Monday, June 30, 2008

Field Day wrapup

Field Day was fun. While we (W6CX) didn't shatter any records as far as contacts go, we did have the best turn-out that anyone could remember, had many people walk up to find out what was going on and how to get involved, and had at least two people join the club. Not bad compared to the fact that we didn't have a single person come through our site last year!

The local Salvation Army canteen set up for the weekend and provided our meals, representatives from a couple local agencies made appearances, and we had a little 1:00 a.m. excitement when we discovered that we hadn't covered quite all the sprinkler heads. Breakdown and clean-up posed a challenge as we were all pretty tired by noon on Sunday and we were unexpectedly short a person, but everyone pitched in and worked together so it actually went very smooth and was done in no time.

Our location at Heather Farms park forced us into a smaller area than last year, but I honestly think that it made things better. There was a lot more interaction between stations which lent to a stronger sense of belonging to a common interest group instead of the sense of separation that I had last year.

To top it off, the City of Walnut Creek department of Parks and Recreation has invited us to come back next year and has offered to reserve a spot for us already, even though they don't start taking reservations until February.

Overall, I'd have to say that for the Mount Diablo Amateur Radio Club, Field Day was a huge success!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday morning excitement

Today was already going to be an interesting and exciting day. Tomorrow noon marks the beginning of Field Day. Today noon marks the beginning of setup for field day.

Although I'm already at 50 hours this week, I had to come in for the sole purpose of meeting a shipping company to get equipment shipped out that is coming off lease. Everything's ready to go and as soon as the carrier signs the bill of lading, I'm out the door.

The list of "to-dos" for today include finish (start!) gatering my radio gear, clothes, tent and jetboil (for coffee!), get a vehicle from Rod (somehow) get over to Heather Farms park in Walnut Creek to meet my buddy John, shuttle him over to OES to get one of the department vans and light tower/generator, get back to the park and set up. Unfortunately, I have no idea as of yet what time the shipper will arrive. In the past, they've been here around 10. That would suit me just fine.

Now to add to the excitement of it all: After my train left the station this morning, the driver got on the intercom and informed me that my station was closed "due to police activity" and that there was no estimated time of reopening. (Police activity isn't a big surprise in Oakland. Police inactivity would shake the foundations of the city. Let's just say that this is no Mayberry. Andy and Barney wouldn't last long around here.) No big deal. I exited at 19th street and walked the last seven blocks. I may do that more often, it was kind of nice to get a little walk in before coming into the office.

As I'm walking up the street, I see a couple of news vans parked around one of the entrances to the BART station. I decide to hit the internet and see what's happening. From the website:

Posted: Friday, 27 June 2008 8:14AM

Suspicious Backpack Closes BART at 12th in Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. (KCBS) -- BART Police, along with bomb
dogs walked all of the entrances to Oakland's 12th Street BART station this
morning, after a passenger reported an unattended backpack and reported it
to a
station manager, who opened the bag.
There was a cylinder, which
was wrapped
in some sort of paper, according to the station agent who saw
this. There was
nothing much else in the bag,” said BART Spokesman Linton
different bomb dogs then indicated that there was something
suspicious about the
bag, so now the U.C. Berkeley bomb squad, and the
Alameda County Sheriff’s bomb
squad are on scene to remove the

Trains continue to run through the station because the backpack has
been moved to another level, but the trains are not stopping.

riders are asked to enter the system at the 19th Street station to
closure, which may last until 9:30 a.m.

Fun. I may have a bomb sitting on the foundation of my 18 story building.

I take my cue from the authorities. I figure that if they're still running trains through the station, it's more precaution than anything that has caused them to close the station. If they were really worried about a bomb, they would have stopped all the trains and evacuated my building and the ones around the area. I keep checking out the windows to see what's going on down there, but continue about my morning. After all, I need coffee and I've not gotten any yet.

A couple phone calls from people that need help, a couple problems solved and the next look out the window reviels... nothing. No column of smoke, no flashy lights, no police line tape across the sairs and escalators down to the station.

A check back to the KCBS website and what was an hour ago the top headline has already moved to the bottom of the page, right above a link to a story about the parking garages in San Jose suffering lack of customers due to high gas prices.

Authorities reopened the station at around 9 a.m., when they determined that the backpack only contained hair care products.

Honestly, couldn't we come up with a more exciting ending than that? Where's the hero, clutching the ticking package as his partner races them to the edge of a pier so they could throw the bomb into the water mere seconds before it explodes, showering them in a brillaint display of water? Where's the cutting of the red (no blue!) wire as the timer steadily counts down to zero?

Please don't think I'm discrediting the work that the bomb sqad members do. Not by any means. These guys SIGN UP to do what they do. They volunteer to get between a bomb and others and make the situation safe. My hat is off to those guys. They have my deepest appreciation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Last night after dinner as Beth was reading and I was finishing my dinner, Nick decided that he wanted some grapes. He went to the fridge and got some, then wandered over to me.

"I've got grapes Daddy. Do you want one?"

"Sure," I answered.

"Here you go," he said as he dropped a grape on my plate.


"You're welcome. Do you want a grape Mommy?" Not waiting for an answer, he dropped one onto the book she was reading and it rolled down between the pages and into her lap.

"Thanks Nicky," said Mommy.

Back to the kitchen and the fridge door opens and closes, then back out to me.

"Here Daddy, now you get two. One, two," he counts them as he drops them onto my plate. "Two for Mommy," again, they roll down the pages and into her lap, "and two for Nicky. We all get two."

That's when it hit me. He had gone to the fridge to get two grapes for each of us. It wasn't that he only had six and ran out. I could tell it was intentional by the way he said it, so matter-of-factly. My three year old is doing math. That's freaking insane. I'll agree, it's not rocket science, but I couldn't have been more proud if t was.

Is there no end to how much he will amaze and surprise us?

Another high point of last night was when he earned his sixth gold star for staying dry. Mommy was getting him ready for bed, had pulled off his dry pull-up and we told him that we were proud that he had kept it dry all day.

"Go potty before I put your pull-up on for bed," she said. "You've been dry all day. If you go potty, you can get a gold star," she told him and he ran into the bathroom, got his stool and went potty all by himself. No fussing, no whining, no fit. It was so nice.

They came back and put his sixth gold star on the chart. Every sixth one covers a picture of a car. "You know what that means?"

"I get a car!"

Needless to say, it went to bed with him last night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

camping pix last!

Away at last! After about a year of being stuck in the day to day grind that we call life, we were able to once again break free of the bonds of civilization and escape into the woods. Kind of.
Being fresh from work, basking in the aftermath of a half-day long network outage, one of the first things on my agenda was to fire up the laptop and see what kind of reception the wireless internet card was getting so I could check my work email to make sure things were still up and running. Ah, the penance of leaving work early on a Friday.

Nonetheless, here we were. The rest of the family (minus my sister) was already a day into their camping trip, having left on Thursday. I honestly didn't really do much other than relax and catch up on some sleep.

After working in Oakland for the last year, plus a short stint in San Francisco, I was surprised at how quiet it could be. You get used to the constant hustle and bustle, the blowing of horns, the wail of sirens, the people all around you. Here, all of that was gone. Things were slow and peaceful. You could hear the breeze blowing through the trees, smell the dirt and the plants. The people who passed the campsite all went out of their way to wave and greet you. Not a one of them even asked for loose change. Everyone was smiling.

As we settled down for bed on Saturday night, I could almost imagine the sounds of the Native Americans, their drums throbbing softly under their chanting as they danced around the campfires... Only I wasn't imaging them. I was really hearing them.

I remembered seeing a couple of signs on my way into the park that simply read "Elders" with an arrow pointing the way ahead. "The Mormons must be having some kind of retreat," I'd though to myself and put it out of my mind. Those weren't Mormons camped further up the mountain. I'm pretty sure of it.

Laying there I couldn't help but let my thoughts wander as I listened to the chanting. I was intrigued. What were they saying? What did it mean? Suddenly I was able to imagine being with the early pioneers, making our way across the uncharted country, risking it all in hopes of a better future. Hearing those drums and that chanting coming down the valley, over the plains. No wonder why they were intimidated by these new, unknown people. It was an ominous sound.

Pictures: My plans for the weekend were simple. Do as little as possible, relax and enjoy just hanging out with the family. Mission accomplished. The pictures, the few that I took, prove it. There aren't many and there's not much action in them.

Hanging out, eating snacks in my new chair that Aunt Jami got for me.

Playing with Grandpa's jeep.

Look how tall I am Daddy! (Now get me down, I'm stuck up here!)

Campfires at night. The perfect way to relax.

I was so warm and snuggly in my sleeping bag with Mommy next to me.

I was warm and snuggly in Aunt Jami's sleeping bag too. She wasn't too willing to share. Neither was I.

This is my current favorite picture of Nick. He was sitting on his stump watching the birdies. It only lasted a second before he wanted down so he could chase them, but it was precious. I want to be able to provide this for him: knowing that the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life isn't all that there is. There's a much larger world out there that has a billion exciting things so see and learn from, if only you take the time to stop, listen and watch.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ghetto, redefined

"Ghetto" has been abused for the last few years, to the point that it's lost it's value. Today, it reared its head and made a valiant attempt to live again.

Sitting across the aisle from me on the train tonight on my way home was the person responsible for this gasp for air from a dying word. Let me share.

I wasn't paying much attention to what was going on around me. I came down with a cold today and by the end of the day, I had nothing left in me. The doors close and the train starts to move. I notice someone sitting across the aisle in the seat facing me. She's doing her hair. No big deal.

She starts talking, but nobody is sitting next to her. Not uncommon in Oakland, I witness several one sided converations, debates and arguments every time I step out of my office doors.

"Someone tried sitting next to me. 'Can I sit here?' 'Must you?'" She laughs.

Laughter and a "That's funny," comes from two rows back on my side of the car. Great, she has a friend and they're going to talk over everybody the whole ride home. It's already obvious who her world revolves around.

That's when I notice the pile of hair on her lap. "What the...?"

I slowly realize that she's unbraiding her weave and gathering the hair in her lap. Nasty.

Now I don't know if it's real hair. I know that some people use real hair in their weaves and that just grosses me out. Somebody decided that they didn't want their hair any more and had it cut off. Somebody else decided that they just can't wait for their own hair to grow out so they buy hair from someone else's head and have another person braid it into their own hair.

Maybe it's because I'm a guy. Maybe it's because my own hair grows so fast that I can't ever seem to keep it looking nice for more than a week after I get it cut. Maybe it's just because I can't imaging being able to thoroughly wash tightly braided hair. Maybe it's just because it's nasty. Whatever the case, it's gross.

"So, how's this redefining 'ghetto' " you ask?

As we pull into the Concord station, she decides that it's time to pack up since she and her friend are getting off in Pittsburg, two stops away. She reaches down for her mirror to check her work. To make sure that she's removed an equal amount from both sides and is even, I guess. Out from under her bag, she pulls.... the sun visor from a car. She flips the mirror cover open, holds it at arm's length to check her handiwork, decides that all is well, flips the mirror closed and shoves it back into her plastic grocery bag.

Yes, you read right. She had the visor from a car for a mirror. The kind that is bolted above the windshield of your car that you flip down to keep the sun out of your eyes while you're driving. She's actually carrying the whole thing around with her so she can do her hair. Or undo her hair. Whatever.

I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to wrap up this post. What kind of insight can I give, what life lesson can be learned?


The only thing that comes to mind was my thought at the time:

"What the...?"

from boing boing, my new favorite blog

boing boing has a ton of funny articles. They have also now posted the best sentance I've ever read in a blog:
Certainly, in the Journalistic Special Olympics of blogging, criticizing another web writer's wordsmithing is a slippery slope ending in a pit full of our own weasel words, forced metaphors, slapdash punctuation and dangling participles.

Full article here:

To best appreciate it, make sure that you read their entire post before following their link.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I haven't posted in a week.

I promised pictures from camping and I've failed you.

That's lame.

My plans for today are to get a couple of computers at work going on program installations, photoshop some of the better pictures and get something posted.

The time is near.

You'll have something soon.

I don't want to fail you, my readers any more. Either of you.

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm camping!

No really, I'm camping! My sister's still at work, but the rest of the family is here, and that's what matters! (Yes, that was just to rub it in!)


As the only IT guy in our company in North of Orange County, I support all of our Nothern California offices and field workers. Most of that work can be done remotely, so at this point that hasn't been much of an issue. I'm based in our Oakland office. We also have an office in San Jose and a small office in Sacramento. Fortunately, everything works out pretty well that I'm not spending all my time on the road.

I take the train into work in the mornings and grab a company vehicle for my travels. It generally works out pretty well as I avoid commute traffic and don't have to worry about the wear and tear on my personal vehicle. However, it seems that every time that I plan on going to the San Jose office, something comes up here in Oakland that keeps me from leaving at the time I plan. The more urgent my need to be in San Jose, or the more time critical my arrival time, the harder it is to leave Oakland.

For example, today. Everyone's up camping and I'm meeting them tonight. (See my previous post) I drove the truck into Oakland today with the plans of leaving here by 10, spending some time in the San Jose office getting someone set up on their new laptop and leave there by 1 or 2. Unfortunately as I was pulling into the garage, I got a phone call informing me that our network is down. Fortunately, it's only our WAN (internet) connection. Unfortunately, nearly everything we do requires that connection to access our corporate servers. Our phones are all VOIP, so nobody can call out as that's all internet based as well. Time cards need to be completed and turned in by 11:30 on Fridays. Yep, internet access required.

Fonrtunately, being the computer guy, I have connections. I have internet access via a cellular card. Unfortunately, my computer is being used as a timecard kiosk. ...which means I have to go.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

bus ride

Nicky finally gets to ride in Grandma and Grandpa's "bus" for real. He's taken a couple of trips around the block when they were putting it back alongside the house, but today it's for real. He's strapped into his car seat at the dining 'room' table and heading out to where we're camping this weekend.

Nicky and Mommy get to go early with Grandma and Grandpa. Daddy has to wait until tomorrow after work. Fortunately, I've got some time already 'in the bank' this week and should be able to leave from the San Jose office by about 2 or 3 ...earlier if I work through lunch.

"And another one rides the bus." That's one cool kid!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Field Day?

I realized on my last post that I'd mentioned Field Day, but didn't explain what it is. So...

What's Field Day? On the first full weekend in June, amateur radio operators nation wide all get on the air to try to contact one another while simulating an emergency set-up. Generally the idea is to get as much public exposure as possible and practice operating your radios from anything but the comfort of your home. More info can be found here:

If you're in the Bay Area, come visit us! If not, find a field day site close to you and take a look. Usually, there's a station set up for unlicensed people where anybody can sit down and give amateur radio a try. A licensed operator will sit with them and walk them through how to work a radio and how to make a contact with someone else.

"What is amateur radio?"

"What do you talk about?"

What kond of cool experiences have I had with ham radio?

Search and Rescue: I've facilitated in communication between my Search and Rescue team and the command post while looking for a missing woman in an area where communication was otherwise hard to impossible. We had one ham in the command post and myself on the top of a ridge. Communications were given to her, she relayed them to me over amateur radio and I relayed them to the field teams over the department radios. Field teams and CP were unable to communicate directly due to the deep valleys that the were searching in and the hills between them.

Satellites: I've talked to someone in San Diego through a satellite using my 5 watt hand-held radio and a small directional antenna. Sattelites travel at amazingly fast speeds. AO-51, a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite takes about ten minutes to travel from horizon to horizon. To me, being able to contact someone over 400 miles away with less power than it takes to power
two of those little Christmas light bulbs is pretty cool. Doing it through a satellite orbiting in outer space is that much cooler.

HF: I've talked to an operator in Japan using only 100 watts and a piece of wire about 50 feet long as an antenna. (That's the same amount of power that you probably use to light your front porch.)

IRLP: The Internet-Radio Linking Project was started to allow long distance communications using VOIP (voice over internet protocol). You may be familiar with Skype, Vonage, etc. that allow you to call someone from your computer and talk to them without using the phone. IRLP will allow ou to do that without using your computer either. I've sat in my back yard and talked
to a friend in Maine over my radio. My signal went from my radio, to a repeater radio on the top of our local mountain, through the internet to a radio in Maine and out to my friend Tom. Again, this was done using less than two Christmas tree bulbs' worth of power.

What is HF? HF, or High Frequency bands are some of the frequencies reserved for amateur radio operators. While most other radio users have designated frequencies that they're allowed to operate on, they're not allowed to use any other frequencies. Hams have the benefit of being able to use any frequency within several frequency bands. Think of it this way: In a rainbow,
you can see all the colors that are in the visible spectrum. Most radio users (police and fire departments, television and radio stations, even your cell phones) can only use frequencies designated to them. Say the local police department can use only indigo, the fire department blue, tv stations can use yellow, radio stations green, and cell phone companies can use purple. None of them can use the whole section of their color though, only a specific, extremely narrowly defined portion of their color. The ham bands, however can in contrast use the entire red and orange colors and parts of the other colors as well. Hams have many frequencies to pick from, using whichever is the best suited to the distance that we want to communicate across.

Want to learn more or even experience ham radio for yourself? Visit your local field day site, talk to the people there and ask to sit down and operate.

"How can I find a field day site?" Click here and enter your home address:

If you visit a site, make sure that you listen for W6CX. That's our club call sign. I'll be operating on the 15 and 160 meter bands.

I hope to hear you on the air!

Good weekend

Last weekend was a good weekend. We got to spend lots of that "good, quality family time" together. You may have heard of it. Unfortunately with the pace that life runs at, it's easy to forget to stop and just hang out and have fun together.

Saturday, I met some of my ham radio friends out at Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek for an initial survey of what will be our site for Field Day. It wasn't easy since the Walnut Creek Arts and Wine festival was parked directly on top of where we are going to set up. There's lots fo trees for shade and antenna wire, lots of room for camping and we're right next to the playground which will be good for public exposure, but less than ideal for noise levels. This looks like it will be a much better site than up on top of Mount Diablo as far as community interaction goes.

Beth, Nick and I went to the Arts and Wine festival on Sunday. We looked at art, saw some wine (Beth can't drink it. We think she's allergic to sulfur) and let Nicky play on the blow-up jungle gym and jumpy house. He also let me know that he wanted to "head over that way for a minute" to look at the cars. (...the things they pick up!)

It's so great to see him feeling so well. I'm glad that we got his surgery done when we did. I didn't realize how much his hernia was slowing him down. Looking back, it was probably bothering him long before we even suspected something was wrong. It makes me so happy to see him running and climbing and jumping with all the other kids.

Unfortunately we didn't have the camera with us. It's still hiding at Beth's work somewhere (I hope!).

Next weekend: Camping! Pictures to follow.

Last Friday's fortune cookie advises: "If you want to get a sure crop with a big yield, sow wild oats." (But Honey, my fortune cookie said to. Yeah, RIGHT!)

Saturday's: "Be cautious in your financial dealings." (Yes, Dear.)

Last Tuesday's: "Advice given to you will be well worth following." (My Mom used to tell me to go play in traffic. I'll pass.)