Monday, June 13, 2016

Pacific Grove Triathlon

This past weekend I worked staff for the Pacific Grove Triathlon, put on by TricCalifornia, which is the same company that puts on Wildflower. Unlike Wildflower, this triathlon doesn't build out an entire communications network, so I had the luxury of not needing weeks to prepare for the event and wasn't needed as a dedicated communications staff member. I got recruited to work the run course instead.

Preparations for the event on-site started around Tuesday or Wednesday, but the majority of us only show up Friday, the day before the event. Slipping out of work an hour early made for a luxurious drive down highway 17 and 1 with my friend Charm and arriving in Pacific Grove with plenty of time before the 9PM staff meeting to go have dinner in town. A quick stop by headquarters to pick up our hotel keys, dropping off our stuff and claiming beds at the hotel, and it's back to HQ for the 9PM staff meeting. Typical introductions and event planning logistics, and it's out to the course to do some last-minute setup by 10PM.
For the run course, we shut down about a mile of Ocean View Blvd. The TriCal Rentals crew had already dropped barricades at all the intersections for us, but the cones were all still in in the yard on pallets, so our first task was loading 250 cones in our pickup to be ready to roll out the next morning. Once that was done, we wandered over and helped with some final tweaking of the bike turn-around moving barricades around. After as much prep as possible, it's back to the hotel. A quick beer with the guys and I'm in bed by 1AM.


Wake up call is at 4:30AM.
Questioning my life decisions which got me here is at 4:31AM.
The next two hours is spent working our way down Ocean View Blvd closing intersections and setting up cones to make it clear where the course is and where the runners need to turn around at the end. Thankfully, there isn't much traffic before 6AM so closing the roads isn't too difficult.
Pacific Grove is certainly a scenic little town. Very cute. No way I could ever live here and take myself seriously enough to fit in, but it's still a very cute little town.

After getting the run course all set up, it's our very important job as the run course team to stop at Carls Jr and pick up enough breakfast stuffs for the rest of staff. You haven't lived until you've walked out of a Carls Jr with an entire case of hot hash rounds.

This gets us to 7AM, and this is where working on the run course team gets interesting. The run course is set up, and doesn't need to get taken down until 2PM, which leaves this conspicuous seven hours where we don't technically have anything to do. We can just stand around and be available if someone else needs some extra hands for any unforeseen issues that crop up.

The standing around thing lasted about 12 minutes.
We did manage to sneak away from putting out fires for a few minutes to catch the race start. After that, it was back to solving problems:
  • Emptying trash cans
  • Delivering X meals to location Y
  • Running to the store and buying 100 of something for somebody
  • Filling in for volunteers so they can go take their lunch breaks.
That last one is pretty funny. We were stretched a bit thin on volunteers this year, so it wasn't unexpected when the volunteer coordinator for the local cheer squad came up to us and asked us to figure out some way to get her cheerleaders a lunch break. We didn't have any spare volunteers to rotate in, so we grabbed the nearest few TriCal staff members and headed out to do an hour of crossing guard duty.  
When we got there to relieve them, it was clear what needed to be done: "Enjoy your lunch, but leave the pom-poms"

After the race finished, it was out to run course to open the streets again. Opening the streets was a bit dicier than closing them since there's a bit more traffic at 2PM than at 5AM. Drivers didn't much like that we were the end of the road and that the road in front of us wasn't open yet until we opened it. They just have to follow our directions to turn left and figure out how to get where they're going from there. Several of them decided to just ignore our directions and pull around our truck instead; the police cruiser escorting us didn't much like that either.
After we all finished opening up the roads, it was a run to the store for more beer and back to the hotel for a staff BBQ and celebrating a day well spent.
We were thinking that Coors would be a great sponsor for the Pacific Grove Triathlon next year. Right? Right? :)

I reportedly passed out remarkably early (11:45PM?), and the rest of staff had a good chortle over my vigorous snoring.


Wake up is at 6AM. Later than Saturday since the Sunday course is shorter and quite a bit easier to set up.

Same morning routine; close the roads, pick up Carls Jr, and take a break watching the race kick off. This time we went over to the announcers booth and got to watch the first wave from the dock.
I cannot express how amazing our announcers are; they stand there with their microphones and a fact sheet and they need to fill eight hours of dead air, and they do a really good job. I could never do their job - Thankfully, there will always be plenty of radios and orange cones which need my attention instead.
Another day of solving squirrely issues and doing random off-the-wall things during the event itself. Once the race was over, it was several frantic hours of picking up cones and delineators and loading everything onto pallets and into box trucks and trailers. A quick lunch break around 2PM when a pile of pizzas arrive, and it's on the road by 4PM.

Home by 6PM and it's the end to a hard-earned 50 hours as staff for another triathlon.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hand Signal Training Video

Since it's Memorial Day weekend, I would normally be volunteering at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, if it weren't for me being home sick with a head cold (One of my souvenirs from Maker Faire). I don't write about my work at the WPRM on here much, mainly because railroads tend to be unkind to photography equipment, but this museum has always been a big part of my community service schedule and technical education.

Since I'm not getting to spend the weekend working on historical railroad equipment, I figured I could instead tell you about the training video I've been helping with over this past winter which covers the hand signals and lantern signals we use when operating railroad equipment there:


Shameless plug: If getting to run a historic diesel locomotive sounds sufficiently interesting, we do offer you the chance to come drive one of ours for an hour.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

W6KWF Repeater at Maker Faire Bay Area

This weekend is the Bay Area Maker Faire! For once, I'm actually attached to a booth; I'll be helping the Bay-Net group show off their Software Defined Radio themed booth, so make sure to come find us if you're at all interested in SDR.

It isn't SDR related, but I will be setting up a UHF analog repeater, so if you're coming to Maker Faire and happen to have an amateur radio license, make sure to bring your radio and have 441.875MHz programmed with a +5MHz offset and 100.0Hz PL and Tone Squelch.

This is the first time I've set up a repeater at Maker Faire (and I'm not aware of it happening before). I'm really interested to see how many users an ad-hoc repeater collects at an event like Maker Faire. If you do get on it, make sure to say hi!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Talk on Wildflower Communications


Last Friday I drove up to the Marin Amateur Radio Society to give a talk on my involvement with the Wildflower Triathlon and how we build their communications network out in the middle of nowhere. The slides are also available.

As always, if you're a club in the bay area or central coast, let me know if you'd like me to come speak on this or one of my other amateur radio related projects.

Somewhat related, we managed to get custom boot screens on our HTs this year!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Wildflower Triathlon Lake Visit #3

Since it's now April, most of my free time is being dedicated to preparing for the Wildflower Triathlon. Of course, I'm nowhere near crazy enough to actually attempt to run a triathlon; I'm on the communications team, so my triathlon experience involves more radios inside a dispatch center than running or swimming out on the course.

This weekend was the last of several big work weekends before the event, where we worked to get all of the communications systems and plans ready, as well as cleaning up the whole park in general. When we weren't out setting stuff up or cleaning, we were sitting in meetings going over the event timelines or crisis plans for if anything happens (rain, heat, major injuries, etc).

My weekend started a day early; I took Friday off from work so I could beat the rush out of the bay area, and managed to get to Lake San Antonio around 1PM. First thing I did was stop by our radio site and turn on one of our UHF commercial repeaters, which is solar powered before the event and used to coordinate the pre-event logistics. Once that was sorted, I pulled into the committee campground and was immediately put to work unloading food and supplies to keep the committee fed and happy all weekend while working around the park. The majority of committee (~70 people across all the functional groups this weekend) showed up around 6PM, at which point we had dinner, a couple hours of presentations, and a scavenger hunt to familiarize the new volunteers with all the important locations around the course. The day concluded with some well-earned drinking, and it's off to bed at 2:30AM.

My Saturday started at 6:00AM, by which point the hospitality team had already made breakfast available, so a quick bagel and Greek yogurt for breakfast before it's off to work. Rumor had it there was a "tree issue" down at Beach City where all the Cal Poly volunteers camp event weekend, so I drove down there and showed up to this:
A tree had fallen over, and needed to be cut up into firewood/chipped before the event. Normally, the park rangers take care of issues like this, but since the San Antonio park was shuttered last year that work load has fallen on us to get the park ready for the event. A few hours of cutting wood, and it was time to go work on getting our dispatch center set up with the rest of the communications committee.
Normally, we run our dispatch center out of the park visitor center, but the building was recently condemned, so we've been getting creative with where we set up all of our radios.
Thankfully, the next building over happened to have an office available, so the rest of the morning was spent setting antennas up on this wooden frame we built last year, running coax, and reorganizing the inside of the office to how we'll need it event weekend. It's hard to see, but the unistrut has three commercial UHF antennas, two VHF commercial antennas, and an amateur X-50 dual band antenna. As you can imagine, needing six antennas means it can sometimes get a little fast and heavy in dispatch.
We also needed to set up a few lines of lathes for marking off the communications campground to afford our volunteers some separation from the event when we're off-duty. I left the communications committee with a pile of 50 lathes and a mallet, and later came back to discover their creative solutions on how to all pound lathes at the same time. Sticks and stones may drive our lathes, but something something something...

Having made it to lunch time, it was cold cuts for lunch, and then I reported to Race Command for a 90 minute meeting on planning EMS response event weekend. During the event, we're usually juggling several ambulances, a few fire response trucks, and a med-evac helicopter, so there's a lot of moving parts which we need to make sure all move in concert.
After the EMS meeting, it was back to Beach City to work on that fallen tree more, and have a meeting with the operations committee on how we were doing on the master to-do list. These are the great guys which you never see during the event, but who all make the entire event possible.
Chris and I caught the action item to go do more wood cleanup around the park. Various branches have fallen off trees, so we went out and Chris cut them up while I loaded them in my pickup to deliver to our firewood piles. My Ford Ranger may be the smallest truck of everyone on committee, but it pulls its weight.

After a few hours of branch cutting, it was time for dinner, and then more well-earned partying for the committee. Thankfully, I managed to get to bed sooner on Saturday: an opulent 1:30AM.

It's remarkable how well trained my body is after a few years of helping with this event; even after a day and a half of hard work and hard partying, Sunday I'm still up at 6:00AM sharp without an alarm.

Just as I'm sitting down to breakfast (again magnificently ready when I got up thanks to our wonderful hospitality volunteers), word comes in that one of the committee members is stranded a few miles outside the park where her car just died. A few of us load up in a truck and head out to see what we can do. We didn't manage to get the car re-started, so we hitched it to the truck and I got to steer the car back into the park while getting towed.

After grabbing a few bites of what was left of breakfast, it was back to dispatch to continue with some fit and finish there. Things were going smoothing, so Chris, Casey, and I loaded up to go attack another branch laying in the middle of one of the camp grounds.
This branch had clearly fallen a few years ago and been simply dragged off the road. We had need for the firewood, so the challenge was to see if we could again fit such a large branch in my pickup.
This was about when Chris looked over and saw a very young rattlesnake coming towards him in the grass. One point on the board to Casey for dealing with it.
Success! And working on it didn't even run over into lunch. We may have gone a little past my truck's load limit, but thankfully I only needed to limp it back to our volunteer campground. After dropping the wood, it was back to the committee campground for lunch.

After lunch, we started cutting volunteers loose as they finished up their final prep for before event week. Most of my afternoon was spent discussing our policies for using the computer aided dispatch system that I spin up for the event, and lots of cleanup around the committee campground. By 4:00PM, pretty much everything was cleaned up, so I dug deep and braced myself for the three hour drive home and rolled out.

At this point, the next three weeks for me will be spent in the bay area configuring and testing radios to be ready to drop in event weekend, which for me starts the Tuesday night (April 26th). Most of the rest of the volunteers show up Friday (April 29th), and work through Sunday afternoon (May 1st).

If you're interested in volunteering on the communications committee, we're still looking for more signups until this Friday (April 15th). It's best if you have your amateur radio license, but even if you don't we can still put you to good use in places where an amateur license isn't required.