14 October 13
Signals From The Southland
No television at our house, so we follow playoff baseball on the radio, a plan that works well except for Sundays and Monday evenings, when all the ESPN Sports radio stations regrettably have NFL football on them. Last night I missed hearing the incredible comeback by the Boston Red Sox, though I was aware of what was going on from the computer. This evening was the Dodgers game, and thanks to the magic of skywave, I had an option. One of the stations in the Dodger network, AM 1560 KNZR, comes in pretty well from Bakersfield in the evenings, the signal refracting off the ionosphere.
This lead to a moment of complete nostalgia. Hearing on a staticky and fading distant AM radio station the voice of Vin Scully, now talking about Drysdale and Koufax losing the first two games away at Minnesota. (He was referring to the 1965 World Series; I’m sure he was there.)
As it once was, as it still is. Baseball and radio, what a great combination.
27 June 11
On the fourth weekend in June is Field Day, which is an annual exercise in amateur radio that stresses field deployment and operation of radio equipment often in remote sites and using backup power systems. It is also a chance for many radio clubs to have a bit of an overnight campout. This year our local club the Yolo Amateur Radio Society held its Field Day event on a ranch in the foothills of the eastern side of the Vaca Mountains, in a beautiful blue oak woodland landscape. Though in the past I’ve made a few contacts from home during previous Field Days, we’ve never participated in a club Field Day event, and didn’t know quite what to expect. It was surprisingly fun: we arrived early in the morning on Saturday to help set up, stayed through mid-afternoon, and returned on Sunday for the final couple hours of the 24-hour event and to take down the equipment. The exercise was oddly akin to being on a sailing ship: deploying three antennas with 30-foot tall masts involves plenty of rope work! At left is a picture of one of the antennas we set up and used, a three-element beam for 20 meters and above.
23 May 11
On Saturday was the Davis Double CeIntury, the epic 200-mile cycling event now in its 42nd annual edition. As we have done for the past several years we helped out by providing radio support for the event. I worked all day at start/finish helping to operate the radio net control, and Pica drove the course as a sag support vehicle (SAG 10). (If anyone can provide a convincing etymology for the use of the word “sag” in cycling, we would be quite interested.) The weather was quite pleasant for the event (partly cloudy with a high around 80 degrees, and the riders seemed to fare better than usual as a result.
At left is a sketch of our Honda Element tricked out with ham antennas for the event, a dual-band 2 meter/440 Mhz antenna for voice communications, and a smaller 2 meter antenna for the GPS radio tracker.
10 February 11
When I was cycling to work through campus this morning past the grassy landscaped hillocks just east of one of the engineering buildings, I saw a small refractor telescope pointing southeast set up on a tripod on the grass with a person hovering nearby. I realized that it was being aimed at the sun, which means only one thing: there are sunspots to look at! Any radio geek knows the significance of that: lots of sunspots means higher levels of ionization in the upper atmosphere which means better conditions for shortwave communications. Indeed, when I got into the office and looked at the little Firefox add-on in the lower right corner of the browser, it said that the solar flux index was up to 91, not very high in historical terms, but definitely a sign that the laggardly Solar Cycle 24 now is getting off the ground. Look for good radio DXing possibilities in the days and months ahead.
31 December 10
I’ve started my antenna book. This was the idea I had earlier for a sketchbook devoted to that type of infrastructure. The sketches I want to do these days involve ink overlaid with a lot of watercolor wash, which makes it very difficult to find pre-made sketchbooks with suitable paper. This meant it was time to resurrect my bookbinding skills: my big project over break was to bind a 6” x 8” sketchbook with sheets of Arches Cover paper. This made for a good rainy day activity at the beginning of the week, and now I’m three sketches into this book project..
11 December 10
I passed the requisite exam today and upgraded my amateur radio license to the Amateur Extra class today! This is the highest of three levels in the amateur radio licensing system in the United States. I don’t know what in particular I’m going to do with my new privileges (basically a bit more spectrum to operate on HF), but I’ve had the study guide for the Extra class on my bookshelf for a year-and-a-half and when I heard six weeks ago that there was going to be a testing session in Davis in December I decided to go for it. The testing session took place in the morning; I was there for somewhat over an hour including the time spent doing paperwork, the test itself, and waiting for the grading to be done. We celebrated with our traditional Saturday lunch at El Mariachi taqueria, joined by our friends Laura and Danny. Danny was celebrating too: he was also at the session and passed the exam for the Technician level license. His call sign should be issued in several days, at which point he can go on the air as a new ham!
8 December 10
Lace and Pirates
I must be out of my mind, because I’ve taken on a lace scarf designed by a knitter in Germany. It’s knit in 24 sections, each one divulged on a new day — an advent calendar; the last section will be released on December 24. Like I had nothing else to do in December…
Nupps are not a traditional German knitting technique, having been perfected in Estonia — but with YouTube and Ravelry, everyone’s tradition is now up for grabs. So this sampler scarf has as one of its sections a version of the Estonian lily of the valley pattern. No doubt we’ll get Brazilian frog patterns at some point next week.
I was working on this (I find nupps fiddly but not impossible as many of my co-knitalongers seem to have found) on Friday when I heard giggling in the other room. Numenius had found a pirate radio station which was playing big band swing music, and whose frequency he tracked down to a pirate known as Wolverine. The music changed to songs from across the 20th century with a moon theme.
We have rain, and more rain, yet Cold Creek was still not running on Sunday when we went up there for a short hike. Hoping this changes soon. I’m thinking about newts and where they are going to be able to spawn.
23 November 10
Just Another Morning Around 60 Meters
I’ve been doing a fair bit of shortwave listening these days. I enjoy the randomness of what one finds there. For example, the following is from between 1607 and 1708 UTC on Saturday:
- miscellaneous voices in Spanish talking to each other on 4888 kHz USB, one of them using a call tone like those irritating ones on FRS radios.
- air traffic using HF, including an Alaska flight out of San Francisco on 5574 kHz.
- two RTTY-like digital signal stations (5306 and 5403 kHz). I try to decode these, and without any surprise fail; all I know is they have an 850 Hz tone shift.
- a shortwave broadcast from Sarawak (5030 kHz). No confirmatory ID on it, but it matches the published schedules.
- on 5810 kHz I heard Radio Free Asia being jammed. What I heard was voices on a news broadcast fighting it out for the frequency against orchestral music. Radio Free Asia is a US-funded set of propaganda stations broadcasting to various undemocratic regimes in East Asia.
- and best of all, a numbers station, at 4724 kHz (1607 UTC)! It was saying “Charlie Charlie Charlie Zulu Romeo…Bravo Two Three X-Ray Seven Tango….” Numbers stations are generally believed to be communications to spies over shortwave radio, and are the subject of much amateur sleuthing.
Throw in the religious broadcasters, and we have quite the microcosm here
On Sunday’s sketchcrawl, I got to see Pete Scully’s sketchbook for his project of drawing fire hydrants. This gives me an idea for an infrastructure-related drawing project: how about a sketchbook of antennas!
11 November 10
There’s no baseball to listen to anymore so I’ve tuned the receiver 6.375 MHz higher, and am back to doing ham radio, mostly Morse code on 40 meters. It’s also a good time to get caught up on baseball reading: I am now reading the book Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime, by Mark Frost. Not that videos are our beat, but this book makes me want to see the documentary that came out last year about the return of Luis Tiant to his homeland Cuba after 46 years away — Luis Tiant was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox in that game. Different sport: I am also in the middle of reading The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt.
9 October 10
Three Out Of Four
That is the number of Giants losses out of the games we’ve seen on TV this season. Clearly we are jiinxing them, and must stop accepting invitations over to friends’ houses to watch critical games. Last night’s epic failure against the Braves is well up there in the history of Giants’ postseason infamy.
Jinxes or not, watching baseball on television just does not agree with us. Or conversely, I don’t think there’s a sport that’s better suited to radio than baseball. Baseball is not about visual glitz of the sort that TV excels in, it is about narrative, exactly the sort that good radio announcers can draw out exquisitely. We’re lucky that the KNBR radio team for the Giants is very good at what they do.