Friday, November 21, 2014

JFK Ultramarathon It's going to be Cold

Every year we have a local ultramarathon named after President Kennedy. During this event the local amateur radio club is called to provide safety communications. Amateurs throughout the area including myself volunteer for radio communications for this race. I am stationed at the second aid station at the top of a mountain.

After my bitter cold experience last year I learned a few things:

  • It WILL be cold. So cold that I spent the rest of the day in bed to warm up.
    • Hats, gloves, and a coat are not enough.
    • Standing outside for several hours takes a toll.
  • I will not be able to go warm up on site.
    • This may change this year, there are two operators staged at this aid station this year, in addition there is about a hour and a half between sets of runners.
  • A headlamps is nice, but it can get into people's eyes.
    • Adjustment solved this issue.
    • Many people will ask where you bought the headlamp and insist on more information even after you say it cost $50.
  • Parking in the one pull in space is not acceptable.
    • There is a small parking lot, but last year I did not know if that was related to the private property nearby or for the historical site. The parking space was needed
The cold is the hardest part, getting long johns in my size is not easy. I will make adjustments on my radio so I can operate with a gloved hand. I also bought a Zippo hand warmer to help keep warm this year. Everything was brought into the house this afternoon to make sure it is warmed up before I leave tomorrow. I don't need to don a cold headlamp.

The headlamp will be turned off until it will do the most good. This way I won't have to keep asking people if I'm blinding them. I have some white glow sticks in the car for emergencies. They expire in May, so I am going to use one as part of rotating the stock and to provide some light on site. The other one will be used during field day as they are good for quite a while after expiration.  I will order some more, Gander Mountain charges a lot for those. I need to find out where people can get the headlamp in case I am asked this year, Gander Mountain doesn't sell them anymore.

Parking is no longer an issue since I know where to park. I just hope that I get their early enough so it is easy for me to park without having to navigate around other vehicles.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Field Day 2014 Follow Up

As you may remember, last weekend was ARRL Field day, and as you may remember I have stated that I was participating with the Antietam Radio Association with their Field Day activities in Leitersburg, Maryland.

Enough Rambling, let's tell this story with photos

Here our 20 meter phone and all band digital station is being set up in the pavilion. Also shown is a spare radio, which while we needed it, we actually did not push into service.
Here the tent for the 40 meter phone station is being set up.
In this shot we see the setup of the VHF beam antenna, the VHF Station and the raising of the VHF beam antenna.
As usual we operated using emergency power throughout field day with the exception of those contacts made using solar power.
The VHF station, almost complete, commercial power was used for testing purposes only.
One of the many antennas used was a set of 40 meter hamstick antennas back to back on a mast.
The local TV station came out to check out what we were doing. Here they are preparing to film a pre-field day contact which later made the final story.
Our get on the air (GOTA) station is almost set up. Getting close to starting time here. Generators were started shortly afterward.
Here is the VHF station operating on solar power making field day contacts. Nothing is connected to the extension cord connected to commercial power.
Here is our satellite station waiting for the first field day pass. The computer you see is tracking the satellites using satellite tracking software (which works offline) and controlling the antenna rotor. The radios are controlled manually.
Here we have our CW station making contacts. We don't have many operators that specialize in CW contacts, but we do have a CW station.
While just another view of our CW station, this brings the computer into view. Our CW station this year also was testing computer logging.
While not in operation during this shot, we have our 75 station and operator being shown. The radio here is owned by the county emergency management agency and is being loaned out for testing purposes. We had two of the units, one (not shown) was inoperable.
Here we have our 20 meter phone and all band digital station in operation. It appears at this point that digital contacts were being attempted here.
As happens many years we get a visit from our ARRL section manager (right). This time he and his crew came in around dinner time.
Speaking of dinner. We had a LOT of food this year. We had many things including fried chicken from a local convenience store chain.
After a few hours the generator powering the pavilion needed refueled. Also shown is another generator that was probably used on Sunday. The fire extinguisher was later moved so that it would be usable in case of a fire.
Cooking was done using crock pots (on commercial power) and using a camp stove. The camp stove is pictured during startup.
The sun is getting ready to set and the pavilion lights are powered on using commercial power. We are getting ready for the night shift.
Still preparing for the night shift. Very little operating was going on at this time.
And of course the night shift has arrived. Since it was unlikely that any proper GOTA operation was to occur overnight the GOTA Station was re-purposed as a normal station to cover for the station that did not even make it to air. A tip for the photographers, this picture was taken without flash.

I went to bed at about 0100 local on Sunday morning and got back up for a while. I then slept a little longer, but left at around 0630 local. Due to trouble sleeping on site, next year, I am considering leaving at around 0100 hours to go home and returning at around 0600 hours to finish out field day before going home for a nap.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Field Day is SOON

It is that time of year again for ARRL Field Day. Field day is June 28th and 29th this year so it is time to get ready to get some stuff done. It is coming up this upcoming weekend. Let's not forget what field day is about.

This is the great event where amateurs and non-amateurs alike from all over North America leave their home shacks and go out in the field with portable stations to operate in the field. But that isn't all. There is much more to field day than meets the eye. Later I will get into more details about what my local club is doing this year.

Field day is a training exercise. Amateurs erect expedient field stations using tents or other buildings, use their mobile stations, or even operate at home. Field day allows amateurs to test their ability to set up a station to operate under less than ideal conditions, ideally in the field, but sometimes at home and even emergency operations centers. This allows amateurs to test their ability to operate using less than ideal equipment, antennas and power sources. Many field day sites use emergency power sources such as generators to provide power even when normal commercial power is available.

Field day is an operating event. I don't like to use the term contest although it is scored somewhat like one. The operating part of field day involves stations contacting as many other field day stations as possible to earn points. To combine the other aspects of field day there are bonus points for those as well, for example emergency power earns a bonus. Natural (solar and wind) power also earns a bonus as does operating at reduced power. Even a 100 watt transmitter qualifies for operating at reduced power. This combines with the above to allow you to see how well you can contact other stations with less than ideal antennas and equipment as well as operate under crowded band conditions.

Field day is a public relations event. Field day is an ideal time to give amateur radio public exposure, as part of the operating event above you get bonus points for doing this. A field day site ideally is open to the public and the public is invited. A get on the air station (GOTA) is sometimes provided to allow inexperienced amateurs and non-amateurs a chance to get on the air and experience amateur radio for themselves. In addition to inviting the public, it is ideal to invite local politicians, emergency management officials, and the media to cover your event and see what you can do.

Lastly, field day is a good time for fellowship. Many amateurs have other obligations and cannot make the other radio club functions. Field Day allows these amateurs to be able to catch up with the other local amateurs and even partake in other hobbies while there.

I belong to the Antietam Radio Association based out of Hagerstown, Maryland. The ARA was formed originally as a club to get together for field day. While the ARA has evolved since those early days in the 1950s, one thing remains the same, the ARA still puts on Field Day. We are changing it up quite a bit this year though.

In my six and a half years of being a member of this great organization we have traditionally operated field day from the pavilion of the local park which was crowded as well as using the cover of another building. This year we are expanding to other areas of the park as we not only have the pavilion rented we have permission to use the entire park for the duration of both the Saturday and Sunday of field day.

We traditionally have a potluck dinner with sodas, burgers, and hot dogs provided. While we are still doing that this year, we are also having a lunch as well, this expansion will help the people on site remain on site longer instead of having to pack a lunch or leave for lunch.

In addition to all of this operating and fellowship we are doing something completely different this year. At 1000 hours local time we will also be having a Volunteer Examiner session. This will allow people to test to obtain their amateur radio license as well as test to upgrade their existing license. Standard rules and ARRL VEC fee of $15 applies.

Lastly as I have recently gotten back into photography the ARA has appointed me as official photographer this year, so expect to see some photos of field day this year.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Photography Monday: Chromogenic Black and White film a technical lesson and review.

Welcome back to Photography Monday. Today we are going to talk about chromogenic black and white films or simply put black and white films that can be developed in color chemicals. Today a technical lesson and a review is presented.

Technical Lesson:

Okay so we know what chromogenic black and white film is, now lets get into details on how it works. As you may know all traditional film works with a silver halide emulsion that is sensitive to light. Most color films work by coupling this to multiple color dyes. When color film is processed the silver halide is developed and the color dyes are activated in the exposed areas. The developed silver is then bleached back into silver halide and fixed away, the color dies are then stabilized and the color image remains. This is known as chromogenic film. Now chromogenic black and white film works the same way, but instead of multiple color sensitive layers and color dyes a single panochromatic layer and a black dye are used.

What films are available and what are the differences:

This is where things get tricky. There are only two films out there and they vary quite a bit. Both films are 400 ISO. Also with both films you should tell your photo finisher that you want the prints in black and white, otherwise you may have color tints.

First you have Kodak with BW400CN. Kodak's offering is designed to directly drop in into all color processes both those using optical printing and for modern systems using scanning and digital printing. This means the film still has the orange base used by most color negative films and that printing optically with black and white paper is an issue though. Kodak's offering is available in 36 exposure 35mm rolls. You may still find some old stock or the recently discontinued 24 exposure rolls. This film is not available in medium format.

The second offering is Ilford's XP2 Super. This film has a clear base and can be printed by both the scanning method used most modern labs and optically printing to black and white paper. There will be color tinting when printing optically to color paper. Ilford's offering is available in 35mm with 24 and 36 exposure rolls, a 100 foot bulk roll, in addition to a 27 exposure single use camera. Ilford's offering is also available in 120 rolls as well.

The Review:

I recently shot a roll of BW400CN I picked up at LA Cameras in Chambersburg, Pa. The film is a nice 400 ISO film similar to T-Max (in fact the emulsion is the same purple color) with the tabular grain. Contrast is great if not a bit high. Latitude is similar to that of color print film. The tones in the images are represented very accurately. I let the LA Cameras know that the images were in black and white and the equipment was set up accordingly. Every image came out great except for the one trick shot I did and that was photographer error and the film performed properly. I would recommend this film. This example was taken with this film and a Canon EOS Rebel G:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Photography Monday: Tips for 35mm Film users

Hello and welcome to our new feature, Photography Monday. On Photography Monday a photo topic is presented. This week's photo Monday is about using and managing film.

Why Film?

In this digital age you may be asking why I am talking about film, let alone shooting it. First, film cameras are inexpensive today on the used market. I bought a Canon EOS Rebel G the other month for about $25 and since have mostly put my money into accessories and lenses. An entry level DSLR (digital) New would have been about $500 not including accessories such as a high speed memory card and extra batteries.

Second, film is now in use by people looking for an alternative look to their photos, either a look that digital cannot provide faithfully such as true black and white or even the Lomography craze of low fidelity analog photography.

Lastly, beginners should at least shoot one roll of film successfully so they understand the importance of planning and photographic knowledge. This to me is the most important. Anyone can randomly take digital pictures and randomly tweak settings and get lucky. Also sometimes the ability to delete bad photos or the ability to just store them makes us less careful in making our photos.

Okay, now that's out of the way this is real meat and potatoes

While most of the tips I offer today are what I use for 35mm these procedures can be adapted to medium format as well especially for you lomographers out there.

First: if you plan on shooting your film prior to the expiration date, don't worry too much about storage temperature as long as the temperature is comfortable for you to live in. I probably have the pros cringing at this point, but the reality is film will not go bad just because it 80 degrees Fahrenheit as long as you use it prior to the expiration date. Cold storage is only needed if you want to extend the life of your film beyond the expiration date. Obviously for those looking for the lomo effects of expired film or mistreated film need to know this as well because there is more tolerance than the package says.

Second: Keep at least some of your film in your bag. If you are still concerned about temperature for some of your films, keep some less sensitive films (black and white as well as consumer films fit this bill) in your bag. Cold stored film is useless if it is in the freezer and you run out and don't have time to let it warm up before you loose your opportunity. When storing the film use either the canister the cassette comes in for 35mm or the box for medium format. This goes to our third tip.

Third: Label your film. Now if you are keeping it in the box, you already have this step covered. If you are storing in the canisters use a label maker to label your film canisters. This is the format I use:

"[Film Manufactuer] [Film name] [ISO speed] ISO [Exposure count] Exposures"
"[Description of color] [Process Type]"

Here are a few examples note that if the name ends with the ISO it is skipped as the ISO is the next piece of data anyway:

Fuji 200 (Supera):
"Fuji Supera 200 ISO 24 Exposures"
"Natural Color Process C-41"

Kodak Ektar 100:
"Kodak Ektar 100 ISO 36 Exposures"
"Vivid Color Process C-41"

Now up to this point everything has been a color C-41 film. What about black and white?

Kodak BW400CN 24 exposure:
"Kodak BW400CN 400 ISO 24 Exposures"
"Black and White Process C-41"

And non C-41:

Ilford Delta 400 36 Exposures:
"Ilford Delta 400 ISO 36 Exposures"
"Black and White Process in B&W chemicals"

Fuji Velvia 50:
"Fuji Velvia 50 ISO 36 Exposures"
"Vivid Color Process E-6"

Of course let's include Provia (note the exception to the rule above about the ISO as there is a letter after the ISO):
"Fuji Provia 100F 100 ISO 36 Exposures"
"Natural Color Process E-6"

What about other non standard films and processes, in this case we need to adapt our labeling system.

Ilford Delta 3200:
"Ilford Delta 3200 EI 3200 36 exposures"
"Black and White Process in black and white chemicals per instructions"

In the above example we have a film that is sold by a recommended exposure index and not the ISO speed. Since EI comes before the actual EI data the 3200 needs printed twice once in the film name and once again after the EI designator. A "per instructions" note is added to the process information as this film is processed differently as it is push processed to get the box speed.

Now things get tricky, what if we have a film that not only has a recommend EI, special processing, and NO DX code. We now need to indicate a lot. Since I also put an unexposed label across the top of all my canisters that label simply can be changed to read "NO DX" but what about the main label.

Bluefire Police:
"Bluefire Police EI 80 36 Exposures with NO DX"

This is a case where not only do we have an EI suggestion of 80 since there is no ISO standard for this type, it also requires special processing per the instructions, Normal developers will not get proper results. Since the process is so important and special the process information is in all capitals. Also NO DX is listed again as this is important and the speed has to be set manually.

Fourth: Process promptly doesn't mean immediately. Film always says "process promptly." This is for the best contrast and best image quality. This also doesn't mean you can't wait a bit to have the film processed. For snapshot use waiting up til a year can be safe, for more important photos a few months is still okay.

Fifth: Don't fear the X-Ray machine. Unless you are carrying very sensitive film or film that you will push process to a higher exposure index (higher than 800) or specialty process (DR-5) you have more to worry about digital than film with X-Rays. Even after an excessive number of X-Ray screenings it was found that ISO 800 film suffered no ill effect. Obviously you should only keep film in your carry on luggage as the scanners for checked luggage are stronger, vary in intensity, and have not been tested. There have been stories of people traveling with both film and digital and found that their memory cards were corrupted due to the multiple X-Rays from the cruise liner and the film was unaffected.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Of VTVMs and FET VMs

Anybody that has gotten into electronics in the past 10 to 15 years is familiar with the digital multimeter and the Volt Ohm Meter. The differences are obvious, the VOM can load down the circuit but allows you to see changes in the circuit on an analog scale. The DMM is rather sensitive and won't load down the circuit, but updates slowly and only provides a digital readout or at best a bar graph display. Can't we have the best of both worlds?

Prior to the digital multmeter and even transistorized electronics we had what was called a vacuum tube volt meter (VTVM). These high sensitivity instruments allowed us to take measurements on electronic circuits without loading them down like a VOM would and of course digital was a few decades away. The VTVM was the best voltage measuring device out there for electronics work. The big disadvantage of the VTVM was that even portable units required a power line connection and multiple vacuum tubes even though later hybrid units only required one (solid state rectifier and solid state diodes for the AC scale).  While I own a VTVM of the hybrid variety, I need to build a probe adapter to replace the missing switching probe that should have come with the unit. As technology progressed with the field effect transistor a VTVM no longer actually required tubes. VTVMs stuck around a while in the FET era until the DMM took over

This is where the FET VM or FET Multimeter comes in. The FET Multimeter is a solid state VTVM and can be made in a battery portable package such as the Sencore FE23 Little Henry Field Effect Multimeter. In fact I just acquired one of these at the local hamfest this past weekend. The FET multimeter gives you the portability of a VOM with the versatility of a VTVM. In addition this unit has a light bulb in it to illuminate the scale. These extremely versatile instruments were made in the 1960s and 1970s, but unfortunately like VTVMs fell victim to the new digital multimeter technology.

While these older instruments are no longer being manufactured they can be found on the used market and are a useful tool to have around the lab or shop.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The 2014 Great Hagerstown Hamfest is Right Around the Corner

It's that time of year again for the Great Hagerstown Hamfest this Saturday, May 3, 2014. The Hagerstown Hamfest is a classic hamfest featuring tailgating, vendors, forums, refreshments, and a VE testing session. That's not all of course.

The Great Hagerstown Hamfest has a few exclusive features. First we have cake, and this isn't any cake, this is free cake on a first come first serve basis. This cake is provided by the sponsoring club (The Antietam Radio Association) for people to enjoy. We also have an auction at 11 AM that sells donated items to support the sponsoring club, things can be picked up at the auction dirt cheap.

For more information on the Great Hagerstown Hamfest take a look here:

Monday, April 28, 2014


Welcome to the new I need a platform that moves with me and blogger is it. While hosting a site at AWS is cool I just did not have the time to keep things updated. Now with blogger I can update the site from anywhere at any time. More posts soon after go live is complete.