Monthly Archives: October 2009

Planning a Quiet November as it is NaNoWriMo Time

NaNoWriMo Logo

NaNoWriMo Logo

With Varying Frequency is planning a quiet November. I have some posts prepared and will use this time to repost updated versions of some of the most popular posts.

Taking a second year stab at doing some larger scale writing, by doing the NaNoWriMo project (National Novel Writing Month)

From their website:

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

The project URL is at:

My NaNoWriMo name is “StevenW” and you should be able to follow my progress at:

If you want to have a go yourself, please add me as one of your writing buddies!



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Island Upgrades to Omni VII, Orion II, FT-2000 and Flex-5000a

Today after a two and half hour drive and a 40 minute ferry ride I set foot, or more exactly set my wheels, on Washington Island WI-001L, on my way to George W9EVT’s ham shack to install firmware updates on several radios and set up his Flex-5000a radio after he had received a new computer. My youngest Victor KC9NWB was riding shotgun on the trip.

Greengate Farm, Susan & George Ulm’s QTH, was not my only island destination. My official main purpose on the Island was to assist the Island Historical Society with evaluation and decision-making concerning the Thorstein Veblen cottage restoration project.

The cottage restoration will start in earnest in 2010, with the present priority to watertight the building and insure its safety overwinter. My firm has offered some assistance with materials for the project and I have been more than happy to donate my personal time to our Island friends who are undertaking this historic renovation.

I’m especially happy that allows me time to visit George’s shack, and in this case on this trip to do upgrades on several of his radios. George also had received a specially built PC to run his Flex-5000 and he needed it set up.

The first upgrade was to the Orion II with a full firmware update. This involves installing software I had brought to the island on a thumb drive onto a local PC, connected to the Orion with a serial cable, restarting the radio holding a specific key, and running the specialty upgrade software.

In the case of the Orion, with its massive number of settings, this upgrade takes several minutes. As it was the first time I had done in Orion update, I was a bit concerned at the length of time it took to load the new firmware. I really should’ve worried the system seems to work well and once the Orion was restarted all look to be well.

Upgrading the Omni was just as easy, but much quicker due to its smaller settings table. A similar process, cabling the radio up, restarting the radio holding a specific key, and running the special Omni update software. Again the update went smoothly.

Now came the challenge, the FT- 2000 radio. First step in updating a 2000 is to turn the radio upside down and locate a slider switch inside the radio through a small hole usually covered by the right rear foot. This switch is a problem as it is very very small and once you put your screwdriver in it is hard to see the switch. The 2000 also requires to be cabled to the PC for an update to install.

It couldn’t be that simple… no, it wasn’t as I discovered FT-2000 needed a different cable than the Orion or the Omni. A “Gender Problem” — the gender pin out was the opposite of what was expected. I guess I should look closer at the on-screen computer manual, rather than relying on the text calling out in nine pin serial port, before I came to Island.

So in the end the 2000 could not be upgraded, but would you think that putting that small switch back to its normal position could possibly be harder than finding it the first time? Absolutely, it was a time-consuming task to relocate this tiny switch and reset the radio.

In the end the software was left loaded ready for the correct cable to update the 2000, and a correct cable was ordered from a off-island supply house before I left for the day. I’m hoping that George can handle finishing the 2000 update on his own when the cable arrives.

Next was the Flex — and it’s new special PC. Everything was there, it just needed cabling up and the software setup with its final configurations.

The special PC arrived with all the usual Flex software preinstalled including PowerSDR, but it needed to be configured for this specific radio it was hooked to. It only took a few moments to get the software running and the flex on the air. However the first time George powered everything down for some reason the settings were lost. I found this on my return from the Veblen cottage, and I’m very glad that George and I split the day into two sessions to catch an error like this. Somewhere in the middle I found time to to squeeze in a visit to the island gunsmith and to visit with a friend who is a builder & Realtor on the island.

Again a few minutes of redoing the settings to match settings that have worked satisfactorily at my QTH put everything into fine form. With a large monitor, the fantastic antennas, the beautiful location for propagation, and the special PC George now has one very fine Flex-5000 setup. I do need to thank Harry W9BR for some phone assistance when I needed advice. To confirm the Flex-5000 was running right I of course had to quickly work several DX stations, mostly using the Washington Island DX Club WI9DX call sign.

So three of the four radios were put into fine form, the fourth prepared for its new cable to allow installation of the final firmware update, and George is back on the air with his Flex-5000. There was enough time to spare to socialize, walk part of the farm — actually a very small part of the farm — and before the last outgoing ferry for the day. Of course we were recipients of Susan’s lunch & hospitality, for which we offer our thanks!

It was a lovely ride back, breaking into rain only for the last 15-20 miles. Victor KC9NWB and I treated ourselves to a nice dinner at the world-famous Al Johnson’s restaurant on the way back.



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It Must Be Something in the Air – Radio Clubs & Emcomm

It must be something in the air, the obvious differences between various amateur radio hobby groups.

Wait — perhaps that is it? amateur radio hobby groups — there we go, it is that combination of words.

Amateur — the nonprofessional, the enthusiast, the Explorer, the experimenter, the advocate.

Radio — that use of the electronic ether to communicate.

Hobby — a pursuit of passion, a non-employment enjoyment, and adventure in learning for the joy of learning.

Groups — a club, an organization, an observable affiliation, and alignment.

There does seem to be a difference between a general all disciplines amateur radio group and the group singly focused on one aspect, one small subset, of the greater hobby.

I might liken it to the difference between being in a big tent — a Chautauqua like encompassing tent — or being in an isolated command tent back in my Army Field days.

Amateur radio emergency service and radio amateurs civilian emergency service both are disciplines, important but small disciplines within the greater amateur radio hobby.

There is little doubt that when served agencies are in true emergency need that they find some comfort and utility in having willing radio groups to fulfill their communications needs.

However does become the fashion of these days for that comfort to be more economic than practical. The economic side being that the volunteers are unpaid, usually bring their own equipment or heavy equipment available from various grants, and are quite willing to do drills and other training on their own, whereas employee base communications would be phenomenally more expensive to develop and maintain — not to mention limitations on available frequencies.

In their own interest of containing liability and improving interoperability served agencies have pushed a professionalization of the amateur. A professionalization that in the way of most oxymorons doesn’t seem to work.

While perhaps it does work a bit, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as envisioned — the unintended consequences being a disharmony among radio amateurs, an unrealistic expectation of some sort of priority for frequencies in the event of an emergency, an effort by those involved to subvert wider general amateur radio hobby groups into their ideals of emergency radio communications.

This is not just at the street level — that the club level is not alone in experiencing this conflict — but is very observable right to the highest levels. The current arguments over whether the FCC should selectively choose to not enforce regulations existing on the books or whether they should enforce them to the nth degree, have greatly replaced the ongoing code/no code argument that had preoccupied amateur radio creating factions over the last several years.

In speaking with leadership in the various emergency communications groups they have not even been properly briefed on how to handle the waiver process, the full background on why the rules exist and need to be enforced, or what the impact is for their members who also happen to be employees of served agencies. Part of this may be the very newness of the awareness that the law had provided for regulations of this nature.

But the card is continuing wishful thinking and lack of consultation with true professionals while operating in areas that could cost a person not only a significant fine, but perhaps their amateur radio license.

To have a lack of understanding in this area isn’t surprising given the general confusion in emergency communications over insurance, command structure, whether an emergency communicator works for their emergency communication organization or the served agency, or how to deal with dual hat situations.

It isn’t easy — none of it’s easy — but that doesn’t excuse us in the eyes of the regulations and enforcement that well could follow if we make it personal operating error. in the end it would be the amateur who may well have to defend themselves from economic loss and potential loss of their hobby.

I have also had emergency communications leadership correctly point out that with the direction of professionalization of the amateur emergency communications, the compatibility of a general radio club and in emergency communications organization is minimal. They have told me they are suggesting that the groups develop distinct separate leadership, identity, legal organization, books, tax ID numbers, and operate in separate fashion. They hoped that these separate entities would be cooperative and mutually supportive, but made no bones that in their mind emergency communications held an ultimate trump card, and must prevail over general amateur radio in their vision of that cooperation.

In other words that’s nice talk for an open plan to displace the hobbyist in favor of paraprofessional mock amateur radio operations, under a unilateral implementation of their idea of greater good.

What a load of rubbish — what a disservice to their fellow radio amateurs and the history that brought this hobby to this point.

It was not some paraprofessional subgroup that our country look to in each of the world wars for radioman in the military, it was not some paraprofessional specialized team in specialized DF bunkers on the coasts that are Coast Guard and Navy have looked to to assist over the years, nor has it been some select paraprofessional group that are various military services have looked to for civilian support for their radio amateur communication efforts.

Of course they will speak of the needs in a true emergency, that sort of emergency where every one of us would be willing to help. But to limit response to paraprofessionals many of us, despite having all the technical and accreditation qualifications, we’ll find ourselves less able to help.

And of course when undertaking a drill there is no legal claim to “true emergency” and their claim to priority becomes hogwash.

Many of you have seen some of these paraprofessionals, once a year drill warriors whose brand-new pristine radios and manuals have suffered more wear from storage than from use, usually a mixture of retirees, the medically retired, and the perennial unemployed, along with a spattering of a few good souls. These drill warriors are the sorts who seldom actually hear on the radio, and if you do it is likely to be just one mode or perhaps even only on one repeater.

Luckily there are exceptions, the fellows who have full station capability and are on all the time, but in many groups they are expected to carry a heavy load being not only the only seasoned operators, but among the few technically orientated who can say quote “I have done that” when asked for solutions.

What does it mean for the rest of us? If one does not want to become a paraprofessional, nor wants to compromise existing commitments to family or to other organizations to become a dual hat wearing person, or simply has greater responsibilities, what do we do?

Some time ago the concept of Freecom was launched quietly among the amateur radio community.

This is a simple idea of being fully capable of emergency operations, of handling traffic, and having a calling to a higher level of love of country, freedom, and the Constitution.

It is an ideal that incorporates the traditional traffic handling with the emergent awareness that without our freedom, our inalienable rights, and are deference to the Constitution we are lost.

It has been proposed back in oath, like the oath the military and police oath takers affirm, dictation mode would become a major component of this new amateur radio initiative.

Actually it is a very old amateur radio initiative that is made new only in contrast of the darker side of the amateur — paraprofessional.

If one reads amateur radio books from the 20s 30s 50s and 60s you will find a self sufficient radio amateur portrayed in a way that has not remained fashionable. Technology has brought us to the point where we have radio amateurs who are “appliance operators” and have neither in the interest nor in many cases the ability to move beyond.

Our historic self-sufficient radio amateur built what they couldn’t buy, pioneered what has not yet been invented, talk themselves what had not yet made it to university lectures, and many as a result became not only pioneers and leaders in amateur radio but also became historic businessman and inventors of the wide renown.

It is not that we are completely lacking of the spirit today, but rather that it has been subverted by the enslavement to a served agency dictate of emergency communications.

There is a new Yahoo group covering Freecom and I intend to cover it further here. I will be adding a tab at the top of the page for Freecom as a shortcut to posts concerning a self-sufficient perspective of the radio amateur.



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Voice Text – Possibilities for Integration into the Shack

This is the first post for “With Varying Frequency” that I am speaking rather than typing.

I’m working with a software package called “MacSpeech Dictate” in an effort to learn more about speech recognition by computers.

Obviously through the errors of my speech, and the limits of computer software, there will be some small corrections I’ll need to make before posting this. But for the most part the basic text will all have been spoken.

In the terms of an Amateur Radio Ham’s shack there may be many possibilities for use of speech recognition software. Whether it is to work digital modes, such as PSK, or to control equipment, the potential is boundless.

Setting up the software was fairly easy. It started with setting up the hardware. Then a session of reading into the machine to allow it to become familiar with my voice as what they called a “voice profile,” completed the configuration.

It’s possible to send e-mail messages completely without ever touching the machine. In the case of creating this blog post, I have had to touch the machine to initiate the editor and start the speech recognition software entering text.

Watching the entered text I see that there are six or seven corrections I will need to make before posting this, not bad at all considering I would have made many more typing myself. The biggest risk seems to be that of using English language construction of the spoken form in a written document.

More as I learn to use this technology,



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When the Loon calls! Autumn Station Work

Where did summer go? Even Autumn is racing to be done.

And now it is my race to get outside station work tidy before the cold settles in.

As my shack is set up so I can see one of our fireplaces; we’ve put in a couple full cords of firewood to enjoy over the winter.

I’m also doing a large Autumn Clean of the shack and trying to move in a second operating bench so I can have my main gear on one, and a second “Experimenter’s bench” for projects.

I’ve also made a commitment to NOT buy too many new projects until I get everything started finished, and start whittling down the excess. Wish me luck!

I’ve been challenged to do some Ice Fishing Radio Work this winter, so I am doing some thinking on how to pull that off.

Another day I should have the garden done for the year, and I have a 160 ft hardline run I want to trench in while the ground is wet but not frozen.

Here in Wisconsin one of the privileges is to occasionally hear the plaintiff call of the Loon, a sound that reminds one of the simplicity of timeless nature. It is also the call of the wild, signaling the importance & unstoppability of Nature.

Well I’ve heard the call and it is time to get it ready for Winter!



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Winter Reads – 2008-2009 – Batch IX

A further quick update on my ninth batch of books read so far during my 12 month reading log. I have added the previous lists a cumulative list to help me keep track of my reading goals:

Earth Abides, by George Stewart
Better to Beg Forgiveness, by Michael Z. Williamson
One Second After, by William R. Forstchen
How to Survive the End of the World As We Know I, by James Wesley Rawles
Radio Orienteering – The ARDF Handbook, by Bob Titterington, G3ORY, David Williams, M3WDD and David Deane, G3ZOI

Previously Read This year:

  1. Seed to Seed – Seed Saving & Growing Techniques, by Suzanne Ashworth
  2. Molon Labe – Come and Take Them (A Novel), by Kenneth W. Royce
  3. Everything You Know is Wrong, by Russ Kick (ed.)
  4. YASME – The Danny Weil & Colvin Radio Expeditions, by James D. Cain
  5. Earth Sheltered Houses, by Rob Roy
  6. Small Strawbale – Natural Homes, Projects & Designs, by Bill Steen & Others
  7. Building Green, by Clarke Snell & Tim Callahan
  8. The Age of Bede, by Betty Radice (ed.)
  9. Ten Years Behind the Mast – The Voyage of Theodora R, by Fritz Damler
  10. The Polically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, by Kevin Gutzman
  11. When All Hell Breaks Loose, by Cody Lundi
  12. Transfer (A Novel), by Jerry Furland
  13. The Electric Car, by Michael Westbrook
  14. The Adventure Motorbiking Handbook, by Chris Scott
  15. Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen
  16. Patriots – Surviving the Coming Collapse, by James Wesley Rawles
  17. The Unthinkable – Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why, by Amanda Ripley
  18. Celsius 7/7, by Michael Gove
  19. The Blacksmith’s Craft – A Primer of Tools and Methods, by Charles McRaven
  20. Leaving the Left, by Keith Thompson
  21. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science
  22. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades
  23. Rocket Mass Heaters – Superefficient Woodstoves You Can Build, by Ianto Evans & Leslie Jackson
  24. Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental, by Marc Gerstein & Michael Ellsberg
  25. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, by Ori Brafman & Rom Brafman
  26. The Third Revolution, by Anthony F. Lewis
  27. Dreaming of Jupiter , by Ted Simons
  28. Middle America, by Anthony F. Lewis
  29. The Last of the Mountain Men – Sylvan Hart, by Harold Peterson
  30. Tappan on Survival, by Mel Tappan
  31. Radicals for Capitalism, by Brian Doherty
  32. Carbon in the Solution Not the Problem , by Donald VanDusen
  33. American Farmstead Cheese , by Paul Kindstedt
  34. The Cheese Primer, by Steven Jenkins
  35. Brotherhood of Darkness, by Dr Stanley Monteith
  36. The Driver, by Garet Garrett
  37. Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
  38. Mad Science, by Theodore Gray
  39. The Secure Home, by Joel Skousen
  40. Boston’s Gun Bible, by Boston T. Party
  41. Managing Interstation Interference (Rev. 2nd Ed.), by George Cutsogeorge W2VJN
  42. Terrorist Trail – Backtracking the Foreign Fighter, by H. John Poole
  43. Adventure Motorcycling, by Robert Wicks
  44. Torch, by Lin Anderson
  45. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  46. Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart
  47. Term Limits, by Vince Flynn
  48. Another Place to Die, by Sam North
  49. The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Great Depression and the New Deal, by Robert Murphy
  50. Sweet and Sour Pie – A Wisconsin Boyhood, by Dave Crehore
  51. Gaia’s Garden – A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway
  52. How to Build with Grid Beam, by Jergenson, Jergenson & Keppel
  53. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, by Robert P. Murphy
  54. A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller Jr.
  55. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

I am continuing to better my goal of reading a book-a-week, and it looks like continued effort will let maintain the pace.

Let me know if you want information on a specific title, as unless it is Amateur Radio focused they won’t be reviewed here.

73 & Happy Reading


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