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W3AO Field Day The 2017 Edition

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Another year goes by. This  is the 8th time I have supported Amateur Radio Field Day here in Howard County. It’s the 20th anniversary of W3AO being on the air for the 24 hour event.

I want to write more about what goes on, down in the trenches, to make any large event like this, composed completely of volunteers, successful. I could call this year’s effort “Doing More with Less”. Less people in total. Less stations set up. This year the club dropped down to 16 Alpha. That means, capability to simultaneously transmit on 16 radios, using generators as power.

A cheat sheet on one of the computers. You try to contact as many regions, as many states and provinces, as you can, during the 24 hour operating period. When you establish a radio contact, you exchange the following information. Their call sign. Their number of transmitters and a letter that tells you if they are using generators, batteries, are mobile or at home using commercially supplied power. Their section. We are MDC, Maryland/District of Columbia region.

The interesting thing about our set up is the sheer number of portable crank up towers. Twelve in all.

On Friday, three small teams of volunteers put up the towers, build the antennas, roll out the coaxial cables and it all fits inside a 300 meter diameter circle on the property between two county schools. They also string wire antennas between some of the towers. Additionally, we set up a satellite communication capability.

It’s fun to head down there when a satellite comes within range and watch them track and make contact with other operators while the satellite remains “open” to both stations.

Things inside the main tent are also interesting. It’s a juxtaposition of really old and really new. As in the Windows dinosaur computers, in order to use logging software, called CT. It doesn’t work on newer operating systems. Put that next to a “K3”, one of the fanciest radios out there, and it becomes one very jarring visual.

Band captains bring their own radios. Their keyers. Their headphones. Sometimes their monitors and other accessories. They don’t mess around.

We set up three generators, and the county loans us a spare, in order to power all this “Stuff”.

And you thought setting up your TV/VCR was complicated?

Really, though, I have such a great time watching this all come together in order to have a successful weekend.

It’s a great team. More in another post in the next few days. Incuding, logistics, and scoring.

Otherwise, the official team photograph.

Instant Summer

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Just add heat and humidity, along with all the pollen. This week is a scorcher. Out of nowhere we went from cool and rainy to hot and humid. I have been planting vegetables like crazy in my garden, and trying to keep up with the watering to help them acclimate.

Just a few really interesting views on what is happening.

Native coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens

It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Supposedly a rare native butterfly, whose name escapes me at the moment. This beautiful plant is in the children’s garden at the Howard County Conservancy community gardens. I am attempting to maintain and catalog what is there.

Including this.

Poppy family, maybe? I am learning more about flowers these days, while still maintaining my vegetable plot.

On the home front, the warm weather triggered the rhododendron.

There are two bushes in our yard. One, my favorite, the white one, doesn’t always display a large number of blooms. This year, yes, it has.

Anything new and exciting in your gardens this year?

In Vino Veritas

Spring came to our area last weekend. It doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. It was a perfect weekend for a winery trip, and we didn’t even have to leave the state.

Maryland has over 60 wineries now. When we first got married and interested in local wine, there wasn’t much out there. Byrd, Boordy, Basignani, Fiore, Elk Run, Linganore, and Montbray are the ones I remember. Back then, we were looking to buy a few Maryland wines to have with our wedding anniversary dinners. Knowing that most of the wines weren’t made to age for decades, we focused on whites for the first few years. We also looked for those specially made reds, or dessert wines, to get us through our second decade of marriage. Byrd made decent reds in 1980. So did Elk Run. Not much else. Cabernet Sauvignon wasn’t widely planted in the state. Now, it’s different.

On the Maryland Wine website, I see that we’ve visited 14 of the 68 active wineries. Quite a list to ponder future destinations.

For this “trip”, we went to two of the closest wineries to our home in Central Maryland. Black Ankle and Old Westminster. We have been to these wineries before. I have written about their wines in my local dining challenges, and just in my locavore posts.

Why were we visiting wineries this weekend? Black Ankle, because it was wine club pick up weekend. Old Westminster, because the weather was gorgeous and we hadn’t seen the new tasting room, which opened last year.

If you have good local wineries where you live, you might want to consider their wine clubs. There are many different models. Look into them, you may find one that fits your budget, and your desired types of wine. Also, compare, some clubs are extremely flexible about exchanges and substitutions.

The clubs are very popular. They also give you special events, and small lot wines not available for general purchase. We belong to three in Maryland. Big Cork, Black Ankle, and as of yesterday, Old Westminster.

Why these three? Convenience of pick up, flexibility, and quality/consistency of product. There are quite a few excellent wineries in the state these days. For us, it came down to location coupled with selection. We enjoy the events at the local wineries. We tend to take picnic lunches or dinners with us when we go to get our quarterly allocation.

All three of these wineries allow you to bring in food, and have ample space for you to picnic on their grounds. I finally figured out what drew us to this model. It was simple. Feeling as if we had returned to the days where you could pack a picnic, spread out a blanket, listen to good music, eat good food and drink good wine. We lost that model in our communities and our parks. Restrictions on alcohol, due to liability issues, mostly.

But I digress. We had a lovely weekend around here. It warmed up enough on Friday afternoon for us to take a small cooler with some salads, fruit and yogurt and head out to Mt. Airy. Black Ankle is open from noon until 8:30 PM on Fridays.

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Every Friday night they have live music, year round. Winters, they are indoors. In good weather, they set up out front and tables, chairs and picnic blankets cover the lawn.

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Second Saturday nights, every month, are member only music events. After the winery is closed to the general public. Black Ankle has over 2300 wine club members, so there is always a crowd. A much younger crowd than what we used to see at wineries. Which I think is a great thing. A few decades back, we would only encounter people older than us at winery events. Nice to see the resurgence in interest in good wines. Black Ankle’s wines are pricey. But worth it. Consider a Friday night there as a better choice for dinner and music. Yes, the wines begin at $28 a bottle. They are a bargain compared to spending that much in a chain restaurant for a bottle that retails for $6-10. They are also very well made. All of them.

Yesterday, we headed up to Old Westminster to visit that new tasting room.

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So did many others as seen in the picture taken as we were leaving, just before closing time at 5pm. The building is sleek, clean lined and there is adequate space to host events for the over 1000 club members here. A relative newcomer to the Maryland wine scene, Old Westminster began selling wine less than 5 years ago. They make very, very good sparkling wines. One of only a handful of wineries in our state that make sparklers. It’s the reason we joined their club. Limited numbers of their premium wines.

We will be getting our first trio of wine in March. Looking forward to it. Also interested in food truck Fridays at the winery. They should be fun. Coal fired pizza with wine, anyone?

Stay tuned this spring and summer when we wander the state to see what else is out there.

Bugs and Brews

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Thursday night. One of the more popular events for the over 21 crowd. Out at Mt. Pleasant, Howard County Conservancy picnic grounds. The second in the series of annual “cocktails and nature” themed events.

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Dr. Mike Raupp, the bug man, famous in this area for his vast knowledge and enthusiasm for all things buggy. Dr. Paula Shrewsbury is also presenting and she and Mike will be leading an informal walk through the meadow trails to search for interesting bugs, bees and butterflies.

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This year the theme is Bugs and Brews. Heavy Seas beer is available to enjoy. The event is free. The beers will be a nominal charge. You don’t have to imbibe to attend, but the beers are excellent.

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This was last year’s crowd. As I said, this event has been a big success. Thursday night we hope to see all of Mike’s fans, and lots of beer lovers, too.

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For those of us who have been here a long time, Heavy Seas Beer is the very popular craft beer company started by Hugh Sissons. Sissons opened in Baltimore back when I was a newlywed with Baltimore roots. A pub we visited on our trips to the Inner Harbor. It’s still going strong and held by Sissons’ family members.

Come join us. Six PM is the starting time of the event. Have a beer. Talk to Mike and Paula. See what interesting insects they bring to the party. August 25th.

W3AO Field Day 2016 Never A Dull Moment

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So, what do you do to make Field Day for Amateur Radio operators more interesting? Put it on a site that recently had a drive by tornado? Add a warning for a young black bear in the area? Have both generators not work because of battery problems? Have the replacement generator experience power surges to 150 volts which fried a few power supplies? Have the tent supplier substitute two small tents for the one you ordered?

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The reason we operate this exercise, is to show we can be responsive in the event of a local or national emergency. We certainly had our share of excitement this year.

How did we do? We don’t know yet, but it should be great, since we put so much effort into fully embracing the activity. This year they added a new bonus category. Social media promotion. We created a Facebook page and uploaded quite a bit of video and photos to show how much effort (and fun) went into field day.

We also were encouraged to add the younger set into our Get On The Air (GOTA) station. Which had many, many little ones making contacts after simple coaching.

field day gota

All in all, it was another perfect weekend. Weather cooperated. Lots of new visitors learned how we use radio to supplement the other communication devices, in the case of emergency. Rather important for us these days. As we definitely had communication problems in west county last week, with downed telephone wires and damaged cell towers.

Thanks also to Howard County Office of Emergency Management, who loaned us a generator.

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Strawberry Social

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Yesterday I attended the annual volunteer appreciation party up at the historic farmhouse on the Howard County Conservancy grounds. I have been volunteering since 2010 and have made it to most of the annual Sunday afternoon appreciation parties.

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The farmhouse is only open for viewing a few times a year. If you wander around outside though, you can find the viewing portal that will show you under the siding original logs.

The volunteers get together to celebrate the end of another busy season. All of the field trips are done. There are the monthly programs still, and of course, summer camp. Still, the crazy field trip schedule has wrapped up. Some weeks, there were field trips every day. Some days, more than one. Without the dedicated volunteers this would not be possible.

The social is simple and fun. Strawberries from Baugher’s Orchards and Farms in Westminster. Vanilla ice cream from Hoffman’s. Lemonade and iced water. Time to mingle and relax. Followed by a short series of presentations including the big reveal of the volunteer of the year.

Some highlights this year. Gwen Morrison, honored for volunteering at 50, yes, FIFTY field trips. Sometimes twice a day. Our requested commitment is a minimum of three in fall and three in spring. The naturalists usually can do more than that, but think about the commitment in hours (2-3 hours for every trip) to be there for dozens of trips. Way to go, Gwen. We worked together this year on BioBlitz at Belmont, one of my favorite activities.

This year’s winner of the Carol Filipczak Volunteer of the Year award was Bob Grossman. Bob is one of those faces seen over and over at all sorts of programs and field trips. He definitely deserved being recognized for everything he does.

There were other fun awards too. Like Rookie of the Year. Guys With Trucks (you have to go ask about that one, I love it). Parking Kings. Jump In. And more I can’t recall right now.

The dedicated drop in gardeners were recognized. For their willingness to wait out rain, over and over and over again, in May. Just when you need to get the gardens in shape, Mother Nature kept sending showers and storms on them.

One other special award to staff this year. Tabby Fique, the land manager, who was the education manager when I started volunteering was honored with one of Alice Webb’s paintings, of the farmhouse, for her 10+ years on staff. To most of the visitors, Tabby is the owl whisperer.

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She was Ranger’s original handler when he came to the Conservancy in 2010. Many people who come to Wine in the Garden were greeted by Tabby and Ranger.

Congrats to all the volunteers who were recognized this year and in years past. I can’t emphasize enough how much rewarding and fun this non profit is, for the volunteers and staff. A great place to work, to help, to visit and to support.

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Thanks for another fun year. Now, we’ve got to get in gear for the arrival of the Fiddlers next week, and hopefully there will be fireflies.

Oh, I almost forgot. We all got little packs of milkweed seeds to sow, wherever we can find a spot that may be a good habitat for the monarch butterflies. And, anyone new got their magnet for their car, to show our volunteer pride.

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The Four Seasons

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All in the same day. Or close to it. Within 48 hours, we get rain, snow, sleet, thunder, rainbows, sunshine, and a freeze warning for tonight again.

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Even the “pot” people at the Conservancy have reverted to scarves and hats, and ditched their baseball caps. Or they blew away in those gusts of wind we have been enduring.

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My lovely flowering cherry from a week ago has now lost all its blossoms.

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I cut many of the tulips earlier in the week and brought them in to bloom. The remainder, my later blooming varieties, are safely covered with row cover that I purchased at our community garden supply sale this morning.

It’s hard to believe it is springtime. Next week we will be going to Greenfest at the Community College. I hope to buy some sungold tomato plants from Love Dove Farm. In two weeks, it will be Earth Day celebrated at the Conservancy. More on that later. Also, Sharp’s Farm will be opening their greenhouses on the 21st of April. Time to get the rest of my plants for the garden.

I tried to get my plot ready for the onions to be planted, but the high winds drove me out of there. Trying to move dirt around while wind in whipping up the dust and pollen didn’t make for a pleasant gardening day.

Crossing our fingers that they are correct, and that the end of this coming week will indeed bring us higher temperatures and sunshine.