24 January 2022

The View From The Bench - 23 January 2022

Happy (belated) New Year! Boy, what a January it's been, and it's not even over. Let's take a look at what's been going on since before Christmas.

  • Disgust. I've had it with Yaesu's overly complicated configuration settings on their HF radios. I've wasted more time trying to set -and keep - settings where they should be for digital comms on Yaesu's current line of HF radios. I can understand why ham radio software developers are programming first for Icom radios (the IC-7300 has become something of a default standard for radio programs - the developers will code for it first and then move on to other models). It's sad, because Yaesu makes really good radios. They really do. But I'm too old now to waste time trying to figure out Yaesu's command and configuration settings. I'm moving to an 'Icom pure' fleet just as fast as I can
  • China. I've also had it with China. I spent a good chunk of January helping to care for a very close relative who was near death for a few days due to the Omicron variant. Thank God she pulled through, but she left the hospital with scarred lungs and a persistent case of viral pneumonia. We can argue endlessly about whether the COVID 19 release was intentional or accidental, but there's no arguing that China intentionally hid the truth about the true nature of the disease long enough for the virus to get a devastating foothold in the US and other countries. I've never used this language on my blog before, but in this case it's deserved: Fuck You, China. I have stopped intentionally purchasing Chinese made products, and that includes Amateur radio gear. I know not buying Chinese products is impossible in the larger sense - damned near everything sold in Wal-Mart is made in China. But on discretionary purchases I will not intentionally buy a China-manufactured product. That includes Icom, Kenwood or Yaesu branded items that are made in China, and it damned sure includes Xeigu/Baofeng/AnyTone/Wouxun/Banggood/whatever
  • MARS mod. Six months after selling my Icom IC-7100 to a fellow ham, stupidly thinking my Yaesu FT-991 would fill the need (see above), I went out and bought another. Life is better now. But I needed to do the MARS mod to it. The mod isn't difficult - you just remove a single diode from the board - but it's a very small diode that sits on a portion of the mainboard that is tightly packed with diodes that need to remain unmolested. I've done MARS mods to Icom and Yaesu radios in the past, and in particular, I had done the mod to the IC-7100 that I had sold to my fellow ham, so I knew what I was up against. So, it was back inside the guts of this new 7100 with a soldering iron and shaky hands. Damn, these components are small!
That speck at the tip of the pencil is the diode!

Setting aside my previous rant about Yaesu radios, I actually prefer how Yaesu handles these wide TX mods. Rather than yanking something off the board, Yaesu just has you place a solder bridge across two open pads on the board. Much easier to do, and much easier to recover from if you make a mistake.

  • Things On The Horizon
    • Winter Field Day! Winter field day is next week, and our club is planning to set up at a nearby state park and have some fun. I'm sure I'll be reporting on it later. Right now I'm in the equipment selection mode. What modes do I want to run, and what hardware do I need? I'll probably make the final decision just before I pull out of the driveway. Stay tuned.
    • DSTAR. Our local DSTAR repeater has been disconnected from the internet. This was done as a cost saving measure as we work on relocating it to a new tower that provides better (and cheaper) internet access. We can talk on it using the local repeater mode, but we can't connect to any of the reflectors. We had some rough weather move through earlier in the week and the state ARES directors were telling folks to monitor reflector 30A. Oops. So I went hunting for a DSTAR hotspot. Talk about another supply chain and chip shortage victim! The only one I found was a ZUMSpot USB dongle, and the one I got was one of only two left in HRO's US inventory (up in the New Hampshire store). Right now I'm watching it wander slowly in my direction via USPS. 
    • Scanners. Our county (Fayette County, GA) is planning on switching over to its new P25 digital public service radio infrastructure sometime later this spring.  This means my old (but very capable) Radio Shack trunk tracking analog scanner will go silent. Grrrr... This transition is over a year behind schedule (COVID, contract issues, the usual stuff), but when it's turned on the transmissions will be encrypted. Double Grrrr... I don't know if the encryption applies only to law enforcement, or involves public utilities, transportation (school busses), and other non-LE users. Personally I feel going full time encrypted is a big mistake. I can understand it for certain tactical channels (for police or sensitive emergency operations), but there's no reason to encrypt EVERYTHING. There is good reason to keep things unencrypted. When bad weather hits, the first thing I do is turn on my scanner to monitor what's happening in the county. Discussions about power outages, trees down, roads blocked, etc. are  usually multi-agency discussions, between police, fire and public works. They provide much needed situational awareness without the need to phone  
W8BYH out

09 January 2022

Pandemic Radio

I'll likely expand on this topic in a later post, but I think it's important (and hopefully interesting) enough to do an initial report on.

Greetings from COVID land

A week ago I got a call that my sister, who lives by herself in Philadelphia, had been hospitalized with COVID-related pneumonia. She wasn't doing good. At all. She has very complicated underlying medical conditions that make her a prime target for any respiratory ailment, and Omicron hit her hard. As I headed to the hospital all I knew was that she was in a step-down ICU COVID ward and not doing well. Thank you, you CHICOM bastards.

I knew my trip would be open-ended; I could be there for days, or weeks. I packed a laptop so I could get work done, enough clothes to last me a week, then took a pause. This would not be my first trip to Philly in response to my sister's health issues. I knew that between hospital visits, doing what work I could remotely, and regular household chores around her apartment, there would be a lot of down time. I thought about bringing along a ham radio. I didn't want to schlepp it through TSA security, answering endless questions from clueless TSA 'professionals' (who, in ATL, are anything but...), so I knew it would have to go into my checked baggage. But could I fit an HF station (radio, battery, tuner, antenna, cables) into my one checked bag?

Everything had to fit into one checked bag...

Yes. This is another area where the tiny Elecraft KX2 absolutely shines. A KX2 with an internal tuner and batteries (two of them), a 20 - 40 meter vertical whip, an end fed half wave wire antenna, a counterpoise wire and 20' of ultra-thin 50 ohm coax fit nicely into a small carry bag that, with enough squeezing, fit into my checked bag. The radio had enough padding around it that I didn't worry about rough handling. I was really more concerned about a baggage handling monkey opening up my bag and saying "Oooh, this looks interesting". Yes, it does happen.

Everything arrived in Philly just fine. I dropped my bag off at my sister's apartment and headed to the hospital. It was rough, but she eventually pulled through and was sent home a few days after I arrived. Her care requirements, my work requirements and just the stuff of daily life - grocery shopping, doing laundry, preparing meals, etc. - meant I only got one chance to operate. My sister's apartment is actually a condominium in a high rise that was built in the 60's very close to Independence Hall. The 31st floor is a large community/party room that opens to a sun porch. The sun porch area was closed for the season, and it would have been too cold to operate in the open anyway. So I set up in the community room and had the place all to myself for an hour or so.

Conditions were tough. More accurately, my conditions were tough. Five watts, a compromised vertical antenna, inside a steel reinforced concrete structure, with hurricane-proof windows that only opened to the south, and shielded by metallic blinds. I was lucky to make the one contact I did - the USS New Jersey Battleship Museum's ham radio station, NJ2BB. The ship was just across the river from me, in Camden NJ, operating 800 watts into the ship's iconic bow mounted discone antenna. 

The USS New Jersey's iconic bow-mounted discone antenna.
This antenna was fitted to all Iowa-class battleships during their 1960's
refits for fire support service off the Vietnam coast

It may seem silly to put the antenna just in front of the guns, but the big 16" guns
never fire directly forward. They always fire to the side. The antenna is actually in a very
safe location

At 800 watts you can bet I heard him just fine. To my surprise, he heard me just fine on 5 watts! We had a lovely QSO, and I bagged a contact with one of my favorite museum ships. I heard a few other stations on 20 meters, but virtually nothing on 40, and I copied the daily 10-10 net on 10 meters but didn't try to check in. 

I'm happy with just that one contact. Why? Well, it proofed a concept. I can travel by air and carry along a complete and effective station that fits into a checked bag. I plan on visiting my sister again in April, when the sun deck will be open, and I plan to have my Elecraft along. I'm excited to see just how well I can do with a 20 & 40 meter vertical at 400 feet above ground level, in the open air. Stay tuned!

W8BYH out

01 January 2022

New Year, New Map

2022 is finally here, and with it a new Georgia ARES Situational Awareness Map!

The map has been rebuilt using a new web mapping platform provided by ESRI called Experience Builder. Experience Builder is a web app development environment that provides greater functionality and flexibility than the technology platform the old Situational Awareness Web Map was built on.

ESRI's Experience Builder is still a maturing product, so all the functionality I want to add to the Situational Awareness Map is still not available. But Experience Builder as a development platform is far enough along that I decided it was time to make the switch.

All of the data (map) layers that were in the old map have been brought forward into this new map - repeater information, weather watches and warnings, critical infrastructure, traffic data, etc.

The single biggest change in this new map is in how these data layers are managed. In the old Situational Awareness map, all the data layers were in one very long and often confusing stack. It could be tough to find the data layer you wanted to turn on or off. This new map takes advantage of the ability to create logical layer 'groups' - expandable and collapsible groupings of related map data. For example, the new Data Layers listing now groups all repeater data under a single expandable heading called Repeaters.

Most of the functionality that was in the old Situational Awareness Map has been included in this new map:

  • The ability to view the data attribute tables
  • The ability to conduct pre-formatted searches for repeaters by callsign, and search for street addresses and individual counties
  • The ability to identify points on the ground by latitude/longitude, street address, US National Grid and UTM coordinates
  • The ability to switch base maps
  • The ability to do basic linear and area measurements
  • The ability to share the map on social media
  • The ability to generate elevation profiles (a new feature not available in the old map)
There is some functionality that has not been ported over from the old map, at least not yet:
  • The ability to do markups (graphics) on the map
  • The ability to print from within the map
  • The ability to overlay custom grids
I'm confident this missing functionality will become available as ESRI updates the Experience Builder platform.

So, how do you find this new map? Simple! The new Situational Awareness Map is a component of the larger Georgia ARES Web Map Resources website

This website was launched in early 2021 and is linked from Georgia ARES website under the Maps pull-down listing on the left side of the page.

I'm scheduled to do a presentation on this new Situational Awareness Map at the 2022 Georgia ARES State Meeting scheduled for 8 January at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, GA (COVID permitting). If you can't make this meeting, or want more information on this new map, or arrange a web-based presentation for your Amateur Radio or EMCOMM group, feel free to contact me at w8byh@arrl.net.

W8BYH out