Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Handiham World for 3 January 2007

transceiverIn this first issue of 2007 you will find:

  • Handiham System Celebrates 40 years!
  • New logos for 40 year anniversary
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part One
  • The Trading Post returns
  • Step up to the plate
  • Elmer: Why handiham readers don't give you the letter of the correct answer
  • In RekkyTec: Email Address Harvesting
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Fans of classic television will certainly remember comedian Jack Benny, who never wanted to admit his age and always claimed to be "39". Well, folks last year the Courage Handiham System was actually 39 years old and this year, 2007, and unlike Mr. Benny, we are going to admit that we are now turning 40.

Sure, sure... you have been at office birthday parties where some poor colleague has turned 40 and gets those awful black colored balloons placed on their office door or in their cubicle.

The message: "you are an old coot and life is now just about over for you, ha ha ha!"

Well, most of us have marked milestones in our lives, and birthdays remind us about where we have been in life and where we are going. Of course those black office balloons are a good-natured joke, because everyone knows that at age 40, there is still plenty of tread left on the old tire and many of the best things in life are yet to be.

One of the things that 40 generally marks in a person's life is a real, no-nonsense passage into genuine maturity. The things that we did in our youth may have been risky and careless and probably (as often as not) really stupid, and the nice thing about turning 40 is that we can look back and think to ourselves, "it's lucky I survived my youth".

You know what? I think the same thing is true for organizations and institutions. Times change, methods and goals evolve over years, and even the overall mission of an organization may not be quite the same. Certainly a historical perspective is useful in planning for the future and setting new goals. However, one thing that can get in the way of thinking clearly about how to get things done and even about what should be done within an organization is its history.

Let me explain.

When the Courage Handiham System came to life in 1967 as the brainchild of Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, the following things were true:

  • The Internet did not exist.
  • Transistors were around, but only found in a few consumer items and advanced business systems and still were not common in the design of ham radio equipment. Almost every home sported an All-American five... a classic five tube AM radio.
  • Computers used transistorized switches, but not integrated circuits, and filled entire rooms. They did basic calculations rather well but could not outperform today's handheld calculators.
  • People with disabilities were often shut-ins, unable to get around town or sometimes even around their own homes. There were no wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, wheelchair lifts, and certainly no accessible transportation options. Furthermore, people with disabilities were often marginalized in society and did not have jobs.
  • The telephone and postal mail were the main methods of communication for most people.
  • Ham radio operators enjoyed a special status as cutting edge innovators in worldwide communications.
  • The use of Morse code in many services, including the military, commercial shipping, and the amateur radio service, was very common.
  • Although it began in the 1950s, in 1967 Single sideband (SSB) was still in the experimental stages for most ham radio operators, who continued to rely on Morse code and amplitude modulated (AM) phone.
  • In 1967, Oscar-1, the first "Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio" (believe it or not) had already been launched six years earlier. The space-age was under way, and amateur radio operators, as I said, were on the cutting edge of new technologies.
  • Battery technology was primitive by today's standards. The common lead-acid batteries were big, bulky, and really heavy. Furthermore, they didn't provide power for very long. Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries were around, but most ham operators didn't own them, as portability wasn't a first consideration in the design of the typical ham radio station.
  • In 1967, phone operation was still really expensive. Most people who were just getting started, including me as a teenager, opted for basic Morse code equipment because it was so affordable.
  • In 1967 my callsign was WN0TDA. People starting out in amateur radio in the United States began with the "Novice" license and had an "N" in their callsigns, sort of like those "Student Driver" signs you see on driver training cars! The Novice license was defined as a beginner license and was designed to expire at the end of the year (later two years). The reasoning was that if you wanted to be a ham radio operator you would be given a beginner license, get experience and build code speed, and take your General class exam for access to the HF bands. Once a person passed the 13 word per minute code exam and the written theory exam, they earned General status and access to all of the ham radio bands and frequencies, along with getting rid of that "N" in their callsigns... my callsign became the current WA0TDA.
  • Incentive licensing was first announced by the FCC in 1967. Hams had different opinions, mainly because operators with General Class privileges would lose spectrum space. It was a matter of great contention over several years. However, incentive licensing did set the stage for Handihams to teach classes at several different levels.

Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, worked in healthcare in the small Minnesota city of Rochester. Rochester was at that time already famous as a medical center and the home of the Mayo Clinic. What Ned saw when he visited people with disabilities was the rather sad situation of people stuck in their homes, often times wasting their lives in front of a television set. Ned's genius was that he saw amateur radio for people with disabilities as a way to reach out and "open a window to the world". After all, amateur radio was something that you could do from home and it really didn't matter much if you had a disability, as everyone was equal on the air. It was simply a matter of figuring out how to help people with disabilities and sensory impairments such as blindness learn what they needed to learn to pass the exams.

Sister Alverna, WA0SGJNed enlisted the help of a group of local nuns, the Sisters of St. Francis, on April 30, 1967. Although their first action was as weather watchers during a thunderstorm that passed through Rochester that day, the Sisters were committed to helping Ned with his new project, and several received their licenses. Among them was Sister Alverna O'Laughlin, WA0SGJ, the former Educational Coordinator for the HANDI-HAM System, now retired.

The first HANDI-HAM was Edna (Eddy) Thorson, N0YL, who took her General Class license exam in December, 1967.

To be continued next week.