Kansas City Explorations

One of the reasons I like living in the greater Kansas City area is that vast variety of museums and cultural venues around. I am not originally from this area and I think my family has a hard time understanding what it is I like it about the area. Not only is there a lot to do, it is often not that crowded which adds to my enjoyment.

Today was one of the last days before school starts for my soon-to-be second grader and also a day off for me. We started the day out at the Kansas City Public Library. The library is housed in what was once the First National Bank. The building alone is impressive with marble floors and vaulted ceilings. The children’s collection is on the second floor and has a great selection. This summer I took a class called Aesthetic Experiences which focused on integrating the arts with other elementary level subjects. For some of the projects, I required children’s literature and found the library to be a great resource.

There is a librarian who is on duty and provided ample help in finding books that were not the shelves but held in the back storage area. My girls enjoy the play area in the middle that has a full-sized stuff cow for climbing on. There are also materials out to color and huge Lego bricks for building.

After picking out a few books (the second grader got three, I picked two), we walked around the different floors of the library looking at the art on the walls, taking in the sheer number of books available, and looking out the windows on the higher levels at the impressive views offered of Kansas City.

On our way home we passed a sign for the Wyandotte County Museum. I have passed the sign about a million times and have never stopped to take a look. With time to spare, I turned right and headed for the museum.

The museum is dedicated to the history of Wyandotte County from the earliest days of the indigenous Native Americans through Kansas statehood and into the 20th Century. While not a large museum, it did have several hands-on exhibits that are perfect for elementary school students. Now that I know it is there, it is a location I want to return to in order to do a bit more exploring. This place would make a great field trip destination.

Laptop Blues

Looks like the days are numbered for my Dell Studio laptop. I have had it since 2009 and it has done a great job. I’ve had a dual boot setup, running Ubuntu as the my primary OS and keeping Windows 7 to meet various requirments: (1) assignments for school that I need to do in MS Office knowing that often OpenOffice does not do the job (PowerPoint is a great example), (2) iTunes… although I don’t need it very often on the laptop, and (3) RR-Track which I use for designing layouts for my O gauge trains.

I use my laptop a lot. I mentioned “school” above… I have been in a program at the University of Saint Mary to earn a Kindergarten through 6th grade teaching license. Next year I retire from the Army and teaching elementary school will be my 2nd Act, my back nine, my mid-life career change. I have been attending night classes since last fall and have completed six classes with five to go, plus student teaching. About at the halfway point now.

I’m looking back to Dell for my next laptop. I’ve had a long line of Dells… the Studio and an XPS before that. Can’t forget the Dell Mini and I am typing now on a Dell Inspiron Mini (a bit bigger than the Dell Mini). I had an HP laptop for a while, which was not a great experience (this was the days when WiFi was just becoming popular). Before that I had an Alienware laptop. Since then, Dell has purchased Alienware and I have decided to give Alienware a go again. I am not a “gamer” but I do appreciate solid hardware and good video performance. I like a fair amount of real estate on a laptop to include both keyboard and screen. My intent is to dual boot it again between Ubuntu and Windows 7, primarily using Ubuntu.

So – why not a Mac? I’ve read a bit on trying to install Ubuntu on a Mac and it sounds like much more trouble than it is worth. Last year I got my XYL a Mac-Mini when her desktop quit. I like it. I used it to edit a video I used last semester when teaching a lesson in a 4th grade class. The video editor was much better than anything Ubuntu had to offer. But ultimately a Mac is not as versatile as a PC that will allow me to load different OSes.

Boot failure ending with initramfs prompt

This has happen on my Dell laptop much more than I’d like:


mount: mounting /dev on /root/dev failed: No such file or directory
mount: mounting /proc on /root/proc failed: No such file or directory
Target filesystem doesn’t have /sbin/init.
No init found. Try passing init=bootarg.

BusyBox v1.18.5 (Ubuntu 1:1.18.5-1ubuntu4) built-in shell (ash)
Enter ‘help’ for a list of built-in commands.

Pearl Harbor

Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps” by Rebecca Robbins Raines

During 1940 President Roosevelt had transferred the Pacific Fleet from bases on the West Coast of the United States to Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, hoping that its presence might act as a deterrent upon Japanese ambitions. Yet the move also made the fleet more vulnerable. Despite Oahu’s strategic importance, the air warning system on the island had not become fully operational by December 1941. The Signal Corps had provided SCR-270 and 271 radar sets earlier in the year, but the construction of fixed sites had been delayed, and radar protection was limited to six mobile stations operating on a part-time basis to test the equipment and train the crews. Though aware of the dangers of war, the Army and Navy commanders on Oahu, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, did not anticipate that Pearl Harbor would be the target; a Japanese strike against American bases in the Philippines appeared more probable. In Hawaii, sabotage and subversive acts by Japanese inhabitants seemed to pose more immediate threats, and precautions were taken. The Japanese-American population of Hawaii proved, however, to be overwhelmingly loyal to the United States.

Because the Signal Corps’ plans to modernize its strategic communications during the previous decade had been stymied, the Army had only a limited ability to communicate with the garrison in Hawaii. In 1930 the Corps had moved WAR’s transmitter to Fort Myer, Virginia, and had constructed a building to house its new, high-frequency equipment. Four years later it added a new diamond antenna, which enabled faster transmission. But in 1939, when the Corps wished to further expand its facilities at Fort Myer to include a rhombic antenna for point-to-point communication with Seattle, it ran into difficulty. The post commander, Col. George S. Patton, Jr., objected to the Signal Corps’ plans. The new antenna would encroach upon the turf he used as a polo field and the radio towers would obstruct the view. Patton held his ground and prevented the Signal Corps from installing the new equipment. At the same time, the Navy was about to abandon its Arlington radio station located adjacent to Fort Myer and offered it to the Army. Patton, wishing instead to use the Navy’s buildings to house his enlisted personnel, opposed the station’s transfer. As a result of the controversy, the Navy withdrew its offer and the Signal Corps lost the opportunity to improve its facilities.

Though a seemingly minor bureaucratic battle, the situation had serious con­sequences two years later. Early in the afternoon of 6 December 1941, the Signal Intelligence Service began receiving a long dispatch in fourteen parts from Tokyo addressed to the Japanese embassy in Washington. The Japanese deliberately delayed sending the final portion of the message until the next day, in which they announced that the Japanese government would sever diplomatic relations with the United States effective at one o’clock that afternoon. At that hour, it would be early morning in Pearl Harbor.

Upon receiving the decoded message on the morning of 7 December, Chief of Staff Marshall recognized its importance. Although he could have called Short directly, Marshall did not do so because the scrambler telephone was not considered secure. Instead, he decided to send a written message through the War Department Message Center. Unfortunately, the center’s radio encountered heavy static and could not get through to Honolulu. Expanded facilities at Fort Myer could perhaps have eliminated this problem. The signal officer on duty, Lt. Col. Edward F French, therefore sent the message via commercial telegraph to San Francisco, where it was relayed by radio to the RCA office in Honolulu. That office had installed a teletype connection with Fort Shafter, but the teletypewriter was not yet functional. An RCA messenger was carrying the news to Fort Shafter by motorcycle when Japanese bombs began falling; a huge traffic jam developed because of the attack, and General Short did not receive the message until that afternoon.

Ham Radio Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner. It is far and away one of my favorite holidays and I am looking forward to spending it with my family this year. Beyond the Trick-or-Treating, costumes, Halloween decorations, and pumpkin carving, I like telling my two young daughters ghost stories. This got me to thinking if there were any stories out there that had to do with both amateur radio and Halloween. And sure enough, there are.

So now its time to dim the lights…..

The first story is by Brian, N4TRB, and was inspired by an October 1932 article he read in QST by Don Mix. Brian’s story is called Whisky November Papa: A Tale for Halloween and is worth a read.

The next story was discovered by Dan, KB6NU, and is called Haunted Ham Radio. It is more amusing than scary, but still worth the read for a chuckle or two.

For those of my ham radio brethren who will be out and about on Halloween helping provide communications for a safe and sane holiday – I salute you! And if you are in my neighborhood this year, stop by for some Trick-or-Treat, pumpkin pie, and hot apple cider… and maybe a quick tour of the hamshack.

Let’s Talk Spam

That delicious but much derided precooked canned meat treat – Spam. Produced by Hormel Foods and introduced before World War II, Spam hit its stride during WWII as rationing limited fresh meat. The military also took advantage of Spam’s long shelf life by making it a staple in the diet of frontline soldiers.

US Army: Spamville
US Army: Spamville

Continuing to serve during the Korean War, Spam was able to integrate itself into Korean cuisine – budae jjigae, a spicy stew that included chunks of Spam. I used to eat this quite a bit when I was stationed in Korea.

Back in the States, Spam gained a reputation of being the primary element of a white trash feast. Still, Spam presists and sold its seven billonth can back in 2007.

Back in May I traveled to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for an Army exercise (no… they didn’t serve Spam at the exercise) and made the roadtrip from Kansas in my truck. The most direct route passed right in front of Austin, Minnesota – which, not only being the headquarters for Hormel, is home to the Spam Museum.

Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota

I am an admitted and unabashed fan of Spam. We used to eat it from time to time as children and I believe fried Spam to be a delicacy. Now I had the opportunity to visit the Mecca of Spam, which I immeditaely took advantage of.


The museum is open to the public and free of charge. It is actually quite large and well done, telling the story of Spam from its inception and through the decades. Best of all was the gift shop at the end which included variants of Spam that I had never seen before: Spam Hot & Spicy – with Tabasco flavor, Spam Jalapeño, Spam Garlic. I eagerly purchased a few tins and enjoyed them once I returned home.

The name “Spam” is the combination of the words “Spiced” and “Ham”, although there have been other meaning attributed to SPAM. The military, ever enjoying arcronomys, dubed it SPecial Army Meat. The term is also used to describe a secret Army group that is shrouded in mystery: the Society for the Protection of Angry Majors… or SPAM. This society is rumored to be a powerful and influential group much like the Bohemian Grove or the Bilderberg Group.

In 1970, Monty Python paid tribute to the impact of Spam to Britsh gastronomy during war years rationing with a sketch entitled “Spam“.

With the early BBS computer nerd’s love for Monty Python comedy, the term “Spam” began to be applied to describe unsolicited bulk electroic messaging.

Why does this all matter? It doesn’t, of course. But I am here on Hawaii (the state with the largest consumtion of Spam per capita) supporting an Army exercise. Each morning at the hotel, with my complimentary breakfast ticket, I get a small coffee and a Hawaiian role containing egg, a strip of seaweed, and a large piece of Spam. It’s quite good!

Homebrew Weather Prediction?

I enjoy having a weather station at home. It is hooked up to APRS, weatherunderground.com, and I even have a weather webpage. One of the standard exchanges of information in most general QSOs is the weather: temperature, rain, …. I also like telling the folks in Florida that my humidity is 40% (I am not a fan of humidity having expierenced Fort Benning, GA in the summertime and monsoon season in Korea, not to mention my unairconditioned room at The Citadel (although I hear they have air conditioning now!)). It is easy to look at my desktop display and get all the data I need. I have heard of some folks who have a way to pull their weather data directly from their weather stations and input it into their PSK QSOs. Pretty slick, but I have never figured out how to do that (… yet).

All that being said, I do not get into weather prediction that much. If I see the barometer dropping, I may check the locak National Weather Service radar to see if anything is moving in (weather here moves from west to east). But if I wanted to get into weather prediction, this would make an interesting homebrew project: The Tempest Prognosticator.

Developed in the 1850s by Dr. George Merryweather, this device used leeches that would ring a bell if a storm was approaching. The device was even featured in Britian’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite the publicity, Dr. Merryweather was never able to get the government interested in putting the device into use.

I am sure there would be a way to interface the slugs with some kinda of Arduino device that would send out weather predicitions via APRS data. :-)

The pursuit of The Elser-Mathes Cup

The story of the Elser-Mathes Cup may be familiar to many of you. For those of you who are not in the know, you can get all the details from the article by Fred Johnson Elser, W6FB/W70X, in the November 1969 issue of QST. To summarize, the establishment of the Elser-Mathes Cup in 1929 was directly inspired by the leaps and bounds up to that point in radio technology combined with Hiram Percey Maxim’s fascination with the planet Mars. The cup is to be awarded in recognition of the first amateur radio two-way communication between Earth and Mars. I would bet that the cup’s initial establishment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Although Fred Johnson Elser’s QST article, on the tail of the success of Apollo 11, gave the cups existence and purpose a good deal more veracity.

How close are we to finally awarding the Elser-Mathes Cup? Lets look at some recent milestones:

Earth-Moon-Earth Bounce
In January 1953, Ross Bateman, W4AO, and Bill Smith, W3GKP successfully bounced at 2M signal off the Moon.

Signal reception of Voyager 1

On March 31, 2006, German radio amateurs successfully received transmissions from Voyager 1 which was already well outside the Solar System (~7,436,464,581 miles away from Earth).

Earth-Venus-Earth Bounce

On March 25, 2009, German radio amateurs achieved another first by bouncing a 2.4 GHz CW signal off of Venus – which at its closest point to Earth is a mere 24,000,000 miles away and 162,000,000 miles at its furthest.

Earth-Mars-Earth Bounce?
Mike Brink, ZR6BRI, has definitely done his homework to show the feasibility of radio amateurs bouncing a signal off of Mars (which has a distance from Earth that varies from 36,000,000 miles to 250,000,000 miles).

However, bouncing a signal off of Mars will not win The Elser-Mathes Cup. The amateur contact must be two-way.

Could the Mars Science Labratory (Curiosity) fulfill the role as the second party of an amateur QSO?

Curisoity does have UHF communication capability. One of Curiosity’s antennas is nicknamed “Big Mouth” and is used to send large data sets to one of three orbiters around Mars: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (which will probably do most of the work), Mars Odyssey Orbiter, or the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. The orbiter then relays the data via the Deep Space Network (DSN) back on Earth using X-Band.

“Big Ear” is Curiosity’s high-gain, directional X-Band antenna that can be used to communicate directly with the DSN on Earth. “Little Ear” is an omni-directional, X-Band antenna that is designed to be used primarily to receive low data rate transmissions from the DSN.

Putting aside the fact that Curiosity’s X-Band frequencies are outside the authorized US amateur frequency allocation and given the German amateurs success with Voyager and Venus – amateur communication with Curiosity looks possible (but probably not with my Arrow II antenna).

So, if it is possible for Joe Amateur (along with a heap load of expensive gear) to have a QSO with Curiosity – what would prevent the actual hacking of Curiosity?

Damon Poeter’s August 9th article “How to Hack NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover” takes a look at this proposition. Mr. Poeter all but dismisses the possibility of a private citizen contacting Curoisty and instead focuses at actually hacking through NASA’s control system. Then on August 10th, Mr. Poeter submits “Unknown Actor Soliciting Partners for Mars Rover Hack”. Now, possibily, there are individuals who are actually trying to hack their way through NASA by soliciting help in determining what frequencies are used to communicate with the orbiters above Mars.

Here on an IT secuirty forum, a question is asked concerning the secuirty of Curiosity. One of the responses is from a former controller who is somewhat familiar with NASA’s general communications protocal with spacecraft and identifies the transmission of bogus communications to Curiosity as a possibility. Although the post’s author identifies that the capability to conduct such an act would have to be another country (…. and everyone loves pointing the finger at China).

It is easy to forget that radio amateurs have been intercepting space communications for sometime, with Sputnik’s signal on 20.007 MHz and Apollo 11 communications being primary examples.

All this being said, I think The Elser-Mathes Cup will continue to gather dust for a bit longer.

KH6 – Hawaii Bound

My current assignment at Fort Leavenworth has me traveling quite a bit. My intent has been to bring a rig with me and have some casual QSOs while on the road. My success has been mixed. I would mostly attribute this to either a lack of planning on my part or being in a stuck in a hotel room with zero antenna opportunities.

One of the most inspiring ham radio blogs I ever ran across was the 100 Pound Dxpedition. I enjoyed how Scott, NE1RD, covered his adventures of conducting portable operations… documenting what worked and what did not. His last post on that paticular blog was back in 2007, but I still use the site as a reference. Scott’s praise for the Buddipole led me in using the Buddipole during my recent tour in Korea. Another tip from Scott I am going to try out is using a hardside golf bag case to transport my Buddipole to Hawaii.

Now for a rig… I think the Elecraft KX3 would be ideal for a Hawaii trip. With 10 watts output and an internal battery, I can’t think of better rig to take to the beach. But the wait time for the KX3 is still quite a while. I have both an Elecraft KX1 and a Yaesu FT-817ND. The KX1 would be great due to its small size and ease of use. But it is limited to only CW and I would like to do some PSK in addition to CW.

I pulled out my FT-817 and conducted an inventory:

    - West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug n Play connects directly to the DIN socket on the back of the rig.
    - CAT cable that connects from the RIGblaster to the rig’s ACC socket which enables rig control.
    - PowerPole 12v adapter.
    - Palm Paddle.
    - Elecraft T1 Auto-tuner.
    - Nifty manual for the FT-817.

My FT-817 has quite a few of the optional bells and whistles from W4RT:

I also splurged on two recent upgrades:

    - Peg Leg tilt stand – I think this will be helpful as one of my significant dislikes of the FT-817 is the small display which is hard to see.
    - Magnets for the Palm Paddle – this is critically important as the Palm Paddle by itself is not heavy enough. The magnets allow the Palm Paddles to firmly stick to the top of the FT-817.

For PSK, rig control, and logging I have my Dell Mini netbook. I had not used the netbook in a while, so I started it up to see how it was working. I initally purchased it back in 2009 baselined with Ubuntu and have kept Ubuntu installed on it since then. After booting it up. I updated the distribution to 10.04 LTS and installed fldigi. The RIGblaster easily interfaced with the netbook via a USB connection and the headphone/microphone jacks.

I configured fldigi to work with the RIGblaster to include rig control using Hamlib:

    - Audio: PortAudio using the netbook’s hardware soundcard for both Capture and Playback
    - Rig: Hamlib; Device /dev/ttyUSB0; Baud rate 38400; Stopbits 2; PTT via Hamlib command checked

… clicked on the Initialize button and I was good to go.

Setting up the macros on flidigi is pretty straightforward with the default macros only needing slight tweaking for my personal preferemces.

Once I fired everything up all I had to do was switch to 14.070 MHz, switch the mode to DIG, and drop the input level a bit. With the narrow yellow PSK streams cascading down the waterfall, I picked one that was calling CQ and answered. Transmit worked and my home antenna provided a nice low SWR, no need for the tuner. My macros worked and the QSO was concluded successfully. All with 5 watts.

I plugged in the Palm Paddle, switched to 7.115 MHz, listened and heard nothing, then used the paddles to send QRL? a few times. SWR still looked decent. After a few CQ calls, I got an answer followed by a short QSO. Great – both PSK and CW were working FB.

Now the question is: do I want to bring my small Tokyo Hy-Power HL-100B amplifier that will raise the output to 100 watts? If I bring the amp, I will have to bring a power supply and a different tuner. I am thinking I need to be able to use two different configurations:

    (A) Beach and Buddipole: using the barefoot FT-817, running everything on batteries.
    (B) Lanai Portable: used from the hotel room, with amp and assoicated power supply.

Now it is time to go through my Buddipole bags and figure out what I need to pack.

Looks like I will be there during the Hawaii QSO Party!

Just another WordPress site