Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Handiham World for 27 February 2008

Greetings from my work-at-home office and ham shack!

Did you notice that there was no weekly Handiham World last week? Of course you did! We are glad you missed us, and happy to be back from California Radio Camp. Nancy in our Handiham office reported that there were frequent requests for specific contact frequencies from people who wanted to talk to us during the week. Unfortunately, whenever I have tried to list specific HF frequencies, the campers always have their own ideas about which frequencies they prefer and when they will get on the air. I decided it was just better for my blood pressure to give up on trying to list frequencies!

Nonetheless, we were very faithful to our daily EchoLink net, checking in every time the net was on the air and even running the net from camp. This proved to be the most reliable way to contact us anyway, because geography at the camp site favors HF activity toward the Pacific rather than back east toward the rest of North America. I also heard this from local amateur radio operators. Camp Costanoan sits beside tall hills that rise up toward the east, effectively cutting off HF communication in that direction, except for high angle radiation. This makes it quite difficult to schedule contacts on specific HF frequencies with our friends in various parts of North America.

On the other hand, even with a relatively hastily-installed G5RV antenna, which was not all that high at the apex mounted in inverted vee configuration, we were able to work Pitcairn Island. How cool is that? It isn't all about geography, but terrain does play an important role in amateur radio communications, as does location. In the American Midwest, we are used to relatively flat terrain and 360° HF operation. Stations located on the east and west coasts of North America have an easier time working DX in Europe or the Pacific, respectively. It does make me think that geography might be a part of a future operating skills training session!

Since I was out of the office quite awhile, I now feel that I am officially so far behind that I will never catch up. Handiham members awaiting technical support with their user names and passwords should now be all set, as I have made their requests a priority. Unfortunately, the Internet connection during radio camp was one of the poorest I have ever seen, about like dial-up and sometimes it didn't work at all. The camp has DSL, but all through the week we noticed telephone company trucks working on the line along the canyon road leading to camp. Earlier in the winter heavy rain storms had washed over the road and damaged some of the infrastructure, including the phone lines. This, as you might expect, made it pretty doggone difficult to connect to the Handiham server and take care of username and password requests. It is also the reason you heard so little from me via e-mail during camp week. Isn't it amazing how much we begin to depend on utilities working all the time?

Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, talks into a mobile mic. Photo: Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, uses a mobile mic at California Radio Camp. Matt's face is reflected in the glossy paint of a car roof.

Speaking of which, yesterday's widespread power failure in central and southern Florida should bring home the need for amateur radio communications capability. People were stuck in elevators, endured huge traffic jams when signal lights went out, and otherwise were unable to get their work done for hours when a fire at a substation tripped off more and more of Florida's power grid in a daisy chain of overloads. Of course this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen anymore, but it does... and it will again in the future. The outage was so widespread that conspiracy buffs immediately suspected a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, our infrastructure is more brittle than you might expect, and complicated, interconnected systems with interconnected dependencies are more subject to failure than good old amateur radio. Keep those batteries charged, everyone!

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager