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2001 AMSAT-NA Symposium Trip aka "How I spent my fall vacation" (long)


I returned a few days ago from one of the best vacations I had so far.

The events of September 11 left me numb.  I saw on the television that people
where not taking trips and places like the Air and Space Museum were almost
empty.  I decided to do my part and expand the trip to Atlanta into a two
week car trip.  Also I hate visiting places with alot of tourists 8->.

I am no match for master outfitters of vehicle toys like Rick W2GPS and
Tom W3IWI but I am working on it.  I can do DC to sub-light 8->.  I rewired
the car with some 100 amp fuse holders and terminal blocks meant for high
power audio.  I only fused it for 60 Amperes because I fear killing the
engine and the battery if I pulled 100 amperes!  I only have a small
Mercury Tracer.  I can now run a new Yaesu FT-100D as well as my existing
Kenwood D700A.  I did not install the ball mount for the HF but used my
three magnet mount on the roof.  I also velcroed a Garmin adjustable car
mount for my Etrek Vista GPS on the top of the dashboard.  I was ready!

It would be great if I had another driver but I packed alot of stuff.
I find having water. soda, and other munchies help when driving so a soft
sided cooler takes up the front passenger footwell and a nacho chip bag
in the back right passenger footwell.  The rest of the passenger
comparment had a suitcase, computer bag, and two equipment bags with radio
stuff.  The rear wagon part had more radio/computer stuff as well as audio
equipment and tools.  About the second day on the road I had a feeling I
brought too much stuff but some of it turned out to be useful.  I had some
equipment problems and was able to fix it on the road.  Fortunely soldering
did not set off the hotel's smoke/fire alarm.

I set out the Friday before the Symposium and went to Scranton, Pa.
Steamtown is a great railroad museum and I had fun riding on a
train pulled by a Canadian National 2-8-0 steam locomotive.
The combination of the 26 mile round-trip and the fairly good
sized locomotive made it a good visit.  I also took the shop
tour where people are restoring steam locomotives.  It takes a good chunk
of change and many years to get them back into operating shape.  The
needed dedication reminds me of satellite building projects.

Next stop was the Washington, DC Area.  I talked to Martha and Bob in
the AMSAT office a few weeks before I left and they gave some good
suggestions.  I was disappointed the Naval Observatory was closed but
alot of other stuff was open.  I stayed in College Park, MD for
a few days.  It turned out to be a good location. It was not too far
from the Metro.  The Air and Space Museum was alittle more crowded than
I saw on the news story but in general the crowds in Washington seemed
light.  As I walked around I spotted several Ku satellite uplink trucks
and local microwave remote trucks.

The Garber Restoration Facility was interesting.  Something like going
through an attic/workshop.  The guide mainly pointed out aircraft
related items but you could spot space related stuff like the
Pioneer 5 satellite.  They have 500+ aircraft engines that do not
belong to aircraft.  They are being mounted on wheeled stands.

The new facility out at Dulles is expected to be completed in December 2002
and it will take a year to move all the exhibits over!  Expected opening is
December 2003. Maybe the Symposium will be in Washington for 2004 or 2005
so I can visit it.

I also stopped by the AMSAT office to say hello to Martha.  She suggested
a Mexican place for supper, Mi Rancho, that turned out very good.  BTW,
The current AMSAT Journal has a picture of the office.

I went down part of Skyline Drive and visited Luray Caverns (my mother
was there about 50 years ago).  The drive down through Western Virgina
was great.  I stopped in Bristol. Va for the night and went down to
Atlanta using US 23.  This went through part of the Smokey Mountians
and the interesting town of Cherokee, NC with it's many motels and
the Casino.  I do not gamble so I did not stop.

The Symposium was a great time!  The Hotel location was good with stores
around the area.  Having lost my toothpaste the nearby CVS was useful.
The attendees had numerous food choices.  The MARTA was nearby and it was
just a short trip to downtown Atlanta.

Steve Diggs, W4EPI, Diana Diggs, N0CALL, and the other symposium committee
members really did their homework and really did a top-notch job putting
on the Symposium.

The hospitality room had a HF station and a AO-40 station.  It was great
to hear the beacon again!  A number of people worked through AO-40, a couple
for the first time like Keith KB1SF.

If you wanted information on getting on AO-40 then this was the place to
be.  Very good talks on AO-40 Antennas.  There was good news about ISS
operations.  Bob WB4APR was able to do a live PCSat demo before his
talk.  Jan King W3GEY did an good talk on satellite link quality
measurements.  All the speakers had good talks.

I finally got to meet Howard, G6LVB, who was the only UK visitor I
spotted.  It was great to talk with old friends and to meet new ones.

Part of my car's payload was audio equipment to encode the proceedings
into Real Audio.  The hotel had a good sound setup with a wired lapel mike
and a regular mike.  My setup was to run them into my Mackie mixer as well
as the several wireless mikes I have.  Based on my experience last year
I got an additional handheld wireless mike for questions.  I have to
say that Bruce KK5DO and Steve Diggs did an excellent job handling the
audience microphones.  Another change from last year was using a
Thinkpad 600e laptop for encoding instead of a small tower desktop
system with LCD monitor.  Doing the sound turned out to be alot easier
than last year.  I think it was due to the better room conditions and
that I have more experience.  There was still some places with alittle
ringing, some feedback, and there is echo due to the room.  I feel it
is not perfect but improved from last year and hope people find it
useful.  The files are at http://www.amsatnet.com.

I knew several AMSAT members were interested in trains so I donated
a wooden steam whistle to the door prizes at the banquet.  I always
wanted one of those whistles and I suspected at least another
attendee might want one as well.  I was right and do not be surprised
if you hear a train whistle when you are talking to Martha 8->.
The original banquet speaker was sick so Stacey Mills, W4SM, did a great
job filling in at the last minute.  Some of the tools used by the AO-40
command stations are interesting.

I finally got to see "The World of Coca-Cola".  It was crowded the
previous times I was in Atlanta but no crowds this time.  It has alot
of history about the beverage in particular about the advertising.
I did try some of the drinks made in other places like Lilt (UK)
and Stoney's Ginger Beer (South Africa).  I like the tangy taste
of Ginger Beer but it is difficult to get around here 8-<.

After delaying my departure for a day I went back via I-95 (the more
coastal route).  I stopped in Fayetteville, NC and visited a Walmart
the next day after being informed my license plate lights were out
by a kindly NC state trooper.  

I once again stayed in College Park, MD so I could visit the National
Cryptologic Museum the next day.  Unfortunely they were closed.
Well I took the dug up road with jersey barriers and a "Road Closed"
sign to mean the museum was closed.  I did not feel like being
delayed in detention after walking past to make sure.  I took the
hint 8->.

The B&O museum was interesting but no trains were running that
day.  They do have some good examples of 19th century locomotives
that were in use by the B&O and some other railroads.  After
stopping in CT I was home last Thursday.

I did notice more road traffic on the way back and it appears
people are travelling again.

The GPS turned out to be very useful with the new mount.  I was able
to upload street level maps for the next day's travel.  The only
downside is it took 40+ minutes to upload the 20 megs of information.

I did not work any HF but I listened to some HF as well as shortwave
and six meters.  I spent most of the time running trunker on the
laptop and logging 800 MHz Motorola trunked radio systems.  I logged over
110 systems.

The short answer is "I had great fun". 8->

73 Eric eac@shore.net  WB1HBU
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