One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.
Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.
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Now without further ado…
Read the full edition at:
THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
This is, by all accounts, my 100th article for the Ohio Section Journal! It’s coming a month late as I didn’t count the announcement of my father’s passing in September of 2023 as an article. I’ve been thinking about doing something special for my 100th. As per usual, short on ideas. I thought back and remembered being asked a question by fellow Volunteer Examiner, Tom – W8KYZ. He asked me some time ago ‘how long does it take for you to write an article for the Ohio Section Journal?’ I didn’t have a good answer because I really hadn’t paid attention. At the time I recall saying “probably 6 hours.” In reality, it’s double that. After Tom’s question, I started taking notes and being self-aware of my writing process to put together an article. Here is my 100th article on how I write for the Ohio Section Journal.
In the beginning. Dating back to middle school (or as some call it, intermediate or junior high school), I liked to write. I had some good English teachers. Mr. Holland in 6th grade and Mrs. Mann in 7th grade. Mr. Holland had his own library of Reader’s Digests. We were encouraged to read articles, write summaries and include our own thoughts. Mrs. Mann did the school newspaper as an extracurricular. I did activities and layout. Her teaching style in class also made it fun to learn. Have to give credit to mom because she was my proofreader in elementary and middle school. I think writing is one of her traits I inherited.
Sophomore year of high school I had a very strict English teacher, Mr. Scherma. I could do common MLA (Modern Language Association) citations and punctuation structure, though college, in my sleep because of his class.
I’ve always believed if I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it to others. Another credit to Dr. Vernon for my International Business grad school class. We did a lot of writing in his class. He took that philosophy a step further. Be able to make arguments both for and against something, then provide alternative solutions proves you really understand a topic.
I’ve read a number of PC magazines over the years starting probably not much before middle school. Some of my favorite writers were Steve Bass (PC World) who was always a fun read and interjected a good level of humor and sarcasm in his articles. Another would be John C. Dvorak (PC Magazine). I can’t say he’s been right about a lot of his predictions, “… experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things” (Dvorak Uncensored). I do share a level of skepticism over tech hype – as does John. He’s given great writing advice which stays in the back of my mind. John is also a master troll (one whom posts causing maximum disruption and argument, particularly online). I wish I could pull off some of his schemes.
Before I started writing for the Ohio Section Journal, the previous Technical Coordinator, Jim – W8ERW (SK) saw my writings in club newsletters. I was doing a series on Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongles called “Dongle Bits” in 2014 – 2015.
Ohio Section Journal. When I was appointed to be the Technical Coordinator by our previous Section Manager, Scott – N8SY (now Tom – WB8LCD), it was stated section articles had to be something ‘ham radio related.’ Mine started out ham radio related but took liberties doing articles on things closely related to ham radio such as computers, Windows, and Linux. In the same way a club meeting might include topics or announcements on useful smartphone apps, space and plants, and other electronics, I reach into my background for other technical topics. I’ve done System Support for Windows and Linux environments, System Administration of Linux systems, programming on a Linux platform, and currently networking and security.
My thought is, well, I have to do 12 of these per year. Even that’s way too much ham radio for me. In branching out to cover Information Technology or Information Security topics, maybe an IT or InfoSec professional might come across an article and check into this ham radio thing. As it turns out, readers like the variety too.
Post Script is released the weeks when a Section Journal is not published. It consists of mostly articles from other publications and submissions received by the Section Manager. Articles are summoned from Section Cabinet members for the Section Journal on a monthly basis.
How do I find a topic? They start out as things I’m interested in or working on – things others might find interesting as well. Brainstorm sessions happen anywhere: while I’m at work browsing the internet, working on something in the shack, watching a presentation on a topic, giving a presentation and a question was asked, watching an online video, new or different technology I’m playing with and experiences (good and bad), heard a different perspective on a subject, current topics or events, etc. Some months I didn’t do that much ham radio and rather talk about a computing project I’ve been working on. I always promote anything the Technical Specialists are working on or doing.
As the month rolls along, I’ll make a note to myself ‘this would be an interesting OSJ article.’ I do have a backlog of topics but rarely do I pull one from that list. As I’m learning new things, I rarely write about them immediately because I don’t care for “initial impression” (aka unboxing) type material. I would rather provide insights from (at least) a couple months of using something to find quarks, see how bugs and updates are handled.
I do bump articles. I planned to do topic X, but Y seemed more interesting and pertinent at the time. A recent example, I was planning to do my February 2023 article on my Windows 10 shack upgrade for January. After attending a conference, which included some ham radio topics, that became the published article for January. I wrote a new article and bumped the original to February.
On occasion, I’ll do a collaboration. Ones that come to mind are the write up of the Wood County Amateur Radio Club and the BG Fab Lab (I’m a WCARC member). I coordinated a trip out to Bowling Green to coincide with their breakfast meeting and ham radio training class. I talked with club members about the partnership, took pictures, and observed the training class. Unfortunately, the partnership has since dissolved between the WCARC and the BG Fab Lab.
During National Parks on the Air, Technical Specialist Bob – K8MD wrote the article on the Perry’s Monument activation. I did an article on Winlink nets where I solicited input from net control stations for details they would like to share about their net and let them review a final draft before publication.
If someone poses a question to me, that is often the basis for an article (October 2019 on Line A). I’ll confirm with them I can publish their name and call sign as part of the article. Most people don’t mind. I do want to be respectful of those whom may think their question is silly, stupid, don’t want the attention, or just wish to remain private.
I’ll revisit topics. Two years is the minimum between publication and republication, unless there is a development or someone poses a question. It’s never the same article. It will be changed, if only slightly, in favor of better wording, include more details, or latest updates.
One evergreen is “writing a newsletter article for your club or the Section Journal” (July 2017 & November 2019). A reason for revisiting this topic is because it encourages the sharing of advances and learning, which is one of my responsibilities as Technical Coordinator. Another exception is every June, I feature and highlight the skills of our Technical Specialists to remind readers they are an available resource for club meetings and hamfests. This is another responsibility of mine.
Learning time is hard to quantify and not included in my time estimates. My article on the WPSD Pi-Star replacement includes over a decade experience in digital modes when I started using them in 2009, using Pi-Star since 2018 when I bought a ZumSpot, and learning about WPSD in January 2023 when I saw the segment on AmateurLogic. Anything HF or digital HF has been learned since I built my shack in 2014.
Timelines. This, of course has changed over the years as different editors have taken over or has been adjusted to meet their demands. Currently, the Ohio Section Journal comes out the last weekend of the month. Articles can be submitted anytime during the month. Deadline is few days or so before publication, more if the SM is traveling.
When do I start? This depends. A collaboration or I have free time to get a draft written could be a month or more. Collaborations are worked on earlier in order to have enough time for those involved to review a final draft for changes. It’s rare for me to have a finished product turned in more than a few days ahead of the deadline. Normally, I start a few weeks ahead. Sometimes the week of. On a couple occasions, the night before it’s due.
Getting in mine in “early” is a phrase that does not exist in my vocabulary. Section Managers can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve been early. I am the worst at getting my article in early and even hours past the deadline at like 2am. I’m terrible and I know it. I apologize to them when we talk about the OSJ. I do try to make my article an easy drop-in for their template.
Writing process. I don’t consider myself a good writer. I don’t. From draft to published edition, the flow rarely changes. Wording, clarity, and phrasing are another story. I will post an example in the online version of this article. I saved all six revisions of the second paragraph in my September 2022 article. This article was on running multiple copies of Fldigi and Flmsg at the same time. It shows progression from initial draft to published version and changes made during each revision.
>>> 9/22 article revisions can be viewed here. <<<
My writing process starts out as a stream of consciousness style of writing. Get in front of the keyboard for about 4 – 8 hours and just type. Not often in one sitting, broken up over some days. Less so when a deadline is looming. While brainstorming, I often have an organizational structure thought out ahead of time. A large portion of wiring time is due to reading things like Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRMs), looking up details, supporting information, and validating my recollection. My style, especially early on, follows the same form as the Five-Paragraph Essay format taught in grade school.
Once my thoughts are down, I’ll start to revise the article. Depending how I feel for editing, 2 – 3 revisions are done on the computer. The rest are on paper. I’ll print the article, do a read-through marking changes, input those changes into the computer, print the article again, rinse and repeat 4 – 6 more times. 2 – 3 read-troughs are in my head, another 2 – 3 verbally.
I’m not well versed in proper sentence structure. I remember the big things like avoiding run-on sentences, sentence fragments, don’t begin sentences with conjunctions or “so,” or ending sentences with prepositions. The conjunction one goes out the window if it makes a point. Whatever seems natural is published. Editing process is about 4 – 6 hours.
OMG! Who is printing things in the current year? Me. If you go back and read through some of my early OSJ articles, they are really rough. I was doing all writing, revisions, and editing at the computer. I got complaints about editing, wording, and spelling. I am my own worst critic. The comments were not unfounded because those articles were hard to re-read and sucked. I needed to make a change. Went back to what worked for me in school. Printing and proofreading – over and over and over and over – again. Now when I re-read my articles later, I think “there’s no way I wrote this, it’s too good!”
I start writing in LibreOffice Writer, except when I start writing in the shack which has Microsoft Word. I start in LibreOffice because my primary desktop and laptop run Fedora. All writing, links, and editing are done using Writer. No graphics are included at this point. When editing is done, I use a Windows virtual machine with a local copy of Microsoft Word. Word Doc is the format requested by the Section Manager in Times New Roman, 12-point font.
Text is pasted into Word using “keep text only” or unformatted text. This removes any unnecessary formatting from Writer. I never directly convert Writer to Word using the Save As option. I’ve used Writer and predecessors, there have always been conversion (formatting) problems going directly to Word. The Document Foundation states a lot has been accomplished solving formatting issues. I still see conversion problems around image sizing, positioning, and cropping.
Word’s spelling and grammar checker is far superior and I use it for final touchups. That is to say, Writer has a spell checker that’s not very good and completely lacks grammar checking. I’ve noticed quarks (bugs) in Writer’s spell checker that hinder my editing process. For example, a misspelled word will not be underlined with the standard wavy red line to visually indicate a word not recognized. Copy and paste that exact same sentence into a blank Writer document and the wavy red line appears for the misspelled word. Haven’t figured out why that happens and I don’t ever use the ‘ignore/ignore all’ option.
Though I may gather images during brainstorming, I don’t go looking for graphics or images until everything is formatted in Word. During the writing and editing process, I only work with text and links. Inserting images at the end doesn’t waste space in the printouts and I avoid any conversion issues going from Writer to Word. When media from other sites is used, I’ll caption it with the domain or username as it is not my work. Most often, Size and Position Text ? Alignment is Square. Then group the caption and image together.
Taking my own pictures, I’m a huge fan of Cannon imaging products since I started using them at our high school TV station. I use a Cannon Rebel SL2 primarily. When I don’t want to use the nice camera, an old Canon PowerShot SX210 or my Google Android Pixel phone does the job at places like Hamvention. Don’t think I’ve included too many scanned items, but an Epson Perfection V100 Photo is used. Editing, cropping, resizing, bluing parts of images and pictures, I use a free program called Paint.Net and, on occasion the Linux equivalent, Pinta.
The inclusion of hyperlinks in articles has been amazing for me. Instead of having to cite something or take additional time explaining, I link the reader to a place they can read or research something I’ve mentioned. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to convert, do final spell/grammar checking, insert and caption images, and verify links work correctly.
In total, it takes me an average of 12 – 16 hours to do an OSJ article. The quickest one in recent history was six hours on Spam Campaigns, draft to final version. Normally, this process is spread out a few hours per day over at least three days. I E-mail the article and images to the Section Manager. Then it magically appears is the published version of the Ohio Section Journal. I don’t know much about the processes once I send my submission.
Web Edition. After the OSJ is published and emails go out to members and subscribers, I publish my article to my site. From Word, I do a Save As ? Plain Text. The key to this conversion: in the File Conversion box, checking “Allow character substitution.” This removes “smart quotes,” apostrophes, multiple periods, and dashes Word likes to insert – substituting them with web friendly characters for online publishing.
I don’t use the HTML Save As option because my method keeps the online version clean from the needless formatting and useless tags inserted by Office products. December’s article was 6 KB of plain text. After formatting the article and creating links for my website, 8 KB. Comparing exporting to HTML in Word weighs in at 54 KB – of needless crap and highly inefficient rendering, if you ask me.
My site is a WordPress content management system (CMS). I have boilerplate text at the beginning of each post (article) describing how to subscribe and links to the full edition. Then paste the exported text, recreating text formatting and links in the CMS. I upload and caption the same images. Always after the OSJ is released is when I hit the “Publish” button to make the version live on my site too.
After publication. Generally, I receive no feedback on a per article basis. That is fine because people still call me out when I do make mistakes. I receive comments when people see me in person at hamfests, presentations, and occasionally over the air. Readers generally enjoy the stuff I write and topics covered.
Ironically, the most feedback I receive are from the non-ham topics. Some of you complained about my series on preserving legacy media (August, September, and October 2021). I received more messages from readers who wanted to share their tips, experiences, and services used to rescue data from legacy media. It was under ten messages but more than any other article or series I published.
I’m likely blacklisted with a vendor or two. They’ve messaged me displeased about one thing or another. When asked what they had an issue with, they don’t respond. Manufactures have never given me anything anyway because I do, and have, refuse units for review. If a product is worth purchasing or is something a lot of hams are using and might have technical questions, I purchase the product on my own. Representatives often come across as jags but I remain professional. Seriously though, make better products.
I receive a lot of “I don’t understand it, but it’s interesting” feedback, even from my own dad. I attempt to grab attention in some way. It’s a balancing act though. Many readers are not all very technical, others want me to do deep dives including all kinds of technical specifications. I shoot for a middle ground of knowledge an average user might need. At least a basic understanding of computers helps to understand my articles. If someone walks away with a piece of knowledge they keep in the back of their mind for the future, my job here is done.
When I did longer articles, I make an effort to shorten them. This is not one of those articles. A friend suggested splitting longer ones across multiple months. Depends how I feel. I try to keep them shorter (2-3 pages, before graphics). Some want even longer articles. Thank you and I’m flattered, but this takes up a considerable amount of time as-is.
Not that all feedback isn’t humbling, a couple stick out. My brother shared a story where someone at his company messaged him asking if he knew me (same last name). Obviously, he did. They told him they enjoyed reading my Section Journal articles. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of this person. Ralph – K8HSQ messaged the Section Manager and myself saying “I enjoy your articles in the OSJ newsletter very much. Whenever I see your article being announced in the email, I read it immediately. If it’s not listed, the newsletter gets put on the “read later” pile.” Roy – K8RWH always says he is “your #1 fan in Ohio.”
I don’t even know how to react to that other than to say – thank you! I always ended my articles the same: thanks for reading. I’m always honored you take time out of your busy schedule to read anything I have to say. This also comes from another teacher I had and talked about recently, Mr. Hoty. ‘No matter what the viewers say or complain about – your audio stinks, the picture sucks, wrong about this – just let them vent and calmly say “thank you for watching” because at least their watching.’ With that…
Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK