Wallops Flight Facility Toolboxes and Workbenches

Recently, I got the chance to participate as a NASA Social Media Commentator for the Antares launch from Wallops Flight Facility, VA. As you have no doubt heard, the flight did not go as expected and some, as yet to be determined, anomaly caused the vehicle to crash. It will be some time before any real reasons reveal the cause of the launch vehicle failure. So, in the meantime, please enjoy my collection of photos I’m posting of the different toolboxes and workbenches I saw around the facility on my tour.

If I learned a lesson, it’s that I need a new camera. Please enjoy the blur!

Sounding Rocket Foundry Toolbox
Sounding Rocket Foundry Toolbox
Wallops Machine Shop Rolling Toolbox
Wallops Machine Shop Rolling Toolbox
Union Toolbox
Union Shop on Wallops was clean, efficient and productive! Go 1752!
If it needs a connection, the Ballooning Lab can solder any wire any way!
If it needs a connection, the Ballooning Lab can solder any wire, any way!
Not so fast! This stuff is waiting to get back in calibration and back to use! To use the vernacular, "these balloonists are no joke, yo."
Not so fast! This stuff is waiting to get back in calibration and back to use! To use the vernacular, “these balloonists are no joke, yo.”
You know how you just gush if you see cats in funny poses on the Internet? Well, that's what was happening here, except it wasn't cats, but instead balloonist storage bins.
You know how you just gush if you see cats in funny poses on the Internet? Well, that’s what was happening here, except it wasn’t cats, but instead balloonist storage bins.
Safety is no joke at Wallops. These bins were everywhere around tools, things that make noise, or really just anything that was super loud, fast and could ruin your day. Put these puppies on, kids.
Safety is no joke at Wallops. These bins were everywhere around tools, things that make noise, or really just anything that was super loud, fast and could ruin your day. Put these puppies on, kids.
Need to work on the go? Then why not use a rolling cart to move your tools and work around the shop floor?
Need to work on the go? Then why not use a rolling cart to move your tools and work around the shop floor?

Antares Launch October!

I have been invited to the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch (presently 10/27, but subject to change) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as a social media commentator! I’ll be located within the press pool, get to view a night launch, and take a tour of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility! For someone who went to Space Camp as a kid (that’s right, I’ve got the nerd cred), this is simply a dream come true. I’ll be delivering the social media goods, cats and kittens, so please keep your dials locked to the left, but right on me!

WSJT-X Help Pages

(N.B. The User Guide is going through changes as the RC is tested and feedback returned to the developers. That said, my own work won’t finalize until the developers push out a stable volume; please consider all of this a work in progress until then.)

The WSJT-X v1.4 Beta is due out October 1st, and it is coming packed with new features, hopefully more stability and an updated User Guide.

Unfortunately, the present User Guide leaves a lot to be desired: it doesn’t appear to have been checked for grammar or spelling, contains references to unfinished (or unattempted) sections, introduces terms and then never explains them, it includes the rife use of jargon which is also never explained and lastly, the User Guide is inconsistent in terms of formatting, voice and consistency- which were K1JT’s own criteria for this document. If he can’t get his own standards right, I don’t know who can!

Sensing an opportunity, I took some of the sections I had previously worked on that were subsequently discarded from the main draft and have collected them here for those who may have more questions than the present Guide answers. Feel free to browse around and see if they are helpful to you. In time, I hope to put together a PDF file of what I am going to call the “Official Unofficial User Guide for WSJT-X v1.4.” Until then, I hope the following is helpful to those with questions about certain features and helps to illuminate the design of the program so that you can maximize your fun, station performance and contacts.

You can click on the link in the menu above to find the first two installments: one about the different menu settings within the program configuration and the other about the installation and location of program files for Windows, OS X and Ubuntu. Enjoy!

American Morse Equipment KK2-A Paddle Kit

While it is completely anecdotal that people with musical inclinations tend to have an easier time learning Morse code (to my knowledge, there have been no double-blind studies to examine this supposed relationship) I suspect there may be some truth to this assertion if only because, try as I might, I’m seemingly unable to learn and use the code- and, of course, I’m not musically inclined at all. Somehow, this makes my deficiency more soothing. I’ve tried to learn Morse code using all sorts of techniques and mediums: I’ve used tapes, CDs, on-air listening, sending characters (on the premise that if I can make the noise, I can learn to hear it), mobile apps, and I’m sure other methods which escape my present memory. When I hear Morse code, it’s a jumble of sounds such that, for the most part, I can’t tell a dit from a dah.

I'm a sucker for a well packaged kit!
I’m a sucker for a well packaged kit!

This doesn’t prevent me from trying to continue to learn the language. I can cipher some characters and prosigns and phrases, so I must be picking something up. I’ve not developed the bad habit of trying to memorize a character chart and instead listen to the code only. It could be that I’ve simply not really given it my all. Whatever the reason, I’m just not adept at it, whether it’s because I don’t have a musical bone in my body, have no facility with foreign languages, or haven’t tried hard enough.

During my trip to Dayton Hamvention 2013, I ran across K8RA and bought a key from him- if I spent over one hundred dollars on something, my thought was, I’d definitely learn how to use it. I also saw Doug Hauff, W6AME, displaying his keys at his table for his sideline business, American Morse Equipment (you’ll note this write-up is about the KK2-A, which can be ordered by selecting the KK2. The -A update indicates that this kit uses springs instead of set screws for arm adjustment). I didn’t buy one then, mainly because I had spent all I was going to, but I did like the idea of a more substantial kit and knew that I’d later get one, which I did. What convinced me to purchase one, other than I like the idea of supporting locally owned small businesses, was the rugged quality- everything but the paddle handles is metal- and it is finished in the raw, so you can customize the finish if you’d like. I admit it’s a bit crazy to purchase another item that you can’t use just to put it together. But kit building isn’t really about the destination, it’s the journey that’s important. And for $71, you aren’t going to go broke playing with it. In what follows, I’ll show you how I finished my key and maybe it will give you an idea on what you’d like to do for a project you are working on or that is coming up soon. Or, maybe it will inspire you to purchase a key from Doug and finish it out yourself- I bet he wouldn’t mind!

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W4A Special Event 2014

From July 22nd to July 31st, The Southeastern Underground Radio Fellowship would like to extend a warm welcome to all and intends to spread good cheer and celebration over the last time General Sherman came to town, looking for a light. It isn’t every day that you get to celebrate something that happened 150 years ago; or at least, anything of much consequence.

The Battle of Atlanta was, in fact, the culmination of four different battles: The Battle of Peachtree Creek, The Battle of Bald Hill, The Battle of Ezra Church and The Battle of Jonesboro. These were the major battles of the Atlanta Campaign, which got its start in May of 1864  and finished in September of that same year. The actual fighting in and around what is present day Atlanta started on July 20th at Peachtree Creek, followed by the most pivotal battle, and the one associated with Atlanta the most, Bald Hill, on July 22nd. Atlanta finally fell September 2nd, 1864. President Lincoln was re-elected, due in large part to this Union victory, Sherman went to the sea and Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April of 1865.

A large part of rebuilding remained to be done after the close of the Civil War, and out of those ashes rose Atlanta, now the de facto capital of The New South. The city logo has two dates: its chartering in 1847 and its rebirth in 1865. Fittingly, the mythical Phoenix is the city symbol.

We’ll be on the bands mostly during the 26th and 27th of July, but we are going to endeavor to be active on all other days as is possible. Our call will be W4A and we look forward to working you! We’ll be sending out a complimentary QSL card, because in the grand tradition of Southern gentility, we ought to make certain that we do our duty and send out a “final courtesy” to all we work. Please look for us on the bands!

Field Day 2014

Field Day is the holy high holiday in amateur radio. It’s like Easter and Christmas got together and had a baby, and the baby became Field Day. It is an occasion to socialize with your friends, take radio outdoors, and stay up all night making QSO’s. Many people really get into the event- I’m not one of them. This year, however, Field Day happened to coincide with Jim’s, N4BFR, birthday and so I put in to take time off from work in order to celebrate both his birthday and get a little operating time in as well. He was good natured enough to humor me and helping me to work the event using my call. I suppose I should at least get Worked All States at some point in my amateur career, right?

We decided to operate as a completely digital station for the event. We ran all sorts of modes: PSK31, RTTY and WSJT-X. I’m glad we didn’t really care about how many Q’s we would make, because the bands were in horrible condition for the entire event. 20 Meters seemed to be the band everyone had some degree of luck with, though the lower bands supposedly opened up later in the evening and early morning. We didn’t run the event as a contest or even for the entire 24 hours- we instead wished to enjoy a leisurely pace. We nevertheless had a great time making what Q’s we could and did attempt some satellite contacts and a direct contact with the ISS. We weren’t successful in that regard, but we had a great time trying and may have located some excellent spots for future satellite attempts.

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Something that I did learn this year while waiting for decodes was that social media can be used as a powerful propagation map. In this case, I don’t mean G+ or Facebook, but rather using Twitter. It’s near real time conversation approach is ideally suited for checking out what other people are experiencing right then- so if someone reports 10 Meters is open to WA, for instance, it might be an opening you want to investigate. It’s just another tool that some may find helpful. In my case, it was a way to commiserate with others about the poor band conditions!

DUBUS OP-ED 2/2014 Issue

It’s confession time: I’ve not been a member of the ARRL for most of the time I’ve been licensed. This wasn’t due to any fundamental disagreement with the organization, policies or its people. Rather, I simply didn’t have amateur radio as my main hobby for the first ten years or so that I was licensed due to school, work and other commitments. (I had a lot of sporting clays to shoot, or as W4GA and I call it, “turning a lot of money into noise.”) Eventually, I did join the organization and have been pleased with the services and benefits that are conferred upon those with membership. However, no organization is perfect; but the great thing about the ARRL is that any member is able to have things changed as a result of petitioning the elected leaders of the organization, many of whom I’ve often found to be willing to listen to proposals brought to them, not that I’ve had to do so. Until now.

In middle to late last year, I attempted to have my views on what seems to me to be a pretty big problem within the VHF community at large- in relation to the ARRL in particular- published as an Op-Ed within the organization’s membership magazine, QST. It was rejected. This was disheartening, as no one enjoys rejection. As is standard in the publishing industry, no reason was given as to why the piece was rejected. At this point, I could have chosen one of two ways to handle this:

1) File the letter away and figure, oh well, I tried.

Or,

2) I could send the piece to a competing publication for dissemination. I could then mail it to the individuals who needed to be solicited the most- the elected ARRL officials who have culpability in the matter- and then publish it on my own page. You can guess which I picked.

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I’ve read enough vacuous op-ed pieces in QST to wonder why they even publish them in the first place, as they are so boring and milquetoast as to be of no use whatsoever. They’d be better off selling another page to the advertisers; and in fact, the editorial leadership of QST are already shortening two of my favorite columns, “The World Above 50 MHz,” and “Microwavelengths,” in order to accommodate more advert filler for the magazine. I’m sure other columns have taken their lumps, too.

Before I continue, I’d like to point out that I don’t have an axe to grind with the editorial staff- it took nearly two months from submission to rejection- which I hope indicates that there was some discussion and thought put into rejecting my submission. I respect that not every piece can be published for any number of reasons and that the rejection itself isn’t personal. I’ve nothing but respect for the ARRL staff, volunteers and leadership. It’s a pretty thankless job, I imagine, and I’m sure many of the folks in Newington are laboring not to become wealthy, but are instead pursuing something that they are passionate about. I’d love to work for the ARRL myself. I believe it to be a great organization.

None of this, however, changes the fact that my views are still worth considering and should have been published, if only to bring to light the difficulties that the VHF segment of the membership has recently undergone without notice to the membership at large. I’ve taken the rejection more as a sign of apathy to the subject matter than as a sign of some resentment or unwillingness to work to improve matters for everyone. There is a great and growing chasm among VHF operators as a body and these fights are especially visceral among the EME ops. The ARRL has it in its power to ameliorate some of these difficulties and keep the catfight from continuing (or maybe directing the catfight to happen in another way); but for some reason, does not appear to wish to do so. Part of me can’t say I blame them; but the other part of me believes the ARRL Board of Directors should reexamine dissolving the VUAC (VHF/UHF Activity Committee) committee, revising VHF contest rules and perhaps reevaluate the VUCC award, as well. One thing is for sure, out of the three, one item is most important: the VUAC needs to be reinstated.

Below the fold, please find a copy of the submitted op-ed. I’ve sent a paper copy to each Director and Vice Director as well. I like to be thorough. As someone interested in VHF and above operating and contesting, I find it utterly deplorable that the VUAC was disbanded and that continued calls for rule changes in VHF contests- or at least the consideration of them- continue to fall on deaf ears. Considering VHF operator demographics, it is really no wonder why this is the case- there are too few operators to compete for what must be too few resources. But even so, if VHF ops can’t come to a consensus about what to do, how can we really hold those in Newington responsible? We have to have a direction that the leaders in Newington can be presented with and be shown to fulfill the desires of a large majority of those same people who often complain on the various reflectors but never seem to write anyone who actually can change things about it. We can get things changed. Maybe my efforts here will provoke more debate. But what I am really hopeful for is that my thoughts actually gets debated by the people who can actually help to change things. We have to start somewhere, and this is just as good a place as any.

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QSL Cards

ZF2FU QSL Card

Hi Everyone!

If you’re like me, you probably enjoy many other hobbies. I have so many interests that I occasionally get bummed that I don’t have enough time, money or space to do them all.

One of my interests is in printmaking- what many remember from high school art class as the part where they carved something on linoleum, inked the carving and then pressed the work onto the medium, mostly paper, of their choice. I never took art class in school as I instead took clay/sculpture. I wasn’t any good at it, believe me. But I did enjoy seeing the printing other students did and some were quite talented.

Fast forward to now and my interest was rekindled due to QSL requests. I enjoy what many today consider to be an old school amateur radio practice of “sending the final courtesy.” Today, there are many ways to confirm contact between two stations using the internet, but I still like to both send and receive cards. It’s just how I roll.

Since we are nearing the midpoint for the year, I normally think about topics I’d like to tackle during the remainder. One of these will be an instructional guide you can use to help you make your own QSL card using printmaking techniques. So, start ruminating on your choice of design and what you’d like to accomplish. I’ll have a step by step guide for you in early Fall!

Georgia QSO Party April 12-13 N4G

It’s that time of year again! Our club, The Southeastern Underground Radio Fellowship, will be activating the special event call N4G for the Georgia QSO Party, held this year April 12 and 13th. The operating schedule is as follows:

April 12: 18:00Z-03:59Z (2 P.M. to 11:59 P.M. EDST)

April 13: 14:00Z-23:59Z (10 A.M. to 7:59 P.M. EDST)

Like last year, each station that makes contact with N4G will receive a complimentary QSL card for their effort. We’d love it if you sent us a paper card in return, too! Send your return QSL as a postcard- we don’t mind if they look like they’ve gone through the sorting machine!

We’ll also upload our logs to LoTW.

We are going to be running on all the bands via CW, Data and Voice. If you work us, please spot us!

Intergalactic Roving Battle Jitney For Sale, New Satellite Email Reflector

Say it isn’t so! One of the most famous VHF rovers in history is being put up for sale, sans radio equipment inside, due to John’s other obligations.

Photo Credit: K1RA
Photo Credit: K1RA

W1RT writes:

“It is with mixed emotions that I must offer the Intergalactic Roving Battle Jitney for sale .. other obligations make it impossible for me to dedicate the time necessary to keep it ready to go. I’m going to keep the RF stuff for a future SO effort and offer the Jitney as an almost-ready-to-go rover as described below.”

If this would be of interest to you, please visit W1RT’s QRZ.com webpage for contact details and more information.

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In other news, I recently signed up for an interesting email reflector that I have enjoyed and therefore would like to share with others. After the recent trip to the Cayman Islands and working some satellites, in order to give others the chance for what would most likely be a new grid, I had occasion to make contact with Frank, K4FEG, who maintains a satellite mailing list to reach “Satellite Lovers & Grid Guerrillas.” After subscribing, I have found that the list has a high signal to noise ratio and the participants are friendly and have a great deal of enthusiasm for working new grids and satellites. You can find the sign-up page for the list here. If you want to get the word out about your satellite activities, or would like to get the low down on when some far away grid may be activated, then this ought to meet those needs quite well.