AMSAT/ARRL Social Media Failure Antares Launch

Please note: in what follows, you are reading a partially fleshed out manuscript based upon experiences from nearly a year ago in regards to how the ARRL and AMSAT deal with “cub reporters,” “bloggers,” and other non-traditional media sources- I had been selected as a #NASASocial guest for the Antares Orb-3 launch at Wallops Flight Facility and was trying both to find something to link the launch to my amateur radio hobby and space nerds such as myself in general. Next month’s post will be an in depth review of that overall experience- without any focus on the groups that inspired me to sign up in the first place.

It’s entirely possible that the ARRL and AMSAT have changed their behavior in the meantime (sadly, this story will probably be sort of like Joe Taylor, sycophants et al., and his beloved WSJT- if it wasn’t invented in his mind, it can’t be worth much unless he can ride your superior coding coattails- see the recent K9AN stuff in the wsjtdevel group) but it is incredibly unlikely any change has happened at all. Sean Kutzko, KX9X, had been recently promoted (Spring/Summer 2014 or so) to deal with media requests and has continued to do a very poor professional job in handling them- yet he somehow seems quite able to announce his own DXpeditions on relevant community mailing lists. AMSAT is nearly dead, sad to say, and while it doesn’t give me any joy to throw sand upon that already dug grave, I think it is prudent to mention how cliquish, silly and irrelevant they’ve become. Wonder when AMSAT will be absorbed by ARRL?

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I happen to think that the ARRL and AMSAT get most things right, if better late than never. But in this case, they both failed me.

A week before I was to leave for the launch, I emailed Kay Craige, ARRL President, requesting help about whom I should speak to in regards to any questions the ARRL might like asked and how to include any facet of amateur radio-just to keep the subject alive in present day science. And like the very class act she is, she responded with the greatest alacrity. She directed me to Sean Kutzko (ARRL) and Barry Baines (AMSAT) as sources for information on any relevant amateur radio interest that might be encompassed by the launch. Unfortunately, neither Sean nor Barry responded to my pre-flight checklist on my way out to the launch, and Sean did not respond to any emails during or after the launch. Looking back, there is the ARRL response and the AMSAT one that I would like to describe- I’ll take them in that order.

After the Antares launch failure, it came as a shock to me that the ARRL released a statement regarding the amateur radio satellite payload that had been on the manifest to be launched- especially considering I had previously asked if one was aboard, who could I speak to about it, I was going there as a #NASASocial guest and would do anything to help report, ask questions, make friends, and so forth about just such an endeavor. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that the ARRL ignored me- and Sean Kutzko, KX9X, in particular. I had emailed him both at his professional and personal email address to seek help on anything QST might like to cover, anyone he might know who’d be there, anyone who might have a story to tell, anyone who might have a ham radio connection at Wallops, any pictures they might like, and so on. And then, when it proved beneficial to the ARRL’s relevance, the ARRL released what knowledge they did have regarding the launch in order to appear in the know. It seems to be the case that the ARRL knew there were payloads aboard; but Sean couldn’t simply lift a finger to help. Predatory journalism or business as usual? You be the judge.

AMSAT was a bit better- after I complained on Twitter the night before the scrubbed first launch attempt, Barry finally did email me back in a rather condescending way and gave the usual excuse(s) that he had simply missed the email- it was only because one of the more connected leadership actually saw and acted on the negative tweet. How a president of an organization of 3K people (or put another way- so few people), or however many they have, can simply miss an email is incredibly strange to me. In the fair spirit of not reposting his very weak answer (but you know, if his wife, his boss or his friends had emailed him, he would have had some sort of response, it seems reasonable to believe) for all to see, just please take it on faith that his response was, at best, only a placating response at his failure to have any information with which I could work with in my travels. That much was beneficial, I think- it isn’t clear to me that either of these organizations knows what is going on day to day, but rather, that they know what is going on when some sort of catastrophe happens. Barry did say that he didn’t know of any amateur radio sats going up on this payload- so it looks like the ARRL scooped him here. How much longer will it be until AMSAT folds into the ARRL? The Fox program is probably their last, due to lack of membership dues and funding. I mean, if they don’t know what’s going up on the rockets that did contain amateur gear, is it reasonable to expect they will for any other but their own? If not, why not? The answer is money, and they seem to be running out of it because the membership keeps dropping. I can only wonder why- it couldn’t be a lack of response from leadership, perhaps?

To drive the point home: search ARRL/AMSAT news archives for any mention of the Antares launch before it occurred- see how forward thinking they were. You’ll find the same answer I already knew- neither gave it any thought or mention until such as disaster could directly benefit them. Is that who you want to give your money to, the people who only ask for your money in a manufactured crisis?

So, sorry fellows, time for you to take your lumps for mediocre performance. Your less than helpful efforts should be noted both so you can improve and as a warning to others about your performance when it comes time for voting- no pay raises for Sean!  Barry- investigate how to merge with ARRL and get Kay Craige onboard. She’s the best leader the ARRL has had in a generation- let AMSAT die and bring them on over.

ARRL Supports Creationist Group

I enjoy reading my monthly copy of QST- it may not be as deep as some would like, and for some it might be too obtuse, but I’d like to think that, over all, it’s a pretty good publication that is put out monthly for the benefit of membership.

Remind me to tell you some time why they no longer have an “Op/Ed” section and now instead call it “Personal Visions.”

In any case, I read it, cover to cover, and enjoy sending my copy to other folks who aren’t members. I recently have encountered a colleague at work who is interested in getting licensed, and so I have been giving them to him when I am done. He seems to enjoy it, too, which is probably a good sign that it is both well put together and something that is approachable by those who might have an interest in such.

That said, the columns are shrinking in word count and the adverts are increasing. We are probably getting a smaller page count magazine which has more adverts, which of course, is what helps to pay the bills. I don’t take issue with the way in which the ARRL is handling the change from a paper to digital society; but I won’t ever give up my paper copy- that is, until they cease publishing them.

One of my favorite parts is reading the classifieds. I don’t know why that is or why I’m drawn to it. It has the usual litany of people advertising their wares, though there is the occasional new entry that may spark my interest. One of those I’ve recently seen is along the same lines of the scam that WB2JKJ runs about donating used radios to be, well, who knows what, really? But this particular one, Ham Radio Kids, is more pernicious, because it appears to have all the hallmarks of the same sort of scam- donate equipment and money for children!- but in this case, it isn’t clear that it’s just to line the pockets of the organizers (which may or may not really be true of WB2JKJ, but many people on QRZ suspect that is what he is really doing), rather, it is an organization that would like to promote creationism in the classroom.

I don’t know how a science and technologically minded organization such as the ARRL can in good faith accept advertising dollars from an organization which does not wish to teach science, but instead wishes to teach dogma that passes for thinking critically about the world in which we live. There is an undercurrent in amateur radio today- perhaps more than just an undercurrent- that is joining the ranks- the preppers and the homeschooling, fear minded set. I, no more than anyone else, have no idea what the future holds for amateur radio; but I do know that teaching creationism, which isn’t science or technology, should not be part of the program that the ARRL should be associated with.

Vote with your dollars. When my membership is up in a couple of years, I’m going to think long and hard about renewal in an organization that would instead prefer to be a whore for such a minor sum of classified dollars and appears to turn a blind eye towards those that seemingly are charity in name only and who also gives space to a group who espouses a discredited, worthless and inaccurate view of the world.

W4A- The Battle of Atlanta Special Event Station

I’ll be the first to admit that this year’s attempt working as the W4A Special Event Station did not have nearly the same amount of QSO’s that our club did last year. Even though last year was the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Atlanta, was promoted more on our part and we worked using the call over the course of two different dates- the beginning and ending dates for the battle- I simply couldn’t overcome the logistics that other club members had already made, some that arose for me; so the body count was very low.

Just me, really.

That aside, I did my best and have sent out specially designed QSL cards for the event and have uploaded the log to LoTW. I also took the opportunity to work this event in one mode only- JT65. It was sort of an odd choice, I’ll grant you, as you can’t ordinarily count on a high number of contacts due to the length of the exchange per QSO. That said, I was pleased to turn in ~60 QSOs in about 8 hours of operating. That’s probably not a bad average, all things considered- many of the contacts were on 20 meters, with the first half or so on 40 meters for good measure. The bands were better on the second day as opposed to the first- but that’s how it goes, sometimes.

Thanks to all who worked me!

The High Holiday is Here!

Another Field Day in the books!

For all who worked N4PU, thank you! We are in the process of going through the logs and sending them up to both the ARRL and LoTW.

This year, I decided to send QSL cards to individuals we worked. If we missed you, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a card, sent direct. No SASE or Green Stamp required.

While our small club, The Southeastern Underground Radio Fellowship, only had two operators at any time, we tried our hand at working digital modes- both WSJT-X (JT65 and JT9) along with that favorite of many, CW. We had a personal best for a competition- right around 250 QSOs or so (we also worked some FB OMs on Phone, too). The bands were great to us this year, though we did not elect to work the midnight oil like many do and instead had a leisurely bit of fun.

We did manage to make a 6M CW contact with a mobile station, which is a first for us in any contest we’ve participated in! Our band/mode QSO breakdown is as follows:

2015 Field Day QSO Breakdown
                                                 2015 Field Day QSO Breakdown

Field Day QSL Note in June 2015 QST

I think this bears repeating:

Last Field Day, I operated single operator QRP PSK31. I completed 85 contacts to 30 states. That should have given me quite a start toward the PSK31 WAS award. What is disappointing is that of all these contacts, only 10 took the time and effort to verify through Logbook of the World (LoTW). For those who are not math majors, that is a 12% rate. The by-state verification through LoTW wasn’t much better – a pitiful 23%.

What I find hard to understand is why this is, when most PSK31 programs (and many other logging programs used on Field Day) automate the logging process and produce a fiel that is quite easy to upload to LoTW. The extra effort would be most appreciated by your fellow Field Day participants who are pursuing awards.

Ted Antanaitis, WA7ZZB

I couldn’t have said it better myself. What gets me is that many of these clubs who operate during Field Day submit their log electronically to the ARRL to see how they rate among their peers- it’s not a contest, after all.

Perhaps incentivising clubs would do the trick- if you upload your log to both the ARRL and LoTW, then you could get more points. I think this is a great idea and would encourage more clubs to do the right thing and upload their contest logs which would help out people like Ted and other amateurs as well.

N4PU Log

Red=Not Confirmed.


Which of these two clubs would you choose to work?

W4DW Doesn't QSL

Any club with “INC” in the name probably isn’t a club. Is there any excuse for any modern club to simply not upload their Field Day logs to LoTW? W4DW is a Special Service Club, after all, so shouldn’t they go above and beyond? The Southeastern Underground Radio Fellowship QSL’s 100% and even sometimes 200%. You can bet W4DW submitted a log for the contest, er, Field Day.

3K QSO's, but maybe we are 4 busted ones?

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.

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!