The Amateur Amateur: The Return of Unpreparedness
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
At one time
I'd been really on top of things in our ARES group. Then a series of
events forced me to ease back some. But, the step after easing back
is getting lax, and I was just about to cross that line.
May 1, 2007
My original notes on running packet radio were buried somewhere in this
pile . . . or beneath it.
Alinco DR-135TPMkIII wired for soundcard operations (left) and for
packet radio operation (right).
My laptop computer has a few extra USB ports.
Then there was
the day that I went down to my shack and discovered that my emergency
preparations had all unprepared
themselves. My “Go
Kit” had unzipped and unpacked itself. My field radio was
sitting on a bench being used as part of some forgotten project. My
field tool bag had a pile of stuff that I’d bought at the
dollar store sitting on top of it. My field antenna? Nowhere in
sight. It was a sorry state of affairs for an Assistant Emergency
At one time I’d
been really on top of things, one of the driving forces of emergency
preparations in our ARES group. Then, a series of job and
family-related events forced me to ease back some. That’s
understandable. It happens to all of us in the group. But the step
after easing back for a while
is getting lax
and I was just about to cross that line.
. That’s what they say. I’d forgotten that.
Our ARES group holds a weekly voice net on Wednesdays and a digital
net on Thursdays. I had gone down to my shack to get ready for the
digital net. Normally I use my home station and a regular personal
computer. But I figured that since this was an ARES net, I should
probably use my field equipment. That’s when I found out that
all my deployment stuff was in an undeployable state.
It took me a
while to locate everything, but I finally got my field transceiver
connected to my laptop computer. That’s when I learned that I
unprepared. I couldn’t even figure out how
to perform digital operations with this computer and radio.
Now wait a
, I thought. I’ve done this before. I had used this
very same set of equipment before and everything worked. Why am I
having such trouble now?
quickly came to me. Although I had managed to make this equipment
perform digital operations before, I never documented the steps I’d
taken, figuring instead that I’d simply remember.
Imagine those old
TV game shows where a nasty buzzer would sound when a contestant gave
a wrong answer. That’s what went off in my head. (For you
younger folks, imagine that irritating “Plunk!” noise
makes when you do something wrong.)
Curses, Foiled Again!
I was going to have to figure it out all over again. Silently I
cursed my earlier self for being so inconsiderate.
Okay, step one:
Get a pad and a pencil. This
time I would write down each
and every stage of the process. I didn’t think it would be too
difficult. I was sure that the software was still on the laptop, and
I knew that I had all of the necessary connectors. Sooner or later a
more positive “Ding!” would sound in my head, and I’d
say, “Oh yeah! I remember now!”
happen. I had forgotten that there were two ways
the laptop to the field radio — one for packet operation and
one for soundcard operation. I could remember bits and pieces of each
procedure, but I kept mixing them up in my mind.
Okay, step two:
pad. I had to rediscover and write down two
procedures, not just one.
My field transceiver is an Alinco DR-135TPMkIII. It has a built-in TNC
(Terminal Node Controller). That makes it very easy to connect it to
a computer and run packet. But I also had a number of digital
applications designed to work through the computer’s soundcard
rather than a TNC. They required a different
and completely different
connections to the transceiver.
I started with
the packet radio setup. As expected, I soon started discovering a
trail of software on the laptop. Unfortunately, there were several
of everything, and they all looked the same. They
didn’t, however, all work
It was that
ubiquitous USB (Universal Serial Bus) plug. My laptop had four of
them (I went a little overboard). Unlike many other software
applications, my packet radio program wanted to know precisely which
USB port I was using to connect to the transceiver. So I had made
four copies of the software, one for each port. And I hadn’t
Okay, step three:
Rename the four packet radio programs from Alinco Packet
Alinco Packet, front-most USB port,
and so forth.
I scribbled down
everything I had done so far, then tried to make a connection to the
Missouri Emergency Packet Network.
My Notes. My Kingdom for my Notes!
I looked around
my shack. Somewhere, buried beneath a heap of gear I’d dragged
home from some hamfest, was a three-ring binder containing a log of
everything I had done to get packet radio to work. I found it, blew
off the dust, and . . . returned a half-hour later, after
having showered and taken some allergy pills to stop the
uncontrollable sneezing. (Personal note: Never
blow the dust
off anything again!)
All right, I
eventually got packet to work on my laptop and field transceiver. I
had a page full of notes, and I had carefully labeled and packed the
cables in the transceiver’s container.
Figuring out the
rest (PSK31, SSTV, and so forth) wasn’t as difficult. I had
already eliminated all of the packet radio stuff. I still had to be
careful about which USB port I used, but I made sure to write down
everything I did. I confirmed that everything worked and
doubled-checked my notes.
very proud of myself, I put away the laptop and the field
transceiver, tossed the pencil onto the desk and headed upstairs to
make some popcorn and relax with my wife and our dog.
weeks later, I’m ready to complete the job. I plan to edit and
carefully type the notes I made. I’ll put the typed sheets in
waterproof sleeves and place them in my field notebook. That way I’ll
how to run packet or any other digital mode
while in the field. No sir, you won’t catch me
Ummm, now, just
I leave those notes?
Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name
-- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related
Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail,
© 2007 American Radio Relay League