February 28, 2011

And now they're gone

Frank Buckles, who drove an Army ambulance in France in 1918 and came to symbolize a generation of embattled young Americans as the last of the World War I doughboys, died on Sunday at his home in Charles Town, W. Va. He was 110. 

His death was announced by a family spokesman, David DeJonge, The Associated Press said.

He was a young corporal and he never got closer than 30 or so miles from the Western Front trenches, but Mr. Buckles became a national treasure as the last living link to the two million men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France in “the war to end all wars.”

Frail, stooped and hard of hearing, but sharp of mind, Mr. Buckles was named grand marshal of the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington in 2007. He was a guest at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2007 for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He was honored by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon and met with President George W. Bush at the White House in March 2008. 

United States Senators played host to him at the Capitol in June 2008 for the impending 90th anniversary of the World War I armistice. And he appeared before a Senate subcommittee in December 2009 to support legislation named in his honor to bestow federal status on a World War I memorial on the National Mall built in the 1930s. 

Sought out for interviews in his final years, Mr. Buckles told of witnessing a ceremony involving British veterans of the Crimean War, fought in the 1850s, when he was stationed in England before heading to France. He remembered chatting with General John J. Pershing, the commander of American troops in World War I, at an event in Oklahoma City soon after the war’s end. 

And he proudly held a sepia-toned photograph of himself in his doughboy uniform when he was interviewed by USA Today in 2007. “I was a snappy soldier,” he said. “All gung-ho.”

Frank Woodruff Buckles was born Feb. 1, 1901, on a farm near Bethany, Mo. He was living in Oakwood, Okla., when America entered World War I and he tried to enlist in the Marine Corps at age 16, having been inspired by recruiting posters. 

The Marines turned him down as under-age and under the required weight. The Navy didn’t want him either, saying he had flat feet. But the Army took him in August 1917 after he had lied about his age, and he volunteered to be an ambulance driver, hearing that that was the quickest path to service in France. 

He sailed for England in December 1917 on the Carpathia, the ship that helped save survivors of the Titanic’s sinking in 1912. He later served in various locations in France, including Bordeaux, and drove military autos and ambulances. He was moved by the war’s impact on the French people. 

“The little French children were hungry,” Mr. Buckles recalled in a 2001 interview for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. “We’d feed the children. To me, that was a pretty sad sight.” 

Mr. Buckles escorted German prisoners of war back to their homeland after the Armistice, then returned to America and later worked in the Toronto office of the White Star shipping line.  He traveled widely over the years, working for steamship companies, and he was on business in Manila when the Japanese occupied it following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He was imprisoned by the Japanese, losing more than 50 pounds, before being liberated by an American airborne unit in February 1945. 

After retiring from steamship work in the mid-1950s, Mr. Buckles ran a cattle farm in Charles Town, and he was still riding a tractor there at age 104. 

In April 2007, Mr. Buckles was identified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as one of the four known survivors among the more than 4.7 million Americans who had served in the armed forces of the Allied nations between April 6, 1917, when the United States entered World War I, and the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

Two of the four — J. Russell Coffey and Harry Landis — had served stateside in the American Army. Mr. Coffey died in December 2007 at 109; Mr. Landis, in February 2008 at 108. John Babcock, who was Canadian born, served in Canada’s army in Britain in World War I and held dual American and Canadian citizenship, died in Spokane, Wash., in February 2010 at 109.  The last known veterans of the French and German armies in World War I, Lazare Ponticelli and Erich Kästner, respectively, died a few months apart in 2008; Harry Patch, the last British soldier, died in 2009. Claude Choules, who served in Britain’s Royal Navy and now lives in Australia, and Florence Green, a member of Britain’s Women’s Royal Air Force and who lives in England, are thought to be the only two people still living who served in any capacity in the war.

Mr. Buckles is survived by his daughter, Susannah Flanagan. His wife, Audrey, died in 1999.
More than eight decades after World War I ended, Mr. Buckles retained images of his French comrades. And he thought back to the fate that awaited them.

“What I have a vivid memory of is the French soldiers — being in a small village and going in to a local wine shop in the evening,” he told a Library of Congress interviewer. “They had very, very little money. But they were having wine and singing the ‘Marseillaise’ with enthusiasm. And I inquired, ‘What is the occasion?’ They were going back to the front. Can you imagine that?” 

We can't forget them.  We just can't.

February 26, 2011

Maybe we ARE special

From Jennifer Fulwiller in the National Catholic Register:

The galactic census data is in! According to an Associated Press article released last weekend: “Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical: at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.”

When I would hear that kind of thing when I was an atheist, I’d muster up my most condescending facial expression and turn to the nearest believer to say: “You still believe all that Bible stuff now?” To my way of thinking back then, the vastness of the universe debunked the Christian worldview. Obviously we’re nothing special in the grand scheme of things. Obviously there’s not some Creator out there who values us over everything else—otherwise, why would he have bothered messing around with making all this other stuff? Why create the Triangulum Galaxy and the Horsehead Nebula and the 50 billion other planets here in the Milky Way if you’re mainly concerned about the goings on at tiny little planet Earth?

It’s too bad I hadn’t read Chesterton. He addresses that kind of argument with his typical wit when he writes in Orthodoxy:

   "Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree."

Exactly. What I was missing back then was an openness to contemplating just what kind of God we might be talking about. I pictured that Christians believed in a man with a flowing white beard who lived off in the clouds somewhere. Sort of like my uncle Ralph, but with magic powers. With this limited, facile view, it’s no wonder I couldn’t get past the vastness of the universe. Uncle Ralph wouldn’t waste his time creating a bunch of planets no one was ever going to use, so, presumably, neither would this supposed God.

What I see now is a universe that gives us an ever-present reminder of who and what God really is. The vastness of the universe is unfathomable; to try to contemplate every detail of every object in existence is an exercise in futility. The human mind has nowhere near that kind of capability, and that understanding should inspire us to humility about our own intellectual powers. And so it is when we contemplate God.

It’s a perfect plan, really: the smarter we get, the more we can know about the universe around us. Yet the more we study and measure and chart the heavens, the more we realize how incredibly tiny we are, how very much there is that we will never, ever know. We get a glimpse of the reality that the sum total of human learning cannot ever scratch the surface of what there is to know. We see that we are surrounded by an unfathomably wonderful creation; which points to an unfathomably wonderful Creator.

    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” 
(Isaiah 55:9).

February 25, 2011

Hams assist in New Zealand earthquake’s aftermath

2/26/11 UPDATE: Reports out of New Zealand are saying that no HF frequencies are currently being used to handle earthquake traffic and that most amateur communications have been established on 2 meter VHF frequencies.

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand’s South Island on Tuesday, February 22 at 12:51 PM local time (2351 on February 21 UTC). According to IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee Chairman Jim Linton, VK3PC, 10 radio amateurs are using their two emergency broadcast vans to keep rescue teams and Civil Defense staff in touch.  One vehicle is providing portable communication so personnel can talk to Civil Defence officials and the other vehicle is en route to assist search and rescue teams in an area where communication is poor. Amateur radio operators from around New Zealand are volunteering to help out and others are sending updates on the disaster to the families of people in Christchurch who are overseas. “Richard, ZK4FZ, said Amateur Radio operators from around the country are volunteering to help out,” Linton said. “Others are sending updates on the disaster to families of people in Christchurch who are overseas.”

Meantime, Arnie Coro, CO2KK, the International Amateur Radio Union Region II Area C Emergency Coordinator, has issued a notice to hams in the Americas. Coro advises users of the 40 and 20 meter bands to be aware of possible earthquake emergency communications traffic taking place in and around the affected areas of New Zealand's South Island, where Christchurch is located.  Coro continues that the propagation on 40 meters more likely to cause problems to the New Zealanders from unintentional QRM coming from the Americas in the window that starts about two or three hours before sunrise and lasts until sunrise on this side of the path. A similar pattern, with a slight time shift shows up on 20 meters as well.

There is no word yet on the frequencies being used.

As of February 24, the death toll from the earthquake stands at 98, with dozens yet to be rescued from beneath building rubble and hundreds of people still missing. The massive rescue effort now involves 300 rescuers -- boosted by urban experts from Australia -- and has rescued 20 people so far. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said a pocket of 15 had been found in the TV3 building, the heart of local television production.

Countries around the world have responded with personnel and materials to help the citizens of New Zealand in the aftermath of the earthquake, including the US. The Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 2 -- a 74 member heavy rescue team consisting of firefighters and paramedics from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, emergency room physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment specialists, hazardous materials technicians, communications specialists and logistics specialists -- with 26 tons of pre-packaged rescue equipment is now in Christchurch. This unit also responded to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

According to media reports, buildings collapsed around Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch and the spire atop Christchurch Cathedral collapsed. The spire’s tip had also fallen in earlier earthquakes, but much more fell during the February 22 earthquake. Police believe 22 people died in the collapse of the cathedral’s tower. The Canterbury Television (CTV) building was severely damaged and caught fire. On February 23, police decided that the damage was not survivable and rescue efforts at the building were suspended. More than 100 people may have died in the building. Firefighting and recovery operations resumed that night, later joined by a Japanese search and rescue squad. Thirteen Japanese students from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages are missing, with some feared trapped in the rubble of the CTV building.

-- Thanks to the IARU's Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee Chairman Jim Linton, VK3PC, for information.

February 20, 2011

Revisiting the KofC Net

This past Saturday, I did something that was long overdue: I checked into the KofC Net on 20 meters, something I had not done in many months.

I had originally started the ball rolling for a Knights of Columbus HF Net by having the following "Stray" published in the March 2007 issue of QST (the monthly journal of the ARRL): "I would like to get in touch with.Knights of Columbus members interested in forming a K of C HF net."  At the time I had a few responses, but the ball slowly got rolling.  Today, through the efforts of Ron, K0LMD and others, the KofC Net now meets on Saturdays on the 20 meter band on 14.243 MHz at 3pm ET (2000 UTC).  It's not necessary to be a Knight to join the Net.  Another session is listed for Saturdays at 9AM ET (1400 UTC) on the 40 meter band on 7.193 MHz, but I'm not yet sure how active the 40 meter session has been.

Conditions on 20 meters weren't great in New England this Saturday, in part due to rolling radio blackouts generated by the recent solar flares reported recently here.  I was able to hear the net control station, K0LMD in Colorado (and considerably better once Ron pointed his Yagi beam antenna toward the northeast.  What was really funny though was seeing my own call spotted by VA3BOO on the DX cluster, sort of commemorating my (up to now) rare appearance on the net.  It made me feel like I was rare DX - thanks Joe!)

Stop by the KofC Net and say hello..I'm going to try and get on their more often myself.

(See the "Must Visit" pages on the right side of the blog for more info on the KofC Net.)

February 17, 2011

Sunspot 1158 produces largest flare yet of Solar Cycle 24

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) headed toward Earth

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of activity on the Sun. On Sunday, February 13 at 1738 UTC, sunspot 1158 unleashed an M6.6-level blast and on Tuesday, February 15, the same sunspot unleashed an X-class flare, the strongest solar flare in more than four years. On Monday, the solar flux index reached 113, the highest yet in Solar Cycle 24, dropping down to 112 for Tuesday. It is expected to continue to be at least 100 for the next few days.

The source of this activity -- sunspot 1158 -- is growing rapidly (click here to watch a video of the sunspot’s progression over a 48 hour period). Sunspot 1158 is in the Sun’s southern hemisphere, which has been lagging behind the northern hemisphere in activity for Solar Cycle 24. This active region is now more than 100,000 km wide, with at least a dozen Earth-sized dark cores in the group. More Earth-directed eruptions are likely in the hours ahead.

According to Spaceweather.com, Sunday’s eruption produced a loud blast of radio waves that was heard in shortwave receivers. That website reported that a New Mexico amateur radio astronomer recorded these sounds at 19-21 MHz, calling it “some of the strongest radio bursting of the new solar cycle.”

On Tuesday at 1516 UTC, the same sunspot unleashed an X2.2-class flare; X-flares are the strongest type of x-ray flare, and this is the first such eruption of Solar Cycle 24; the last X-class flare was December 13, 2006 (click here to watch a movie of this X-class solar flare). NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation. The expanding cloud may be seen in this movie from NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft.

In addition to flashing Earth with UV radiation, data from NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and its Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) show that the explosion also hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. Geomagnetic storms are possible when the CME hits the Earth’s magnetic field on or about February 16, and auroras are possible.

What does this mean to radio amateurs? When the CME hits the Earth’s atmosphere, the low bands will be depressed and signals will be weaker the lower the frequency. The absorption rate will be most severe on 160 meters, less on 80 and somewhat better on 40 meters. The maximum usable frequency (MUF) -- the highest frequency by which a radio wave can propagate between given terminals by ionospheric propagation alone, independent of power -- will be lower and auroral propagation on the VHF bands is quite possible.

“Sunspot 1158 is firing off all sorts of flares and causing disruptions to the geomagnetic field,” said H. Ward Silver, N0AX, who edits the ARRL Contest Update. “Depending on how active it remains over the next couple of days, there may be significant impact to HF propagation for the ARRL International DX CW Contest this weekend. The length of the disruption by the CME is unknown. A head-on collision with a lot of plasma will keep things unsettled all weekend, while the recovery from a glancing blow or smaller amounts of plasma may occur relatively quickly. Polar path propagation on Friday morning will be the best indicator of conditions before the contest begins. Those operating on 10 meters at all the multi-multi stations are holding their collective breaths!”

What Is a Solar Flare?

A solar flare occurs when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released. Radiation is emitted across virtually the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves at the long wavelength end, through optical emission to x-rays and gamma rays at the short wavelength end. The amount of energy released is the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time.

Solar flares extend out to the layer of the Sun called the corona. The corona is the outermost atmosphere of the Sun, consisting of highly rarefied gas. This gas normally has a temperature of a few million Kelvins. Inside a flare, the temperature typically reaches 10 or 20 million Kelvins, and can be as high as 100 million degrees Kelvin. The corona is not uniformly bright, but is concentrated around the solar equator in loop-shaped features. These bright loops are located within and connect areas of strong magnetic fields called active regions. Sunspots are located within these active regions and solar flares occur in active regions.

The frequency of flares coincides with the Sun’s 11 year cycle. When the solar cycle is at a minimum, active regions are small and rare and few solar flares are detected. These increase in number as the Sun approaches the maximum part of its cycle. According to NASA, the Sun will reach its next maximum this year, give or take one year.

Scientists classify solar flares according to their x-ray brightness. There are five categories of solar flares: X-class flares are big; these flares are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized and can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions; minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small, with few noticeable consequences here on Earth. A- and B- class solar flares are not even noticeable on Earth. Each category for x-ray flares has nine subdivisions: C1-C9, M1-M9 and X1-X9. A brighter solar flare has a higher number, so an M6 solar flare is brighter than an M2 solar flare. Thanks to NASA, Spaceweather.com, SolarCycle24.com and ARRL for the information.

Just very funny stuff. What can I say?

"Super Duplex:" A wireless radio that can send and receive signals at the same time

From ZD Net comes news that Stanford researchers have developed a new technology that allows wireless signals to be sent and received simultaneously on a single channel. Their research could help build faster, more efficient communication networks, at least doubling the speed of existing networks.

Radio waves make the world go around.  They make communication and navigation satellites possible,  underpin modern aviation,  and allow you to access the Internet without wires.  One characteristic of radio technology is that traffic flows in only one direction at a time on a specific frequency. That’s why pilots, police, and other walkie-talkie users frequently use “over” as they take turns speaking.

But now Stanford researchers have developed a way that allows wireless signals to be sent and received simultaneously on a single channel. Their research could help build faster, more efficient communication networks, at least doubling the speed of existing networks.

“Textbooks say you can’t do it,” said Philip Levis, assistant professor of computer science and of electrical engineering. “The new system completely reworks our assumptions about how wireless networks can be designed,” he said in a university release.

Levis and his team made the discovery based on a seemingly simple idea. What if radios could do the same thing our brains do when we listen and talk simultaneously: screen out the sound of our own voice?

The main obstacle to two-way simultaneous conversation is that incoming signals are overwhelmed by the radio’s own transmissions, making it impossible to talk and listen at the same time.

“When a radio is transmitting, its own transmission is millions, billions of times stronger than anything else it might hear [from another radio],” Levis said. “It’s trying to hear a whisper while you yourself are shouting.”

The researchers reasoned that if a radio receiver could filter out the signal from its own transmitter, weak incoming signals could be heard. “You can make it so you don’t hear your own shout and you can hear someone else’s whisper,” Levis said.

Each radio knows exactly what it’s transmitting, and therefore what its receiver should filter out. The process is analogous to noise-canceling headphones.

Up next for the team is to increase both the strength of the transmissions and the distances over which they work before the technology can be of any practical use in WiFi networks.
But even more promising are the system’s implications for future networks. “Once hardware and software are built to take advantage of simultaneous two-way transmission,  there’s no predicting the scope of the results,” Levis said.

Watch the following accompanying video:

February 16, 2011

W1WH log brought to you by HRD Log.net

As I mentioned a few days ago, I've been playing around with the latest iteration of Ham Radio Deluxe, and I must say again, it is a tour de force piece of software.  In addition to the fantastic computer control of my Icom 746 Pro, I've been using DM-780, HRD's digital interface, to work a variety of digital modes plus analog slow scan television (SSTV).  What really impresses me though are the improvements made to the HRD logbook in the current beta version of HRD - to the point where HRD Logbook has become my main operating log.  The tools (QSL records, etc.) available on this thing are amazing!  

In addition to HRD Logbook, I've discovered HRD Log.net, a companion site offered by Claudio, IW1QLH which uses data linked from HRD Logbook.

Nice job, Claudio.  Oh yeah, did I mention that HRD Log.net (like Ham Radio Deluxe) is free?   Claudio does accept justly deserved donations through his site though, and yes - I did make a contribution!

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page on this blog, you should see some of my recent QSOs logged directly from my HRD Logbook through HRD Log.net.  

February 13, 2011

BPL - a government screwup and bad idea that just won't die

Long before there was a looming spectrum crises, there was broadband over power lines. BPL promised digital subscriber line data rates through electrical wall outlets. It was approved by the Federal Communications Commission seven years ago and has since languished. Why, especially now that broadband has become a priority such that the president is stumping for it?

The main reason is that BPL has few friends and determined enemies. There was no promise of a new device market, and therefore no interest from the consumer electronics industry. It represented competition to entrenched broadband providers, the cable and telephone companies. Enthusiasm never materialized from utilities, which probably cannot spell “competition,” much less perceive of it. The FCC’s BPL rules became embroiled in challenges long before the public ever got wind that broadband access could be had from a wall socket.

“FCC rules” and “embroiled” go together like “unleashing” and “spectrum,” the premise upon which the administration’s National Broadband Plan rests. Eschewing technological research for anecdotal economic assertions, the administration has determined that 500 MHz of spectrum must be designated for wireless broadband, or communist dogs will eat this country like a torn-open sack of hams. Never mind that less then one-third of the 547 MHz now designated for wireless broadband is built out.

Those airwaves lay fallow because there is more spectrum in the market than capital to develop it. New cell sites cost around $500,000 each, according to one FCC white paper. The estimated cost of the administration’s ultimate goal of 100 Mbps for every man, woman and child is $350 billion. A nationwide wireless broadband network will take years and the unlikely cooperation of competitive service providers to realize. The country is already wired for electricity. BPL could be deployed yesterday.

In the absence of champions, BPL effectively has been killed by its opponents, comprising some 700,000 ham radio licensees. The ham radio lobby, the American Radio Relay League, went after BPL with a vengeance, claiming it caused interference to their members’ operations. The FCC reaffirmed its rules in 2006, and the League sued. Two years later, a federal court ordered the commission to cough up previously redacted documents. Those were released in 2009 along with a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that commenced gathering dust. The ARRL in the meantime filed complaints against one of the few BPL providers in the country, alleging interference in four municipalities.

Thus the regulatory saga continues, even as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers this week published a third standard for the technology. Here’s what IEEE had to say about its BPL operating protocol and interoperability standard, No. 1901: Networking products that fully comply with IEEE 1901 will deliver data rates in excess of 500 Mbps in LAN applications. In first-mile/last-mile applications, IEEE 1901-compliant devices will achieve ranges of up to 1,500 meters. The technology specified by IEEE 1901 uses sophisticated modulation techniques to transmit data over standard AC power lines of any voltage at transmission frequencies of less than 100 MHz.

In the transportation sector, for example, the standard’s data rates and range make it possible to deliver A/V entertainment to the seats of airplanes, trains and other mass transit vehicles. Electric vehicles can download a new entertainment playlist to the A/V system while the car is charging overnight.

In the home, [power-line communication] will complement wireless LANs by providing a link through walls and other RF impediments as well as over distances beyond the normal range of wireless networks. It will complement wireless networks in hotels and other multistory buildings by carrying multimedia data over the longer distances and allowing wireless to complete the communication link over the last few meters.

What’s not to love if you’re one of the 240 million Internet users comprising 77.3 percent of the U.S. population? And why exactly is this technology being held hostage by 0.2 percent of the population? How is it possible that after nearly 10 years in development, BPL’s interference issues haven’t been fixed? Providers dismiss these resolutions, according to Ed Hare, W1RFI, manager of the ARRL lab and an executive member of the IEEE working group that helped developed the electromagnetic compatibility standard for BPL, No. 1775. That group ultimately withdrew its support for 1775 over “ technical flaws” that allowed continued interference to ham operations.“Putting radio signals onto power wiring is a recipe for interference, although as has been demonstrated with help from ARRL, there are ways to implement this technology so that its strong radio noise emissions do not cause widespread interference problems,” Hare said. “The industry creates it own controversy by not incorporating those techniques universally, and fiercely fighting against having its most successful models turned into good regulations and standards.”

The federal government is hell bent on broadband, so why has it all but abandoned BPL? The FCC’s final rules for the technology are pending. It’s hard to imagine the commission not being able to appease 700,000 people for the sake of 240 million, notwithstanding an agenda to hand the video market to the wireless industry on a silver platter.
(Excerpted from K1TP's As The World Turns)

Lessons in manliness from the Egyptian revolution

(Note: This is a guest post by Yasser El Hadari which was published on The Art of Manliness site - which is well worth checking out on its own merits.  Yasser's observations on character are timeless, and I wish him and his country well.)  

If you’ve been watching the news, I’m sure you know that the Egyptian people have rocked the Middle East in their effort for self-rule and democracy. As I sit typing this, the newly appointed Vice President issued a statement of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and his appointment of the Armed Forces Supreme Council to take power. It is the dawn of a new era. No delays, no lies, no half-solutions. We wanted our freedom. The temple of Corruption had to be toppled. No matter who supported it, be it the Army, thugs, the West, the East or even the planet Mars, the regime that has humiliated us and stole our rights and freedoms had to go. Period.

As I write this, the revolution has been on for eighteen days. During those eighteen days, my life has changed on a scale that I would have never imagined in my life. I am turning 24 in July, and in November 2010 I had just completed my dental internship, earning my license and Dental Union membership. Later on I opened an e-commerce business to make ends meet as I pursued higher studies. Who would have imagined that starting from the 25th of January, I would shift my activities to a neighborhood guard member, lumberjack and patrolman; then to an amateur online activist, protester, bodyguard and a small-scale speaker for the cause.

As I sit writing this, I look back at the past days, and have come to a conclusion: they have made a better man of me. Every stage I spent, from sitting at home watching the news and discussing the revolution, to guarding my neighborhood then actually participating in the protests, have taught me real-life lessons in being a better man. I seriously have felt a change in my character and perception, and this has inspired me to submit this article to one of my favorite sites, The Art of Manliness.

I have to admit, I was involved in the revolution quite late. In the beginning I thought it didn’t affect me, that some reforms would be introduced and the protesters would go home. But Friday the 28th came, around 300 protesters were killed by live ammunition and 5000 more injured, and prisons and detention centers were mysteriously opened as the police disappeared, flooding the streets with convicts, and Cairo and other cities were ablaze in riots. To add insult to injury, the government shut down the internet. Only one word resonated in our minds: scare tactics–submit or face chaos. We were determined to prove the government wrong. Saturday afternoon we were in the streets to protect our homes, armed with whatever we had and setting up checkpoints in the streets. We stood guard daily, only letting go when local businesses started operating at night again and the police were returning to the streets. These were my first lessons in the revolution’s school of manliness.

A man adapts. I never expected in my life to stand in a checkpoint, armed with a hatchet and a hunting knife, checking cars and the ID’s of the riders with a case of homemade Molotov cocktails beside me. Now that I look back, I’m actually surprised at the change. But my willingness to accept this change, in my opinion, helped me evolve for the better.

A man values his neighbors. The only reason the neighborhood patrols succeeded was the group effort. In my shifts, we caught nine criminals. We had it easy, since our middle class neighborhood was flanked by the Nile and surrounded by two other middle class districts near the center of Cairo. Those living in suburban areas and near prisons had it much worse: They caught tens and in some areas over a hundred criminals. We kept our homes safe, and most importantly we learned to look out for each other and each others’ homes.

A man respects others. Anyone passing our checkpoints had to be checked. We knew the criminals and hired thugs had hijacked sedans, police cars, ambulances, army vehicles and forged police ID’s and stole army uniforms. There were no exceptions. However, we had to appreciate the cooperation of those we searched. We weren’t policemen, nor did we have warrants; on pen and paper we were just concerned citizens. Showing respect helped us earn respect. And it wasn’t hard: it was as simple as saying thank you.

A man doesn’t think with his emotions. Like Mubarak’s speeches, anyone we caught tried to appeal to our emotions. They made up lies as to where their fake ID’s came from, acted dumb and sometimes begged on their knees not to be handed over to the military. I have to admit, sometimes I wanted to believe them, it was easier. But I had to remember the reality, and by reality meaning what he would do if he found his way into my house or my neighbor’s house. Cold hard reality: not everyone shares your good nature; it’s sad but you’ll have to accept it to do your duty.

On the other hand, a man shows compassion. People of all ages stood with me, some as young as nine and others in their seventies and eighties. The old ones were mainly war veterans, but the young ones were in an environment they never experienced in their lives. They acted tough and tried to talk like thugs, but the fear in their eyes appeared at the first cracks of gunfire in the distance. Lesser men made jokes about their age to hide what they lacked in grit. The best men I knew were the ones who gave a pat on the back.

A man is practical, not showy. I was armed with a hatchet and hunting knife, since I had read earlier that anything that couldn’t be used as a tool was dead weight. I used the hatchet to cut firewood to keep us warm at night and the hunting knife, well, cut things. Others were armed with butcher knives, clubs, sticks and swords. Some took it too far to look bad-ass: a man tied two butcher knives together, nunchaku style and hung them round his neck to look threatening. The man just made his neck an easy target. Another point, and I know many will not like to hear this, but a man who owns a gun who knows how to use it is a better man, period. Three men in our neighborhood had guns, and whenever we were on alert, we looked to them, since their reactions determined how the rest of us would respond.

A man doesn’t talk of things he wouldn’t do. No matter how manly I portray people who took part in these patrols, no one has the right to ask others to put their lives or the lives of their loved ones in danger. It also comes to actions: If you’re not willing to use your car as a roadblock, don’t talk about others doing it instead.

A man appreciates the efforts of others. Although I respected the opinions of those who genuinely feared the outcome of the revolution being negative, it was repulsive to hear lesser men belittling the efforts of others. I know of people who make fun of the protesters who were fighting for their rights. Celebrities came on national television to claim that protesters were getting paid and received free meals from Kentucky Fried Chicken to protest against Mubarak. Others had the audacity to belittle the neighborhood patrols, not admitting that our stand in the streets helped them sleep in their beds at night. The funny thing was, the people I expected the most manly stand from were the ones who belittled us. The better men I knew, even if they didn’t participate, appreciated what others were doing for them.

The first day I participated in protests, my Father and I took a taxi to the nearby Tahrir Square where the bulk of anti-Mubarak protests were taking place. The night before, Mubarak had made a speech promising reforms and fair elections, appealing to citizens’ emotions and staging an aggressive counter-revolution. Upon reaching Tahrir Square we noticed pro-Mubarak demonstrators approaching the area, and the weirder image of horse and camel riders approaching the square. Upon going back, we were continually harassed by plainclothes policemen and supporters of Mubarak who had left their protest area at Mohandesin to disturb the anti-Mubarak protesters. When we got home, the media had launched an all-out offensive on those calling for democracy, branding them as saboteurs and traitors. The Internet was re-linked, and I found posts by people suggesting stability and going back to their ordinary lives. Since then I have alternated between joining protests and rooting for the revolution on Facebook. So started the new lessons in manliness.

A man shouldn’t be afraid of confrontation. Returning from Tahrir square on Bloody Wednesday, a plainclothes policeman harassed my father and I, calling us names and shouting threats as he followed us on foot for three blocks. If I kept quiet, I think he’d have followed us to our house. He didn’t leave us alone until I personally got in his face and made a scene calling any nearby uniformed policemen to deal with him and to show us his ID. Returning home, fuming with anger, I saw my friends posting online about how they wanted things to go back to the way they were and how those fighting for their rights were making a mess and disrupting peoples’ way of life. I called them on how a week ago they wanted change and these people they were putting down were bringing them these changes. Sometimes telling the truth meant no compromises.

A man respects the views of others and doesn’t take them personally. Of course there were those who wanted the revolution to stop simply because they were afraid. And their fear was genuine: there was a threat of chaos, economic collapse, and now foreign military intervention. It was easier of course to dismiss these fears as cowardly or stupid, but the harder thing to do, that in the end gained respect, was appreciating these fears, and helping them understand that freedom came at a high price, and how any short-term losses were worth it. Their disagreement wasn’t a personal attack, and one of the best speakers I knew made a point of letting listeners know that the disagreement wasn’t personal.

A man is presentable under all circumstances. The protests were peaceful. This was what made the revolution powerful. The world had to see that it wasn’t a peasant uprising, class conflict or even a religious takeover: those in the revolution were educated, young, loved Egypt and had realistic expectations of a representative government and civil rights. I participated in two more protests; before deciding to participate I had a haircut. Before going down to the protests I had a shower, shave, and went down dressed as if for a business presentation. In the second protest that started with a march by doctors (which my father, an ob/gyn surgeon, joined with me), I wore my best white coat and carried myself in the most professional manner possible. I was interviewed twice by American and British journalists, and in both cases I spoke with my best English accent. I was representing millions of people calling for change. Being scruffy or speaking in slang was going to misrepresent them.

A man respects the opposite sex. The protests were free of sexual harassment. Men were being searched by men and women searched by women, a lesson airport authorities in some countries can learn. When women passed by we made way for them. If people thought that the protests were a place to meet women, we told them to stay home. It wasn’t a game. The whole world was watching us, and those opposing the revolution were looking for the tiniest speck of dirt to put us down. Acting like a horny teenager was such dirt.

A man respects people who are different. While Muslim protesters were attending Friday Prayers, Christians formed a human wall to protect them. On Sunday when Christian protesters performed Mass, Muslims stood watch to protect them. There was no slurring in the protests. People who attended were of different races, religions, and social backgrounds; black and white, Muslim and Christian,  rich and poor, we stood together. If people deep down inside had a certain hatred for others due to these differences, the protests helped them replace this hatred with understanding. In the end we were all the same. We were all Egyptian, and we all wanted freedom.

A man isn’t afraid of putting his life at risk. In one of the protests I was in, an important online activist was released the night before after 12 days in detention by the secret police, and was coming to Tahrir Square for a speech and a press conference. His younger brother is my colleague, and I found myself going to pick him up from the subway station. My friends and I, for the duration of the journey to the stand, made a human shield around him to keep people from slowing him down, and more importantly, to protect him. After his speech, our human phalanx fought the crowds to take him to the press conference. Most of the people meant well, but I personally considered the possibility of a counter-revolutionary with a concealed weapon harming him to shatter the morale of the revolution. Of course I’m still surprised at taking part in this endeavor, but if I were to repeat it again, I would do it happily even if it would have ended badly. I admired the man, and he was the voice for our youth and presented us well with no personal agenda, a man worth defending.

A man isn’t afraid to admit his mistakes and willingness to change. When discussing the revolution, I’ve been faced with the question of why I didn’t go down to the streets from the first day of the protests, as a way of proving me wrong or proving the point that those supporting the revolution were all talk. Of course, saying I wasn’t politically inclined and was afraid of riots was incongruous and didn’t do justice to the others of my age and similar background who were fighting for my rights. Finally when I had enough I reached for the answer inside me and told the truth: I didn’t believe in myself enough to think my voice mattered, but now that I’ve changed there’s no use talking about the past, since I can’t change it like I’m changing myself. Watching whoever was arguing with me show his respect or shut up was proof enough that an honest answer, however effacing, was worth it.

To conclude this article, I am happy to welcome you to the dawn of a new era. As I type this people are still flocking to the streets, celebrating their new age of self-rule and freedom. I will be forever proud of my nationality as an Egyptian. I promise to be good to Egypt, to use my knowledge to grow her, repaint her picture in the eyes of others. I’m sorry I insulted her when I was younger, for thinking she wasn’t pretty like the others. I’m sorry I gave up on her, for wanting to leave her, and being ignorant of her history. I promise to be a better citizen to Her, a better Egyptian, a better Man.

I just want to impart a final word before I end: I am not the best person ever, and I have my faults, but never forget the value of freedom and dignity. Our people were deprived of those virtues for at least 30 years, and no words can describe how aggressively those in power tried to put us down. They sent hired thugs and plainclothes police to attack and disturb us; it didn’t stop us. They got celebrities to insult the protesters and praise the regime. National television called the protesters saboteurs and they shut down foreign news channels; we ignored them all. They shut down the internet; we promised to shut THEM down. Nearby dictators promised to support the regime. We heard rumors that the US Navy sent the fifth or sixth fleet and the Israeli Defense Force was grouping at the border. It didn’t matter. We were fighting for our rights, and we were ready to face anyone who interfered. The people weren’t afraid of losing what they had, they are winning something greater. When people aren’t afraid of losing, they are free, and great men can only be free men who build great countries.

February 12, 2011

Revisiting the ID-O-Matic

OK, it's been over a year.  I'm finally ready to try this again.

About a year or go, I built the ID-O-Matic, a fine little kit offered by Dale, N0XAS of HamGadgets.

What's an ID-O-Matic?  It's a sophisticated timer that can be used in the shack to remind a ham to legally ID on the air every 10 minutes.  Actually, it's a lot more than that...which I'll get into a little later.

I had actually built the original ID-O-Matic model, and it worked great off a 12 volt power supply for several hours...until I decided to go portable with it.  I had disconnected the finished kit from my power supply and hooked it up to a 9 volt battery after double checking the my polarity.  (As there is no protection diode at the power input, I made sure to take care to make sure my polarity was correct.)  You can probably guess the rest of the story... as soon as I hooked up the battery,  I 'let the smoke out" of my newly finished kit.  Disgusted with myself, I vowed it would be the last kit I ever build.

Fast forward to today.  N0XAS has since brought out a successor to the original kit, the "ID-O-Matic II".  In Dale's words, "...the ID-O-Matic II is the original ID-O-Matic, combined with the features of the Connection Kit and a few more, all on one board. There's an audio amp, low-pass filtering to smooth out the sidetone, volume control and de-emphasis for external audio input, and input level converters all included on the board. In addition, all inputs and outputs are now available on a single header with a screw-clamp terminal block for quick and easy connections..."

The ID-O-Matic features an 
ID timer with Morse code output, keyed CW, audio and PTT outputs, PTT/audio combination for keying HTs, 2-channel audio mixer for repeater audio and ID, filtering and de-emphasis for repeater audio and simple serial port configuration.

The ID-O-Matic II is a multipurpose, PIC microcontroller based device that nearly everyone can use. Like the original ID-O-Matic featured in the 2008-2010 ARRL Handbook, it can act as a simple 10-minute timer with audio and visual outputs to remind you when it's time to ID.  It also features a programmable delay timer that announces your call sign or any other message, in Morse code at a speed and audio tone you choose.  It has CW keying and PTT outputs so you can attach it to a "fox" transmitter, or an emergency cross-band repeater. Squelch/COR inputs combine to make a repeater IDer that works the way you want it.  If that wasn't enough, this little kit also has a serial interface to connect to your shack computer, laptop or terminal for quick and easy configuration

The ID-O-Matic II can meet a pretty wide range of needs. On it's basic level it will light up a green LED until nine minutes have passed. The LED then turns yellow, and at 9 minutes 30 seconds starts blinking yellow/red. At ten minutes the ID-O-Matic beeps at you until you reset it with a pushbutton or logic signal, then starts over.

Using the built-in RS232 serial interface you can connect the ID-O-Matic II to a terminal or a PC with a terminal emulation program (PuTTY, Hyperterminal, Minicom, etc) and you can use the simple menu to set your own delay from 1 to 65535 seconds (over 9 hours). You can control when (and if) the LED turns yellow and when it starts blinking. You can also choose between the default beep, or just type in your call sign or any other message up to 64 characters long to hear it in Morse code. When in CW ID mode the ID-O-Matic II will send the message, then automatically reset and start timing again. You can also select repeater mode for repeater operation. In repeater mode two additional inputs can be used to control when ID-O-Matic II sends your selected Morse code ID. You can use a squelch, COR, PTT or other signals of your choosing. Built-in input level converters let you use either active-high or active-low signals. You can optionally have the ID-O-Matic send a courtesy beep at the end of each transmission (with user-selected delay), and you can specify a PTT "hang time" to keep PTT active for a few seconds after the input stops. If you want a repeater to ID every so often when it's idle, there is a beacon timer and a separate message for that too. You can, for example, have the repeater ID with its call sign while being used, and a longer message every hour or two when it's idle. There's a PTT watchdog timer to keep your repeater from being "hung" by stuck mic buttons (or long-winded users).  And, you can use the ALT MSG input to send a different ID message based on the state of an input signal - useful if, for example, your site switches to backup power.

Regardless of the mode used, the PTT output is active 100ms before and 100ms after the CW ID. Speed is variable from 5 to 40 words per minute, and the audio pitch for the CW ID and the courtesy beep is also variable via the menu. Both the CW and PTT outputs are equipped with robust 2N7000 MOSFETs that can handle up to 60V at up to 200 mA to key transmitters or other loads.

N0XAS also made improvements to the original ID-O-Matic's Morse audio output. Where the old chip used a square wave signal, the new one uses pulse-width modulation followed by a low-pass filter to generate a much smoother, much better sounding audio signal.  The on-board Morse ID is filtered and fed to an LM386 audio amplifier. An input is provided for external audio from you r receiver or other source; this input is also amplified and mixed with the Morse audio. You can optionally install the parts for a simple R-C de-emphasis filter on the external audio input. On board trim pots adjust the volume of each audio source.

The kit is fairly easy to build, so I have no excuses.  Great job Dale - I promise not to screw up this time.

And maybe this time I'll add that reverse protection diode while I'm at it.

February 11, 2011

And you thought '73' was just a number

Any ham knows the significance of the number 73...which has long been used by hams...and even before radio, land line telegraphers...as an symbol for "best regards" - a traditional closing greeting used in amateur radio.

While the origin of '73' has always been somewhat shrouded in mystery, the April 1935 issue of QST had a short article on the origin of 73. The article was actually a summation of a December 1934 discussion that appeared in a bulletin from the Navy Department Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The Navy stated: "It appears from a research of telegraph histories that in 1859 the telegraph people held a convention, and one of its features was a discussion as to the saving of 'line time'.  A committee was appointed to devise a code to reduce standard expressions to symbols or figures. This committee worked out a figure code, from figure 1 to 92. Most of these figure symbols became obsolescent, but a few remain to this date...the symbol most often used now is 73, which means 'my compliments' [or as commonly understood today, "best regards"].  The other figures in between the forgoing have fallen into almost complete disuse."

According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), Huelbe Garcia, PU3HAG, wrote about the character Dr Sheldon Cooper on the CBS situation comedy The Big Bang Theory.  Evidently Sheldon, played by actor Jim Parsons, has worn a shirt on the show with the number “73” emblazoned across the chest, leading some to wonder if Sheldon is a ham radio operator.  Supposedly, Sheldon remarked that “73 is the best number. Why?  "73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror (37) is the 12th, and its mirror (21) is the product of multiplying, hold on to your hats, 7 and 3. In binary, 73 is a palindrome, 1,0,0,1,0,0,1 which backwards is 1,0,0,1,0,0,1.”
Jeez.  Who knew?

Ham Radio Deluxe and HRD Log

For several years now I've been using Ham Radio Deluxe a tour de force by Simon Brown, HB9DRV, as a poor man's SDR (software designed radio).  This free program, while not perfect, is under constant revision and improvement and seems to do it all: rig control (works flawlessly with my Icom 746 Pro), logging (can't  beat the QSL management tools), interfacing with just about all digital modes through it's companion program DM780 together with my trusty Tigertronics SignalLink USB interface.  Recently, I've discovered the internet-based companion HRD Log written by Claudio,  IW1QLH.  HRD Log uses data from your HRD logbook and posts it on the internet for public viewing if desired - and so  much more. In the process, it also creates a nice "cloud-based" backup for the logbook.  What I really thought interesting though was the mapping of logged QSOs - it's great to see a pictorial rendering of just where your signal has been heard!  (The "live" version of the map is interactive and will provide details of the displayed logged QSOs.)  Check it out.

February 9, 2011

Platoon Sergeant Douglas A. Vibert, Jr., USMC - Killed In Action at Iwo Jima, March 1, 1945

Long time readers of this blog know that much of my original motivation for starting this blog was as a means to memorialize my dad who was and will always be my personal hero. My dad never spoke at length about his experiences in the Pacific as a young Marine in World War II but occasionally talked about his best friend Doug Vibert, who enlisted in the Marines sometime after my father had already been overseas. I remember my father telling me that Doug had been the sole support of his mother prior to the war and because of that fact, Doug was apparently exempt from the draft - and didn't have to go to war. But, like many others of his generation, his duty to his country was unquestioned. I remember my dad telling me that he had begged his best friend Doug not to go, and that it wasn't "like the movies". Doug, who apparently admired and looked up to my dad, wouldn't have it any other way. He enlisted in the Marines and eventually left for the Pacific, just as my father had.

This month (February 19 to be exact) marks the 66th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima...and March 1 marks the 66th anniversary of Doug's Vibert's death on the hard rocky sands of Iwo Jima. Platoon Sergeant Douglas A. Vibert, Jr. was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry occurring in action of February 21, 1945 just days prior to his death. (He was also awarded the Purple Heart). Doug was buried at sea in honored glory. I remember, many years later, my father would very occasionally mention Doug to me, and then get very quiet with the thousand yard stare of a man who has seen too much and remembered too much.

Rest in peace Marine. Thank you for your courage and your duty to your country. Thank you for being my dad's friend. I never met you Doug, but I never forgot you.

King Hussein, the ham radio operator known As JY1

Jordan's King Hussein died this week in 1999, after being in power for 47 years.  King Hussein was proclaimed King of Jordan in 1952, and only 18 when he took the throne in 1953. He died of cancer at the age of 63.

King Hussein was an amateur radio operator. As a ham radio operator, King Hussein was known as JY1.  I can remember hearing him occasionally on Providence area repeaters when he sometimes came to the United States to visit his son who was studying at Brown University at the time.  (Unfortunately, I never got the chance to work him on the air.)

Below is a clip of King Hussein on the radio, talking with NASA astronaut Owen Garriott in 1983. Garriott, a ham radio fan, was the first astronaut to get an amateur radio gig up in space, on the Space Shuttle Columbia. While he was passing over the Red Sea, he made radio contact with King Hussein. Listen in as Hussein ("Juliet Yankee One") talks with Garriott ("W Five Lima Foxtrot Lima").

According to the American Radio Relay League (AARL) -- Hussein was a life member -- the conversation with the space shuttle was a high point in the king's ham radio career.  You can read more background about it here from NASA.

JY1 was a classy guy both on and off the air.

February 8, 2011

Possibly the greatest obituary ever. R.I.P. Fred.

The following obituary was published 2/8/11 in the Richmond Times Dispatch - possibly one of the greatest obituaries ever...

Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark

Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark, who had tired of reading obituaries noting other's courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he lost his battle as a result of an automobile accident on June 18, 2006. True to Fred's personal style, his final hours were spent joking with medical personnel while he whimpered, cussed, begged for narcotics and bargained with God to look over his wife and kids. He loved his family. His heart beat faster when his wife of 37 years Alice Rennie Clark entered the room and saddened a little when she left. His legacy was the good works performed by his sons, Frederic Arthur Clark III and Andrew Douglas Clark MD, PhD., along with Andy's wife, Sara Morgan Clark. Fred's back straightened and chest puffed out when he heard the Star Spangled Banner and his eyes teared when he heard Amazing Grace. He wouldn't abide self important tight *censored*. Always an interested observer of politics, particularly what the process does to its participants, he was amused by politician's outrage when we lie to them and amazed at what the voters would tolerate. His final wishes were "throw the bums out and don't elect lawyers" (though it seems to make little difference). During his life he excelled at mediocrity. He loved to hear and tell jokes, especially short ones due to his limited attention span. He had a life long love affair with bacon, butter, cigars and bourbon. You always knew what Fred was thinking much to the dismay of his friend and family. His sons said of Fred, "he was often wrong, but never in doubt". When his family was asked what they remembered about Fred, they fondly recalled how Fred never peed in the shower - on purpose. He died at MCV Hospital and sadly was deprived of his final wish which was to be run over by a beer truck on the way to the liquor store to buy booze for a double date to include his wife, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to crash an ACLU cocktail party. In lieu of flowers, Fred asks that you make a sizable purchase at your local ABC store or Virginia winery (please, nothing French - the *censored*) and get rip roaring drunk at home with someone you love or hope to make love to. Word of caution though, don't go out in public to drink because of the alcohol related laws our elected officials have passed due to their inexplicable terror at the sight of a MADD lobbyist and overwhelming compulsion to meddle in our lives. No funeral or service is planned. However, a party will be held to celebrate Fred's life. It will be held in Midlothian, Va. Email fredsmemory@yahoo.com for more information. Fred's ashes will be fired from his favorite cannon at a private party on the Great Wicomico River where he had a home for 25 years. Additionally, all of Fred's friend (sic) will be asked to gather in a phone booth, to be designated in the future, to have a drink and wonder, "Fred who?"

February 5, 2011

Why ham radio endures in the world of Tweets

From Wired UK comes an excellent article by David Rowan which captures the essence of why ham radio endures in the Age of the Internet:

"Somehow it makes little sense that amateur "ham" radio continues to thrive in the age of Twitter, Facebook and iPhones. Yet the century-old communications technology -- which demands such commitment that you must pass an exam to receive a license -- currently attracts around 350,000 practitioners in Europe, and about 700,000 in the United States, some 60 per cent more than 30 years ago. What is it about a simple microphone, a transmitter-receiver and the seductive freedom of the radio spectrum that's turned a seeming anachronism into an enduring and deeply engaging global hobby?

For a start, there is that thrill in establishing a magical person-to-person long-distance radio conversation that no commodified internet communication can compete with. In a world of taken-for-granted torrents of emails, instant messages and Skype video-chats, there is a purity and a richness in the shared experience of exchanging "73s" during a live "QSO" with strangers on another continent. Why, the very "ham slang" that defines the community -- 73 translating as "best regards", and QSOs as two-way conversations -- tells practitioners that they belong to a special, mutually curious and highly courteous club. And the fact that DXers -- long-distance amateur operators -- take the trouble to acknowledge received transmissions and conversations by sending their new contacts custom-designed postcards through the analogue postal service… well, that is charm itself in a world where it's considered excessive to end a communication with anything more effusive than a "bestest".

You only need study a handful of these cards to understand, even today, the old-fashioned excitement of connecting with a stranger who might be many thousands of miles away. The postcards -- known as QSL cards -- can be as quirky and personality-filled as the senders themselves. At times humorous and characterful, at others terse and geographically factual, they have naturally inspired their own subculture that has spurred DXers to collect and display them much as they would colourful foreign postage stamps.  The cards invariably display as a minimum some basic factual information about the sender. This will generally include the radio operator's individual call sign, his (there are not too many hers) location, and a few details about the signal detected. And just to show that the Twitter generation did not invent the linguistic contractions exemplified in text-message-speak, QSL cards too rely on slang and abbreviations to pack information into a tight space. So cards will display the "RST" -- the received radio station's readability, signal and strength; perhaps details of the sender's "XMTR" (transmitter) and "ANT" (antenna); and occasionally a request to reciprocate, expressed as the shorthand "PSE QSL TNX" (please send an acknowledgement card, thanks) or the more chatty "hw abt a crd om?" (how about a card, old man?). Old man, by the way, is not a reference to the recipient's age -- just as, on the rarer occasions when the DXer is female, she is referred to as a "YL", a young lady, whatever her chronological age.

DXers have been exchanging QSL cards since at least 1916, when Edward Andrews of Philadelphia -- callsign 3TQ -- recorded the receipt of a card from 8VX of Buffalo, New York. Over the next decade, the hobby took off -- so much so that, by 1928, Paul Segal (W9EEA) had formulated an "amateur's code" setting out six key qualities to which practitioners must adhere: "The radio amateur is considerate… loyal… progressive… friendly… balanced… [and] patriotic," Segal specified, always ready for service to country and community.

Since then, the hobby has captivated royalty and celebrities alike. Among the most celebrated DXers have been the late King Hussein of Jordan (callsign JY1), Queen Noor (JY1H) and Juan Carlos, King of Spain (EA0JC). Had you picked the right moment, you could have chatted to Morocco's King Hassan II (CN8MH), the former Sultan of Oman (A41AA) or Bhumiphol Adulayadej, King of Thailand (HS1A). If monarchs have never appealed, you could instead have shot the breeze with Marlon Brando (FO5GJ), prime minister Rajiv Ghandi of India (VU2RG), or the US newsreader Walter Cronkite (KB2GSD) -- not forgetting the singer Cliff Richard (W2JOF), Joe Walsh of The Eagles (WB6ACU), and genuinely beyond-this-world DXers such as Yuri Gagarin and Helen Sharman.

It's little wonder that collectors describe the buzz of receiving a new exotic foreign card as akin to that of philatelists discovering a rare commemorative stamp. That explains why the late Jerry Powell, a New Jersey ham between 1928 to 2000 (W2OJW), proudly displayed the 369 cards he had gathered from Okinawa to Papua. Another obsessive collector, Thomas Roscoe of Brookfield, Ohio (K8CX), has created an awe-inspiring QSL museum where he displays his trophies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (you can see his individual cards at hamgallery.com). Take a journey with Roscow to Wallis & Futuna Island and Western Kiribati, to Kyrgyzstan and Kerguelen Island; visit "states" whose international status is somewhat contentious, such as the Republic of Ichkeria and the Principality of Sealand; celebrate one-off events such as Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, or the Queen Mary's last voyage.

But it's not simply the romance of card-collecting that continues to inspire DXers, nor the blunt urge to communicate. Instead, hams talk proudly about belonging to a global "brotherhood", with few rules and little bureaucracy and the ability to transcend language, religion and race -- while never quite knowing with whom they might come in contact.

Plus, of course, the chance to be a genuine real-life hero. Days after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake devastated Haiti in January, amateur radio operators were busy at work connecting rescuers within the country and contacting survivors' families. When a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit Chile the next month, and the phone network collapsed, a radio operator called Alejandro Jara broadcast the first information from the ground. Hams stepped in on September 11, 2001, and during Hurricane Katrina. Then there was Tony Pole-Evans, a bird-lover with a short-wave radio on Saunders Island, who famously risked his life during Argentina's 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands to radio the first news back to Britain that 1,000 soldiers had landed on Goose Green.  How exciting it must have been to intercept that particular radio call. And boy, what a QSL card to top one's collection.

You can tweet all you like, but this is the way to communicate."

February 2, 2011

Blackstone Valley Amateur Radio Club - not just another club!

Just when I thought that I would never bother to join another radio club (primarily due to inactivity or non-interest exhibited by members), I've "discovered" a radio club practically in my backyard that stands the stale stereotype on its ears.

The Blackstone Valley Amateur Radio Club (BVARC) was established in 1953, and by all accounts has been going strong ever since.  Headquarted in the Woonsocket, Rhode Island area (about a 25 minute ride from my Massachusetts QTH) the club is a bevy of activity with enthusiastic members both young and old.  A lot of clubs talk about helping members achieve their potential in ham radio - BVARC lives it!  A "Consortium" of free ongoing amateur radio teaching seminars has been ongoing for the past 18 months and shows no sign of slowing down.

I attended my initial meeting of the club the other night, and am looking forward to my next monthly meeting when I qualify for full membership with my attendance.  The club boasts a very well designed website (http://w1ddd.org) and also operates a weekly simplex net (without going through a repeater) on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 pm local on 146.565 MHz.  (And yes - just about everyone was booming in on the net).

Great job guys.  I'm glad I found you!

Crisis in Egypt - and Ham Radio

From a wiki site (http://werebuild.eu/wiki/Egypt/Ham_radio) covering Egypt and ham radio comes some interesting information on how the so-called "old technology" of ham radio - specifically CW, or morse code, is being used to get "the word out" from Egypt.  Following are some verbatim quotes from the wiki site as well as intercepted messages from Egypt:

In line with Telecomix's mission of supporting communications whenever needed, we are currently attempting to provide ham to ham contacts for emergency assistance.  Ham radio activists are receiving signals in morse code from Egypt. When countries block web, we evolve. 

Receive: 40m band 7050-7100, 20m 1400-14050
We always listen on hamradio 7080.8 kHz CW transmit frequency. We may call CQ SU, best time 18h-20h UTC. Please spread. 
Received messages

  • [2011-01-28 10:50]
"internet [not] working, police cars [burning]"
  • [00:30 UTC 7078.70 - 7079.88 kHz]
"test time" 7079.88 kHz 
"net time, [...] dark skies, bloody [moon]" 7079.55 kHz
"didn't catch that, [repeat]" 7079.55 kHz
"su32 will be [well] known" 7079.55 kHz
"all but one" 7080.23 kHz
"dial not working," 7080.23 kHz
"airports [being shut] down" 7080.23 kHz
"2 miles -- no, [1 miles] away" 7080.23 kHz
"have you been [able] to get a hold [of a] american?" 7080.23 kHz
"have you contacted [anyone] yet?" 7080.23 kHz
"americans, the americans" 7080.23 kHz
"everything is happening, everything we thought" 7080.23 kHz
"I got a contect [from] germany" 7080.66 kHz
"alert to germans" 7080.66 kHz (very faint)
"tomrrow [should] be interesting..." 7080.66 kHz
~00:30 UTC 7078.70 - 7079.88 kHz
  • [2011-01-29 15:09 UTC]
hellow is anyone there?
americans, the americans
7072.0 khz
7072.00 khz?

Interesting stuff!  This reminds of of the time - in 1979 I think - when I was in QSO with a Nicaraguan ham during their
revolutionary activity, and could hear gunfire in the background of the other ham's transmission.  Let's hope the current revolution
ends with a minimum of bloodshed.