Jan 232011
 

For some time now I’ve thought about and spoken of a new way for Skywarn nets to gather and report their information. Most NCOs (Net Control Operators) simply use a pencil and paper to take check-ins, reports and locations changes. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing more reliable than a piece of lead, some paper, and a battery powered radio. After all, when all else fails… amateur radio!

Reliability is the strongest foundation a service to the public can have and the Skywarn program is top of the class in that respect. However, when building a house, you do not build a strong foundation and then precede to spend your days in the basement, unless of course that’s where your shack is! As such, I think it’s important that we try to augment our foundation with as many effective tools as possible so we can do what we’ve volunteered to do, save property and lives.

This new tool, what I’m calling the KWiXS Skywarn Reporter, will allow NCOs to log check-ins, reports, and location changes into an online interface that is capable of relaying that information to anyone else logged into the system. This could be emergency managers, NWS employees, other Skywarn members, or any other authorized person. The goal of the software is to create paths along which information can flow freely with high availability. Communities that are downwind of a storm system can get even more lead time by getting alerts of reports that have been entered into the system. There will not however be a method for real-time chatting, there’s NWSChat for that, or you can always use RF if it’s urgent.

One of the key features is integration of the data into a Google Maps interface. With GMaps a user will be able to quickly see reports, county conditions (green, yellow, or red), and the location of the storm using NEXRAD radar data. There’s also the possibility of integrating APRS data so spotter’s out in the field can have their location tracked. There are many other potential features, but that’s where I put the call out to all hams, skywarn spotters, emergency managers, and NWS employees. I want to know what else could be implemented to provide the most effective tool. It’s not likely everyone will be appeased, and there will most certainly be those who want to stick to the RF way of doing things, and that’s OK. This system will never be meant to replace what trained Skywarn spotters do, nor what ham radio does for Skywarn, it’s merely there to augment the system and improve upon our mission, saving property and lives.

I have this wonderful piece of software envisioned in my mind, but I wanted to share that vision, to allow it be modified and grown into something used not just by our Skywarn program (in Wayne County), but across the country. I welcome any suggestions or comments and will most certainly welcome any programming support. It has only taken a few paragraphs to describe how the system will work from a high level, but it’s actually quite complicated to make sure all the moving parts play nice together. The more help, the better the software!

You can post your comments, ideas, suggestions, complaints or any other thoughts to this blog post, or email me directly at w8fi [at] kritikal [dot] com.

Nov 092010
 

Saw someone on Twitter need this, so I whipped something up pretty quick. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

You run it with:
ruby adif_to_sql.rb [ADIF_FILENAME] [MYSQL_TABLENAME]

You just specify the ADIF file and the name of the MySQL table name. The script creates an SQL file that can be imported directly into MySQL.

Get the script here: http://www.kritikal.com/ham/adif_to_sql.rb

Cheers!

Jul 012010
 

So I’ve always loved the idea of StackOverflow and other Q&A site clones. They are simple, to the point, and makes it very easy to get an answer to a burning question. I know there are plenty of amateur radio themed forums, but those are really designed for discussion, not really a quick Q&A.

But now, there is a site where you can ask any and all amateur related questions and hopefully get a quick answer: BaconFrying.com.

It’s just getting off the ground so there aren’t too many questions there now, but the hope is that more people use it as another resource to get help quick when working on a project, or settings up an antenna, or even help with getting their license. While these kinds of sites live or die on the fact that people want to post their question there, instead of through another medium, such as Twitter or the various forums out there, they more importantly rely on the fact that people actually get their questions answered.

It can sometimes be a ‘catch 22’: if there are no questions, there’s nothing to answer, and if there are no answers, then people will not post questions. I’m hoping I can lean on the 21-century amateur radio community to help jump start the site and get it moving along.

If you have any questions please post them there, even if you know the answer! There’s no harm in answering your own question, and in fact, tends to be the case with most hams who seek out the community through different avenues. Did you come across a new bit of information that helped you become a better amateur? Just post up the question or problem that it can help solve and then provide the answer.

As is the case with any website that is wholly dependent on user-generated content: the more people that use it, the better it gets!

I’m always open to comments and suggestions about how to make the site better, so please don’t hold back!

Thanks and hope to see your questions on BaconFrying.com!

May 122010
 

Another year has come and gone and mid-May is upon us once again, meaning only one thing: It’s time to give in to my EM addiction at the Dayton Hamvention.

The Crew Grows

This year will be the first time my brother Dave, KD8MZT, will be going and I’m pretty excited to see his face when we arrive. He’s been to several local swaps lately since getting his ticket but I don’t think he understands the sheer magnitude of Hamvention. Of course, this means the drive will be a little tight in the back but I don’t think either of us are going to mind much. As an added bonus, he will get his new vanity call, N8DAH, while we’re down there, so he’ll be due a new name badge.

Shenanigans on the Road

Every year I like to do something different while we trek along I-75 South for four and a half hours. This year will be no different and thanks to my father’s obsession with making his truck more connected than a EmComm command post, we’ll be rocking PSK31 on HF, along with several other digital modes and voice. Perhaps I’ll get my first mobile HF contact!

I suppose I’ll also be connected to the good ol’ Internet for chatting it up with others en route but I really do want to focus on the amateur radio aspect of this and stay away from the web, except of course when posting random tweets or pictures.

Hopefully the rest of the crew will not be too harsh as I try to get some video of the trip, starting bright and early at 4am.

Scavenger List

As with most years, I don’t have any ‘needs’ but certainly a lot of ‘well if I happen to see it for the right price’ items. Lots of magnets, perhaps a used mag-loop antenna, various memory cards, micro-drives, and maybe even a 6-meter radio that’s easy to use on digital. I never really go with anything in mind to get but always come back with a handful of things and a huge grin. I don’t think there’s a single ham who can say they don’t love digging through a box of ‘junk’ looking for great ‘stuff’.

Antenna-Helmet

Oh yeah, it’s back, and this time with twice the radiating power! Not only will I have my TH-F6A attached to the center antenna, but I’ll also have an antenna mounted on the helmet visor for APRS. Using my RadioShack HTX-420, an OpentTracker+ and Argent Data System GPS puck with power supplied by a 12 volt lead acid gel cell battery.

I’d like to see what it would take to trickle charge the battery using solar panels that will be mounted on the side of helmet. Just a little something to put together while I’m there winding down after each day. If I’m feeling very adventurous, I’ll set up my laptop with it so I can RX/TX messages too.

Tweetup!

Yep, I’m trying to get a bunch of people together, but that’s all I’m going to say since it’s a TWEETUP! If you want more info, follow my twitter @kritikal for more info. I suppose you could just watch the lifestream on the right hand side, but where’s the fun in that?

T-minus 4 hours!

I’ve compressed what I wanted to say but I should get some sleep before we venture out on the road.

73, safe travels, and see you there!
Andrew, K8DJK (soon to be W8FI)

Feb 192010
 

Earlier this month I submitted my topic, “Hamming it up!”, to the Ignite Detroit organizers, knowing amateur radio was what I was going to talk about, but not a clue on how. With the support of many people I was selected, along with 15 others, to present my topic on February 25th. I am humbled by being given the opportunity to introduce over 200 people to Amateur Radio, and the process of developing my presentation has made me aware of perspectives I would not have otherwise encountered.

As a geek all my life, predisposed by my father and grandfather’s love of electronics and computers, I have analyzed and perceived just about every aspect of my human experience a little differently. While my wife may sometimes get annoyed, I have an uncontrollable urge to point out snafus in television shows, rather than pay attention to the actual character dialog. It’s something subconscious, something I have long given up trying to fight, and instead welcome with open arms.

Perhaps that’s why Amateur Radio, and technology in general, has appealed to me. The people, groups, and organizations that surround these interests are made up of those who see things differently. To me, these are people who see technology as a putty or clay from which they can build their own imagination into reality. If there is one single thing that I’ve learned from fellow amateurs, and the communities they make up, it’s never fearing to ask, “Why not?” The methods and ingenuity hams typically show in an effort to see their ideas realized are nothing short of amazing and awe inspiring.

The chance to share this passion and insight to the rest of the world, at least as I saw it, forced the pride within me to jump and scream, never relenting until I finally hit the ‘submit’ button. I’m pretty sure that same pride had a mild stroke when I received the email that my topic has been chosen.

When I sat down to put together my 20 slides, I initially wanted to inform the audience about why they should get involved. That urgency to bring new people into the hobby is something felt by most anyone passionate about what they love to do on their spare time. If I had gone that route, no doubt it would have sounded like an elevator pitch that was 4 minutes and 45 seconds too long. Lucky for me I suppose that I didn’t know how to start my ‘pitch’. Eventually I took a break, watched some TED presentations, and thought about how I would feel if someone was presenting a pitch about television character dialog.

One of the greatest abilities that humans have is self-discussion. You can call it self-reflection if you’d like a less psychotic sounding term, but really, who doesn’t talk to themselves in their head? We know exactly what does not interest us, and we know why. It could be due to something else present, winning our attention, or an aspect of what we’re perceiving as negative, or something else entirely. But there’s always a reason, and the human mind was built to reason.

In a world where we are continually fed more and more information, our ability to retain attention and interest has decreased drastically. When you add the fact that people are now more than ever capable of accessing specifically sought information, introducing something new to someone has never been a greater challenge. Perhaps that’s why you’re seeing a growing emergence of people rebelling against this constant barrage of typed information. The number of people actively seeking new and foreign information is expanding, as evidenced by TED, TEDx, Ignite, and other conferences.

And that was it.

I didn’t need to ‘pitch’ my audience. I didn’t need to sell them on my hobby or passion. I didn’t need to tell them why they should associate any subjective adjective to what I love. If there is one thing the social media scene here in Detroit has taught me, it’s that smart people are never disinterested in something, they’re simply interested in something else. They crave new and creative ideas so they can better reflect upon and modify their own perspectives. It’s the same fundamental that drives radio amateurs to bounce their signal off the moon, or ‘foxhunt’ rogue radio signals, or play with radio waves 100 times the frequency of your wireless router. It’s the same fundamental that drives people to innovate and invent; to embrace a certain level of chaos to see new order. Simply put, that which we already know is boring, and I’ve yet to meet a boring person at a tweetup or conference.

From that point on, the hardest part about developing my presentation was finding the pictures to convey various aspects of the hobby, even those that I don’t have an interest in…yet. I hope those in attendance learn something new, whether it’s about amateur radio, themselves, or something completely unrelated. I suppose I’d even be happy with the notion you’ve just discovered that the person in front of you has a crinkle in his left ear that’s not in his right. I simply ask that you reflect on why that’s interesting and learn something new about yourself, because in the end that’s what this is really all about.

Nov 302009
 

So the August issue of QST had an ignition switch timer that was very easy to build and implement. I thought this was perfect for my car so I didn’t have to worry about disconnecting my OpenTracker+ and Icom 228 from power when I didn’t want to use it. There was just one problem, there was no way to make it optional; sometimes I don’t want to use APRS.

First a note about the parts list. There is a 10k ohm resistor (R6) that is not there, but shown in the schematic and PCB (if you order one from Far Circuits like I did).

Now, onto the problem of making my APRS optional. After perusing the circuit, my father and I thought best to dremel away the trace between Q2 and ground. The only concern is that the transistor would not like floating but we’ll test that further once it’s finished. After drilling new holes for the switch between the transistor and ground, I put the components to the board and everything looked good.

The next step would be to put in a 6 terminal rail in a large project box so I could control up to 3 devices with the timer switch. Of course, everything has powerpoles on it so I can quickly dis/connect devices and radios.

Final installation should be on Thursday before our Extra class and I’ll post up some pics of my handy work on Friday.

Sep 282009
 

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Chris Matthieu, N7ICE, for HamBrief #47. We talk about my involvement with Wayne County’s Skywarn program, emergency communications, and other assorted rag chewing.

Thank again to Chris for the opportunity to talk about one of my hobbies!

You can find more information at:

weather.gov
skywarn.org
Central Region NOAA Ham Radio Page

Sep 252009
 

For the last couple of years at the SRD event at DTX (NWS in White Lake) we’ve used a logger I’ve built using Ruby on Rails. Last year I did a complete rewrite only days before the event, but this year I’m building on the existing codebase. One of the features I’ve added since last year is an Ajax dupe checker. It’s pretty simple but goes pretty far in saving us having to hit the Submit button.

Right now I’m looking for ways to improve the function and feature-set and in November begin trying to spruce up the interface. I’d like more of it to be Ajax, but degrade extremely well as it is with the ham community that they tend to use older hardware.

Eventually this will build out to be an event logger that can be extended to work for any sort of event, with a focus on amateur radio oriented activities. From Skywarn nets, to disaster events, I want to make the logger that can easily manage and display what happened.

I’m seeking thoughts and ideas on the SRD Logger right now, but I’ll be thinking of how to abstract its parts out. If you have an interest in using it this year, or want to help beta test the existing software, just shoot me a line.

Sep 252009
 

Yesterday I started a 14-week class to upgrade my ham ticket to Extra Class. I’m fairly anxious to learn all the fun stuff and even have the chance to help my dad! He too is taking the class and while I’m at least 20 years everyone’s junior, I feel like I’m back in high school again.

We’re at what used to be an old Jr. High School, which is now an adult education and autistic center. Each room is stocked with the old desks of my elementary school (which is actually just across the football field and the street) and even came with the old classroomy smell of chalk and books.

It’s funny how when I reflect about the time great time I had in school, I repeatedly think of how nowadays I’m so damn interested in the things I cared nothing for (other than getting a passing grade). It’s a good thing I feel like I jipped myself out of only a few years of learning and not half my life. Perhaps it’s time to really think about night class. I’ve tried the online learning, but for someone who sits in front of a computer for countless hours at a day, a plastic chair and a desk/table might not be such a bad change.

But what? Philosophy? (Solar/Astro/Theoretical)-Physics? Business? Archeology? Electrical Engineering? So many choices. It’s like I’m a kid again, but this time with a hunger for knowledge. These days I lean towards Philosophy if I was to go for purely selfish reasons, but I know Business is probably the way to go.

With life hopefully slowing with what seems like the days of autumn, I’ll bring a focus back into learning and education. With any luck and lots of hope, my son will appreciate what I had such high disregard for growing up.