Let’s Talk Spam

That delicious but much derided precooked canned meat treat – Spam. Produced by Hormel Foods and introduced before World War II, Spam hit its stride during WWII as rationing limited fresh meat. The military also took advantage of Spam’s long shelf life by making it a staple in the diet of frontline soldiers.

US Army: Spamville
US Army: Spamville

Continuing to serve during the Korean War, Spam was able to integrate itself into Korean cuisine – budae jjigae, a spicy stew that included chunks of Spam. I used to eat this quite a bit when I was stationed in Korea.

Back in the States, Spam gained a reputation of being the primary element of a white trash feast. Still, Spam presists and sold its seven billonth can back in 2007.

Back in May I traveled to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for an Army exercise (no… they didn’t serve Spam at the exercise) and made the roadtrip from Kansas in my truck. The most direct route passed right in front of Austin, Minnesota – which, not only being the headquarters for Hormel, is home to the Spam Museum.

Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota

I am an admitted and unabashed fan of Spam. We used to eat it from time to time as children and I believe fried Spam to be a delicacy. Now I had the opportunity to visit the Mecca of Spam, which I immeditaely took advantage of.


The museum is open to the public and free of charge. It is actually quite large and well done, telling the story of Spam from its inception and through the decades. Best of all was the gift shop at the end which included variants of Spam that I had never seen before: Spam Hot & Spicy – with Tabasco flavor, Spam Jalapeño, Spam Garlic. I eagerly purchased a few tins and enjoyed them once I returned home.

The name “Spam” is the combination of the words “Spiced” and “Ham”, although there have been other meaning attributed to SPAM. The military, ever enjoying arcronomys, dubed it SPecial Army Meat. The term is also used to describe a secret Army group that is shrouded in mystery: the Society for the Protection of Angry Majors… or SPAM. This society is rumored to be a powerful and influential group much like the Bohemian Grove or the Bilderberg Group.

In 1970, Monty Python paid tribute to the impact of Spam to Britsh gastronomy during war years rationing with a sketch entitled “Spam“.

With the early BBS computer nerd’s love for Monty Python comedy, the term “Spam” began to be applied to describe unsolicited bulk electroic messaging.

Why does this all matter? It doesn’t, of course. But I am here on Hawaii (the state with the largest consumtion of Spam per capita) supporting an Army exercise. Each morning at the hotel, with my complimentary breakfast ticket, I get a small coffee and a Hawaiian role containing egg, a strip of seaweed, and a large piece of Spam. It’s quite good!

Homebrew Weather Prediction?

I enjoy having a weather station at home. It is hooked up to APRS, weatherunderground.com, and I even have a weather webpage. One of the standard exchanges of information in most general QSOs is the weather: temperature, rain, …. I also like telling the folks in Florida that my humidity is 40% (I am not a fan of humidity having expierenced Fort Benning, GA in the summertime and monsoon season in Korea, not to mention my unairconditioned room at The Citadel (although I hear they have air conditioning now!)). It is easy to look at my desktop display and get all the data I need. I have heard of some folks who have a way to pull their weather data directly from their weather stations and input it into their PSK QSOs. Pretty slick, but I have never figured out how to do that (… yet).

All that being said, I do not get into weather prediction that much. If I see the barometer dropping, I may check the locak National Weather Service radar to see if anything is moving in (weather here moves from west to east). But if I wanted to get into weather prediction, this would make an interesting homebrew project: The Tempest Prognosticator.

Developed in the 1850s by Dr. George Merryweather, this device used leeches that would ring a bell if a storm was approaching. The device was even featured in Britian’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite the publicity, Dr. Merryweather was never able to get the government interested in putting the device into use.

I am sure there would be a way to interface the slugs with some kinda of Arduino device that would send out weather predicitions via APRS data. 🙂

The pursuit of The Elser-Mathes Cup

The story of the Elser-Mathes Cup may be familiar to many of you. For those of you who are not in the know, you can get all the details from the article by Fred Johnson Elser, W6FB/W70X, in the November 1969 issue of QST. To summarize, the establishment of the Elser-Mathes Cup in 1929 was directly inspired by the leaps and bounds up to that point in radio technology combined with Hiram Percey Maxim’s fascination with the planet Mars. The cup is to be awarded in recognition of the first amateur radio two-way communication between Earth and Mars. I would bet that the cup’s initial establishment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Although Fred Johnson Elser’s QST article, on the tail of the success of Apollo 11, gave the cups existence and purpose a good deal more veracity.

How close are we to finally awarding the Elser-Mathes Cup? Lets look at some recent milestones:

Earth-Moon-Earth Bounce
In January 1953, Ross Bateman, W4AO, and Bill Smith, W3GKP successfully bounced at 2M signal off the Moon.

Signal reception of Voyager 1

On March 31, 2006, German radio amateurs successfully received transmissions from Voyager 1 which was already well outside the Solar System (~7,436,464,581 miles away from Earth).

Earth-Venus-Earth Bounce

On March 25, 2009, German radio amateurs achieved another first by bouncing a 2.4 GHz CW signal off of Venus – which at its closest point to Earth is a mere 24,000,000 miles away and 162,000,000 miles at its furthest.

Earth-Mars-Earth Bounce?
Mike Brink, ZR6BRI, has definitely done his homework to show the feasibility of radio amateurs bouncing a signal off of Mars (which has a distance from Earth that varies from 36,000,000 miles to 250,000,000 miles).

However, bouncing a signal off of Mars will not win The Elser-Mathes Cup. The amateur contact must be two-way.

Could the Mars Science Labratory (Curiosity) fulfill the role as the second party of an amateur QSO?

Curisoity does have UHF communication capability. One of Curiosity’s antennas is nicknamed “Big Mouth” and is used to send large data sets to one of three orbiters around Mars: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (which will probably do most of the work), Mars Odyssey Orbiter, or the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. The orbiter then relays the data via the Deep Space Network (DSN) back on Earth using X-Band.

“Big Ear” is Curiosity’s high-gain, directional X-Band antenna that can be used to communicate directly with the DSN on Earth. “Little Ear” is an omni-directional, X-Band antenna that is designed to be used primarily to receive low data rate transmissions from the DSN.

Putting aside the fact that Curiosity’s X-Band frequencies are outside the authorized US amateur frequency allocation and given the German amateurs success with Voyager and Venus – amateur communication with Curiosity looks possible (but probably not with my Arrow II antenna).

So, if it is possible for Joe Amateur (along with a heap load of expensive gear) to have a QSO with Curiosity – what would prevent the actual hacking of Curiosity?

Damon Poeter’s August 9th article “How to Hack NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover” takes a look at this proposition. Mr. Poeter all but dismisses the possibility of a private citizen contacting Curoisty and instead focuses at actually hacking through NASA’s control system. Then on August 10th, Mr. Poeter submits “Unknown Actor Soliciting Partners for Mars Rover Hack”. Now, possibily, there are individuals who are actually trying to hack their way through NASA by soliciting help in determining what frequencies are used to communicate with the orbiters above Mars.

Here on an IT secuirty forum, a question is asked concerning the secuirty of Curiosity. One of the responses is from a former controller who is somewhat familiar with NASA’s general communications protocal with spacecraft and identifies the transmission of bogus communications to Curiosity as a possibility. Although the post’s author identifies that the capability to conduct such an act would have to be another country (…. and everyone loves pointing the finger at China).

It is easy to forget that radio amateurs have been intercepting space communications for sometime, with Sputnik’s signal on 20.007 MHz and Apollo 11 communications being primary examples.

All this being said, I think The Elser-Mathes Cup will continue to gather dust for a bit longer.

KH6 – Hawaii Bound

My current assignment at Fort Leavenworth has me traveling quite a bit. My intent has been to bring a rig with me and have some casual QSOs while on the road. My success has been mixed. I would mostly attribute this to either a lack of planning on my part or being in a stuck in a hotel room with zero antenna opportunities.

One of the most inspiring ham radio blogs I ever ran across was the 100 Pound Dxpedition. I enjoyed how Scott, NE1RD, covered his adventures of conducting portable operations… documenting what worked and what did not. His last post on that paticular blog was back in 2007, but I still use the site as a reference. Scott’s praise for the Buddipole led me in using the Buddipole during my recent tour in Korea. Another tip from Scott I am going to try out is using a hardside golf bag case to transport my Buddipole to Hawaii.

Now for a rig… I think the Elecraft KX3 would be ideal for a Hawaii trip. With 10 watts output and an internal battery, I can’t think of better rig to take to the beach. But the wait time for the KX3 is still quite a while. I have both an Elecraft KX1 and a Yaesu FT-817ND. The KX1 would be great due to its small size and ease of use. But it is limited to only CW and I would like to do some PSK in addition to CW.

I pulled out my FT-817 and conducted an inventory:

    – West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug n Play connects directly to the DIN socket on the back of the rig.
    – CAT cable that connects from the RIGblaster to the rig’s ACC socket which enables rig control.
    – PowerPole 12v adapter.
    Palm Paddle.
    Elecraft T1 Auto-tuner.
    – Nifty manual for the FT-817.

My FT-817 has quite a few of the optional bells and whistles from W4RT:

I also splurged on two recent upgrades:

    Peg Leg tilt stand – I think this will be helpful as one of my significant dislikes of the FT-817 is the small display which is hard to see.
    – Magnets for the Palm Paddle – this is critically important as the Palm Paddle by itself is not heavy enough. The magnets allow the Palm Paddles to firmly stick to the top of the FT-817.

For PSK, rig control, and logging I have my Dell Mini netbook. I had not used the netbook in a while, so I started it up to see how it was working. I initally purchased it back in 2009 baselined with Ubuntu and have kept Ubuntu installed on it since then. After booting it up. I updated the distribution to 10.04 LTS and installed fldigi. The RIGblaster easily interfaced with the netbook via a USB connection and the headphone/microphone jacks.

I configured fldigi to work with the RIGblaster to include rig control using Hamlib:

    – Audio: PortAudio using the netbook’s hardware soundcard for both Capture and Playback
    – Rig: Hamlib; Device /dev/ttyUSB0; Baud rate 38400; Stopbits 2; PTT via Hamlib command checked

… clicked on the Initialize button and I was good to go.

Setting up the macros on flidigi is pretty straightforward with the default macros only needing slight tweaking for my personal preferemces.

Once I fired everything up all I had to do was switch to 14.070 MHz, switch the mode to DIG, and drop the input level a bit. With the narrow yellow PSK streams cascading down the waterfall, I picked one that was calling CQ and answered. Transmit worked and my home antenna provided a nice low SWR, no need for the tuner. My macros worked and the QSO was concluded successfully. All with 5 watts.

I plugged in the Palm Paddle, switched to 7.115 MHz, listened and heard nothing, then used the paddles to send QRL? a few times. SWR still looked decent. After a few CQ calls, I got an answer followed by a short QSO. Great – both PSK and CW were working FB.

Now the question is: do I want to bring my small Tokyo Hy-Power HL-100B amplifier that will raise the output to 100 watts? If I bring the amp, I will have to bring a power supply and a different tuner. I am thinking I need to be able to use two different configurations:

    (A) Beach and Buddipole: using the barefoot FT-817, running everything on batteries.
    (B) Lanai Portable: used from the hotel room, with amp and assoicated power supply.

Now it is time to go through my Buddipole bags and figure out what I need to pack.

Looks like I will be there during the Hawaii QSO Party!

Trail Radio

Ham radio and trail hiking have been a natural pair. There are a few hams (that I know of) who have stood out over the last few years in hitting the trails with their amateur radio gear.

The first is Ed, WA3WSJ. He has been out on the Appalachian Trail (or AT) numerous times and has brought along a minimalist setup to get on HF and make some contacts. Chances are that you have heard of the Appalachian Trail – it streches from Georgia to Maine and allows an individual to hike from start to finish.

Ed’s an advocate of pedestrian mobile (WA3WSJ/pm) and has published a few books that tells of his experiences and offers advice for those interested in following his footsteps. He also has established the Great Outdoor Radio Club, which offers resources to avid and aspiring radio trail men.

Another amateur radio hiker is Dennis, K1YPP. He actually completed the Apalachain Trail and also wrote a book on his expierences. Hiking from one end to the other involves reducing the backpack weight as much as possible. Dennis successfully used QRP rigs during his time on the trail.

Here is a podcast of two hams who discuss hiking the Appalacian Trail, including the use of amateur radio (ham radio) and QRP (low power, less than 5 watts) along the way. From the series at Atlanticon 2006 in Timonium, MD.

The APRS folks also are involved in activities on the Appalachian Trail (check out here and here).

Heading west, the next major trail is the Continential Divide Trail. The trail goes from Mexico to Canada and spends a good portion of its time following the Rocky Mountains. Although not a dedicated Continential Divide Trail hiker – Steve, WG0AT, has spent plenty of time in the Rocky Mountains making amateur radio contacts. Steve’s take on hiking is a bit different as he brings two goats with him that help carry the equipment. If you have not seen his Youtube videos, then you are missing out.

Bob, K0NR, is also active in the Rockies… having most recently participated in a unique ham radio event – The 14er. Paul, W0RW, is an pedestrian mobile ham who has taken to the mountains to log contacts. However, I do not think either Steve, Bob, or Paul have actively hiked the Continental Divide Trail along with their rigs.

Further west is the Pacific Crest Trail. I was curious to find that not many hams head to the Pacific Crest Trail for hiking and QRP work either. There is a repeater guide by Bill, AA6J – but I am not sure how much of the trail he has hiked or if he brought any HF gear. The only ham I can find that has attempted the hike was Bruce, N7RR. It also looks like he did not make it all the way. Being a Californian, I am surprised that more west coast hams have not hit the trail along with their HF radio gear.

Have you had a QSO with a ham on the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or Pacific Crest Trail?

How do you feel about the idea of packing up a rig and heading for the mountains?

St. Joseph, Missouri – The Patee House

This past Sunday, we decided to take a small trip north to St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Joe is full of history and one of my favorite places to go there is the Patee House Museum. Two parts of the museum I enjoy the most:

(1) A railroad telegraph office with a nice collection of telegraph keys

(2) An amazing display of vintage radios as well as an old amateur radio station

Julius B. Abercrombie, W0NH (ex 9NH) was a member of the Old Old Timers Club and first got on the air back in 1906! It looks like Julius was one of the original Midwestern Big Guns.

I really enjoyed his collection of convention pins (…open the image below to see the details of the pins)