Field Day 2020 is in the rearview mirror

Field day 2020 is now behind me. As usual with any ad-hoc setup, I learned a few things and remembered a few things I’d forgotten about this kind of configuration.

Like don’t accidentally switch your rig from VFO mode to channel mode and then wonder why nothings seems to be working right. My radio has a touch screen and an early morning glancing brush of the screen made the radio relatively inoperable for quite a few minutes. Eventually, I figured out what I had done.

As with almost every field day I’ve ever participated in, we had a wind storm show up to test the stability of my antenna system and drench everything.

The following is a pivot table of the contacts made over the 24 hours, broken down by mode and band. I operated for about 7 or 8 hours and focused on digital modes switching to SSB voice for the last half hour I was on the air.

Count of CALLBands
Mode   10m15m20m2m40m6mGrand Total
FM33
FT88360722154
MFSK3435244
SSB88
Grand Total1256312342209
Breakdown of contacts

I worked 6 countries (Aruba, Canada, Cuba, Saint Lucia, US Virgin Is., Venezuela) but I was not really trying for DX. The US and Canada based activity covered 45 out of the 84 sections. Overall, the most diligent and valiant effort I performed in a contest in probably a decade. It will be interesting to see how things fairs up against other hams in my area, but that will not be published until December.

I did have one unexpected visitor to my efforts (circled below). As field day started, an 8-foot-long alligator decided to mosey by and look at the setup. I had a flyer about ham radio and field day, but he did not take one.

Field day visitor

Field Day 2020 at home

This year rather than doing FD with our local club, I am going to go-it-alone at home. I have my rig (ICOM 7100) set up to run on batteries on the lanai behind my house, and the Buddipole set up on the concrete pad out back. The weather report looks like we are going to be in the mid to high 90s with little chance of rain (but high humidity). I will need as much shade as I can get. If I really get desperate, I should be able to move the rig inside.

Station on my porch with a 2M antenna for the net on Saturday

For testing, 6 meters was open and I was making numerous FT8 contacts around the mid-west from my home in South Carolina. This could be a wild field day if conditions are open on Saturday and Sunday.

When I first set it up, I had the antenna inside the porch (in the picture below I moved the antenna outside). It was not extended vertically, and I was still getting contacts in the Midwest at about 10 AM. Note, if you use a Buddipole attaching a gallon jug of water to the bottom makes it very stable and it would take a perfect storm to tip it over.

Buddipole set up for 6 meters but not extended vertically

It looks like everything works, so I can tear it down until Saturday AM.

#ARRLFD

Amateur Radio Field day this year is going to be a bit different

Every year the amateur radio community has an emergency preparedness exercise called – Field Day. It takes place at different times of the year in different regions of the world. For the US and Canada, field day is the 4th full weekend of June, starting at 1800 UTC Saturday and running through 2059 UTC Sunday (June 27-28, 2020). Even though it is next week, I thought I’d share our club’s approach here, in case anyone finds it useful.

This year has been an interesting one so far, and field day will be no different. Field day has multiple purposes:

  • Ham radio’s Open House – where others can see the hobby in action
  • An opportunity for those who have not been operating to get on the air, with the help of others
  • A social activity where hams can meet and mingle (and usually eat together)
  • A chance to operate in simulated emergency conditions

It combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933 and remains the most popular event in ham radio.

The SCHH Ham Radio Club executive board met to discuss how we could meet most of these requirements during the current environment safely. Fortunately, the ARRL had made a couple of changes to the rules that we will take advantage of.

  • 2020 Rule change 1: For Field Day 2020 only, Class D stations may work all other Field Day stations, including other Class D stations, for points. Field Day rule 4.6 defines Class D stations as “Home stations,” including stations operating from permanent or licensed station locations using commercial power. Class D stations ordinarily may only count contacts made with Class A, B, C, E, and F Field Day stations, but the temporary rule waiver for 2020 allows Class D stations to count contacts with other Class D stations for QSO credit.
  • 2020 Rule change 2: An aggregate club score will also be published, which will be the sum of all individual entries indicating a specific club. Ordinarily, club names are only published in the results for Class A and Class F entries, but the temporary rule waiver for 2020 allows participants from any Class to optionally include a single club name with their submitted results following Field Day. For example, if Podunk Hollow Radio Club members Becky, W1BXY, and Hiram, W1AW, both participate in 2020 Field Day — Hiram from his Class D home station, and Becky from her Class C mobile station — both can include the radio club’s name when reporting their individual results. The published results listing will include individual scores for Hiram and Becky, plus a combined score for all entries identified as Podunk Hollow Radio Club.

This means that each club member station that wants to participate in an aggregated club score will need to submit their own entries postmarked or submitted electronically by Tuesday July 28, 2020. 

A requirement is that all the stations wanting to affiliate with a club use the exact same spelling of the club name, as part of their submission.

Other opportunities for bonus points are available like previous years:

  • Satellite contact
  • W1AW bulletin copy
  • Alternative power
  • Media contact

One other opporunity we discussed is the fact that simplex QSOs on 2 meters should also count, so we plan on having a simplex net (147.55 Mhz) during field day at 3PM Saturday — every contact/exchange made will count on both ends of the QSO. 

This net is an opportunity for hurricane preparedness as well (since that is something we worry about down here in South Carolina), with the exception that we’d also include the field day exchange as well.

My current plan is to operate using batteries, an Icom 7100 and a Buddipole on my back porch. I’ll focus on digital modes. The way the bands have been lately, 10m and 6m may even be open?!?!

#ARRLFD

#WorldAmateurRadioDay

Saturday, April 18, is World Amateur Radio Day (WARD), with this year marking the 95th anniversary of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU).

On April 18, 1925, the IARU was formed in Paris, with ARRL cofounder Hiram Percy Maxim, 1AW, in attendance. Radio amateurs were the first to discover that shortwave spectrum could support worldwide propagation, and in the rush to use these shorter wavelengths, amateur radio found itself “in grave danger of being pushed aside,” as IARU history puts it. Two years later, at the Washington International Radiotelegraph Conference, amateur radio gained allocations still recognized today – 160, 80, 40, 20, and 10 meters. From an initial 25 countries, the IARU has grown to include 160 member-societies in three regions.

Today, Amateur Radio is more popular than ever, with more than 3,000,000 licensed operators!

Radio Direction Finding as Entertainment

I was dusting off items I’d not used in a while to keep myself busy – as well as keep my wife happy by throwing out stuff we no longer needed. I came across the stuff I’d built a while back for Radio Direction Finding. Our ham radio club had talked about doing a foxhunt over the summer, so I dusted off all the things I’d need to participate and put together a presentation for the club with an overview of the process.

Radio Direction Finding

On Wednesday, one of the club members hid a transmitter, and my wife and I hopped on our golf cart and took off trying to find it. It turns out it is much harder to do than I thought it would be. It was also much colder than it had been lately. We don’t have a stay-at-home order yet in South Carolina.

I was less than successful but learned quite a bit in the process and this presentation includes what I’ve learned. I’ll give it a try again in the future.

It did keep me busy most of the day, and you don’t even need a ham license to do it. I didn’t need to interact with anyone – so the exercise aligned well with social distancing too.

Social gathering during social distancing – there are options

We live in a fairly social neighborhood that gets together on a regular basis to play games… During these times, I knew that folks needed a distraction that would conform to social distancing, so I went looking for computer-based games that people with minimal technology (and technical skills) can play.

I landed upon a game called Drawful2. I sent a note out to our local Euchre group to see how many were interested. We ended up with 6 individuals or couples and played for about an hour. Everyone laughed and had a good time – while not getting within the blast zone of any sneezes… There are some other games that are similar that can be played by multiple people in the safety of their fortress of (now not so) solitude.

All that was required was someone to start up a group conferencing application, that can share a screen. In this case, I used Zoom since I knew that Zoom was currently relaxing their time limits on the free accounts. Once that meeting was defined, I shared the meeting request with the group via email. At the start time, I opened up the meeting and started the game. One person needs to be the host for the game, since the shared screen facilitates the process. I then shared that screen in the group conference. The screen stated the site everyone would need to go to in their browser as well as the password for the game room. Once everyone had their browser and the conference screens displayed, they will either need to switch between web screens (if they are on an ipad) or have both application screens up simultaneously if they are on a computer. Another technique that can be used is to bring up the meeting on the computer and have the game running on their phone (or vice versa).

All the drawing is done and guessing about what was drawn is shown in the Drawful2 web screen. All the data about guesses and scoring is shown in the shared zoom window. It sounds a bit complicated but in reality, was fairly straight forward after the first couple of rounds. Each game is made up of two rounds of guessing and voting on everyone’s drawing.

Next, I am going to have another party with my family spread across the country.

Groundhog Day the movie – in real life

I don’t know about you, but social distancing is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day. Every morning starts out the same, with the same possibilities in front of me. As I consume most of the things-to-do around the house, the options have narrowed. The items I end up tackling are ranging wider and wider afield.

Yesterday, we dusted off a Wii that hadn’t see the light in many years and I was able to get the Wii Fit working. That provided several hours of distraction as I discovered the various Yoga poses I could no longer do as well as a few I probably never could.

Part of the process of each day is to discover where we’re going to go to today (Mr. Peabody). Today I am going to replace most of the traditional light switches in our house with decorator light switches – this is a project that has been on the back burner for 2 years. I’m also going to tackle setting up Zoom meeting for our ham radio group and the woodshop board.

Coronavirus and ham radio here at home

Disasters that disrupt communications and daily life and have historically involved the response of amateur radio operators – whether it is hurricanes, earthquakes or forest fires. ‘Hams’ have stepped up to provide assistance when other forms of communication fail.

Here in Sun City Hilton Head the response to social distancing has been to close the indoor amenities, shutting down many clubs. This did not hold back the Sun City Hilton Head Amateur Radio club (SCHHARC). They just moved their meetings ‘on-the-air’ facilitated by the Internet and Skype to facilitate presentations…

History of Amateur Radio Emergency Response

Ham radio dates back to the 1890s. It wasn’t until the Radio Act of 1912 was passed, that federal licensing to ham radio stations took place. Ham radio stations in the United States are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In 1935, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) was established by the American Radio Relay League to help assist the public in the event of a disaster. In addition, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) was established in 1952, serving as a civil defense radio service that activates in emergencies. Following Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) protocols, ham radio operators have authorization to transmit during emergencies after the president invokes these powers.

History of the SCHHARC support

Our club was one of the charter clubs within Sun City Hilton Head. This club works with local fire and emergency response personnel to test and maintain their radio systems. They’ve installed systems in all the Beaufort County fire stations, additionally both Beaufort and Jasper counties have ham radio installations associated with their emergency response centers. We work with them to ensure that this radios are working and that they can communicate between the facilities on a regular basis.

Where you can learn more about SCHHARC

This club regularly holds nets on Sunday and Wednesday nights each week, as well as monthly member meetings. We also participate in the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) field day once a year on the 4th full weekend of June. For field day, we normally set up in Pickney hall and operate for a few hours on that Saturday, using emergency power and antennas — testing our emergency preparedness.

We also plan to participate in the Sun City Open House related to the 25th anniversary. We’ll likely set up by the fountains near the tennis courts.

E-mail not as productive as we’ve been told

Some of us have thought this for a while. The ability to passively offload a task or just type off a thought to remove it from our plate is a technique that has been honed for decades.

There is a recent article in The New Yorker titled Was E-mail a Mistake? that covers some research into this question. If you’ve ever wondered how your life was consumed by ‘communications’, it is worth a read.

I’ve had e-mail in one form or another since the 1970s. For a while back at the turn of this century I would received 300-400 work emails a day, EVERY DAY of the week. Each of these being hand crafted and critical to the individual who sent it. My role was global in nature, so I am not sure how it would have worked any other way, but I do remember many a Saturday being spent catching up on all the ‘communications’ for the week. I didn’t have the admin support that some of the leaders of that organization had to sort the wheat from the chaff.

It does make me wonder what the folks who wrote this article think about the proliferation of personal life, asynchronous communications techniques (e.g., twitter and blogging). The article was focused more on business decision making in an office environment. Based on the amount of time I see folks with their nose focused on their phone, that might be a minority of time spent in modern life.

At the end of the article it states:

The era that will mystify our grandkids is ours—a period when, caught up in the promise of asynchronicity, we frantically checked our in-boxes every few minutes, exhausted by the deluge of complex and ambiguous messages, while applauding ourselves for eliminating the need to speak face to face.

Based on the current use of technology today by digital natives, I doubt that our use of asynchronous communications is what will mystify them.

Cyber Observer – a powerful security dashboard that reminded me of an earlier time

The other day I received a note in LinkedIn from an individual I worked with back in EDS. He mentioned a company he is currently working for that is focused on security. Since security needs to be at the top of the list of concerns at all levels of organizations today, I thought I’d take a deeper look.

The software is called Cyber Observer (they have a fairly effective marketing overview movie on their site). Though this solution is focused on enterprise security monitoring, it reminded me of the data center monitoring programs that came out in the late 80s and 90s that provided status dashboards and information focused on reducing time to action for system events. CA Unicenter was one that was popular.

Back in the late 80s I had system administration leadership over the largest VAX data center that GM had. We had hundreds of VAXen, PDPs and HP 1000s of all sizes scattered over nine or ten plants. Keeping them all running required some significant insight into what was going on at a moments notice.

Fortunately, today folks can use the cloud for many of the types of systems we had to monitor, and the hardware monitoring is outsourced to the cloud providers. Plant floor systems are still an area that need to be monitored.

One of the issues we had keeping hundreds of machines running was that the flood of minor issues being logged and reported can easily lead to ‘alert fatigue’. Those responsible can loose the big picture (chicken little syndrome). Back then, we put a DECTalk in our admin area, when something really serious happened, it yelled at us until it was fixed. We thought that was pretty advanced for its time.

I asked how Cyber Observer handled this information overload concern. Since the software is primarily targeted at leaders/executives — we all know the attention span of most managers for technical issues. I also asked about a proactive (use of honeypots) vs. a reactive approach for the software. Now that both soft (HoneyD among others) and hard honeypots (Canary) are relatively easy to access, they should be part of any large organizations approach to security.

He explained that the alert and dashboarding system was very tunable at both the organizational and individual level.

Although it has more of a dashboard approach to sharing the information, details are available to show ‘why’ the concern reached the appropriate level.

An example he gave me was (for example) a new domain administrator being added in Active Directory. The score next to account management domain would go down and show red. When the user drills down, the alert would state that a new domain admin was added. The score in the system would be reduced and eventually the system baseline would adjust to the change although the score would remain lower. The administrative user would have to manually change the threshold or remove the new domain admin (if it is rogue or unapproved). Only then would the score would go back to its previous number (if no other events took place). Some threshold tolerances come preset out of the box based on expected values (for example if the NAC is in protect mode and not in alert mode, or if the Active Directory password complexity is turned-on — these scores are preset). Some thresholds are organizationally dependent and the user needs to set the proper thresholds as with the number of domain admins.

He also mentioned that if the system was connected to a honeypot that its information monitored the level of concern based on the shift of ‘background radiation’ was possible.

I don’t know much about this market and who the competitors are, but the software looked like a powerful tool that can be added to take latency out of the organizational response to this critical area. As machine learning techniques improve, the capabilities in this space should increase, recognizing anomalies more effectively over time. I was also not able to dig into the IoT capabilities that is a whole other level of information flow and concern.

The organization has a blog covering their efforts, but I would have expected more content since their hasn’t been a post this year.