17 May 10
May Flowers, May Showers
Saturday we provided radio support once again for the Davis Double Century. The weather was very mild this year, with highs not much above 80 degrees F. In part because of the mild weather the riders had a relatively easy time of it, and not too many had to be sagged back to Davis. The riders even got a dose of fog climbing into the mountains of eastern Napa County. Pica drove the entire course and then some as a sag vehicle; she was impressed to see so many wildflowers still out. It’s been an odd spring, with brief periods of rain every week or so. I meanwhile stayed behind at start/finish and worked at radio net control, and was especially pleased to see that the GPS radio tracker I had built was working well in Pica’s vehicle, and I was able to follow her progress via the APRS software we had running at net control.
Today was the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California, the stage starting in Davis and ending in Santa Rosa. Last year’s first stage also started in Davis, but the race was in February. It was pouring that day, and rained off and on throughout the week. So the race organizers moved the race to May in part to get better weather (never mind the conflict with the Giro d’Italia). I was amused to note when I went out to watch the peloton start to ride out of town that it was sprinkling. The riders must not know what to make of Davis weather.
30 April 10
How You Know You're Not A Hockey Fan
I was tuning around on the AM broadcast band last night when I run across a match on 750 kHz — Vancouver was playing, I figure it must be the NHL playoffs. It’s late in the match. It sounds like they’re playing Portland. One player gets two yellow cards and is out of the match. There’s a free kick, a header, and three minutes of stoppage time. The cognitive dissonance is great. I didn’t know hockey was so much like soccer.
Afterwards I look up the teams. The Portland Timbers versus the Vancouver Whitecaps. Division 2 Professional League soccer (a temporary league, lasting just one season, we’re told). The broadcast was from the station KXL, in Portland, Oregon.
18 April 10
Birds and Boozers
Yesterday we went out to our Breeding Bird Atlas blocks and finally got a couple of confirmed breeding birds, plus a whole lot of probables, including a hooded oriole, red-shouldered hawk, and great-horned owl. We have been lucky to meet someone in Esparto who not only has a fabulously overgrown yard, well-stocked bird feeders, and a good diversity of birds that visit them regularly, but who is also a good birder and is willing to keep an eye on her patch for us.
Back to Davis, and Picnic Day. I volunteered to run Net Control for the first UC Davis Amateur Radio Communications group — folks wandering around Picnic Day (more than 100,000 people) were invited to report incidents that were not worth an emergency 911 call but should still be noted.
Most of the incidents yesterday involved alcohol. There was a roof party on B Street (off campus) where a young woman got seriously injured. There were reports all afternoon of alcohol-related incidents, a couple of them very serious. It seems a shame that Picnic Day has become such a magnet for people intent on getting paralytic, but there you go.
Net Control out.
18 October 09
Bikes, a Bride, a Big Boo-Boo
Yesterday was Foxy’s Fall Century, a fun bike ride of 100 miles, 100 K, or 50K out of Davis put on by the Davis Bike Club. We’ve been providing radio support for Bike Club rides pretty much since I got my license. Yesterday I was SAG 10 again and Numenius helped out in Net Control.
There were flats all day. I handed out many tubes. Seems like the puncture vine thorns got washed onto flooded areas of roads during Tuesday’s storm and ended up in tires. One woman had mended 4 flats and declared if she got another one she was heading in… don’t blame her! The weather, on the other hand, was perfect, warmish in the morning and just barely breaking 80 during the day (though it did get a bit muggy). No wind to speak of.
Two people who met at Foxy’s last year arrived in bow tie and tiara and got married on the course; I sagged in a guy who clipped a wheel and fell down in gravel just west of Winters. He was tough and would have carried on but his bike wasn’t up to it. After bringing him back I took Numenius with me west to do one final sweep.
Just by Lake Solano we were flagged down by a bunch of cyclists. Two were sitting down — always a good indication of trouble — and it turned out that a guy on the UC Davis race team had hit a pine cone and gone down, taking the guy on his wheel with him… Broken nose, probably, and blood everywhere. Ugh. We radioed in and waited for emergency services to arrive. Grateful of my Red Cross training, I want to do some more, and I definitely want to have more equipment in the car for first aid next time. We were lucky to be close to Winters and the guys responded right away (they were awesome, all volunteers) but sometimes you can’t count on that.
A great day. I love doing this! Numenius will be working on a tracker for us for the next one so we don’t have to snag one of Dave’s…
25 September 09
We Get Slow Food. Now, Slow Messages?
Night before last, we went to a training offered at the Emergency Operations Center on campus for radio messaging. The idea is to make sure that everyone follows the same protocol when sending messages via radio for third parties in emergencies (think Katrina or 9/11 when cellphones and phone lines were overloaded and down).
Back in the day, I got up to about 110 wpm in shorthand. I used to be able to type 80 wpm easily. Not sure if I still can, though I’m still a fast typist. We use email, phone, cellphone, and some geniuses use text messages. We take almost instant communication for granted.
The average speed of radio voice message transmission is between 5-10 wpm.
Five. To. Ten. Words. Per. Minute. It sounds crazy, until:
Every single word for which there might be any confusion at all needs to be spelled out phonetically (radiophonetically, not IPA phonetically) so “Alison” is transmitted “Alison, I spell: Alpha Lima India Sierra Oscar November.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t mind that people spell my name with two ells or a wye or a cee or something equally outlandish. You have to send the message, you have to tell the receiving operator exactly how many words you’re sending, they have to copy down the words exactly as you received them from the third party, checking they have the same number of words. (You even have to send the message, and I have to beat down my inner editor here, if the content is misspelled or even incorrect, though you’re allowed as an operator to add an “Op Note” at the end to say you believe the GPS coordinates given will place you in the middle of the Indian Ocean and not in Davis.)
It could, however, make a big difference in someone’s life to get this information correct. When you are transmitting a message whose contents are completely opaque to you, but not to the sender or the person to whom the message is being sent via radio, you just send it as you get it.
I just have no idea how you practice saying “Please send 500 rolls toilet paper” at a rate of five words a minute. This is something I’m going to have to work on…
20 June 09
Continuing down my list of projects following going to the Maker Faire, I just built a GPS tracker, the OpenTracker+. It’s the lowest of the three gizmos in the photo (the upper two are my handitalkie and my Garmin GPS).
We use these GPS trackers a lot while working the Double Century: they report the position of the sag vehicles so the folks back at start/finish (including me this year at net control) can keep track of where all the support vehicles are. I decided it would be fun to build one of these units, and finished the project this afternoon. Half the effort was putting the cabling together. After configuring the tracker, and checking the website where these locations end up being displayed, I can report it all works!
16 May 09
Riders in the Heat
Today we did radio support for the 40th running of the Davis Double Century, which always makes for a long day, both for us and for the riders. And it got hot: the temperature hit 99 degrees here in Davis. This year we split up assignments — Pica drove the course as a sag vehicle, and I spent all day at start/finish working as radio net control. There are always crises when one sets out to work such events; our started last night when Pica discovered the car wouldn’t start since the battery had been drained after the interior lights had been knocked on. We hooked the battery charger I usually use to charge my 12-volt SLA batteries for the radios and let the car battery charge overnight. Happily, the car started in the morning, and the battery got plenty of charging over the day. And then there was the issue with our mobile radio whose mike now wants to stick open. This is still unresolved, but didn’t end up being much of an issue on the course.
Pica drew the luck of arriving on the scene at the first and I think most serious accident of the day — a tandem in a descent hit a pothole and both riders got thrown. The stoker was unconscious for a little bit, and both riders ended up being transported to a hospital in Napa by air ambulance. Fortunately, the riders weren’t that seriously injured, and they were discharged later in the afternoon. I meanwhile at net control had to deal with lots of reports coming in all at once — such pileups occur in dribs and drabs. I’m glad the radio ops out on the the course are patient and don’t mind repeating things.
It’s a lot of fun working these events, but we’re going to have a mellow day tomorrow.
20 April 09
On The Air At 1.5 Watts
At long last I’ve got my Small Wonder Labs SW-40+ rig on the air! I’ve had three contacts with it so far, two into British Columbia, and one to Oregon. Not bad for one-and-a-half watts of output! I love the minimalism of this rig. Two knobs and a Morse code key: that’s it for controls.
16 April 09
Amateur Radio for the Campus
Today we had the first face-to-face meeting of the new UC Davis Amateur Radio Communications team. Several years ago, in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, the campus put out a call for ideas for emergency preparedness and one of the local hams thought it would be a good idea to establish an amateur radio network for the campus. After much explanation to the powers that be, many of whom who had never heard of amateur radio, this idea was endorsed and several hams started working with the campus Emergency Operations Center to establish this team. This past December, the group started holding weekly on-the-air nets (every Monday at 12:30 PM) and since that time our net has grown to well over twenty participants.
After work today we got to meet each other in person and tour the Emergency Operations Center, which is where the group’s equipment is set up. There is a dedicated room for the amateur radio operations, and the equipment includes a tall antenna on the roof, a dual-band base station, a digital scanner, and soon a repeater. It’s great to see both commitment from the university in supporting this effort and a lot of interest and participation from the hams on campus.
In other radio news, the transmitter section of the SW-40+ that I’ve been building has decided to wake up after weeks of troubleshooting. It’s time to get the rig on the air!
15 March 09
Some Assembly Required
I finished building the bat detector last weekend (no bats heard yet — they are in hibernation or haven’t returned from down south) and have moved on to the next project — building a Small Wonder Labs SW-40+ 40 meter QRP transceiver. It has a lot of parts.