Sunday, June 24, 2012

Radio Club Takes Over Ho'okipa

Amanda from Gluten Free Maui invited fellow bloggers Erik Blair, Jerry Isdale, and others to check out the Ho'okipa bluff, where her ham radio club was hosting a field day, actually a field "weekend" this past weekend. This section of Ho'okipa is the same place where the pillbox mural is repainted every few weeks, so even though I had class that day, I really wanted to make it out there.  DH and I managed to get out there right around sunset on Saturday. 

Diane of the Maui Amateur Radio Club repainted the pillbox on Saturday.

Beautiful, and not commonly seen, view towards Ho'okipa.
(This is the million dollar ocean view the cows get!)

Field day turned out to be a national, and Canadian, competition between ham radio leagues all over North America, during which time clubs try to contact as many other ham radio stations as possible. Each club logs their contacts into the computer, and sends them to the national headquarters to tabulate the results. It’s a field day because instead of individual ham radio operators holing up in their own little hideaways, members get together to field test their equipment away from the comforts of civilization, socialize, and see how many other radio stations they can contact and how far they can get. 

MEO bus donated for the weekend, next to the WWII
foundation of the bunker. 

The Maui club’s field day involved taking over the Ho’okipa pillbox. Amanda said the pillbox used to be a WWII communications station, with a sleeping bunker nearby, and antenna on the bluff. So it’s kind of nostalgic that the local ham radio league took over the area for the weekend. Diane, a member of the radio league, repainted it with her design. The landowners gave permission to the club to sleep overnight on the property, paint the pillbox, and put up a tower. The MEO even donated a bus for the weekend, to be used as a portable radio station. The cows who normally hang out in that field, with their million dollar ocean view, also must have moved for the event. But they left plenty of cow pies everywhere.

Antenna for the field day event on Maui. 

My understanding is that on field day, radio leagues get points based on each contact they make, how many visitors stop by, what kind of visitors stop by (like press or elected officials), and whether they can connive, er persuade, visitors to go on the radio.  It wasn’t about having long fireside chats, but more like rabbits in heat – getting as many different contacts as quickly as possible. The tricky part was that there were so many other interested rabbits on the other end of the signal waiting for their connection with the Maui club. It was like a whole field of rabbits on the other end, impatiently hopping. (Anyhow, hope this is not offensive to anyone or their rabbits – just my way of making this interesting to read.)

Maui radio club operator and logger hard at work. 
Amanda explained why there was such a line up of clubs waiting to contact the Maui radio league.  Any club in Hawaii is so far from the mainland US and Canada, that it’s actually a feather in the cap (or a bunny notch in the bedpost) to connect with a radio league in Hawaii. So while many mainland ham radio stations have to search for other clubs to contact, the Maui club can relax, pick one frequency and stay there. The Maui radio operator is like a traffic controller for all those eager bunny rabbits, picking who’s next.  Hare today, gone tomorrow. Bad pun. Per Amanda, the radio station on Molokai is one of the most prized contacts in the competition. She said the Molokai radio station wasn’t even operated much, but now has some certified operators.

Listening to the radio is pretty confusing to a novice. It’s also not relaxing, so it’s not like the Maui club wasn’t doing any work. It’s like listening to the Cadbury bunny whose mouth is full of marbles. Imagine a bunny trying to say Whiskey and Foxtrot. You have to ask the bunny to repeat itself again, because maybe it was trying to say Tango not Whiskey. The call letters use the military code that I always associate with WWII Hollywood movies, Alpha for A, Bravo for B, Charlie for C, Delta for D, Whiskey for W, and so forth, so it’s kind of like listening to a Cadbury bunny in basic training.  The radio operator has to recode the words into letters and numbers and then the logger on the computer has to correctly enter or log the sets of information, making sure to enter zero instead of the letter “O” or vice versa and watching out for the number 1 vs. the letter “I.”  Ham radio has its own code language and protocol, like Twitter.  Devin, Amanda’s partner, explained that cell phones are similar to ham radio but are more reliable but have a weaker signal, or something like that. My brain was full of marbles by the time he explained how radio signals involve a trade off with reliability or signal strength.

Logging sheet, hard copy, next to computer screen.

Logging a contact (another ham radio station) requires three sets of information: the station id (a combination of letters and 1 number), the type of station, and their location. Location is usually the postal code for each state, but some states like TexasCalifornia or Florida have separate ham radio regions. I logged a few entries, and then my head hurt. The Maui radio club had managed by the end of the first day to log about 980 entries. I asked Amanda what keeps a club from cheating and just making up call signals and numbers. She said that the lists are checked against the lists of other clubs. In order to get the point, both clubs have to correctly list the other club’s station id, station type, and location. Conversely, if one club makes an error, both clubs lose the point.

For the station type, the coding involves a number then a letter. Amanda said the number is the number of radios, and the letter is the power source or location. The Maui radio club’s station type is 1A, one radio that’s portable. A is group portable. B is battery powered. C is mobile. D is home. E is emergency power. F is an EOC, which I looked up. I think it stands for Emergency Operating Center, since ham radios can also be used for emergency communications, especially when other forms of communication are not available.

How long will Diane's paint job stay up?
KH6RS are the call letters for the Maui club. 

DH and I only stayed for a short while, since I had been in herbal medicine class all day, and my bunny brains were pretty tired.  It was great to see the set up for amateur field day, get really close to the pillbox, and find out what it really was.  Next, I’m wondering, how long will the mural stay up? Diane said that one year, the design stayed up until December, but that some people stopped by during the event, wanting to repaint her new paint job!  Maybe they can incorporate the design into the next mural instead of wiping it out. 


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