The Amateur Amateur: Will Work for Sanity
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Will Work for Sanity
Being a bit of a hermit, the
stay-at-home and social distancing measures didn't bother me much at
first. After a couple of months, however, they were starting to get
to me. No meetings, no lunch with friends, no buddies to get on the
roof with me to tweak my antennas.
I'd gone through all of the books
I'd been meaning to read. I'd watched all of the DVDs I hadn't yet
looked at, and several I'd already seen before. I'd viewed everything
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video had to offer that was even mildly
interesting. Basically, I'd run out of entertainment.
There was no shortage of Amateur Radio stay-at-home nets to listen to, but
quite honestly I find chat nets a tad boring. You can call me an
intellectual snob if you wish, but I'd rather hear about an
interesting lecture you watched on PBS or TED
rather than hear about what you ate for dinner.
So, it was with a great deal of
reluctance that I dusted off my to-do list and started looking at the
many tasks that I'd been putting off doing. It was a long list, some
items going back for years. If there were contests for
procrastination, I'd be a gold medalist.
One of the first overdue tasks that I took on was to change the call sign
in APRS device mounted in my wife's car (she now being a silent key).
You can read all about the trials and tribulations of that particular
job in And
Then the Battery Died.
The to-do list was still pretty
long, and I was still bored out of my mind, so I looked to see which
task I had put off the longest.
Ah, it was the “event archiver” program.
I maintain the St.
Louis Metro ARES website.
I started it many years ago, long before Wordpress, WiX, or other
“blog builders” came onto the scene. As a professional
computer programmer I knew something about creating a website, so
building and maintaining one in raw HTML format wasn't all that
difficult for me. I expanded my web skills as I added to the ARES
site over the years, but during those early days it was fairly easy
to keep the web pages up to date.
Eventually, however, as more and
more pages and features were added to the website, I started getting
behind. One of the most neglected pages was a list of, and pointers
to documents from our ARES group's various exercises and events. This
was unfortunate, as our event planners like to go back and see how
previous exercises and such were designed. The solution was to write
a program to allow me (or, hopefully, someone else) to easily upload
documents and have them automatically listed and linked on the
Well, I did start to write such a
program. And it quickly became overwhelming. I put it aside for a
while, occasionally poking it and then quickly shying away from it.
It just seemed too daunting. So the project languished for years.
Until I had nothing better to do.
Easier to upload and archive exercise documents now.
Long story short, it was a lot of
work, but I actually did finish the job. Now anyone on our ARES
planning committee can upload documents. No one has actually
volunteered to do so, but at least I no longer have to manually
rewrite the web page whenever a new document is added..
The only fly in that particular
jar of ointment is that there is still a “photo archiver”
project on the to-do list. (Maybe I can pirate some of my own code.)
Finishing up a years-old project
gave me a rush, to be sure, but I was still stuck at home, and still
looking for something to do. Next on the list? Take a class.
becoming a member of ARES I've taken innumerable courses, and there
always seem to be new ones on the horizon. When I first joined, I
took the ARRL's Amateur Radio Emergency Communication Course series,
EC-001, EC-002, and EC-003. They've since dropped EC-002 and EC-003
and renamed EC-001 to Introduction to Emergency Communication. They
later developed EC-016, Public Service and
Emergency Communications Management for Radio Amateurs. I'd been
meaning to take that course for a while, but had never gotten around
to it. But since (1) the League had made it available on-line, and
(2) I had plenty of time on my hands, I signed up. As an Assistant
Emergency Coordinator for my team, I needed to take it anyway.
took my time going through the course. A lot of it seemed very
familiar, some of it from various FEMA
Independent Study courses I'd taken, and some of it
harking back to the old EC-002 and EC-003 courses. Of course, a lot
of it was new material, but nothing too onerous. I finished in a
reasonable amount of time and got a passing grade. The last steps
were to send the ARRL a copy of my FEMA transcript to prove that I
had taken the prerequisite courses, and have the Missouri Section
Manager send in a letter of referral, which were easy enough to
another brief round of self-congratulation, I was back perusing the
list again, seeing what else needed to be done.
I was on a roll with ARES matters, and there is a never-ending influx
of such things that need to be addressed, I told Steve, the Emergency
Coordinator, that I wanted to take on our unresolved HF issues.
Okay, I confess that I haven't wrapped this one up yet. There is still a
lot to do. But here are the issues.
First, although we have worked hard on our local emergency communications
procedures, we haven't done much with regional communications. We
need to develop our longer range capabilities.
Winlink station (packet, not VARA)
as St .Louis City and St. Louis County have hills and valleys and a
fair number of tall buildings, we've had to break up our coverage
area into four zones. We can more or less handle simplex operations
in each of these zone. But the question remains, assuming that the
repeaters are down and we are limited to simplex operations, how do
we accomplish zone-to-zone communications?
answer to both issues seemed to be develop our HF capabilities. So, I
set up an informal HF research group to discuss the matter.
did some HF work years ago, and even made a few overseas contacts.
But, after a storm cleared everything off of my roof, and took away
part of the roof itself, I was never able to get a decent HF antenna
system back up and running. So, initially, I was dependent on asking
other operators in the research group who did have working HF
stations what they were doing. Sorting through their responses, I
came up with some thoughts on what we could try.
that's as far as I managed to get. Until I can figure out how to get
back on the low bands myself, there is virtually nothing I can do
operationally. I have some ideas, but I will need a roof buddy, and
that's not going to happen any time soon. So, the HF project is on
hold for a while, at least for me.
on the list was Winlink. If you don't know what that is, it's a
packet system for sending email via Amateur Radio. Our ARES team is
rapidly building out its capabilities in this area, and learning
about some of Winlink's more interesting features.
I am participating, I'm not personally managing the Winllink effort.
Just recently, however, I discovered that in addition to packet,
Winlink now includes something
This new OFDM mode (whatever that means) requires a sound card rather
than a Terminal Node Controller. As we have only one Winlink VARA FM
gateway in the area, and it is located over in Illinois, I thought it
would be nice if I set one up over on this side of the river. I
already had all of the components I needed, plus plenty of spare
time, so why not?
While it looked like I might lose my mind due to boredom, trying to
get a VARA FM gateway up and running really
came close to driving me insane.
But, that's a story for another day.
In the meantime, there are still
a lot of tasks on the to-do list. I guess I'll get back to it.
E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman