Did you know that you can send and receive email to anyone anywhere in the world using just radio equipment? Even if all other global communication networks – including the Wide Web Interworld – are down for the count? I’ll get to that later.

Back to the books…. and the scientific calculator.

As usual, radio silence in the blogosphere has indicated extreme radioactivity in meatspace. I have been busy. The fruits of my labors have culminated thus: upgraded to Amateur Extra (the highest amateur radio license class, with privileges on all frequencies,) became a full MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) member (Department of Defense meets amateur radio for whatever emergency or disaster comms may be necessary – not only do they train you in military-style radio operation, you get a nifty glow-in-the-dark decoder ring,) conducted my usual radio business for three days from my car out in the middle of nowhere and finally, today, after weeks of trying and failing and troubleshooting and tweaking and adjusting, began operating in digital modes. MT63 and WINMOR, to be precise, both of which are used in MARS. There are about a dozen others I’m dying to get my hands dirty with – RTTY, PSK31, Olivia, etc. – but these two, being the ones I need to be able to use on a daily basis, were what I chose to start with.


One day I found these in my P.O. box…

WINMOR is a protocol under development primarily for use with Winlink2K, that radio-only email system I mentioned in the beginning. Needless to say, complex systems under development are not the most user-friendly. I am pretty sure that if I hadn’t given up alcohol for the coming hot summer, I wouldn’t have had the patience or sharpness of mind to get it all working properly. In fact, my attention span has expanded immensely since I put down the whiskey. Never fear, dear reader, you’ll hear none of this “sobriety” gibberish from me – I hate that word and I don’t care for 12-Step programs (one step is all I need, thank you) and I will someday return to my infamous and invariably amusing, hard-drinking ways, but first I need to lose about 40 lbs and survive a long summer in the Slabs without dying of dehydration. In the mean time, I reasonably expect to get about ten times as much done as usual.

MT63 is another digital mode which performs quite well under poor band conditions by dividing its content into 64 tones stretched over time. In fact, it’s so immune to noise that you can use it without any fancy interface between your radio and your computer. Assuming your ‘puter has a built-in microphone, you can just let the audio from the radio’s loudspeaker get into the mic and under normal conditions this should work fine. For some reason, though, I had trouble receiving through a MacBook Pro’s internal sound card (which I understand is actually par for the course,) so eventually I just decided to put a dedicated computer in place and use a ham-radio-friendly sound card for interfacing. Since $300 buys an awful lot of computer these days, it wasn’t too big a deal. The robustness of MT63 still amazes me – my first trial reception with the new setup yielded 100% copy under just about the worst, noisiest HF band conditions possible.

HF/VHF/UHF mobile installation… in an art car.

Now, all this began around the time I was wrapping up my training for MARS and eyeballing an upgrade to the Amateur Extra license class. I had ARRL’s study guide for the latter collecting dust somewhere and one day grabbed it and started studying. It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but by no means the toughest, and after about ten days of dedicating three to four hours per day (sometimes a little more) to working through the question pool and filling in the gaps in my knowledge, I was passing practice exams in my sleep and figured it was time to take the plunge, scrape up $14 and go for the real thing. Not too surprisingly, I passed, though when I returned from the rest room as my answer sheet was being graded signed, some of the examiners were muttering things like, “It’s OK, he can take it again on the 24th….” within earshot, just to yank my chain.

Of course, I haven’t had a lot of time to go play radio on all the new elitist real estate within the ham bands that is the exclusive domain of the Amateur Extra – nope, I’ve been potty-training computers and sound cards, building a chicken coop and moving some actual poultry into it, moving trailers and art cars around to make room for new, and finally getting those disgustingly heavy and huge Pb/Ca batteries into their permanent home:

700lbs of lead-acid love….*each*… and 24 of them.