Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another Outreach Event

Today, representatives of the Los Angeles Section Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) attended the Neighborhood Congress event at Los Angeles City Hall.  Along with them went two message traffic handlers from the NTS group: Jutti K6FRG and Robert KJ6RJA.  The idea was to get some of the attendees to send "Greetings by Amateur Radio.  This is one way I might contact you after a major disaster" messages to their out-of-town relatives or friends, just to promote awareness of the capability of amateur radio to operate outside the commercial infrastructure.

The word is that the hams made a good impression & had a good time, as well.  Out of the effort came nine messages, plus a better hands-on understanding of intermod, UHF propagation, and problems operating in an earthquake resistant building (lots of steel) such as the now-retrofitted City Hall.  A learning experience for all.

Radiograms collected were sent by FM voice mode, simplex or repeater, whatever was working at the moment, to Kate K6HTN in Pasadena.  Those bound for local addressees were delivered immediately by telephone & in some cases replies given before the event was over.   I have to say that the Keller Peak repeater, 70 miles away in the San Bernardino Mountains, is one awesome repeater!  It was our fallback.

For the "long distance" messages, the initial plan was to send them via Winmor (HF radio email) to the NTSD hub in Washington state, but the ionosphere was not cooperating.  K6HTN's VHF packet system is still not working, so we fell back to the traditional methods: CW (Morse code) on the Sixth Region Net this evening.

A good day's (& evening's) work.  Thank you, Jutti &  Robert.  And to the RN6 traffic handlers who probably were looking forward to short nets over the weekend!

Nice side effect ... if you read the fine print in QST, look for K6HTN listed under Brass Pounders' League this month (first time).

Traditionally, a Brass Pounder is a Morse code operator, Morse keys being traditionally made of brass.  Brass Pounders' League, however, is the "dean's list" of traffic handlers & open to voice & digital operators as well as Morse code freaks.  A lot of the top handlers don't report their station activity, but for K6HTN it is a novelty & a milestone.  If I can manage to achieve that level 12 months in a row, I'll get "wallpaper", i.e. a certificate, a symbol of the experience gained.

Friday, September 16, 2011

NTS Goes to Hamcon

Hamcon … the ARRL Southwest Division Convention (www.hamconinc.org) is over.  It was great fun, but exhausting.  I got very little sleep & was “on” the whole time.  At least I didn’t spend much money in the vendors court, because I didn’t have time to go shopping.
            LAX Section set up & staffed 3 tables … ARRL, ARES & NTS.  The NTS table was my hangout for the weekend.  We set up on Friday – the display looked very nice, due to the “gov’t surplus” display boards & Jutti’s/Clara’s (K6FRG & KJ6CNO) excellent work with the content material.  We had decorative space next to us, so we actually took up two tables worth of space & we used it all.


            There was some tension of Friday night.  I’d been told that the W1AW/6 people were planning to set up a 2-meter station for us at the social, as sort of public attraction (geek side show among geeks?).  It was an interesting thought, but they never did it.  Fortunately, Jutti K6FRG (my roommate for the weekend) & I knew from earlier experiment that we could hit the Keller Peak machine (70 miles away) from our 17th floor balcony, with our HT’s.  Thus we got into the SCN/V traffic net & disposed of the 2 messages that we picked up at the table on Friday.  It was quite a comedy, actually. NCS had no idea we were standing next to each other; in fact, we were sharing a radio.  It was dark, so we had one light stick, one radio & one mike.  We had to decline being sent QSY to simplex with KI6BHB, because we had no idea if simplex was possible.  We’d have gotten away with the charade, except that Jutti started busting up at one point.  I passed some non-Hamcon related traffic to her via Keller Peak.  No SAR points to be had in just handing over the message!
            Later on, though, I found out that K6YR worked PAN (Pacific Area Net) with W1AW/6 on 40 meters.  Says our Section Manager David N6HD, “he screams on CW,” meaning that he sends really fast.  But I already knew that.  Wish I’d known he was going to do that, I’d have gone to watch.  W1AW/6 did not have an 80-meter antenna, so we were never able to get to RN6.
            All of the rest of the traffic, a total of 43 messages collected from Hamcon’ers, were send via packet WinLink, in NTSD batch file format, to a gateway located on the 12th floor of the hotel.  From there they went to W5KAV, the Pacific Area Digital Coordinator, for insertion into the NTSD system.   Those for Southern California recipients ended up in the hands of Jim K6RXX in Long Beach & were (hopefully by now) all delivered in the usual way, by telephone.  A circuitous route, for sure, but one designed to illustrate that NTS has a foot in the modern world.  Not all of us do it only for the fun of the CW.
            Dennis Oszuczik KI6UNC, our Section Emergency Coordinator, lent his go box for the “downstairs” station.  Besides sending the messages, this unit helped attract people to our table, I’m sure.
            We had a ton of local traffic handlers helping to draw people in & get their radiograms formatted: Jack Eyster KO6V, Jutti Marsh K6FRG, Robert Allen KJ6RJA, Paul Zahoreck KJ6HRJ, Craig Keenan KJ6IJJ, Alice Bennett K6BNT
            We also had a presentation (“tech talk”) on Saturday morning.  This went well, except that I had to gloss some stuff to finish on time.  We packed the house!  I had no idea we’d get that many people & I underestimated when the convention asked for expected turnout.  The Division Director, Dick Norton N6AA complained at least twice to me that we got more people than the ARRL Forum did.
            The presentation consisted of two parts: 1) an intro talk given by me & 2) a panel discussion featuring some of the loftiest NTS folks that I could find: Rob Griffin K6YR, Chair of the Pacific Area Staff, Cycle 4 TCC op, Santa Barbara Section Manager & who knows what else; Bruce Hunter W6WW, Cycle 2 TCC op & Orange Section Traffic Manager; Ken Miller K6CTW, Cycle 4 Pacific Area Net op, with many years of experience behind him.  We got some pretty good discussion going on subjects such as the new-fangled digital operation & possible roles for NTS in a big disaster.  Mostly what people wanted to know, however, was what kind of antennas we use.
            Some of these guys are the archetypes of traffic handlers: terse & dry, by nature.  In spite of this, though, Rob managed to produce new 8.5 x 11 “Pink Cards” that include batch format in addition to all the other stuff – really HOT pink, too!
            After the presentation, we experienced about 5 hours of solid “business” at the table.  I’d bought my lunch at nearby Wahoo’s, but never got to eat more than a few bites.  I was mostly typing batch files, but kept getting interrupted for conversations & could not keep up with the rest of the crew, who were originating the radiograms.
            Following that was the banquet.  Speaker was Jay Jones, a professor at La Verne.  Good speaker, with some interesting prospectives on hams’ contributions to the rest of the world & how “primary experience” (hands on) facilitates this.
            The shock of the night, though, was that I received a plaque for “SW Division Volunteer of the Year”!  Yikes.  Yes, I’ve done a lot of work, but I thought it was premature.  But it felt good, anyway.  I have many supporters, though & I’ve tried to share the wealth by posting a picture of the plaque, in places such as here.


This was for trying to revitalize the NTS & teaching traffic handling & CW classes.
            After the banquet came the arduous task of staying awake until midnight, for the Wouff Hong ceremony (www.hamconinc.org/wouff-hong.html).  The ceremony was well done & they obviously put a huge amount of effort into the costumes & theatrics.  Good stuff.  
            On Friday, we had more radiograms, but it was not as hectic.