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SMART Field Day Fun

Ocean Celestino, KD8KCN

A “smart” idea makes Field Day more fun for everyone.

Dallas Hardin, KE4ZWD, once an avid servant of the community as a firefighter, arson investigator, and search and rescue diver, had a stroke in 2008. This resulted in his body losing some coordination and certain fine motor skills. Subsequently he started having problems with his sight, going completely blind in one eye with frequent periods of near-blindness in the other.

Unable to do many of the physically mobile activities he once enjoyed and eager to find another way of serving the South Carolina community he loves, Dallas turned to ham radio. He tells everyone “Amateur Radio isn’t just a hobby; it’s a service.” To that end he has dedicated himself to emergency communications, creating a state of the art go-box, which includes a complete setup for running PSK-31 in the field in addition to fully functioning HF and UHF radios and associated hardware.

Running a Yaesu FT-857D transceiver with a SignaLink USB interface for a node, he connects a Windows 7 laptop and an HP M100 mobile printer (if needed) and is ready to transmit and receive in PSK-31. This digital mode is easier for him because in a real emergency situation (especially if he is the only operator at his station) he’d have a hard time logging as his writing and typing are both impaired. PSK-31 gives him to ability to print down messages in real time and forward them to the appropriate authority.

A SMART Solution

When Dallas said he wanted to try out PSK-31 at Field Day, there were concerns about him being able to see the laptop screen. In an effort to create greater accessibility (and provide a more fun experience) for him, he was given the SMART Board at the EOC to use.

The SMART Board is an interactive whiteboard that allows for user input on the surface. A projector displays the laptop screen on the board. This enabled Dallas to touch the screen with his hand to replicate the movements and clicks of a mouse. He took full advantage of the board to make contacts, sending predefined macro messages with the DigiPan software. Because of the size of the board (see photo), he was able to see clearly what was happening.

Using the SMART Board for Field Day was an excellent solution for Dallas because his eyes would not have tolerated staring at a small computer screen for the many hours of our Field Day operation. He says the SMART Board setup allowed him to stand up, move around and stretch his legs while making contacts at his own pace. With the SMART Board he didn’t need to be hunched over in a chair the entire time. The SMART Board also allowed him to interact more with other people at Field Day since he could monitor activity without always being focused on the screen.

Although the Keowee-Toxaway Amateur Radio Club ran 3F (three transmitters operating from an emergency operations center) for Field Day, PSK-31 is so near the bottom of the amateur bands, Dallas wasn’t concerned with front-end overload or interference between stations. He worked 20 meters the entire duration of the event. In addition, the antennas were cross polarized to ensure no desensing would occur. The PSK-31 antenna ran vertical about 15-20 feet in the air.

PSK on Display

Dallas felt it made an impact in the room, too. Hams who weren’t familiar with PSK-31 were able to see it in live action. With the real-time waterfall display, contacts came in character by character and people in the room asked about the operation. He would answer their questions and explaining was easy; they didn’t have to huddle around a computer but could instead be involved by looking at the large interactive board.

As Dallas is extremely new to PSK-31 and digital modes on the amateur bands, he states that Field Day “whet his appetite severely” for it. Although he’s not traditionally a contester, he said he might give it a whirl with PSK-31.

When asked what his favorite part of Field Day was, Dallas replied “The camaraderie of the hams a time to strengthen new friendships and catch up with old friends.” With new and innovative technology, greater possibilities are available for everyone in ham radio. However, even with all the advances, ham radio still brings people together to form a community, in service, with the bonds of friendship lasting through the years.

Ocean Celestino, KD8KCN, an ARRL® member, has been licensed for over 3 years. She is an AEC and PIO with the Oconee County ARES in South Carolina as well as the PIO of the Keowee-Toxaway Amateur Radio Club. She became interested in ham radio during a SKYWARN spotter training session when she read a brochure on Emergency Communications. She hopes to build a go-box and get more involved in EmComm. When not on the air, she is a web developer and enjoys helping people reach their goals. Ocean can be reached at PO Box 8122, Seneca, SC 29678,