Score!

The title says it all! This weekend I scored! I actually have two things to blog here, photography, comet, and ham radio. Ok, that’s three things, but I’ll start with the photography first and do the ham radio last.

Friday night my wife, my second oldest granddaughter, and I went out to the turnoff above Swan Falls dam, on the Snake River south of Kuna, Idaho. I wanted to set up at the top of the canyon to take some time lapse pictures as I had several things I wanted to test out before I start some more focused work. One of the test points was how the photos would transition from evening to night with certain settings on the camera while using PentaxTether to control the timing. I’ve not yet done any time lapse aimed at including the period where the day goes from light to dark and was given to understand that’s somewhat tricky. A main undertaking this session was to learn what would be necessary to handle that transition. I’m happy to report that the photo session went rather well. I did have four pictures where the normally blue coloring made a jump to a greenish tint but on the whole it’s a consistent transition in the video with no further tweaks necessary to either photos or camera settings.

I actually made two separate time lapse videos. One that’s 44 pictures long and lasts 2.9 seconds and the included one above that lasts 13 seconds, made up of only 205 photos. The reason for the two is after the 44th picture, my camera battery went dead and I had to switch to the replacement. At that point I also decided, having observed the previous pictures on the laptop, to change the view a little bit. The whole session took place over about two hours, with the photography itself taking an hour and half at a photo every 15 seconds. For those interested, the frame rate in the resulting video is 15 fps.

I would normally take far more photos over a longer time period, but for the testing I wanted to do this short time frame worked fine despite being too short to create a time lapse to really enjoy. I created the video using PhotoLapse and it seemed to work flawlessly on the default settings. The website seems unmodified since 2006 and I think perhaps PhotoLapse is as old. It’s not without its quirks and you have to restart it to do a new JPEG to AVI, but once it’s started up, it works. As a simple tool to make a quick time lapse AVI from my JPEG photos, it works. I’m still checking out other tools for this process, as I don’t want to rely solely on an older unsupported product. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the programmer for making this freely available.

I then had to put the resulting AVI into Avidemux to reduce the screen size. The original video was 3872×2592 and would start playing off the side of the monitor due to huge black bands on each side of the video so I changed it to 640×480, give or take. Avidemux is another program I like and seems to be regularly maintained. The resulting video plays nicely in my monitor and the laptop screen without black bars and a more user friendly screen size that doesn’t require moving the video player to get the actual video into full view.

The photo session over, I packed up and we headed in. We had decided to stop at Denny’s on the way home so instead of cutting cross country to go home, I took the long, straight run from the canyon to Kuna. That was fortuitous.

Driving along the dark road way out in the countryside, I was enjoying the ride and looking around. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something. I looked at it, but there was nothing there. I looked away and again noticed something. This repeated several times until I opened my window to make sure it wasn’t something reflected from inside the car. A couple more looking, looking away cycles and I pulled over. This time I carefully looked straight ahead and sure enough, there was something fuzzy in my peripheral vision. Still looking straight ahead, I noted where the fuzziness was in relation to the horizon and my left. Keeping my eyes looking straight ahead but with my attention on the fuzzy spot, I slowly turned my head to bring my eyes to that point in the sky. THERE! Now that I knew where it was, I could see it directly and also look away and back with no problems. I excitedly asked for the binoculars and quickly focused on the object.

Score!!

Me: 1. Comet C/2011 L4 PANASTARRS: 11.

FINALLY! After at least 11 attempts since early March I managed to see the comet I’d been hunting for so long. I tried to show my wife where it was, but she couldn’t see it. I was about to turn the car around so it’d be out her window instead and that’s when the clouds moved in to cover it. Man, I was so excited I was jabbering about it the rest of the way into Kuna. I also kept watch to see if it’d show up in another break in the clouds but it never did. I just might head back out to Swan Falls Road to see if I can get a picture of it this weekend.

If you’re not a “ham”, or amateur radio operator, you can stop here. What comes next is what I had to do to renew my wife’s license and where to go to do it online for free. If your renewal is coming up soon, you might want to read the rest of this post.

These are my notes about how to renew your ham license online. I just completed Debbie’s (KD7VZZ) renewal and will have to do mine (KC7JSD) in 2015. Hans (KC7MWA) will have to do his in 2015, too. Hopefully, recording my notes here will help Hans and I renew ours freely, quickly and painlessly when the time comes.

According the FCC, “licensees may file for renewal 30-60 days, but no more than 90 days, before their license expiration date. If your license expires, you may apply for renewal of the license for another term during a two-year filing grace period.” I choose to wait until about 40 days, or about a month and a half before her renewal date. That seems to be a good compromise between getting it done and having sufficient backup time to do it by phone or snail-mail if necessary.

One caveat that’s worth knowing about ahead of time: you cannot change the two “do you have to pay fees” questions from yes to no. Amateurs do not, as of 4/2013 anyway, have to pay a fee to renew their license unless it’s a vanity call. Just leave those two questions showing “yes” and when you get to the point where you submit the renewal request, the ULS will indicate you have no fees to pay.

Oh, and the ULS is down for maintenance every night for a couple hours so depending on when you try this you might have to wait until a couple hours later.

OK, let’s get started.

First you have to have your FRN (FCC Registration Number) to hand, as it is used as your login for the ULS (Universal Licensing System). That’s easily obtained by visiting the ULS license search page and entering your call sign in the search box. If your license was issued or renewed in the last 10 years or so, it’ll be listed on your hardcopy license from the FCC as well.

Once you have your FRN handy, go to the FCC ULS home page. There you can either log in, or use the forgot password path to reset your password. Or set it if you never did before. You can also reset your personal question and otherwise set up to use the ULS. The response time is pretty fast — I had to set Debbie’s personal question in order to set up a password for her log-in. I had the reply from the FCC within 15 minutes of filling out the personal question stuff. It was probably sooner, but I waited that long before checking my email to see if I got a reply. After that, it took only 5 minutes to “reset” her password and log in.

Once logged in, it was just five more minutes that night to put in the request to renew her license. When I checked the next morning, the ULS indicated she had been renewed. So the whole process was fast, painless, and free. NO need to pay those various organizations $8 or whatever to do it for you, unless you want to do so.

We did the renew request online Monday night and her hardcopy license from the FCC was in the mailbox the very next Saturday.

Hopefully, this will help you renew your license easily, quickly, and painlessly.

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