Sunday, September 14, 2008

Utter VHF Contest FAILURE

So I got an email from Marc W6ZZZ Thursday:

from: Marc Ziegler, W6ZZZ
to: WVARA Chat <>
date Fri, Sep 12, 2008 at 9:08 PM
subject: VHF Contest this weekend; rally time

Most everyone might try getting on 147.54 Mhz FM for the Sunday 1:00 PM rally!

Cool. Everyone makes a point of getting on at a specific time for this relatively sparse contest. I made a point of blocking out 1PM this afternoon to get on the air and be an extra 2 points for everyone in the area. A time line of my experience:

12:20 - Get online and print log forms to submit for all my contacts afterwards
12:40 - Setup antenna and radio
12:45 - Send test signals on local repeater and find a clipboard to write on
12:55 - Start listening on 147.54 MHz
1:20 - Start calling "CQ Contest"
1:25 - Have Dad check my signal on his scanner, a little under-modulated, but definitely there
1:35 - Scroll through all the simplex channels
1:40 - Stop calling CQ, pack up the antenna for the winter and put my radio away, greatly frustrated.

This coming from the middle of the Silicon Valley. #%*&$_*#$. I can't believe there wasn't a single person on the entire 2 meter simplex band. I really just need to belly up and get an HF rig. Only people stuck on VHF are people who are really stuck on VHF.

I'm going to try and attend the Yolo County ARES meeting Tuesday night. We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Moving In / Scheduled Posts

Right about now, I should be moving two truckloads of furniture into my new apartment in Davis.  It's sweet; 7 blocks from the University, and right next to downtown.

So the question becomes "How is Kenneth posting this?"

For anyone paying atention, you might have noticed that several of my posts have time stamps on them well before I am awake (8am, 9am, 11am).  I have been using Blogger Draft's schedule feature in full ernest.

For anyone with a blogger account, log into, and you get all the new cutting edge features that every other blog platform had two years ago...

My problem is that I usually come up with 3-4 post ideas at a time, so I schedule them out for the rest of the week so you don't get flooded with boring examinations of Kenneth's life all at once, but a nice calm stream.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Finally Bested the Best

... with the best...

One of the many avenues to participating in Amateur radio is to build your own antennas.  This gets more interesting once you have a radio to work the lower frequencies (Anything less than 50MHz), but even in the 144MHz band, there is still a few different antenna designs to choose from.

Back in June when I was just getting started, the first antenna I tried building was a J Pole.  It consists of two parallel elements, one three times as long as the other.  I made it out of 1/2" copper tubing and the appropriate fittings (end caps, T junction, elbow).  When I finally finished it and fired it up, I got an SWR of 1.8.  The Standing Wave Ratio is a measurement of how much radio wave energy is actually radiated away from the radio versus simply reflected back to the radio, creating a standing wave.  The closer to 1 it is, the better.  (Anything below 2 is pretty good)

I then promply spent two months building antenna after antenna trying to at least match the performance of this.  Hasn't happened, until now.

I didn't even expect it to be that good.  I'm moving into my first apartment this week, and didn't think bring an eight foot piece of copper tubing was going to be the best arrangment.  Last month I just threw together a TV line J pole, not expecting much.  I didn't even bother plugging it into an SWR meter, and just threw it in my radio box.

This week I figured I should test it before I move 2 hours away from most of my junk boxes.  Taped it to the end of a piece of PVC pipe, plugged it into an SWR meter, and would you believe it?  1.3.  Dialed into a local repeater and it performed about as well as the full sized copper version.

What a kick that I finally topped my first antenna, and it was pretty much the same design.  J poles really do kick ass in the VHF arena.  The best thing about this antenna working is that I now have an antenna no bulkier than a coil of coax to take to my apartment and hang somehow (Buddy up with the guys who live above us? It'd only take one nail on the top of their balcony...)

On a side note: I asked my dad for some fishing line, and he said, "Sure, I used to have (literally) miles of it," and gave me the remnants of one of his 1000 yard spools of monofilament line.  19 years and he still keeps pulling stuff out of that garage that I don't expect.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Music to Program to

I happened upon a list of sources of free music to download to listen to while programming. Music for programming is a very specific breed. It needs to be so close to the line of white noise that no one will really take it seriously, but it still needs to be music.

One of these links dropped me into an Apache rendered directory view. No zip files, just directory after directory of mp3s. Time to pull out a tool to make my life easy. Wget.

wget -r --no-parent -A.mp3

Simply put, recursively (-r) download only the files below this folder (--no-parent) which end in .mp3 (-A.mp3). I cannot yet represent the general quality of the music, I am just a man, with 150KB/s DSL.

I love wget. Anyone who calls themself computer literate should at least once read through the wget man page. I love wget so much, I can't even live without it in Windows.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Collider Stupidity

A girl in India killed herself today, because the LHC was being turned on and hailed the end of the world.

This needs to stop. The mass media coverage of this thing is blowing things completely out of proportion with zero counter-point. Anyone mildly informed about this thing will know how ridiculous all of this uproar is.

The LHC turned on today, but there was zero collisions. Protons were only run in one direction at a time for callibration purposes. There will be no collisions until late October when they actually start colliding particles.

There is little fundamentally different about the LHC other than that it's larger than anything else. Yes, there is the possibility of creating subatomic black holes. Black holes in the sense that there is an event horizon, not in the sense that it's what laymen think of as a black hole. This is like someone fearing that if you turn on a light bulb, it will never turn off again and explode into a giant fireball, destroying the Earth. The effect is the same, but it isn't sustainable. There isn't a couple (3-4) Sols worth of matter backing up the black hole to sustain itself, the event horizon will just disappear.

Edit: So apparently this last statment was based on my understanding of a rather dated model for black holes. According to the newer micro black hole theorys, any black hole smaller than the moon will be sufficiently hot (>2.7K) to evaporate. In less than a second. Like, in 1/1088 of a second, for a mass similar to a human.

Either way, all of these people are looking like complete idiots. And the part that blows my mind: American scientists sued to have the LHC project shut down. Complete idiots, all of them.

With no exception for myself, we all need to stop talking about stuff we don't understand.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Complete Kenneth Finnegan Computer Roster

Because I can't remember what computers I freakin have.
  • KWF
    • Presario 8000
    • 768MB RAM, PC2100
    • Athlon XP 2100+
  • KWF2
    • Pavilion d4100e
    • 1.5GB RAM PC3200
      • One slot of 4 left empty
    • Athlon 64 3700+
  • KWF3 (laptop)
    • Inspiron 1505E
    • 2GB RAM PC5300
    • Core Two 5600
  • KWF4
    • Pavilion a320n
    • 512MB RAM, PC2700
      • Onboard video takes 64MB, can be changed in BIOS
    • Athlon XP 2800+
  • PBG3
    • Powerbook G3 (740) - 400MHz
    • 192MB RAM

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hole-y Cow!

It's true. UC Davis maintains a herd of cows with permanent holes cut in the side for research purposes. I have been hearing this for years, but had yet been able to find any indication of it online. Thanks Wikipedia!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Knack

This may be over done by now, but this video sums up my life pretty well...

Santa Clara ARES Drill Yesterday

Yesterday I spent all morning at my first Santa Clara County ARES drill.  ARES is the Amateur Radio Emergency Service.  We're the people that come in when a natural disaster strikes and knocks out the entire communications infrastructure, or more often, the panic after a natural disaster that completely overloads what is left of the communications infrastructure.

Yesterday the drill was practice so when the time comes, we'll be more prepared to respond effectively, and to become familiar with the Incident Command System for dealing with emergencies.  Since it was my first time, I got paired with two other Mutual Aid Communicators (MACs) on my team.  They were pretty cool, and let me do most of the radio work, which at times felt like trying to keep 3 balls in the air and listen in on someone else's conversation all at the same time.

There were three parts to the drill.

  1. Windshield damage survey - This is a very quick, high brow survey of how much damaged was suffered in an area.  We have a handy dandy form that you write the street name on and put counts for the number of houses damaged - minor or major, destroyed, people injured, people killed, loose animals, etc etc.  Nothing
  2. Missing Person search - We were given a very typical mock-up flyer of a missing person, who was one of the guy's son, who rode around all day on his bike and we tried to find him.  By chance, one of the guys on our team (Team 1) was his father, so Tom was able to have us check his normal beating grounds, which ended up not helping.  We did eventually find his, which would make us one of only two teams that I know of, of at least eight teams dispatched in the area.  I picked him out from across Panama Park, only because he was standing in the crowd for a 3rd grade soccer game, so a 17 year old stood out pretty well.  For someone to be watching a soccer game on a bike, then turn around and start biking away was what originally brought him to my attention, then I got a positive ID on him and we trailed him for 2 minutes before finally making contact (which we wouldn't do in a real search, FYI).
  3. Packet radio - The final practice session was sending a packet message, which is pretty much just email over the radio at 1.2kBps.  I've already done this before, so it was nothing new, although finally getting to use a real TNC (Terminal Node Controller) instead of the ridiculous hacked together manual setup I have was refreshing.
Overall the day was very successful, and it did take awhile to get in the swing of things.  I goofed a few times, forgetting to check into resource nets, etc, but in the final debrief with the Incident Commander, they commented that I did exceptionally well for a first timer.  There is a possibility that next year I might get some practice as a net controller, who stays in Base and directs the deployed teams by radio.

After this weekend, I feel a little better about Amateur radio.  And the resource net mangled my call sign again.  I just can't win.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Parents in Ikea?

I took my parents shopping for office furniture today at Ikea, among other places.

I warned them it was a different experience.  Even still, they just went into sensory overload and shut down about halfway through the marketplace.  I can't blame them either, I did the same thing my first time.

I know its weird for someone my age to say this:  I hate Ikea.  It's too noisy, and it would still be if we were the only ones there.


That's it.  Game over.  I am never going to be able to throw anything away.

I am trying to reinstall Windows XP Pro on KWF4, but it turns out that the disc for it is only an upgrade disc, so it so kindly asked me to insert the original Windows XP, Windows Millennium, etc etc disc to verify that I qualify for this upgrade.

I don't have the freakin original disc!

But I do have a copy of the Windows NT 3.51 disc.  Its been sitting in my parts box for 4 years.  I think I randomly pulled it out of a box of CDs my dad was throwing away in the midst of my trying-new-operating-systems frenzy back in high school.  And now it saved my butt.

I will never be able to throw anything away with a straight face again...

Appliance Operators

Before this summer, I had never really heard this term very much.  It refers to many of the users of technology today that simply don't understand it.  Like a toaster, you put in two slices of bread, and two pieces of toast come out, unexplainable and like magic.

Lordy, you haven't seen (heard?) an appliance operator until you've gotten on Amateur radio.  Some of these operators are completely clueless as to what is going on inside their radio.  They just go out and buy a thousand dollars worth of radios and antennas and tuners, etc etc, and then get on the air, almost like magic.

Like magic, they're able to talk to anyone else in the Bay Area, or if they figure out EchoLink, they can talk to anyone in the world!  They can moan and groan about the same bad traffic every night, and talk about how they managed to work a station in the UK yesterday, by dialing into a node in the UK, and how magical it was.

I was like that too.
I won't lie.  I started in June and was completely clueless.  I didn't know a PL tone from an offset.  But, in a matter of three weeks I bought, studied, took, and passed my General test.  The week before that, I bought 10 feet of copper tubing and built myself an antenna.  I've gotten packet radio to work on my laptop with little more than a speaker and a 3 foot audio patch cable.

I've improved.  Yet these same people I hear every day talking on the radio, are just as clueless now as they were two months ago when I knew as much as they did.  The community continually heralds us Amateurs as the cutting edge of technology, yet 80% of the people I hear on the radio refer to computers as those "new fangled confusing machines."

So now I'm confused.
This entire rant comes down to this question: What is it really like?  I've so far been limited by equipment to short range communications inside of a valley.  My plan at this point was to get an HF rig for Christmas, but if it's all the same, I don't want to go buy another radio so I can hear people on the other side of the continent refer to them as "new fangled confusing machines."  There has been a lot of doubt injected into my future in this hobby.

I might be wrong though.  For all I know, these people really just can't pass the General test and are stuck, suspended indefinitely, on 2 meters moaning about the traffic and pointing out that it's sunny where they are too!

FYI: I think the closest person I've met at any Amateur function to my age was in his mid 30s.  I have nothing against hanging out with people three times my age, but I know most people my age do.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thin Client Fail

After reinstalling Ubuntu on KWF2 almost half a dozen times, and trying oh so very hard to get KWF4 to boot off of it, I will need to admit defeat, for now.

At this point KWF4 will display the loading screen and come all the way up until it displays the login screen, then will fall to a blank screen with a flashing cursor.  I've booted KWF3 off of it thin, so the problem is in KWF4.  I've looked into updating the BIOS, but it's only offered as an EXE, which needs Windows to install.

How terrifying is it that a program running in Windows can reflash the BIOS?  Give me a floppy disc image any day.

And the moral of the story is: When you get a free computer with Windows still on it, at least just update the BIOS before whipping it out...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Results of My CT Scan

I've been suffering from a super mild headache since November.  A doctor at UC Davis examined me and decided it wasn't anything serious.  The headaches weren't anything too distracting until after school let out.  All summer I've had this headache constantly.  I finally got into Kaiser this month and, among other things, they took a CT scan of my head.

Unfortunately they did not post the raw image data online.  That would have been way too fun to look at a CT scan of my head, and render images from the raw data, but that would just totally confuse 99.99% of people.  Sometimes I hate being an engineer.

Recurrent headache.
The ventricular systems are unremarkable and no midline shift is noted.  No evidence of intracranial hemorrhage mass lesion or extra-axial fluid collection identified.  The visualized paranasal sinuses and mastoids are unremarkable.  The calvarium is intact.
No acute intracranial process is seen.

Translation: the radiology department sees absolutely nothing wrong with my head.  The medication Kaiser put me on has helped up to a point.  The headache was gone all of last week, but I got dehydrated this weekend and then got sick, and the headache has come back full force.  

Maybe Chrome is Kind of Cool...

After the rest of the blogosphere screaming about Google Chrome all week, I was pretty much ready to write it off as a non-event.

Per tab process?  Woohoo.  Yes, that's really cool, and will be really useful, but that's coming from a guy who has 4 computers in his room, and has Linux installed, if not solely running, on all of them.  For Joe Appliance User, there was nothing appealing about Chrome.

Oh lordy, was I wrong.  This thing puts Firefox's awesome bar to shame.  Go ahead, type my callsign into the URL bar.  It auto completes it as ""  FREAKING RIDICULOUS!

I was typing "prayer wheel" into the URL bar to search for it, and it suggested the Wikipedia entry for it right away.  It's like the Google search auto complete, except it tries to auto complete it with useful URLs instead of just finishing your search term.

Chrome does still need some work.  The ":%" bug entertains me endlessly, and then that when it comes back up, it doesn't recover your tabs for you.  Even Firefox brings back all the tabs when it crashes, so I'm not sold on it as a stability improvement.  Yet.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Playing Around with Thin Clients

Today I really realized that summer is coming to a close and that I hadn't done anything cool with Linux in a while.  Since I just received a mildly powered desktop (thanks Emily!), I figured finally getting the LTSP thin client server working would be a cool project.

Ubuntu explains it pretty well, but thin clients are pretty much just another computer, that is only used to display programs running on a central server.  The classic application is in a school's computer lab: You have one powerful server running all the applications, and you have a lot of cheap underpowered desktops around the room for people to log into.  Since reading something in Firefox doesn't take that much processing power, the one server can handle many more thin clients.

I have been trying to get LTSP, Linux's thin client server, to work since Wednesday noonish, with little success.  I tried installing it on a 64 bit install of Hardy, but 64 bit and 32 bit weren't playing nice.  I then made the mistake of trying to install Intrepid Ibex alpha 4.  I don't know what Ubuntu's problem is, but I haven't been happy with anything they've released since Feisty.  I never managed to get Hardy to install on anything until they rereleased the CD with a bunch of fixes.  I understand that this is an alpha release, but I remember a year ago when I was able to at least install the alphas.  They would crash, and bork after upgrading something, but they at least freakin installed...

I've managed to get Ibex to install after restarting it three times, although LTSP borked and I had to skip it.  Now I'm trying to build the thin client environment as per Ubuntu's instructions.  Once I get this working, it will be really cool.  Two people can log into either of my desktops and be using the same browser with the same history and the same saved files as last time.

Most Ridiculous Story Ever

So I was late for band practice, and the rest of the band wasn't playing loud enough, so Timm[ie] asked for ideas of what is loud, and combined the three of them...