To Skywarn and Beyond!

I’ll be upfront and honest and say that I’m not really a fan of “Emergency Communications” or as the ARRL would like to now call it, “Public Service Communications”. It’s just not my cup of tea. I think that SOME of the people that are involved are using emcomm/skywarn as a way to flex their egos and/or as an outlet to their dreams of being a public safety official such as police, fire or EMT for whatever reason.  I don’t want to discourage anyone and there are hams who are really care about their community and help out without getting caught up in the whacker fest. But that’s what’s great about ham radio, there is so many aspects to it that you can dislike an entire aspect but yet still enjoy the hobby overall. Anyways, I’m not hear to harp about emcomm.

 Tasting the Skywarn Kool-Aid

I’ve decided to participate in a Skywarn class that was presented by the NWS (National Weather Service) of Taunton MA. I’m not exactly sure exactly why I went. I guess I wanted to see what it was all about and I was able to get out of the house that night so
why not.

Like everything else, I arrived to the class early so I got to see who was showing up. I recognized a lot of the people that showed up to the class as local area hams which I was expecting to see. However I also saw a lot of people that I’ve never seen before and I’ve seen a a bunch of new hams which is great to see them being active in parts of the hobby. Hopefully they don’t drink too much of the emcomm kool-aid.

The Class

I went to the class expecting that I was going to fall asleep or not be really interested about weather or skywarn because I wasn’t really interested.  I was expecting the class to be dull and boring with slides of clouds after clouds with the sleep inducing monotone voice over of the likes of Ben Stein.

However once the class started, I actually became very interested. The hosts were lively and you can see their passion about weather. It wasn’t going to be a snooze fest. I’ve learned quite a bit about weather that applies to more than just skywarn and amateur radio.

A Visit From The Local Media

One person I instantly noticed in attendance was Brain Lapis, the Chief Meteorologist from WWLP  TV 22. I’m not sure if he was asked to show or he showed up on his own intuition. Either way it was great to see a local meteorologist in attendance. I gained a little more respect for not only Lapis but for WWLP overall as I didn’t directly notice anyone else from the media there.

I didn’t know but they even did a little story on their newscast about the class
There are thousands of weather spotters in the Northeast

Overall Experience

I’m glad I attended. Ham radio reasons aside I’ve learned quite a bit and could apply it to everyday life. When it comes to Amateur Radio and reporting, I was glad to see they weren’t encouraging “storm chasing” and I finally know what information they want compared to what I often hear on the radio during significant weather events.

If you ever plan on reporting to skywarn VIA radio then I would strongly suggest to at least attend a Skywarn class.  That way when you make a report, you know it’s a report of information that the NWS actually needs instead of  tying up the airwaves with un-wanted information,  information that you personally didn’t witness with your own eyes (e.g. Reporting stuff you’ve heard from a police scanner) or the wrong information that could make things worse.

I don’t think I will ever be glued to the radio during weather events but I left the class learning a lot about weather.

NEARfest 2013 Recap

That’s right folks, I went to NEARfest. No, not the progressive rock  festival but the New England Amateur Radio festival held every spring and fall in Deerfield NH. It’s considered to be New England’s largest and most attended hamfest. If you’re an amateur radio operator in the Northeast then there is no way you never heard about it.  Due to other things going on in my life, it was either play in the New England QSO party (NEQP) or NEARfest. I can’t do both so I went to NEARfest but for only Friday.

Even though it’s not true, I’ll just say I’ve never been to NEARfest. I’ve been to Hosstraders which was the name of the hamfest before but I was very young and didn’t really pay attention to anything that was going on.

I left early Friday morning in hopes of getting there early. Further east I got, the more traffic started building up for those who are commuting to the Boston area. I got to the Fairground around 8:00 with a line of 20 or so cars of those who didn’t have tickets  to “Get In” the fairgrounds.  As the gates opened I was impressed in how fast people and cars were herded into the fair grounds. I was expecting  a long wait because I assumed  they were going to “inspect” everyone’s tickets. They did a great  thing and sold tickets to every car in the waiting line.

Upon entering and parking, I wanted to shop right away to scoop up any deals before anyone else did. However I found out that most of the tailgating vendors were in the line with me and still had to setup.  So the walk around the fairgrounds was to get a layout of the land. As more tailgaters and vendors were lining up I went around again and started purchasing stuff

My Shopping List
– 250pf Variable Capacitor (Antenna Project)
– Toroids – Various sizes and types (Antennas / RFI projects)
– MCX to SMA connector (RTL-SDR)
– Soldering Station (Grounded Variable Temp)
– Various RF connectors
– RG-213 cable

What I ended up purchasing:
– Rigrunner  – Well within my price range
– MH-31 Handheld Dynamic Mic ( For my FT-736R)
– 250pf Cap (not the butterfly type like I was hoping)
– Toroids – Two tailgaters were selling various toroids. Wasn’t sure of value but purchased anyway
– Various sizes and values of variable caps – They were cheap enough
– MCX to SMA cable
– Battery for my Motorola XTS3000
– RG214 cable

So I purchased some stuff that was not on my list. Who doesn’t

NEARfest Atmosphere

 To be honest I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up. For the most part everyone was friendly and you can see the “cliques” forming.  All the military stuff was in one area, all the whackers had their light shows parked next to each other and it appeared that it was more of a social gathering of hams than a “Flea Market”.  I was expecting NEARfest to be similar to the Swap/Sale section of the QRZ forums with everything marked up because it’s “Vintage”, “Rare” or “Barley Used” but I was glad to see that most of the tailgaters and vendors had decent prices with a sprinkle of those who think their equipment should go for as it were new.

Personal Observations

When it comes to anything amateur radio related, I expected the smelly ham, the mega obese ham, the scooter ham, the mega nerd and the high visibility whacker ham. What is a Ham Fest without them. I was expected to see them, I did and I am used to that. However this year I saw quite a few “Boston Marathon” hams to point where I could have made a drinking game for every one I saw. I guess by wearing the neon yellow (or blue) jacket you’re telling everyone in eyesight that  “I was there man”.  I am not sure of a reason to wear that jacket other than at the Boston  Marathon or to show off that you were at a tragic event. I’m still not clear as to why someone would constantly wear it. Haven’t notice people wearing previous years jackets like what I saw this weekend.

On another note, I got to meet and have a very small chat with Burt Fisher (K1OIK), who is a known in the Amateur Radio world for his youtube videos, some of which are very controversial. Some might find him to be offensive, a trouble maker and demeaning to amateur radio but I really don’t think so. I may not agree with everything he says but he is just a person with an opinion. With differences aside, He has a lot of very informative videos so I give him credit.

 Overall experiences

I would have to say that I had good time. However I wouldn’t return unless I had a reason to go that would make the effort worth it. I could have purchased all the stuff that I got from the fest online for similar prices including shipping. If I had a bunch of stuff to sell or was looking to purchase a big ticket item such as a transceiver, amplifier or antenna rotor then I can see it worth returning. If you’re active in amateur radio in the Northeast, then  I would at least go once.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K