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)

Apr 072010
 

I’ve gone ahead and removed the unused model that was discontinued last year and added the GEFS and SREF models. I’ve also discovered why some of the valid dates will not stay the same when you hold down ‘shift’ when changing model runs. I’ll have to create a new property for the model that holds how far apart the model runs are from one another, rather than simply using the next hour in the run.

As always, you can check out the latest version at http://www.kwixs.net/ncep/

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.

Feb 182010
 

So I needed a way to replicate the ‘INSERT IGNORE’ statement in DataMapper and being that the code documentation is sparse, and I didn’t feel like force feeding an SQL statement into DM, I wrote some ruby code to replicate it.

If anyone has a better, or more refined solution, please let me know!

      rescue DataObjects::IntegrityError => e
        @logger.error e
        unless e.code == 1062
          throw e
        end
      end
Dec 282009
 

Adam Boggs has release version 0.9 of the BrainStorm, a storm chasing tool for the linux platform. The new platform integrates web-based maps, such as Google Maps, radar and warning polygon data, and gps data pulled from an attached device.

The software is released under the GPLv2 license and as source code, so you’ll have to build it and install it yourself. While this is helped along by the use of autogen, there are dependencies that are not listed. The following had to be installed on my Ubuntu 9.04 system:

libtool
libsoap-dev

After installing these two I was able to run autogen, which will have a default prefix of /usr/local/ . A third library came up as not loadable when I went to run the binary, libosmgpsmap, a quick install of libosmgpsmap0 resolved this.

I was not able to test the GPS capabilities since I didn’t have mine handy enough. I’ll test that out at a later date.

As for the radar and severe overlay…

It only comes with radar sites in the ‘alley’ and are hardcoded, making the software somewhat useless in this respect for those outside of the radar coverage area. The warning polygons are actually overlayed images from the NWS site so they do appear pixelated. It seems this is how the software mainly works, by overlaying images upon the map, rather than creating shapes from polygon coordinate sets.

For the radars that it does offer, you can view various types of radar data that are available on the NWS site, including 1 hour precipitation and both velocity types. Only one type of radar can be viewed for all visible radar sites at a time. You’re also not given a choice of elevation angles so I’m assuming it is defaulted to the lowest.

The key here is that it can show your position in relation to a storm and give an idea of what is warned and not, on linux. For that, it does a good job… if you’re in the radar umbrella. What really needs to be improved is the ability to change more properties, such as radar types and sites to show, and even what is shown on the screen.

I look forward to where the software goes from here and so is Adam from the sound of it. It’s written in C/GTK+ and Adam states that anyone is more than welcome to help out.

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.

Nov 102009
 

So I got a notice from Twitter that I was being blessed with their new retweet interface and let me tell you, it’s creepy.

I mean, suppose you’re just checking your timeline for the 40th time of the day (don’t lie), and you’re expecting your usual group of profile pics that hopefully resemble your followed should you ever have the chance to meet them. These are people you spend a lot of face to pixel time with!

You turn away, just for a moment, forever needing to bludgeon the spam from your inbox, and when you look for that smile from that person you forgot you were following — AHHH!

Who the hell is this person and why are they invading my social space?! Did I leave the door open? Did my business card fall out of pocket in the parking lot?

Wait. No.

I’ve been subjected to what I’m now going to call, ‘bad bacon’. You know, that stuff that if you tried to eat it would probably chip your tooth; burnt to a crisp so bad it smells more of carbon than meat. Yeah, that stuff. It’s supposed to be good because you wanted it in the first place, or at least asked for it, right? Nope. Now, that desire for something tasty has left you subject to that which you might not want, and that’s meant in a non-insulting way to the awesome bacon you’re used to.

And why? Why do I have to be served this destroyed treat by Twitter?

Interestingly, the more I think about it, if you want people to use your new feature, then perhaps that’s how you have to cut out this ‘bad bacon’. You’re going to force me to use lists in order to see only tweets by those people who I follow? Wow, very nice play.

Even if they later allow for you to turn this off, I find it hard to think it’s going to be default. This is a perfect way to force the user to build lists which offer more metrics than even Google or Microsoft can shake a fist at. Influence, just check how many lists they’re on. I mean, they have virtually created Kevin Bacon!

It all comes full circle. Rather than letting the desktop clients use their loyal user base to help define how to better implement retweets, which mind you were not controversial enough to warrant this change, they’d rather force you to a feature they just released to mixed review.

Until they give me the option in my settings, I’m stuck with this bad bacon when using their web interface.

No thanks.

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.