Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random Thoughts: How to Survive on Star Trek

Ok, I know this has been covered so many times... but I feel like doing a brain dump about it anyways.

Here are a few simple rules for staying alive on a Star Trek show:
  1. Never wear red.
  2. Never work in Engineering or Security.
  3. Never join the Marines.
  4. Never board a starship if your rank is Ensign.
  5. Don't be a clone. Clones don't survive till the end of the show or movie.
  6. Don't work on a research space station.
  7. Always cary a big phaser.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Life, updated

It has been a very long time since I have last written in my blog. Hmmmm.... Feb 19, 2007 was my last post... hopefully no one has been holding their breath while waiting for this update. This will be the first of many posts concerning new hobbies and interests I have taken up.

There has been something on my mind for awhile that I wanted to write about. For months, I've been tossing around ideas, yet nothing has been committed to post until now. This topic is Amateur Radio, also known as "Ham Radio".

After months of deliberation as well as contemplation, concentration, and a healthy dose of procrastination, I still had nothing. It took a quote from an episode of Dr. Who to finally get my brain in gear and to finally churn out this post.
"...Some say that's where it all began, when he was a child. That's when the Master saw eternity. As a novice, he was taken for initiation. He stood in front of the Untempered Schism. It's a gap in the fabric of reality through which could be seen the whole of the vortex. We stand there, eight years old, staring at the raw power of time and space, just a child. Some would be inspired. Some would run away. And some would go mad." -- Doctor Who, The Sound of Drums (Series 3, Episode 12)
My interest in amateur radio began when I was in grade school. If my memory serves me correctly, it was sometime around seventh grade. I found out my grandfather (George A. Bobeck Sr. , W9QNY (SK)**) had been an amateur radio operator since a bit before the US entered WWII. He had heard the US government issue the order for all US hams to cease transmitting due to the state of declared war. I wasn't able to get too many stories out of my grandfater due to him being mostly deaf due to old age, and also due to his passing in 1997, but the ham bug had bit me.

I soon purchased a license study book and started to try to learn everything in order to get a technician no-code license. Unfortunately, at that time the material was a bit too complex for me to comprehend. It would take a few years before I would be able to successfully learn the material... but I am getting ahead of myself.

Roughly 8 years passed. It took Hurricane Katrina to give me the push necessary to motivate me to study and take the technician license exam. It is hard to explain, but seeing one major disaster cause the utter devastation of the Gulf coast as well as the destruction of a major US city plus the "Cluster Failure" FEMA operation afterward finally motivated me. Katrina took away the last sliver of confidence I had in my government. It took away my faith that our tax dollars will pay for services which will rescue us when we needed help. I finally was shown the void, and was inspired to act. I decided that with my limitations, I could serve others by becoming a radio operator. I could be the relay voice responsible for saving someone in need. I could become the person who uses technology to let someone else know what the situation is currently like. I could be the person many miles away that gives hope to another person. It may sound weird, but it actually made sense to me at the time. That became the driving force as I prepared to take the Technician exam.

I took my technician* exam on July 1, 2006 and passed it on the first attempt. I was soon assigned my first call sign, KC9JUA.

I remembered my grandfather, and decided in 2007 to start the process of having the FCC cancel his license so that I could apply to have his call sign. Ok, let me explain... My grandfather died in 1997, however he had renewed his license in 1996. Ham radio licenses are valid for 10 years and there is a grace period if it isn't renewed where the FCC will allow an operator to renew their license after it expires. So, since he renewed in '96, his license expired in '06 and was under the grace period, so his call was unassignable without some paperwork. In this case, it was a simple matter of providing documentation of his death and me filling out a vanity license application.

I wasn't satisfied with only having my grandfather's call... I wanted more. I started studying and soon I was able to upgrade my license to General class. So, for the first time in a decade, there was a George Bobeck with the call W9QNY who was a General class operator.

So what exactly have I gotten out of ham radio in relation to my field of study? Ok, a mouthful of question, but one that I need to answer. During my undergrad years, I took a lot of computer science classes, primarly about security and networking. After earning my license while in grad school, I finally understand more about technology, networking, WiFi (and related radio tech.).

Some of the concepts (tcp/ip, for example) from Dr. Dordal's networking class started to make sense. TCP/IP packets as well as UDP datagrams are very similar to radiograms. My wireless networking class taught by Corby actually started to become practical as there was a lot of crossover. Heck, being able to reference ARRL books in my classes made me feel more alpha geek.

Anyways, just a slightly structured braindump about the first of many new hobbies...

* In the US, there are 5 Amateur Radio Operator License grades, listed from lowest to highest: Novice (depricated), Technician, General, Advanced (depricated), Extra. The Novice and Advanced license grades are no longer issued, so practically, there are 3 license grades. Morse code is no longer required. Each license grade requires passing a written test (Technician and General have 35 questions, Extra has 50 questions).

** (SK) is Ham shorthand for "Silent Key". The designation "Silent Key" denotes that the Ham operator with that call sign has died.