posted Jun 22, 2016, 6:21 PM by Jesse Alexander
updated Jun 27, 2016, 6:21 AM
Bottom Line Up Front
- The MakerFaire team was enthusiastic and welcoming toward the ham radio emergency communications concept—we need to be tightly coupled with them going forward (MOU?)
- MakerFaires are all about interaction, so the straight key and code practice oscillator (with the visual code graphic) were a great hit with kids and parents a like
- Hams need to coordinate with MakerFaire team about location of ham gear and requirements
Jesse Alexander, WB2IFS/3
Jim Wallace, N3ADF
Caryl Henry Alexander (My Bride)
Kayla Wallace (Jim Wallace's grand daughter)
I received a call for makers
announcement about a month ago through facebook.com and thought it would be cool to repackage the demonstration that I normally do for National Night Out
at the 5th District Police station
so I pitched “#Hamradio: When All Else Fails” and the MakerFaire team accepted. (I used the hashtag
#Hamradio to indicate the marriage of an “old” hobby with new concepts that the Maker movement embodies.)
After my application was accepted I took to social and “ham” media to get the word out about about our exhibit and to provide updates to attendees and supporters:
I used the Prince
George's County ARES/RACES
email reflector to call for assistance, and I got positive responses
from hams members of CERT as well as the ARES/RACES people.
I used Facebook and twitter via @scipoet (personal) with @wb2ifs and
@pgcares retweeting to connect with hams, makers, and other
interested people. The hashtags I used were: #MakerFaire,
#NationalMakerFaire, #hamradio, #emcomm.
I reached out to hams on the #amateurradio channel at work via slack
and decided to select an Echolink.org
capable repeater K3GMR because some of my workmates expressed an
interest connecting via the Internet. (I wanted to also use the NIH
machine K3YGG but didn't get permission.)
I decided to request a special event station call sign because so
that there was one call for the station. I was able to get “Whiskey
Three Makey” from the Laurel Amateur Radio Society's registration
system via the ARRL website. (By the way, “Makey” is the name of
the big red robot mascot.)
At the end of the fair, I followed up with everyone that signed our
guest book and I sent the hams an “eyeball QSL” card via email
Station setup and gear
I used the following equipment to address the capabilities I listed in my application:
demonstration included the following:
2 nodes (one integrated with the Raspberry PI)
Raspberry PI server and GPS receiver
power supplies and PoE adapter
2 laptops (running xubuntu
Linux, one for mesh operations and the other for CW practice [I
didn't use it after all. The kids liked the straight key and code
practice oscillator combo best.])
a computer monitor to display mesh status on a larger screen
Jim “Bowie” N3ADF provided the following:
4 battery-operated mesh nodes
2.5 GHz Ubiquiti Networks Bullet attached to a 15 dBi omni Wi-Fi
A Windows 10 phone to serve as a wireless camera
ARES/RACES shelter kit #1:
Kenwood TM-D710 VHF/UHF Mobile
IC7000 HF/VHF/UHF transceiver
- Additional equipment I supplied:
75 Watt Solar panel
Deep cycle 35AH Battery with SunSaver SS-10-12VDC charge controller
Portable HF Antenna
I was told by members of the MakerFaire team that we won “best in
show” and editors choice awards because:
We treated the support staff with respect
- The staff is aware of ham radio emergency use and we benefited from the good work that other amateur clubs and teams have done at other MakerFaires. One editor mentioned that hams at the San Francisco Bay Area MakerFaire (the first and largest fair) did an antenna project to support radio amateurs providing emergency communications during recovery from the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal (see Amateur Radio Buffs’ Quest to Connect Quake-Ravaged Nepal).
- We were the first ham related exhibit at the National MakerFaire! (This was the second annual event.)
- Our exhibit was practical and relevant to visitor's lives
Many hams and children of hams stopped by our table at the National
MakerFaire. We had a chance to meet and ragchew with:
Engineering students from UDC and colleges from around the country
The management team of Adafruit
Industries—the company that provides DIY components for the
K-12 educators, librarians, and professors at Universities from
around the country
OMs with military radio experience
Two ham couples and families
An 11 year old general class ham working on his extra license!
Operating under the overhang of the Engineering building was
Jim noticed considerable QRM that overloaded the IC7000's receiver
on the 40 and 20 meter HF bands
The vertical MFJ whip was not well suited for the location and it
would have been better to choose a wire HF antenna that would
provide better performance and be out of the reach of attendees. I
would have been good to have done a “site survey” with HF gear
before the event.
I did a VHF/UHF “site survey” of the UDC location the previous
weekend and determined that I could reach both K3GMR and K3YGG
(from Starbucks near the Metrostation) with a 5-watt HT. Once at
our assigned position, it was difficult to hit either machine under
the overhang; however, placing the DBJ-1
J-pole on the bridge between buildings and getting it up about
10' worked well.
- Setup/tear down was challenging because the campus is open and we
did not have secure containers for our equipment. It was
challenging to have to setup and tear down both days because of our
concern about securing the equipment.
The HSMM-MESH worked well; we had of 6 nodes up and running.
Jim's battery-operated remote nodes worked well during the entire
The Raspberry PI server did well but it took a few minutes for the
Adafruit GPS receiver to synchronize because of possible QRM from
the engineering building and the overhang blocking LOS to the
In line with the Faire's “zero waste” policy, I created QRcodes
for most of the websites of served agencies thinking that attendees
would scan them instead of creating waste with paper brochures.
I only noticed a few people scanning the codes and many people
grabbed brochures! The handouts from FEMA and the ARRL were
particularly popular. (One attendee asked why FEMA was not at the
Faire given that other government agencies were present [NIST, DoD,
I created codes that would “automagically” generate tweets with
custom hashtags so that I could track the responses later and
follow up via twitter and facebook.
I asked people to sign our guest book but some of the handwriting
was difficult to “copy”. Fortunately, Jim brought some of his
PGARES/RACES business cards.
Because of the noise of the crowd it was hard to operate the radios!
We made one or two contacts via K3GMR (including one possible
station via Echolink.org) and none on HF because of the QRM.
are some of my recommendations for deepening our relationship with
MakerFaires that occur in this area and nationwide:
Hams must be involved in each MakerFaire.
Every MakerFaire should have a talk-in frequency like hamfests do
ARES/RACES should be integrated into the MakerFaires' health and
Given the overwhelmingly positive response, served agencies should
make a effort to participate in MakerFaire.
NWS should give SKYWARN certification classes at the Fairs, Red
Cross and FEMA should consider “drop and roll” classes for
toddlers and Teen CERT trainings.
The Red Cross could be at the medical tent for example.
ARES could be giving emergency communications seminars to families.
To ease set up and tear down:
Bring your own 4-wheeled cart for easy, single-step on- and
Do reconnaissance of the site for the booth before
Although there were security guards, UDC's campus is open so it's
best to pack like you may have to set up and tear down each day
It's probably best to request an open area in a field if possible
so that the antennas can be placed up and away from patrons and so
that solar operation is possible.
While we're on the subject of operations—you will need at least 3
people to run the booth:
Someone to answer questions/interact with kids and parents
Someone (with headphones) to work the radios
A third person as backup for so that the other people can take
breaks and possibly meet other makers at the fair
Bring business cards (in addition to a notepad that can serve as a
guest book) so that visitors can follow up.
Include a Morse code interactive part of the show. Kids really like
practicing their names in CW using a key and Code Practice
Oscillator (CPO), and you don't need to be a former Army signal corp
operator—10 WPM is fine. The learn
Morse Code graphical aid worked well!
MakerFaire's time frame should be organized so that Makers can walk
around and network before the event is open to the public.
I would like to thank the following people who made #Hamradio: When all else fails possible:
Jim “Bowie” Wallace, N3ADF for volunteering to help!
EC Jim Montgomery, WB3KAS and RO Ken Greenhouse, KB3IIE for
scrounging brochures and equipment for the shelter kit!
The Green Mountain Repeater Association board for permission to use
The Laurel Amateur Radio Club Special Event Call Registry for the
use of W3M
And of course the The MakerFaire Team who welcomed us with open arms
and lots of logistical support. We REALLY must do this
My Bride Caryl for her support and love!