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Going Over the Edge for Special Olympics

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2014 seems to be the year of the bucket list for me. Not only did I make one, but I’ve been able to cross a few items off of it shortly thereafter. One of those items was “rappel down a tall building.” And, lucky for me, that idea wasn’t so far-fetched since Special Olympics of Iowa hosts Over the Edge each fall. To participate, I had to raise $1,000 to benefit Special Olympics. Check an item off the bucket list and get good karma for raising money for a worthwhile charity? Check and check.

Various Special Olympics regions host similar events all over the country with buildings of all different statures. In Des Moines, it’s held at the Financial Center building, standing at 345 feet and 25 stories, it’s the fourth-tallest building in Iowa.

Those who hear the address of the Financial Center — 666 Walnut Street — may shy away from being anywhere near the edge of the roof, but it’s all perfectly safe. The Over the Edge organizers are assisted by special tactical teams from the Iowa State Patrol that train frequently in rappelling (as a side note, Vice President Joe Biden was in town the day of the event, so state patrol had about half of their usual Over the Edge support, I was told).

I hadn’t been rappelling since I was at YMCA camp when I was 10 years old. And even then, the rappelling wall was a lot shorter. This wasn’t a particular concern for me, since I didn’t think they would allow people with zero rappelling experience to do it if it wasn’t safe. The day of the rappel you spend about an hour before your rope time training and preparing, which seems like a lot. This includes signing the liability waiver and getting harnessed. They check your harness about three times and ask you if you have anything in your pockets about 20 times, just to be sure. From the time you’re harnessed to the time your feet hit the ground, your helmet always stays on.

Before the main rappel, you are taken through a training rappel on the lower tier of the Financial Center on the west side of the building, which is maybe three stories high. You learn some technique (where to put your hands, how low your butt needs to be below your feet, etc.) and how to operate the equipment that makes you go down — they describe it in a way similar to a gas pedal. The further you pull the lever, the faster you’ll go. Pushing the lever all the way is your brake. There are some safety mechanisms — pull the lever too far, too fast and the lever won’t make you go anywhere. And if that fails, there’s another device attached to a backup rope that will lock up if you go too fast too soon. If that happens, you have to give hand signals and let them know via radio that you’ve locked up — but you can reset the safety and continue the rappel as normal.

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On the roof, it’s really a great view. I could see water towers for all of the suburbs and could pick out some other landmarks around me. From the Financial Center roof, the state capitol looks absolutely huge sitting on the hill. Going to the edge of the roof and climbing the ladder to stand on the ledge actually wasn’t the worst part. The worst part, at least for me, was trusting the harness and leaning backward. My survival instinct is probably a little too strong because even though I knew I was safe, it was hard for me to lean back and put all of my weight on the harness. The trooper handling my line warned me when he was about to throw the rest of my rope over the side of the building, because when you’re throwing hundreds and hundreds of feet of rappelling rope overboard, the weight of it starts tugging on you and you can feel it.

Once you’ve leaned back and your rope is down the side of the building, it’s all pretty easy after that. One thing they emphasized repeatedly is that your physical strength has nothing to do with your rappelling abilities. Just lean back, pull the lever so slightly, and go. My nerves did give me some trouble starting out that I forgot I’d have to feed some of the rope through the equipment manually due to the weight of the rope starting out (but as the rope weight gets less and less as you rappel, you’ll go faster and faster even though you’re pulling the lever the same). After I remembered this, I was off and rappelling.

There was one tricky spot at the top to traverse. It’s concrete around the top of the building under the ledge, perhaps 4 feet tall or so, and then concrete pillars with windows about 4 feet wide in between. Once you passed the concrete under the ledge, you had to swing into the little window cubbie under the ledge and between the pillars, which was pretty unsettling since you feel like you’re freefalling because your feet aren’t touching anything. You have to remember to keep your butt lower than your feet, then push off, to maintain control. I apparently banged my ankle on the ledge during this, but didn’t realize it until later that night when I noticed some bruising and swelling. After a day of hobbling around, everything was back to normal.

Starting at the top, the reflection in the windows is blue skies. Things got inexplicably weird as I went lower and the blue skies were replaced with the reflections of the Hub Tower across the street. All of a sudden I felt really high up once I saw the building’s reflection, and I cannot explain this. It wasn’t a scary thing, just weird.

A view of the Younkers fire scene from the 13th floor  of the 26-floor Financial Center

A view of the Younkers fire scene from the 13th floor of the 26-floor Financial Center

It took less than 5 minutes for me to rappel the Financial Center from top to bottom by my friends’ and co-workers’ estimates. I was pretty focused on getting back down on the ground, and I wished that I had taken some breaks on my way down to admire the view around me. We were rappelling kitty-corner from the Younkers fire, so we had a great view of the scene on the way down.

Overall, going Over the Edge for Special Olympics of Iowa was an awesome experience that I was able to participate in that not many people do. Together, participants raised more than $106,000 that will benefit more than 11,000 Special Olympics athletes across Iowa. If you have the same item on your bucket list as I did, I’d definitely suggest considering this event next year.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declares June 23-29 as Amateur Radio Week in Iowa

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has declared June 23-29, 2014 as Amateur Radio Week in Iowa to celebrate the efforts of radio amateurs across the state and around the nation. (Proclamation text included at end of release.)

Amateur radio stations can make contact with other stations around the country and around the world, completely wirelessly, without the use of the internet or telephones, making these volunteers known for their resiliency, technical know-how and ability to go “off the grid,” providing critical communication capabilities when traditional means fail, such as cell phones, internet, and public safety radio systems.

As part of the amateur radio hobby, radio amateurs — commonly referred to as “hams” — give back to their communities by providing communications support to charitable organizations, special events, and federal, state, and local emergency management agencies at no cost. These volunteers purchase, build, and maintain equipment and infrastructure on their own in addition to receiving professional training and participating in exercises on their own time.

The proclamation comes days before amateur radio operators will take to the airwaves around the United States in a 24-hour exhibition of amateur radio called Field Day. Field Day is a publicly-held training exercise that helps radio amateurs prepare for emergencies. Skilled work and planning is required to select radio equipment, frequencies, and antennas to facilitate operating under less-than-ideal conditions. During Field Day, operators set up in remote areas, at shopping malls, or even in their own backyards, and get on the air using generators or battery power. Radio operators then try to contact as many other Field Day stations as possible.

The public will have a chance to meet and talk with area amateur radio operators and see for themselves what the amateur radio hobby is about. Showing the newest digital, satellite, high-frequency technologies and even historical Morse code, radio operators from across the nation will be holding public demonstrations of their emergency communications abilities. The public will even have opportunities to make contacts over the air.

In the Des Moines area, the Des Moines Radio Amateurs’ Association will be demonstrating amateur radio at Fort Des Moines Park, 7200 SE 5th Street in Des Moines. Setup and antenna-raising will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 28 with official activities beginning at 1 p.m. and continuing non-stop for 24 hours until 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 29. They invite the public to come and see amateur radio’s modern capabilities.

Visit the DMRAA Field Day website at http://www.dmraa.com/fieldday/ for maps and more information. For a complete listing of Field Day sites around Iowa, visit http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator.

WHEREAS, the state recognizes the services amateur radio operators provide to our many emergency response organizations, including FEMA, DHS, and Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management; and

WHEREAS, these same individuals have further demonstrated their value in public assistance by providing free radio communications for local parades, public fundraising events, fairs and other charitable public events; and

WHEREAS, the State of Iowa recognizes and appreciates the diligence of these “hams” who also serve as weather spotters in the Skywarn program of the National Weather Service; and

WHEREAS, amateur radio once again proved its undisputed relevance in the modern world in 2005 by providing emergency communications when other systems failed in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and again in 2011 in severe weather outbreaks in Joplin, MO., and the Southeast, and the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe in Japan; and

WHEREAS, these amateur radio services are provided wholly uncompensated; and

WHEREAS, the ARRL Field Day exercise will take place on June 28-29 and is a 24-hour emergency encampment exercise and demonstration of the radio amateur’s skills and readiness to provide self-supporting communications even in the fields without further infrastructure; and

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby proclaim the week of June 23-29, 2014 as AMATEUR RADIO WEEK IN IOWA.

Sending photos and messages over D-STAR with Bluetooth, the Icom ID-5100, and RS-MS1A

From left to right: Using the RS-MS1A Android app to send a 320x240px photo at "high" quality; sending a smaller 160x120px photo at "high" quality; and the received image of the image being sent at center.

I finally got enough of the components to reconfigure my mobile radio setup (more to come on that when it’s finished). I installed the new Icom ID-5100 with the optional UT-133 Bluetooth board. This allows me to connect my Android phone or tablet to the radio wirelessly and use Icom’s RS-MS1A Android app. The app’s most notable functions are being able to send pictures and text messages over D-STAR.

Not long after I got the Jeep all buttoned up and tools put (mostly) away, I started playing around with the new radio and app. There aren’t any other ID-5100 users in the area, so I used the DPLUS echo function (the letter “E” in the last position of URCALL) to echo the voice and data stream after the repeater stops hearing my transmission.
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K0KDS does Dayton: Hamvention 2014 recap

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I’ll be completely honest. I’m not one that particularly enjoys hamfests. I don’t need to buy anything, especially any used, over-priced, and out-dated equipment, and I don’t like getting up early. I make it to approximately one hamfest per year. Maybe my work schedule has something to do with that, but not really.

Ever since I’ve been licensed, I’ve been told that you have to go to Dayton Hamvention “at least once”. I tried to go last year, but a change in position in work preempted that from happening. This year, I decided, would be the year to go, after a few prods on Twitter.
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From firehouse to social club

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On my dinner break at work today, I decided to walk down to the Des Moines Social Club which will hold its grand opening tomorrow night. The social club’s venue is the former headquarters for the Des Moines Fire Department and was renovated for its new purpose for $8 million. I was most curious to see how familiar the building was after renovation since I had spent some time there as a kid.
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