Category Archives: amateur radio

Red Kidney Beans and Junk Phone Calls

How many hits did I get when I looked up robocall?  Over 20 million! (And incidentally, it took .55 seconds to get the results)  Did you know you can buy a robo call plan to call all your frenemies or potential customers or whomever for as little as two cents a call?  This could cost me over a dollar if I called all my friends daily for four days in a row.  Just kidding, it would be over two dollars.

The robocall companies apparently are doing just a little more than calling their ten best friends.  One article (WSJ, FTC: Judge Orders Halt To Robocalls Selling Deceptive Warranties, May 15, 2009) reported on a little telemarketing company making 1.8 million dials per day and that he had done more than $40 million worth of dialing for extended warranty companies, including one billion dials on behalf of his largest client.

We still get junk phone calls. Can you believe they know where to call us?!!! Often we detect it is a robo call.  This despite how smooth they are and darned quick on their “feet”.  You can just barely make out the very slightly mechanized pace or lack of real inflection.  It’s just too even to be human, so sometimes we’re onto them. (Great, now they’ll fix that and we won’t know anymore!)

They’re selling dental insurance, Medicare Gap, extended warranty for our 2006 truck, gutters, satellite TV receivers, you name it.

We’ve started asking the robo caller questions like “Do you have red kidney beans?”, or “What’s the market doing today?”. You can almost hear the gears whirring and clanking as they process the unexpected responses.  They double back, ask their question again as if they had not heard our irreverent query. Okay, we’ll try it again. They hang up. Need new algorithms.

It’s a lot more fun than acting angry or just hanging up.  Besides, as my mom chided me, everyone has to work for a living and those guys are just doing their job. And won’t this provide programmers even more work as they develop and implement algorithms to address these smart alecks?

There are probably more constructive solutions you may consider.  Two include getting and keeping track of details from the caller, if possible; and contacting the Do Not Call Registry.  The former is a nice article written by a former telemarketing person who has been on both sides now.  The latter is a good thing to check, although it seems just a little fruitless at this point.  Why fruitless?

The telemarketers are sort of like the bad guys who aren’t supposed to have guns.  You know what I mean.  In the USA convicted felons are prohibited by law from owning or carrying guns.  Let’s see, this proscription resulted from them breaking a law, right?  And they’re going to pay attention to this added bother?  Don’t think so — I remember the first time, decades ago, I saw the bumper sticker, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

Okay, this does apply to some telemarketers – not all by any means, but some who operate outside the law.  If they do things the law doesn’t allow, they might profit wildly unless and until they are “caught.”  How does $40 million of calls sound, against a calculated risk of being caught, prosecuted, sentenced, and going back at it with new smarts?

Sounds like we might switch to ham radio for all our calls.  I never get a call on the radio offering dental insurance, Medicare Gap, extended warranty for our 2006 truck, gutters, or satellite TV receivers. And if the phone call is from a telemarketer, I might spin it out a bit, take some of their precious time too. It slows them down (they might not get down the list to your number then) and I might find some reportable information to report to the regulators.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey™
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©2007-2014 Dreamstreamr

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Staying on the Warm Side of the Door

We’re in Kannapolis NC, home of the fabled textile giant, Cannon Mills. This morning we awoke to 11 degrees Fahrenheit!  We aren’t here for the weather, right? Very cold, dry days are great for some things, but we’re not here for those.

We have a fun backpacking book entitled Pleasure Packing.  The author, Robert Wood, strongly makes the case to daydream your way through the difficult segments of a hike by thinking of your favorite places. We’re trying just that, thinking of warmer times past and future.

I started this morning to complete posting about our nice warm sunny trip to the NC Outer Banks this past fall.  We traveled south on the Outer Banks to Ocracoke, had a neat visit, and no one has heard further about the the trip.

This cold morning seemed so appropriate to think and write of warm places I’d rather be.  Until our mail arrived.  Then I wanted to talk about the cool package from perhaps colder places than NC. I’ll get back to the warm, sunny coastline of NC another post.

We received an envelope this morning from the QSL Card Processing of American Radio Relay League.  QSL cards are the written confirmation of a radio conversation between two amateur radio operators, or hams.  We receive cards infrequently, maybe once a year, and we receive between three and five QSL cards.

QSL cards don’t describe text of the conversation, only the date, time, what radio band we used, and how well we could hear each other.  The cards are often colorful and usually from across one of the oceans although sometimes from USA or Canada.

The Bulgarian card is a special card dedicated in honor of Bulgarian Saint Kozma Zografski. It is probably the prettiest QSL card we’ve received. It also was the most enigmatic, and prompted me to try, unsuccessfully, to learn a bit about Saint Kozma Zografski.

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The special call sign LZ1323SKZ, by the Blagovestnik Radio Club in Voinyagovo, Bulgaria, (near Sofia, 43 degrees Fahrenheit today) is part of a program their club does for “All Bulgarian Saints” award and for another award as well. Here’s the map showing their location:

lz1323skz

The three cards this morning are from last March 2013 and are from some talking I (Jim) did from a county park in southwest Miami from our trailer.  The two Ukraine ones are from Alexey and Yarik, individuals I spoke with at their respective home stations.

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The icy-looking card is from UW7LL in Kharkiv Ukraine (7 degrees today).  You can see where his station is in this picture, below:

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The other Ukrainian card is from UR5GDX in Nova Kakhovka (14 degrees F)  along the  Dnieper River in southern Ukraine.

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Nova Kakhovka was built to house workers for the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant in the 1950s.  Nova Kakovka seems most similar in intent to Boulder City Nevada.  Both cities were intended to be model cities built to house workers in clean, attractive, safe communities.  Nova Kakhovka became known as The Pearl of Lower Dnieper and The Monument of Architecture.

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Full time RVing has vastly improved our knowledge of North American geography.  Amateur radio has done the same for my knowledge of places across the globe, if their amateur radio operators talk to me.  (e.g., none so far from China, Kazakhstan, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Iraq, or Egypt, among many I have not reached)  I would automatically have figured Bulgaria and Ukraine were much colder than we (in North Carolina).  Maybe it’s the “any given day” rule.  I’ll just have to check back in with these guys, see how’s the wx!

People often ask us about our Airstream trailer, “Do they still make those?”   Similarly we get the question about amateur radio, “Do people still use those?”  Two good yes answers are these: There are more licensed amateur radio operators in the USA than ever in its history; and I have spoken to amateur radio operators in every European country, several Russian countries, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, a couple in Central America, and several South American ones.

And I am a casual radio operator, often just getting on the radio a few times a month.  Yes, amateur radio is still both effective and fun.  For more info see this link about ARRL, the Amateur Radio Relay League.

As soon as we get back to “our house” I will dig out my QSL cards and mail one to each of these guys.  Hopefully it won’t take ten months for them to receive.  Ham radio, at the speed of light, is much faster than the mail, eh?

See you down the road!

Jim N5RTG and Debbie N4RTG
dreamstreamr odyssey™

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©2007-2014 Dreamstreamrs

Loafing in the Virginia Highlands

We’re doing nearly nothing at Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park. Arrived Tuesday, four days ago. We’ve taken several great walks including to the waterfall at the property’s western edge — the water is running great, really pretty.

Our location in beautiful Virginia Highlands

Our location in beautiful Virginia Highlands

Sorry we took no camera — nor a whistle, nor compass, nor first aid kit, nor water, nor phone, nor did we think to tell anyone where we were going. We did carry a can of bear spray, highly recommended locally for walks most anywhere out here. Saw lots of deer track but no paw prints anywhere. We weren’t disappointed by this.

Jim assembled and raised Debbie’s Eagle-1 31′ vertical antenna yesterday. It’s atop the trailer, making it 40′ tall. Newly configured with a really dandy setup with an auto-coupler that gets its dc voltage through the coaxial cable. Working well, looks superb. If you have any questions, just email or call.

We went to Floyd last night for dinner at Mickey G’s Bistro and music outside the Floyd Country Store.

Dinner at Mickey G’s was good and very reasonable prices. Service was attentive and competent, food was wonderful, and the restaurant is small and busy on Friday night. Eat outside if you can, there is more room under the patio roof than inside. We tried the baked pasta sampler and a Greek salad. Both were excellent — the salad was perfect and all three items on the sampler were delicious.

We didn’t listen to music inside the store — the music on the sidewalk across the street was clearly superior — three men, playing a banjo, acoustic bass, and guitar and all three very good singers. They kept a rapt audience of 75-100 people with three to five folks dancing many of the songs. We enjoyed their music.

Today we really did nothing — no walks, no out-of-doors projects. Debbie fixed dinner for company and afterward we watched a movie together in the club house, Trail of the Lonesome Pine. Neat movie with historic significance — the first movie shot on location in three strip Technicolor (1934), and starred Fred MacMurray, Henry Fonda, and Silvia Sydney.

The weather has been cool and wet until today, when it was cool and sunny. A welcome change, and we may have a couple more such days before we head back toward Charlotte.

See you down the road!
Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Airstream Trailer Perched Atop The Wall

Hitting the wall describes a point in an endurance sports event when the athlete just cannot go anymore. Yesterday we might have stumbled onto the term’s origin — at Wall South Dakota. We’ll get back to this in a minute.

We’ve avoided stopping at Wall Drug in Wall South Dakota until this year, and finally we caved. The distance westward from Huron, our starting point, was just right for a day’s ride, and our curiousity simply got the better of us.

Me in 1964

Me in 1964

Just before arriving to Wall we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just off I-90 and twenty miles east of Wall. The visitors center offers a well-done video and displays about the minuteman missile defense system and the Cold War era many of us remember well.

It's just a training missile, honest!

It’s just a training missile, honest!

Tours reservations are filled early so we missed them. Instead, we drove another fifteen miles west to the self-guided tour of a decommissioned missile silo. Wow! This is a nicely preserved historical display with a glass viewing cover over the missile silo providing a view of a training missile inside.

IMG_1015Serendipitously, just after we arrived at the former missile silo, a park ranger and entourage also did. We were treated to a thorough presentation on the history of this site. More surprising, one of the attendees had served at this same missile site in the 1980s. He served in the Air Force strike force security team which was committed to 15 minute response time to any of the nine missile sites in this area. When an alarm indicated intrusion into the secure launch field, a strike team immediately mounted and investigated with weapons at ready. This fellow added nicely to the ranger’s presentation, helping bring history alive.

The "wall" presented a great obstacle to pioneers' travel westward

The “wall” presented a great obstacle to pioneers’ travel westward

Westward Ho, time to go! We resumed our travels westward another six miles to Wall South Dakota. As we approached our exit we saw the “wall” the pioneers faced on their westward journey. A 200 foot high bluff blocked their passage. They had to pick their way around it to continue toward Oregon.

Wall is a couple of miles north of I-90, an easy jaunt even with the trailer. Parking was super-easy — we parked along a curb in a great spot two blocks from the tourist street. Large parking lots offered parking behind Wall Drug and west of it too.

Debbie and her cowboy buddy at Wall Drug

Debbie and her cowboy buddy at Wall Drug

We enjoyed browsing Wall Drug’s complex — it’s a city block chock-a-block full of shops and eateries. Some things were nice, especially the fudge shop, the toy store, and the backyard.

A horse, a fish, and now a jackalope -- Jim's had some rides

A horse, a fish, and now a jackalope — Jim’s had some rides

In the backyard we found a couple of interesting things like this jackalope. Jim had to wait his turn while other kids got on and had a ride. We never did find the free ice water or the five cents coffee, but a water station near the jackalope seemed clean so we enjoyed free water while waiting. The young gals who sold us the fudge are from China and Macedonia. They are in the States three months, on a J-1 work visa they said, during which they work at Wall Drug and tour the USA. Neat! We might try to do same in Europe.

Pretty nice parking

Pretty nice parking

Debbie had read about BLM lands south of Wall where we might dry-camp. The day had turned cloudy early and kept the temperature in the low 80’s so we headed six miles south from Wall to a turn-off into National Grasslands near the radio towers. Gorgeous area with level parking here and there along the bluff overlooking the grass lands to the east.

P1170010We read the difference between the Badlands prairie desert and the grasslands is the grasslands have enough water to support grass. The desert does not. The grasslands are too dry to support trees but are too wet to be deserts.

Our dry-camp in the BLM grasslands was perfect for our first night away from the big airstream rally. We spent three weeks parked between and close to other trailers in a busy dusty bug-infested state fairgrounds in Huron. Atop the wall overlooking the grasslands, we heard the wind and birds. No dust, no bugs, no business. Just beauty and peace.

The dreamstreamrs’ shortest odyssey in six years

to the tune of Leaving on a Jet Plane

Our big truck is packed, we’re ready to go
We’re standing here outside your door
We hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’, it’s early morn
The trailer’s waiting, it’s hitched to the truck
Already we should be on up the road

[thanks to John Denver, 1966, Leaving On A Jet Plane]

Do you think of full-timers going part-time? We are making ready for traveling just three months before we return to NC. This is a way shorter odyssey than we normally embark upon, but takes as much preparation as traveling for a year. A breakdown is just as much problem no matter how many days or weeks we are on the road. The difference for us is what we can do without for three months versus taking EVERYTHING with us. Too much grandchildren stuff means we are leaving the 80-ball tennis tote until we return.

Just today we did all the season’s maintenance. It’s a long list, doesn’t look like one day’s work:

  • Re-attached a loose propane gas line.
  • Drained and re-filled the fresh water tank.
  • Removed the 31′ Eagle-One antenna from the roof and re-installed the High Sierra antenna.
  • Cleaned the solar panels and checked all attachments.
  • Removed the gas bottles, batteries, and hitch from the trailer’s frame.
  • Sanded and painted the trailer’s a-frame and hitch.
  • Checked all tires pressures.
  • Cleaned the truck’s windows so Deb will think the truck is clean.
  • Reattached ends on battery cables
  • We emptied and repacked the truck bed

I mentioned in earlier posts (March 2012, and April 2013) about problems with our crimped cable lugs. Today I removed all eight battery cables, drilled a 5/32″ hole in the lug’s end, and soldered thirteen crimped lugs. Two others I already had soldered and one (only one) was crimped so wonderfully there was no need or space for soldering. The process took an hour and is well worthwhile. All lugs of my battery cables are securely attached for both current conduction and mechanical integrity.

The truck bed is for this trip doing extra duty, now carrying a bed frame and rails for Vancouver grandchildren, and with printed materials for seminars and club activities we are involved in this summer. Our truck bed seems far more full, and the back seat is also full due to head, foot, and bunk ladder for the bed.

Our trip is across the USA to Vancouver BC and back. Along the way we plan to spend a week in Dayton OH for the world’s largest ham radio convention and show, a week in Jackson Center OH for Airstream factory service and Alumapalooza (a big rally), three weeks in Huron SD for WBCCI annual rally, two weeks in Vancouver BC to see grandchildren and help a little with their house, and then hightail it back to NC for Hannah’s wedding.

We’ve been in the Charlotte NC area almost three weeks. It has been a whirlwind. A wedding, a college graduation, family gatherings, Mothers Day visits, catching up with friends — we tried to make the most of our short time here. Another bene of only planning three months away — saying farewell seems a little easier.

We hope to see you down the road!

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

What about China or Kazakhastan?

picture of bar graph

dreamstreamr daily stats

We just passed the 100,000 visits mark on our blog.  This is sort of a no big deal thing compared to certain other blogs which have as many readers in a week or three.  Take Lesley Carter’s fantastic blog, Bucket List, for example. If each of Lesley’s readers who follow her blog only click on her blog two times, she will have more site visits in one or two days than we have in a couple of years on our Chasing 75 blog. She works for it, deserves all the attention and more. If you haven’t, you should visit her blog now. Wow! What great pictures and adventures, right?

picture of map of Jersey

Jersey, a quiet gem

We’ve had visits from readers in over 75 countries just in the past quarter.  Do you know Jersey, the European country?  We didn’t, but now have found it and learned a bit about Jersey.  Very interesting, and an example of our geography lessons from our wordpress blog.  You see, we apparently had two visitors from Jersey last quarter. Ham radio has greatly improved Jim’s world geography as he looks up the country locations for overseas hams he contacts.

South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Russia, Japan, Brazil, nearly all the European countries (but not Jersey, not yet), he has pretty good reach with his small ham radio setup, and it’s fun to see the countries’ locations on the map.

Picture of Asian countries

None in China?

Oh yeah, back to the blog and stats. You see, this is one of our problems. Ham radio, ukuleles, reading, projects, traveling — so much to do and so little time. We enjoy writing our blogs and reading those of others wherever they are.

Our blog is still gaining ground, slowly and steadily. Our monthly visits continue to rise (although none as high as last August during our spectacularly scenic Alaska trip). It’s fun to see the results, and to increase our circle of blogs we read as we exchange thoughts with other writers. We like seeing where our readers are from and, sometimes, we wonder if there might just be a couple in Kazakhastan or China too? Or are we as unlikely to find a reader there as we are a ham radio contact in those two countries? We can hope . . .

Jim and Debbie
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©2013 Dreamstreamr

Top Five Modifications to our Airstream

We were talking yesterday about which modifications are our favorite. I asked Debbie, “Which three are the tops?” She readily replied, “all-around awnings, kitchen utensils drawer, and solar panels system.”

This morning I thought about it some more and decided to up it two more. I submit the lift and lay antenna roof mount and the catalytic heater.

Here’s the complete list:

  • 1. awnings
  • 2. kitchen drawer
  • 3. solar power system
  • 4. electric antenna roof mount
  • 5. catalytic heater
  • These are all significant improvements in the function of our trailer. They are very different from each other, are among the most useful of our mods, and happen to be pretty noticeable too.

    picture of added awnings

    Awnings all around are useful year-round

    1. We took our trailer, still in its warranty period, to the Airstream factory for the Zip-Dee awnings installation on rear and road side of the trailer. We use these nearly every week, depending upon sun exposure. The added awnings allow us to keep one or more windows open regardless of rainfall. And the long road side awning is a great sun shade, both for the two large windows and for the refrigerator outside wall.

    picture of added drawer

    Added kitchen drawer is indispensable

    2. The kitchen drawer was a slam dunk — we were so surprised Airstream Co had not installed the same thing. A perfect place for it, and probably the most useful change we’ve made to the trailer. Without this drawer, the utensils would be in a drawer behind a cabinet door. How much easier this is, to just open a drawer just below the counter top and reach all the table utensils.

    picture of rooftop solar panels

    added two solar panels

    3. Almost six years ago we installed solar panels atop the trailer and a solar charge controller inside. It was a little bit an experiment for us, not having installed or used these before. When next we needed batteries, we installed a pair of 6v golf cart batteries, and later replaced them with two pairs of 6v batteries. We have ample battery power, generally enough for at least four days without sun. There is no noise, no fumes, no labor involved in starting or stopping them (although we can tilt them to maximize solar collection). They cost nothing to operate.

    picture of antenna mount

    Tarheel antenna mount

    4. Initially the amateur radio HF (long distance) antenna was on the truck’s rear fender. Little more than two years later we found and installed a Tarheel Lift and Lay® roof mount for the HF antenna. Four years later we are very pleased with this antenna location and operation. We push an electric 12vdc switch inside and the antenna raises from prone, or storage position, to full vertical position in twelve seconds. Push the button again and the antenna lowers to storage position on the roof. Easy, quick, works great and has a very high cool factor.

    picture of heater

    Catalytic heater on hinge mount

    5. The catalytic heater is a boon for boon docking or dry-camping. It consumes no power from the batteries or shore power system. It uses propane from the trailer’s attached bottles, and it burns oxygen from our living space. Yes, that’s a bit of a negative as is the contribution of products of combustion from this unvented heater. So if you don’t have one, we do NOT recommend it for you. We use it guardedly, and never when napping or sleeping. We designed a hinged mount to allow secure storage for towing days and easy directional aiming of the heating pad. We joke the heater is designed to follow Debbie’s location in the trailer, to keep her warm.

    That’s it, our wrap-up of the top five modifications of our 25′ Airstream travel trailer. We made these and other changes to help make our trailer into a suitable house for year-round living and travels.

    Jim and Debbie
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    ©2013 Dreamstreamr