The NFARL Commemorative Georgia QSO Party

The Georgia QSO Party will be held this coming weekend, the 11th and 12th of April. The event is really misnamed, at present, though- it should instead be called the “North Fulton Amateur Radio League Commemorative Georgia QSO Party,” but that’s probably a little wordy, even for them.

There are a couple of reasons why this naming convention should be made: 1) whenever the NFARL club decides to, it absolutely destroys any chance of any other club within the state being recognized for trying to put on an organized attempt at the club award, as they have the sheer numbers to do so. 2) Their behavior leading up to the event disenfranchises many individuals across the state from attempting to operate, because that big, rich (although the scuttlebutt lately is that there are some money problems in paradise) Atlanta club will do anything to help it’s own members win whatever category they’d like to attempt. (3) Lastly, the braggadocio that these guys earn from the event that they display (or maybe remind everyone of as often as they can) over the course of the year is not any sort of friendly rivalry (just ask GARS, who gets their ass handed to them every Field Day) like they say, but a genuine attempt at beating everyone into the ground while letting them know who’s really best.

And a personal niggle, I don’t particularly care for how I was approached for submitting funds for an award plaque (it was as if I had received a dunning letter) this year. Not only was I never told that the money our small club put together for a plaque was ever awarded from a couple years ago (wouldn’t you like to know who won the award you sponsored? That should be an automatic, after the sale sort of thing) but I received a really over the top email this year about how I was, somehow, being recalcitrant because I wasn’t communicating with the prize director. Who, as it happens, never says thanks or really let’s you know anything about what happened to the money… until he needs some more. (Our small club agreed to sponsor another award this year, but I’m not so sure we’ll continue in the future with the present behavior of the awards chair.)

Of course, I’m sure the push back from my observations, as cutting to the bone as they are, would be that I just have a sense of entitlement or sour grapes or both (or something else, I’m sure). None of these are true, and the people who know me would say, instead, that I simply enjoy showing how the emperor has no clothes- and in this case, the visual isn’t something you’d really want to think about, considering the average age of these participants is 50+. I’m not saying people shouldn’t join the NFARL, nor am I advocating boycotting the QSO Party itself. What I do think is that when you become hyper-competitive to the point of putting off people from playing in the event itself, perhaps you should take a step back and remember the real point to these sorts of things- you know, that they should be fun.

Good luck to all who participate!

Two Stories Coming Soon: #NASAsocial Experience and AMSAT/ARRL Social Media Failures

I’ve been in the middle of a job change, and so I’ve neglected my duties here in corresponding with you, gentle reader. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t anything to say, just that I’ve not had made the time in which to say it.

I’ve been working on two separate, but related, pieces concerning my trip to Wallops Flight Facility to participate in the #NASAsocial program. One of these is strictly about the launch experience itself and what I experienced as a #NASAsocialite. The second, and what will perhaps be a bit more controversial, piece centers around my preparatory work I attempted before I even left to go- enlisting the help of the ARRL and AMSAT in helping to brief me about any amateur radio questions or protocols for being the very best ambassador to the various people I may, or may not, encounter. I’d like to give a shout out to Kay Craigie, N3KN, who actually took the time to respond to my query and point me in the right direction- she has more class in her little finger than probably exists within 1 square mile of anywhere I happen to be at the moment. But the rest of that story isn’t as upbeat, and it will possibly shed a little bit of light on why AMSAT membership in particular is declining, and why it’s probably going to eventually go the way of the dinosaur sooner rather than later.

Next month will be the sad story first- how Sean Kutzko, KX9X, missed the opportunity to get a first hand account and instead has continued to point out that satellites were destroyed in the failed launch but couldn’t be bothered to discuss this with me before the event itself (that is, it only became “news” when the launch failed). As the public media relations person for the ARRL, I was incredibly surprised at his lack of a response to a simple query. Then I’ll turn my attention to Barry Baines, WD4ASW, president of AMSAT, condescending email to me which was only written after complaining on Twitter about the lack of any help from an organization of which I was a member (I won’t be renewing) to find the people to ask and get a story, which, I don’t know, could have been published in the AMSAT Journal.

But then, the good news- why you should apply for social media credentials and participate in the #NASAsocial program. I met some really cool people, saw some very neat things, and realized that there is a great deal more science going on that, until that trip, I simply had no idea existed. While I think it’s fair to make the criticism that with amateur or armchair “journalists” you’ll end up with that sort of reporting, it would be rash to stop the discussion at that point. I met a couple of people who really used their social media chops and reached out and told a story to their audiences that may be just as good as anything else you might come across. Check out @nechton on Twitter- his pictures really told the story of the Antares #NASAsocial media experience. There are others, too- and I’ll make sure to point you to them.

WSJT-X Doc Update 1Q 2015

Hi All!

Looks like I’ll be making another pass through the WSJT-X documentation I’m hosting and should have some clarifications and *maybe* another helpful guide sometime in the first quarter of next year.

Also, I have some more to write about regarding the trip to Wallops and my experience as a NASA Social Media Commentator for you, soon. I’ll give you the real skinny on how AMSAT, and especially the ARRL, blew any credibility they had for news reporting when the Antares disaster happened; you’ll also get a bit of insight as to why AMSAT is losing members, too. I think it’s a neat story, and probably one most amateurs wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

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!

Continue reading “American Morse Equipment KK2-A Paddle Kit”