Monthly Archives: March 2012

SKYWARN Training, and a Word of Advice About Amber Lights

Over the last 30 years I’ve attended quite a few SKYWARN Storm Spotter training sessions, and I’ve always found the time well-spent. When I lived in the Twin Cities, Metro SKYWARN was simply part of being an amateur radio operator — there, SKYWARN is primarily a ham radio operation, and I got involved when I was a teenager. Later as a police officer I attended SKYWARN training in that capacity, but it was obvious that cops and firefighters weren’t nearly as effective as the ham radio operators who formed the well-oiled machine of Metro SKYWARN.

It’s a bit different out here in rural Minnesota. While some parts of rural Minnesota are connected via a hub-and-spoke repeater system to KØMPX — located right in the Chanhassen office of the NWS — such is not yet the case here in Granite Falls. Out here the well-oiled machine of storm spotters is the local fire department. Until we get the local repeater EchoLinked to KØMPX, ham radio operators must rely upon their cell phones to call in storm reports (unless of course they’re firefighters, who have their own radio net).

Todd Krause, KBØSGH, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service, giving SKYWARN training in 2008. (Photo obtained from http://www.nujournal.com).

In any case SKYWARN training does come to our small town, thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Todd Krause, KBØSGH, a true gentleman and an excellent teacher. He’s on the road quite a bit in the spring of each year, putting on storm spotter classes all over Minnesota. Our class was two days ago, from 7:00-9:00 P.M., and the room was packed!

If you haven’t attended a SKYWARN class, or if it’s been a while since you have, I encourage you to find a training session near you (click here) and attend. This is the time of the year when these classes are offered, but we’re nearing the end of this year’s schedule — you’ll want to act quickly. In my experience you’ll need to attend this training more than once to really get the hang of it. It’s easy to identify the features of a storm by looking at pictures in the classroom, with the instructor right there to help you, but it’s much more difficult to do so out in the field. This class will help you distinguish between what really matters and what merely looks scary as you look up into the sky. More than once I’ve been with untrained people who freak out because of a scary-looking cloud, e.g. a rapidly rotating shelf cloud, and I’ve been able to calm them down by explaining what’s really happening.

One word of advice — if you do get into SKYWARN spotting, don’t go nuts decking out your car with amber lights and cheesy stickers/decals, okay? Even untrained observers know that stuff is for your ego, not for your storm spotting. They’re not impressed; they’re rolling their eyes. I don’t want to embarrass anybody in particular so I won’t provide any links, but a little Googling will show you how silly some storm spotters can be. I just saw one a few weeks ago with a bunch of amber lights on the rear deck of his car along with SKYWARN stickers and other home-made stickers proclaiming to the world that he is a Very Important Person as an Officially Certified Storm Spotter. Truly cringe-worthy! If you have this stuff, would you mind removing it? Maybe one SKYWARN sticker isn’t such a bad idea, but the other stuff is an embarrassment to the rest of us.

When I was a police officer I had all sorts of insignia and lights on my patrol car, but guess how much of it helped me when storm-spotting (with my 2m HT in my hand)? None of it. Ever. Flashing lights (including amber ones) can snarl traffic and even cause accidents if you use them, whether you’re driving or pulled over. Unless they’re absolutely necessary, they shouldn’t be used at all — and when it comes to storm-spotting, they’re almost never necessary. If you’re going to do your storm spotting from your car, drive the speed limit, obey all traffic laws, find a good vantage point where you can park safely, and you won’t even need the four-way flashers that came with your car.

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Today’s QSO with KØLR, Who Gave Me My Novice Code Test in 1978

My online ARRL course, “Introduction to Emergency Communication,” is in full swing. I’m happy to say that it is pretty demanding. Not that the material itself has been especially difficult (yet), but the essay-assignments do require some thought — and other assignments are pushing me to do some new things on the air, like listening to several nets, critiquing an NCS (Net Control Station), and checking into a net (okay, I probably have checked into a net or two over the years, but it’s been so long that I hardly remember doing it).

Today I reaped some unexpected benefits from one of these assignments. Having been assigned to check into a formal net, I checked into the PICONET this morning. This was no small feat, since it was on 75 meters. My New Carolina Windom is only cut for 40 meters, and the automatic tuner on my Kenwood TS-440S has never been able to match it — the SWR is terrible! But using my old Drake MN-7 Matching Network, I was able to match it surprisingly well. So now I’m on 80/75 meters! I even made a CW contact with a fellow in Wisconsin, and got a decent signal report.

Lyle Koehler, KØLR, with Katharine Lord, KØTHY (photo copied from the PICONET website)

And after checking in this morning, I visited the PICONET website — and learned that Lyle Koehler, KØLR, would be the NCS for the PICONET this afternoon! Wow! Lyle is the ham who gave me my Novice code test back in 1978. I was only 10 years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget how I shook like a leaf on the couch in his living room while he sat beside me and tapped out 5 wpm code with a straight key and oscillator. When he told me I passed, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for the rest of the day!

So the thought of talking with Lyle again after all these years was enough to make me watch the clock, eager for the PICONET to open again at 1500 CDT. And sure enough, at the appointed hour I heard Lyle’s voice as he opened the net! I was his first check-in, and I took advantage of the net’s slow start to explain that he had given me my Novice code test over three decades ago. He remembered me!

What a pleasure to meet this fellow on the air after all these years.

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Big Week, Small Handheld

Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra Performing Handel's Messiah at Benson Great Hall, Arden Hills, MN on 03/11/12.

What a week and a half it’s been! Last weekend we sang three performances of Handel’s Messiah. The last one, pictured here, was the best — truly out of this world.

NØIP walking near the Duluth Lift Bridge, 03/13/12.

Afterward, without even changing out of my suit, I drove to Duluth with my wife to stay in a bed and breakfast for a couple nights. It wasn’t purely vacation; since this is a busy week for me, I did have to get some work done on this trip. Still, it was sufficient to give me newfound vigor upon my return. A day and a half back in Granite Falls allowed me to do some calling and get some other work done, and then it was back to the Twin Cities for two recording sessions to make a 3-CD set of Handel’s Messiah.

Wouxun KG-UV6D Dual-Band Radio

During this time I tested out my new handheld, which arrived just a couple days before it all began. I went with the dual-band (2m/70cm) Wouxun KG-UV6D (ham radio version), available here. If you buy one of these you’ll want to purchase the USB programming cable to set up your Wouxun using your computer. You may also want to buy an adapter or two to connect antennas to it. I’ve included some photographs in the slideshow below showing two such adapters — one for BNC, the other for PL-259. (By the way, you may click here to learn how you pronounce “Wouxun.”)

This radio is working great! Setting up channels using my laptop was a snap, and the controls on the radio itself are pretty simple, too. Using a larger “rubber duckie” antenna I’m able to hit the repeater 12 miles away in Montevideo (though I’m not sure yet how I sound “You sound like you’re sitting right next to me,” I’ve just been told.). Using the car-top antenna I’m full-quieting on the repeater 30 miles away in Marshall, and I can hit the repeaters a little farther away in Willmar, too (though I’m not sure yet how I sound on them). I made a few contacts in Duluth and the Twin Cities this week, and heard good reports each time. So far all I’ve used is 2m, and I’m looking forward to a 70cm contact. While I’m still a confirmed HF CW man, I’m glad to finally have a VHF/UHF handheld that works! If and when my son gets his Technician license, I’ve promised him that I’ll buy him a matching Wouxun KG-UV6D. It would really come in handy around here for him and I to each have one of these.

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All photographs taken by my faithful beloved XYL, Monica, except for the stock photo of the KG-UV6D.

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ARES Center Stage at 2012 MNVOAD Training Conference

I’m off and running with the online ARRL course on Emergency Communications! Already I’m learning new things. Take VOAD’s, for instance — I’d never heard of them in my life, but now, thanks to this course, I’m signed up to attend the 2012 MNVOAD Training Conference.

What is a VOAD? VOAD stands for “Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.” The first VOAD (and still the main VOAD) was NVOAD (National VOAD), born in 1970:

Hurricane Camille led to the formation of NVOAD. After Hurricane Camille, it became clear that voluntary agencies were responding to the needs of disaster victims in a fragmented, uncoordinated manner. Representatives from several voluntary agencies began to meet on a regular basis to share their respective activities, concerns, and frustrations in disaster response. On July 15, 1970, representatives from seven voluntary agencies came together in Washington, D.C. to form NVOAD. (FEMA course IS-288, “The Role of Voluntary Agencies in Emergency Management,” 2-11)

Those first seven agencies were the American Red Cross, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, National Catholic Disaster Relief Committee, Seventh Day Adventists, Society of St. Vincent De Paul and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Now there are nearly 50 agencies involved, including the ARRL:

The mission of NVOAD is to foster more effective service to people affected by disasters. NVOAD, itself, does not deliver disaster response and recovery services. NVOAD coordinates planning efforts by many voluntary organizations responding to disaster. Member organizations provide more effective service and less duplication by getting together before disasters strike. Once disasters occur, NVOAD or an affiliated state VOAD encourages members and other voluntary agencies to convene on site. This cooperative effort has proven to be the most effective way for a wide variety of volunteers and organizations to work together in a crisis. (4-9)

The state VOAD movement began five years after NVOAD was born:

Not long after the development of NVOAD, State and regional VOAD organizations were created to ensure an effective response to disasters at the State and local levels. The first State VOAD was formed in 1975. The VOAD movement initially grew without much order and without official sanction or direction from NVOAD. However, in 1988 NVOAD developed formal procedures for chartering State and local VOAD members. At this time, there are chartered State VOAD organizations in almost all the U.S. states and territories, and there are a growing number of local VOADs. (4-13)

The Minnesota VOAD has 37 member organizations, including the ARRL — and this year, RACES/ARES is taking center stage at the 2012 MNVOAD Training Conference on Saturday, March 24. The keynote speaker is Peter Angelos, KCØKRI:

9:00-10:00 Keystone Session – Pagami Creek Fire Response – Peter Angelos

The Lake County Emergency Management response to the Pagami Creek Fire (September 2011) and the role Lake County RACES/ARES played is a good example to illustrate effective and successful use of affiliated volunteer organizations in incident management. This presentation will outline a brief description of the incident, the specific support that RACES/ARES provided for logistical and situational communication, and most importantly–the organizational practices and principles that lead to success.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Mr. Angelos has to say about how RACES/ARES helped fight the Pagami Creek Fire.

But perhaps even more valuable for me will be the rest of the training day, which has nothing to do with Amateur Radio. After all, the whole point of VOAD is to learn how to work with one another efficiently and effectively when the time comes!

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CQ CLASSICAL MUSICIANS DE NØIP

How many of you ham radio operators are also classical musicians? (I’m using “classical” loosely here, the way NPR does — not merely referring to the classical period per se, but broadly referring to all music of higher artistic expression.) I’ve always been intrigued by this kind of simultaneous development of artistic ability and scientific/technical ability. I’ve long heard that the two complement one another nicely, e.g. I’ve heard that musicians make better programmers.

Rehearsal of Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra (Kristi Brackett, Photographer)

Right now I’m working hard with the Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra to get ready for an upcoming performance of The Messiah by George Frideric Handel. Ham Radio has taken a back seat in my life during this seven-week project (as well it should, if we have our priorities straight). Yesterday’s rehearsal in the Twin Cities was exhilarating, and once again proved that the 2 1/2 hour drive to get there is definitely worth it. Dr. Tom Rossin is an outstanding conductor, and the choir is so good I have to pinch myself sometimes to see if my place there in the bass section isn’t just a dream. (If any of you happen to be in the Twin Cities on the weekend of March 9-11 and would like to hear The Messiah in its entirety, send me an email and I’ll email you a coupon that will get you two tickets for the price of one.)

Music was part of my life as a boy before I became a ham, but it didn’t blossom until 13 years ago at the age of 31. That was when my brother Tom (NØBSY) got me involved in a cappella shape-note singing from The Sacred Harp. This taught me how to sing parts; without it I could never have gotten into choral singing the way I have. My first choral work was with Exultate, singing Bach’s Mass in B-Minor, followed by Brahms’ German Requiem (in Rutter’s English translation). Since then I’ve been involved in a small choir here in the church, too. All of this has been a huge surprise to me. Up until I was 31 years old I was afraid to sing in front of other people, and I couldn’t sing parts if my life depended on it! So if any of you think you can’t sing, think twice — you might be surprised at what has been lying dormant in those vocal chords of yours, just waiting for the proper nudge to burst forth into beautiful song.

I see Tyler Pattison, N7TFP, is not only an accomplished ham radio operator but an accomplished musician. Along with his excellent tutorials for ham radio operators, Tyler has also posted a video of his performance of Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata in F from Symphony No. 5. In this video you can see the organ from Tyler’s perspective, not only as a musician but as an electrical engineer. He is bringing both sides of his brain to bear upon the magnificent task of rebuilding and upgrading this organ — and then making beautiful music on it.

How many others like Tyler and myself are out there? If you are a musician and an amateur radio operator, what do you think? Has one influenced the other in your life? How?

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