July 19, 2019 ... Central U.S. Time


Posted or updated 11.16.08 by Glenn Miller

Back in May 1999, Bill Lamb sent me a link to a Web site called the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Home (SETI@Home).  This is a project to have home computer users assist with crunching data collected by the giant radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.  Since the project didn’t have the resources to fund a megacomputer to do the work, they’d come up with a way to slice up the data, send it out to home computer users where a small program on the computer would process the data and send it back to the project.

The project is headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley and was one of the first (if not the first) to use this distributed computing capability among home computer users that’s been made possible by the Internet.

Through several iterations, SETI@Home users have processed over 37 billion “work units” and currently has over 900,000 users running over 2 million computers (I think each processor in a multi-processor computer counts as a separate computer).  Five million users in 226 countries have participated in the project, contributing 2 million years of computer time.

SETI@Home transitioned to a program called Berkeley Open Interface for Network Computing (BOINC) which allows home users to choose from several distributed computing projects other than SETI.

My computer has an Intel Dual-Core 3-GHz processor and it processes a standard work unit in about 4 hours.  With a dual processor, you can look at it as processing two units in 4 hours or average 2 hours per unit.

Recently, SETI@Home started sending out Astropulse units to be processed.  The regular work units search for continuous narrow band signals in the radio spectrum (the next “Wow” signal).  Astropulses are, as the name implies, pulsed signals that would indicate intelligent origin.

The AP work units are large and take approximately 80 hours for my 3-gig processor to finish.

Running 24/7/365, to date, my various computers since May 1999 have processed over 295,000 work units (255.13 quadrillion floating-point operations) and devoted well over 36,000 hours to the project.

And the project continues.

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Moving Forward - Post ISS

Posted or updated 10.29.08 by Glenn Miller

About a month ago, my Kenwood TS-440SAT HF transceiver started exhibiting the symptoms of an unlock condition in one of the radio’s phase-lock loop (PLL) circuits.  This is a known problem with this particular radio.  There are two PLL circuits that are affected.  Both circuits are critical to the proper operation of the radio.  To keep a small number of components in these circuits from vibrating mechanically, they were both “potted” in a rubber-based material that surrounds the components.  Over the years, this material breaks down and allows the parts to vibrate.  This vibration causes the circuits to malfunction.

I purchased this transceiver in 1985 while I was stationed in Munich.  At the time, this was nearly Kenwood’s top-of-the-line radio.  And it was a vast improvement over the radio it replaced in my “shack.”  All solid state whereas my older radio had vacuum tubes in the transmitter’s power amplifier.  Also, this new radio had a general coverage receiver capable of continuous tuning from .5 to 30 MHz.  The radio it replaced was tuneable only in the amateur radio bands.

So, this has been my main HF radio for these past 23+ years. 

I’d told myself a few years ago that when the good old Kenwood went south for whatever reason, I’d replace it with an Icom radio.  Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu are the main manufacturers of amateur radio equipment.  The Japanese took over the amateur radio market back in the late ‘70s when the American manufacturers like Hammurlund, Hallicrafters, Collins, etc. couldn’t compete.

The Icom model I purchased last week is the IC-746 Pro.  And it’s not the top-of-the-line radio in the Icom lineup, but it’s a quantum leap forward compared to my vintage Kenwood radio.  Modern amateur radio equipment is all microprocessor controlled and this radio has way too many features to list, but among the more interesting is the capability to copy/decode radio teletype (RTTY) on the radio’s large LCD display with no interface or external gizmos required.  The digital signal processing circuitry forgoes the need to purchase pricey crystal or mechanical filters to vary the bandwidth of the received signals.  The radio also receives continuously from below .1 MHz to 174 MHz and has three antenna inputs, selectable from the front panel.  They call it an HF/6/2 rig because it operates on all of the amateur HF bands as well as the 6 and 2 meter bands.

This evening I modified (with invaluable assistance from a friend) the radio so it would transmit outside the amateur radio bands so I could check into the AFMARS nets.  Works like a charm.  I expected nothing less.

I’ll send the old Kenwood off for repair and keep it as my backup rig.

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Contact with the International Space Station!

Posted or updated 10.19.08 by Glenn Miller

I listened yesterday (October 18) morning to a high-elevation (83-degree) pass, but he was talking to students at an elementary school somewhere and when the ISS is doing that type of project, they’re on a different uplink frequency to keep the loonies from trying to cause interference.

At the end of his conversation with the students, he switched back to the “normal” uplink frequency and made several contacts with amateurs in the eastern U.S., but, by that time, the ISS was down to less than 4 degrees elevation here, so no luck with a contact.

This afternoon’s pass of the ISS was at good elevation from San Angelo (81 degrees) and I made the contact just as the ISS passed overhead.  Of course, Richard’s very popular around the amateur world, and I heard him mention how difficult it is trying to pick out a single call sign from among the hundreds of stations calling him at any given time.

I didn’t really think I had that good of a chance to contact him because he was periodically asking if there were any Scouting Jamboree on the Air stations wanting to make contact.  So I didn’t have my digital voice recorder handy to document our contact.  One of my “satellite buddies” hopefully recorded the pass and will send me a copy.

Richard has been busy sending SSTV images.  On a some of the low-elevation passes I’ve heard the SSTV signals even though there was no voice communication going on.  I think one of the three SSTV choices allows for unattended operation—takes a picture, then automatically transmits the image.

Richard’s scheduled to be on the ISS until the crew change takes place in 10 days and he’ll ride back to Earth on the Soyuz capsule.

I hope his enthusiasm for operating the amateur station on board the ISS rubs off on the Expedition 18 crew and they become more active than the crew they’re relieving.

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Satellite Sunday

Posted or updated 10.12.08 by Glenn Miller

Today was a pretty good day.

I read on the NASA Web site that the Soyuz launch to the ISS was a success.  I’d wanted to watch the launch live on NASA TV, but I didn’t get up early enough for that.  This is the vehicle taking Richard Garriott and the Expedition 18 crew up to the ISS.  He’s planning to operate the amateur radio station frequently during his short stay.

Also today, a friend (Gary/W5ETJ) and I took a drive down to Eldorado (TX) and operated a portable satellite station from Maidenhead grid DM90.  We only made 14 contacts, but we had a good time in spite of the drizzle and wind.

I saw on the AMSAT bulletin board that several slow-scan television (SSTV) pictures have been received by amateurs around the world from the ISS in the past week.  Think of SSTV as a color facsimile transmission.  It’s kind of like a high-resolution TV screen shot.  There soon will be three SSTV pieces of equipment on the ISS.  Richard is bringing along a hand-held SSTV device and there are two others already onboard.  The ISS crew has been testing one of the capabiites in the past two days. ARISS ISS.  Cool.

I’m looking forward to the Soyuz docking with the ISS on Tuesday so Richard can get settled in and start making contact with the many of us who are anxious to “work the space station.”

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Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)

Posted or updated 10.04.08 by Glenn Miller

ARISS is an international program that has ensured the presence of amateur radio operations aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  From selecting and flight testing the radio equipment to assisting astronauts and cosmonauts in obtaining amateur radio licenses, the organization has helped educate the public on many aspects of life aboard the ISS.  As a secondary benefit, more of the general public has heard of “ham” radio.

One of the main goals and major justification for amateur radio aboard the ISS is education.  There are regularly scheduled contacts arranged between mostly elementary schools worldwide and the ISS crews.  Amateur radio operators volunteer to bring the required equipment to the school to make the contact on 145.800 MHz (FM mode) with the ISS and let students talk to the crew member chosen to perform for that particular school contact.

Since ISS orbital passes last only about 15 minutes at best, the crew is given a list of the questions that will be asked in advance so they can prepare a brief response.  This allows more kids to get to the mic to ask their question during the brief “interview.” 

I listened in back on June 23 to one such interview between a group of scouts and elementary school students in Round Rock, TX.  Astronaut Greg Chamitoff/KD5PKZ spoke with the kids and provided them a first-hand glimpse of what it’s like to live in space.  It was pretty cool listening to him respond to their questions.  Of course, I was only able to hear his side of the contact, but it was loud and clear from horizon to horizon.

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Alaska via satellite

Posted or updated 10.01.08 by Glenn Miller

Like Hawaii, Alaska is tough to work from West Texas.  On every satellite pass where the footprint covers me and Alaska, I’ve listened for them, but there aren’t too many up there operating through the satellites.

This operator, Joe/AL1F, has been logging “heards” on the Live OSCAR Satellite Status Page for a long time, so I knew he was at least listening.  I caught him as the satellite AO-7 was down to about 10 degrees elevation here.  His grid square (AP90) puts him close to the western coast of Alaska, so it was at low elevation and rising for him.  There’s one other station in Alaska that I’ve heard a few times, but haven’t been able to work yet.  Fortunately, I have Alaska confirmed, but it’s nice to reach out to the tough ones and make it.

I was talking with Mike/KE7ULS in Eden, Utah on AO-7 last night telling him I was looking for AL1F and he commented that he’s worked him several times.  Alaska is certainly easier when you’re “up north” in Utah.  But it’s as much of a stretch for him to work the South American stations as for me to work AK or HI.  I do kind of envy the guys on the East Coast who can work stations in Europe.  But they’ll not be hearing Hawaii cheese

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A new “country” on the satellites

Posted or updated 09.30.08 by Glenn Miller

One of the activities in the amateur radio world is collecting “wallpaper.”  Wallpaper consists of certificates for accomplishing tasks.  There are certificates for working all 50 states, all continents, all the counties in a particular state, etc.  Another is called the DX Century Club.  This certificate can be earned by contacting and confirming contact (through the exchange of QSL cards) with 100 (the century part) different countries.  DX is the Morse abbreviation for “distant” and is commonly used in amateur radio high frequency (HF) contacts stateside to specify most any foreign country.  If someone is calling “CQ DX” from California, they don’t want to hear a station in Texas responding.  Not considered DX on the HF bands (30 MHz and below).  However, if you’re in Texas and you hear “CQ DX” from a California station on 145 MHz, now that’s DX because signals don’t generally travel that far on 2 meters.

DXing on the satellites is limited by the “footprint” of the satellite.  That means, theoretically, if two stations have a mutual view of the satellite (it’s above the horizon at both stations), communication should be possible.  The orbit altitude of the satellite determines how large its footprint will be—the higher the orbit, the larger the footprint.  The satellites useable right now are considered LEOs (low-Eath-orbit).  Satellites in elliptical orbit have an apogee of about 43,000 miles and a perigee of around 200 miles.  So, when the satellite is out near apogee, it appears nearly motionless and has a footprint covering a hemisphere.  There are three (I think) “dead” elliptical amateur satellites orbiting right now.  Unfortunately, I got back into satellite work after they had all become non-operational.

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Military Affiliate Radio System - MARS

Posted or updated 09.28.08 by Glenn Miller

I guess the Vietnam war saw the most use of MARS for phone patches and message traffic from GIs in the war zone to their friends and family back home.  Senator Barry Goldwater was an amateur radio operator (call sign K7UGA) and, on his ranch in Arizona, he built a well equipped station that was used as a gateway for phone patches from the Pacific to points stateside.  He had a cadre of volunteers operating the station nearly 24/7 (or at least when the bands were open).  I’ve read his station ran 700,000+ phone patches and Barry footed the telephone charges for all calls going to phones in Arizona.  I had the pleasure of talking to Barry on AFMARS.  His MARS call was AGA6BG and he was visiting the Pentagon MARS station and checked into one of the radio nets.

Those were the days.  Today, MARS is becoming closely aligned with FEMA.  Soon the three MARS programs (AF, Army and Navy/USMC) will be redistricting to conform to FEMA regions.  I’m currently in AFMARS Region 4, but will be in Region 6 under the master plan.

And technology has not been forgotten in MARS.  Perhaps 10 years ago nearly all voice traffic (messages) was transitioned to digital transmission modes (first radio teletype, then newer, more reliable modes such as AMTOR and PacTOR.  Army MARS is leading the way in developing new digital techniques.  And the Internet hasn’t been left out of the equation.  Programs such as WinLink2000 provide in interface between radio and Internet traffic movement.

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Hams in space

Posted or updated 09.28.08 by Glenn Miller

Several of the amateur satellites support FM voice operations.  The satellites are, in effect, FM repeaters in the sky.  The advantage is that anyone with an FM transceiver capable of operating on 145 MHz and 435 MHz and a simple directional antenna can access the satellites.  Most amateurs have a hand-held dual-band transceiver or handie-talkie (HT) that can be used since it takes only milliwatts of power on the uplink signal to access the satellite.

I have an HT that puts out 3 watts maximum power and which I’ve used to communicate through the FM satellites.  It’s a challenge compared to my “fixed” satellite station which is computer controlled.  A satellite tracking program controls the antenna rotors in azimuth and elevation and tracks the satellite I’m using from horizon to horizon.  The computer is also interfaced to my radio, so the program automatically selects the proper uplink and downlink frequencies and compensates for Doppler shift.  Once I set the frequency, I can concentrate on operating and not on manually adjusting frequencies as the Doppler shifts it during the satellite pass.

There is an amateur radio station aboard the International Space Station.  Many, if not all, of the ISS crew members are licensed amateurs and some crews are very active making casual contacts during their rest periods.  Other crews, like the current crew, are not so active.  This crew generally only makes scheduled contacts with schools and other youth groups as part of NASA’s PR program.  I’ve talked to the ISS as well as to the cosmonauts aboard MIR when it was still in orbit.  More about ISS amateur operations later.

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It’s like CB, ain’t it?

Posted or updated 09.28.08 by Glenn Miller

Bill Lamb has kindly allocated some space on the site to allow me to ramble about what has been my hobby since 1965.  I know we have a few Rimbachvets who are also licensed radio amateurs.  During my 23 years in the AF, I’ve come across many amateurs and still keep in touch with a few of them.

In the past several years, amateur radio has changed a great deal.  Technology has pulled a lot of amateurs away from their radios and to their computer keyboards and the Internet. I have to admit I spend much less time “on the air” than I did before the Internet.

A few years ago I decided to re-equip my “ham shack” for amateur satellite operations.  Since the early ‘70s, there have been several dozen satellites launched that support amateur radio.  I was very involved in amateur satellites from 1980 until 1983 while stationed at Ft Meade.  When I PCS’d to go to DLI for intermediate Russian, my station pretty much went into storage and I didn’t resurrect it until May of this year.  Since then, I have made nearly 1,100 contacts with other amateurs through one of the eight Orbiting Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio (OSCAR) that support voice operations.  I have even “worked” a guy who I talked to back in 1982 and who’s still operating through the various satellites. 

Right now I’m collecting confirmation cards (QSLs) to earn the Worked All States via satellite award.  When I was in Maryland, making contact with Hawaii was impossible due to the low earth orbit of the satellites.  Being centrally located in Texas gave me the opportunity to not only talk to an OM (old man) in Hawaii, but also to a YL (young lady) in Alaska.  With those two confirmed, I’ve started a serious effort to get QSLs from the other 48.  Right now I have 35 states “confirmed” and I hope to see some new states confirmed soon.  The only state I haven’t contact so far is Vermont, but it’s only a matter of time.

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Glenn Miller

About Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller served in Rimbach from June 1972 until June 1975. He retired from the Air Force in 1994 following a series of enviable tours, both overseas and stateside. He now works as a civilian at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, and blogs here about amateur radio and other topics.

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