun was setting here in New Mexico, I was able to record the burst at 28 MHz and 24 MHz," says amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft.

The M2-flare was followed at 0917 UT by an even more picturesque C6-flare which was also recorded by SDO. More flares seem likely as restless sunspot 1081 continues to grow. Readers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.

An audio clip, video and still frames can be see on the SpaceWeather website.

June 12, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Got together with my brother for breakfast this morning.  It's become our monthly ritual.  We live a couple of towns apart, and like everyone else, lead busy lives, so the opportunities to get together don't come as often as we'd like.  He's nine years younger than I.  The more I get to know the adult, the more I appreciate him.  The kid brother I thought I knew didn't come close in preparing me for the friend I've found as an adult.  It's a Good Thing whenever I can see the SOB who is my brother.  Thanks for being my brother, Jack.

Stearman!

Last week, an unlucky pilot flipped his yellow Stearman over on his landing roll at Reagan National Airport.  The PT-17 Boeing Stearman, a 1943 Navy biplane built for World War II training, turned over as it was landing on the airport's main runway just after 10 a.m. The brightly colored plane, nicknamed the Yellow Mistress, was the second of eight Stearmans descending. The planes were publicizing the premiere of the 3-D IMAX film Legends of Flight at the Air and Space Museum.

Flying in from Manassas, the two-seater touched down at National and briefly rolled at 70 mph before flipping on its back.  Both the pilot and his passenger were unharmed.  The accident bent and curled two of the propeller's blades, and it damaged the plane's tail, rudder, vertical stabilizer, right wing and part of the engine.

Stearmans.  I've always loved them.  Check out Steve Coonts' classic The Cannibal Queen, a non-fiction account of Coonts' love affair with his own Stearman.  It's a great read about a classic father-son cross country trip that Coonts made in his Stearman with his 12 year old son.  

I always thought that was a trip that my son and I should have taken.

June 11, 2010

I gotta get me one of these!

Spyder III Pro Arctic Laser by WickedLasers reportedly available for $200


Not only is this thing cool looking, it actually looks like a lightsabre.  Make anything look like a lightsaber, and you can be sure that we'll want to zoom in on it. WickedLasers are no strangers to coming up with laser pointers, but the Spyder III Pro Arctic Laser looks awesome, costs about $200, and is dangerous enough to blind, set fire to skin and other body parts.

  For the first time in history, direct blue laser diodes have now become available in the consumer market.  WickedLasers took direct blue laser diode components and made the world's first 445nm direct blue diode laser, the Arctic.  The $200 Spyder III Pro Arctic is reportedly the world's most powerful portable laser.

WickedLaser provides the following warning:

"Warning: Extremely dangerous is an understatement to the power of 1W of laser power. It will blind permanently and instantly and set fire quickly to skin and other body parts, use with extreme caution and only when using the included eye protection. Customers will be required to completely read and agree to our Class IV Laser Hazard Acknowledgment Form."

The Arctic emits a 445nm cool blue, ultra high power 1W beam which appears up to 4000% brighter than the Sonar's 405nm violet beam. This direct blue laser diode is the result of the evolution of laser technology. Less than one year ago, this laser would have cost thousands of dollars to build. WickedLasers cautions, "Don't let the Arctic name fool you, this laser possesses the most burning capabilities of any portable laser in existence. That's why it's also the most dangerous [hand held] laser ever created."


If,like me, you live in the People's Republic of Massachusetts, get your hands on one of these babies before the moonbats find a way to ban it.  As we say in New England, "It's wicked awesome!!"

June 10, 2010

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day


Staff Sgt. Edward Rosa reads the Bible and extends a cigarette to Pfc. Jorge Rostra Obando, who was stunned by an explosion in Afghanistan’s Arghanab Valley. One comrade was killed and two injured in the blast. Pfc. Rostran asked the sergeant to read Psalm 91, a favorite from his childhood.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

(photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

From the other side of the pond: BBC Essex uncovers disgraceful state of former Marconi building

An investigation by BBC Essex has found evidence that the first, purpose-built, wireless radio factory in the world is in a state of disrepair and is being abused by squatters and vandals, 90 years after a historic broadcast by renowned opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba.

In its time, the Marconi building in New Street, Chelmsford developed many products for radio and television, but nearly a century on from the historic broadcast by Dame Nellie Melba; journalists from BBC Essex have managed to gain easy access to the now abandoned building, which is currently in the hands of receivers.

A BBC journalist filmed pictures of a trail of destruction throughout the building, which is part-listed. Near the office of the founder of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, there was evidence of drug abuse inside a makeshift squat strewn with litter.

Alison Hodgkins-Brown, BBC Essex News Editor, was one of the four-strong team to go onto the site. She says: “We wanted to show people that behind the boarded up windows and doors, such an important building in broadcasting history is being torn apart inside. Anything of value – copper, brass, wiring – has been stripped out and vandals have sprayed the walls with graffiti.”

BBC Essex showed the pictures to the only surviving child of Marconi, Princess Elettra Marconi-Giovanelli, who said the state of the building was “disgraceful” and called on those looking after the former factory to restore it to its former glory out of respect for her father’s memory. She said: “I am very sad to see how the situation is… because I understand that they don’t care about the building, it’s abandoned… I’m very upset to see that this beautiful building is not appreciated.”

The chairman of the Marconi Veterans Association, Peter Turrell, told BBC Essex: “I am disgusted and annoyed – the world owes a lot to Marconi and we will be very, very upset if this building ever goes into real decay.”

A spokesman for the receivers, Zolfo Cooper, who are responsible for the building, told the BBC they have recently tightened security of the site – including round the clock monitoring – as they were so concerned about trespassers gaining access.

Visit bbc.co.uk/essex to view images taken inside the Marconi building, and watch the video.

June 9, 2010

The Manly Art of Ham Radio

Looking to be a part of a tight knit community with a focus on radio and communication? Look no further than ham radio. While the internet has taken radio’s place as the dominant form of communication, a vibrant community of amateur radio enthusiasts still exists. Radio hobbyists enjoy communicating directly with people from all over the world while expanding their knowledge of radio theory. In addition, most ham radio operators provide a public service to their communities by acting as relays in the event of emergencies or natural disasters. Radio operation is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, so you’ll have to be licensed to use a radio. Licensing isn’t difficult at all. You just have to take a multiple choice test that covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory. And of course you’ll need the equipment. Buying new will set you back a pretty penny, but you can find good deals on used radio equipment on eBay. For more info about getting started with ham radio check out the American Radio Relay League and stop by the Art of Manliness Community Group: The Manly Art of Amateur (Ham) Radio.

(originally appeared in the Art of Manliness)

At least I didn't shoot my eye out


I have a digital picture in my ham shack of my very first radio - a Globe Electronics "Globe 'Ceiver, a/k/a the 65-320) a general coverage shortwave receiver that my dad bought for me in the early 60's. Apparently, these receivers are quite rare these days...and are obviously not known for their selectivity or sensitivity. This was special - my first radio. Just thinking about it still gets my blood pumping...just like Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun ("You'll shoot yer eye out, kid"). This radio was an example of the "All American Five"..using a complement of five tubes: 3BW4, 50C5, 12AVG, 12BA6 and a 12BE6. Sweet!

From the owner's manual:

"Your world wide Globe 'Ceiver is designed to bring you the finest in all-band radio reception. It's latest superheterodyne circuit will tune from 500 kilocycles to 30 Megacycles to bring you countless shortwave stations as well as standard broadcast programs. You will hear foreign and domestic broadcasts, ships at sea, police, amateurs and aircraft. A special CB band allows you to hear local two-way radio communications between homes, cars and trucks.Included in your receiver are such special features as a built-in , sensitive ferrite loop antenna for clear, broadcast band reception...a collapsible whip antenna for shortwave reception...an electrical Bandspread control for separating closely spaced amateur and shortwave stations...a BFO for CW reception...a headphone jack...a switch that permits you to silence the receiver without turning it off. All of these combined features will give you many hours of "World-Wide" listening pleasure."

I think the price new for this radio was about $64.95 or so. Universal Radio had one available a few months ago for about 120 bucks...I almost pulled the trigger on that one...but was afraid I'd shoot my eye out. One of these days, I hope I'll get to replace my digital picture with the real thing (but it wouldn't quite be the sae as having the VERY SAME ONE.  About the only piece of gear from my childhood that would get me as excited is an American Flyer train...or my Flexible Flyer sled...but those are other stories for other times.

The best magic comes from early childhood...for us lucky ones.

How a man responds to the death of his father


His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father. — Will Rogers Jr.
 Excerpted from The Art of Manliness

While growing up, our fathers, whether for good or ill, are our earliest and strongest examples of manliness. Even for those who grow up fatherless his influence is a major one, conspicuous for its absence. It is therefore only natural that the death of a man’s father is an event that holds incredible and often very painful significance. When I last wrote for the Art of Manliness, I spoke to the ways in which men grieve. It is not surprising that many of the men who responded to that article alluded to the loss of their father. While a man grieving the loss of his father will go through an experience similar to what was previously discussed, the fact that the deceased is the man’s father makes the experience unique. Many men who have lost their fathers describe it as a loss like no other. They report that the way they grieved their father was different from any other grief that they experienced and often felt that the only people who could readily understand were other men that had also lost their fathers.  I know that I certainly felt this way when my father passed in February 2009. It is that uniqueness, as well as the short and long term effects of losing a father, that I hope to address here.

In their book , When Your Father Dies: How a Man Deals with the Loss of His Father, Dave Veerman and Bruce Barton interviewed sixty men from all walks of life who had lost their fathers. While each man’s story was unique, the authors identified and described the common themes that readily emerged from these accounts.

ARRL Field Day coming up on June 26-27, 2010


ARRL Field Day is June 26-27, 2010.

ARRL Field Day is the single most popular on-the-air event held annually in the US and Canada...indeed, it is the largest on-air operating event in Amateur Radio. It draws tens of thousands to the airwaves each year, bringing new and experienced hams together for a weekend of fun. Each year over 35,000 amateurs gather with their clubs, friends or simply by themselves to operate.

ARRL Field Day is not a fully adjudicated contest, which explains much of its popularity. It is a time where many aspects of Amateur Radio come together to highlight the many roles of Amateur Radio. While some will treat it as a contest, most groups use the opportunity to practice their emergency response capabilities. It's an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Amateur Radio to local elected community leaders, key individuals with the organizations that Amateur Radio might serve in an emergency, as well as the general public. For many clubs, ARRL Field Day is one of the highlights of their annual calendar.

The objective is to work as many stations as possible on any and all amateur bands (excluding the 60, 30, 17, and 12-meter bands) and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions. Field Day is open to all amateur radio operators.

Boy Scouts of America Revive Signaling Merit Badge for 100th Anniversary


In keeping with Boy Scouts of America’s centennial theme -- Celebrating the Adventure, Continuing the Journey -- four retired badges have been brought back for the group’s 100th anniversary. The effective date for earning these new merit badges -- Carpentry (1911-1952), Tracking (formerly Stalking, 1911-1952), Pathfinding (1911-1952) and Signaling (formerly Signaler, 1910-1992) -- is April 1, 2010; requirements must be completed no later than December 31, 2010.

Merit badges have been a fixture of the BSA since its inception in 1910. The requirements that generations of Scouts have completed have taught lifetime citizenship lessons, personal fitness habits and life skills, as well as serving as the beginnings of countless careers and lifetime hobbies. In the last 99 years, there have been many changes in the merit badge offerings. As society has changed, BSA has adapted by revising the requirements, implementing name changes, adding new merit badges and in some instances, eliminating some badges altogether.

The BSA said that the overall goal of the program is for a majority of registered Boy Scouts to earn one or more of the merit badges during the centennial year, 2010. “The badges offered have a history that can be traced back to the origins of the BSA,” said the BSA Web site. “The original requirements are being used, as well as supported by scanned pages of the early merit badge pamphlets, so a Scout can view what a Scout 100 years ago used, giving Boy Scouts the hands-on opportunity to experience the exciting past of Scouting while learning how our world has changed in that 100 years.”

The contemporary merit badges closely resemble the original designs of their counterparts, but with a gold border, immediately identifying it as a 2010 historic merit badge. These four historical merit badges may be used toward a Scout’s rank advancement.

“The Signaling merit badge is a great way to encourage hams who are already involved in Scouting to mentor this limited-time badge in their Troop and perhaps in other ways, such as camps,” said ARRL Rocky Mountain Division Director Brian Mileshosky, N5ZGT; Mileshosky is the chairman of the ARRL’s ad hoc Committee on Scouting. “Hams -- and especially clubs, that have more resources and volunteers -- who are not involved in Scouting at the present time but want to assist a Troop with earning the Signaling merit badge -- should contact their local BSA Council to inquire about Scoutmasters in their area to contact and offer their assistance.”

Hams who offer assistance should be prepared with knowledge of the badge, the timeframe in which it is being offered, why it’s being offered and what the requirements are, Mileshosky advised: “Once the relationship between a club and a troop is established, it can evolve from offering the Signaling badge and then move to the Radio merit badge, then Jamboree On the Air (JOTA) and then a Technician licensing class.” Hams who volunteer to work with Scout troops can expect are required to submit to a criminal background check.

The requirements for the Signaling merit badge are the original requirements as written in 1911:

* Make an electric buzzer outfit, wireless, blinker or other signaling device.
* Send and receive in the International Morse Code, by buzzer or other sound device, a complete message of not less than 35 words, at a rate of not less than 35 letters per minute.
* Demonstrate an ability to send and receive a message in the International Morse Code by wigwag and by blinker or other light signaling device at the rate of not less than 20 letters per minute.
* Send and receive by Semaphore Code at the rate of not less than 30 letters per minute.
* Know the proper application of the International Morse and Semaphore Codes: when, where, and how they can be used to best advantage.
* Discuss briefly various other codes and methods of signaling which are in common use.

Kinda neat. Makes me wish I hadn't dropped out of the Boy Scouts back when they tried to make me do pushups.

Back in the saddle

"A man's got to know his limitations." - Dirty Harry Callahan 

Just returned to the gym this morning after being away from it for almost two weeks due to a bad cold (actually a little worse than that - I lost my voice for over a week but didn't hear any complaints). Remembering Dirty Harry's dictum, I was somewhat surprised it wasn't as bad as I thought, but the treadmill time was interminable and my usual strength machines were, well, unusually challenging. (No repeat sets this morning!) I should be fully back into it by Wednesday though so the worse part was just breaking the ice and going back in. Based on my current schedule, I expect I'm poised to stumble across my six pack in about, oh, 2020 or so.  (No, the guy on the right isn't me.)

June 8, 2010

Scorpion Antennas


I've been wanting for some time now to return to "those thrilling days of yesteryear" when I had an HF radio (back then, my old Atlas 210X and Hustler top loaded dummy load, um, I mean antenna...) installed in the vehicle. Had a lot of fun back in those days working HF mobile around the world. (Of course back then, we actually had sunspots, but I digress.) W1WM remembers us trying to re-cross the Canadian border all the while ragchewing with a ham friend on Cape Cod who just wouldn't stop yakkin'...

Anyway, times have changed and equipment has changed with them. I now have what I consider the perfect vehicle for a rolling HF station, my 2008 Jeep Wrangler JK. Unfortunately, mounting a "state of the art" screwdriver antenna on the Wrangler is challenging at best. As long as I'm in my long range planning (i.e., dreaming) for this project, I decided to go for the very best in antennas...which is arguable the Scorpion 680, an 18 lb. behemoth made by NI7J in Phoenix. Seeking to try and compile info on how others may have handled the installation of such a beast on their Wranglers, I gave Ron a call in Phoenix last week. Even after I explained to Ron that I was a step away (make that a year or more) from actually spending cold hard cash on additional mobile HF gear, Ron was exceedingly gracious and helpful, and took a genuine interest in my situation. This is a guy and company I can do business with.

By the way - if any reader has any experience in mounting a large screwdriver antenna to a late model Jeep Wrangler, get in touch, will ya?