WAPR News - September, 2002

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

Hello everyone. I hope your summer has been fun, and that you've managed to escape the wrath of the many storms we've seen here in Wisconsin. So far we've had nearly twice as many tornadoes as we usually see in the state (even though the national total is down from past years), making plenty of opportunities for emergency operating and antenna damage.

As summer slips away from us, we're trying to arrange for a suitable meeting place and date. Keep an eye on your local BBS and the WAPR web page for an announcement of date, time and place.

Motorola Madness

Our chairman Joel, N9BQM tells me that he has procured a quantity of 50-watt Motorola Mitrek radios for backbone use. The radios are presently unmodified, Joel can arrange for that (but it will take some time). The radios will need to be modified before 9600 baud backbone use, as well as re-crystaled and tuned. Some installations may require preamps. This is the best radio that we have found for this purpose to date.

Re-Crystalling, we've found, is a bit tricky. What seems to work best (meaning what's most stable) is to send the channel elements off to a crystal maker and have them matched with a particular crystal. For those who are unfamiliar with this radio, the channel element is a self-contained oscillator module that the crystal solders into. Being as frequency stability is critical for our operations, it is highly reccommended that node operators wishing to use this radio pay the extra money and get a crystal that is matched to the channel element.

If you're interested in one of these radios, contact Joel one of two ways:

[email protected] (internet E-Mail)

or [email protected]#CWI.WI.USA.NOAM (packet mail)

Manitowoc Stack Off Air, Leaves Network Gap

Last time I reported on Red N9GHE's pending move and the removal of his node stack and BBS from the air. So far, no one has stepped forward and offered to carry on as a node operator. This puts the network in a bad way along the lakeshore. This is one leg of a network "loop" we've been hoping to construct throughout the state. As of this writing, the BBS and node stack are still off the air. If you're interested in fillling this network gap, contact me and I will put you in touch with the proper people.

Speaking of gaps in the network, there's one we still have to fill. That's the gap between Rudolph and Timm's Hill. Currently, it's just too far of a hop to make via UHF. If you're located in a good spot between these two node locations (for example, the Wausau area), contact Joel N9BQM at one of the addresses listed above.

Joel has been working on putting some other nodes on the air, but nothing is concrete as of right now. Stay tuned, as more info comes available, you'll see it here.

I mentioned in the last news report that we have the WAPR bandplan on the WAPR web site. Since it's been up there, I've been told of a few additions, corrections and updates. Joel, Walt (AA9AW, our packet frequency coordinator) and others have been looking the list over and evaluating the usage of some of the frequencies we've designated for certain uses. As we move forward on this, we'll be revising the bandplan and re-posting it on the web page.

A Mode with a Purpose - a Commentary and Call to Action!

A good friend of mine, who was instrumental in getting me involved in packet radio, once told me that packet radio was a great "mode looking for a purpose". His point was that Voice operation has many purposes, and the same can be said of CW and other specialties within our hobby, packet seemed to (at the time) fill no particular niche and had no purpose. He pointed out that it was an eclectic mix of experimentation, news distribution and some semblence of social interaction. However, none of these activities seemed to fit the "traditional" mold of making contacts and carrying on conversations.

One has to be a decent, fast typist to really enjoy keyboard chatting. The packet radio variant of E-Mail was somewhat slow when it was working in the early days. Now it's fast - if you get the message at all (many reasons for this). The For Sale and Want ads kind of set the stage for electronic commerce, in a crude way. The best thing about packet (especially in years past when it was well populated) was that we used it like we use E-Mail today. We can get information to another person at a convenient time for both the sender and recipient. After spending about 10 years playing with this mode, I think that it's purpose has finally emerged - and it's not really any of the examples I have pointed out above. Sure, it can still be used for the above purposes, but one purpose clearly stands out amongst others. That is Emergency Operations.

Before I get any further, let's make one thing clear. I am not suggesting that all emergency communications be conducted through packet. What I am saying is that packet is a -Key- component of emergency operations. This is nothing that I haven't said before, but becomes more apparent (to me) every day.

Soon we will be observing the first anniversary of the terrible September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. There have been several lessons learned in the time that has passed since. These have been learned not only from the experiences directly involving those attacks, but from the general focus on security and some unfortunate natural and man-made disasters that have occurred since then.

Here are a couple of these lessons. First, ham operators are still needed to help with communications that have been affected by any emergency. Second, any communications system, whether it be police, fire, wireline telephones, cellphones or the internet can be adversely affected by a disaster. Third, any critique that I have seen of a drill or actual disaster has all said one thing - "communications were a problem...".

In the past 5 years, I have seen a great increase in the reliance on the internet for emergency operations. Generally, this involves communications between the state Department of Emergency Management, Emergency Management at the county level, and various state and federal agencies and relief agencies. While this is efficient, the internet (or access to it) is just as vulnerable to failure or sabotage as any other "normal" communications system. And there are unique failures that only the internet is susceptible to - such as hacking and E-Terrorism.

Enter packet radio. At some point in time, I anticipate that we will be called upon to replace internet links between various local, state, and federal agencies. This is where packet can shine - distributing E-Mail when no other method is available.

We have plenty of work to do before we can think of doing this effectively, of course. Nodes have to be added to strengthen links, and there has to be a general increase in packet operators' knowledge about the internet and how it works. This is because in order to be truly effective at completing lost internet links, we need to make our participation invisible to the end user. There's no time to train people in special operations that they may only use once in a while.

So here's a suggestion - we (packet operators, Sysops, node-ops and the like) should make every attempt to familiarize ourselves with the internet. Here's a real challenge for you - become expert at how internet E-Mail works. Find out what comprises the internet. Know what happens when you click on a link in your browser, from your computer, through the modem and finally the network.

For those of you who think this is far afield from packet radio, and far too complicated to learn, I say this: We already have a packet radio network that operates under the same principles as the internet does. It's not that different. Both send information in packets, both use packet relaying technology and route packet data through a dynamic network. While the medium may be different - wires vs. radio - the methods have a lot in common.

The World Wide Web is a superb resource on the internet mechanics. Several good books have been written on the subject. It takes a little time to learn this, but it is time well spent. We will be asked in the future to provide services that we currently don't provide, but only can do it if we know how.

In short, in order for packet to realize this noble purpose, we will have to learn and work at it a little. But it's a great use for packet radio and one that can easily prove the worth of so much Amateur Radio spectrum allocations. Will you be up to the task? I hope so, we'll need people who know how to do this if we want to prove ourselves capable communicators.

That ends this commentary and this edition of the WAPR news. We'll see you next in November.

Until then, 73 from Andy.

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