Thursday, May 21, 2009

Handiham World for 21 May 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

We're back - sort of

Guy driving scooter with wagon of Hamvention treasures in tow
Image: A shopper uses a scooter to get around the acres of flea market. He's pulling a wagon with his callsign license plate, which we have blacked out so that the XYL won't see this and ask him about all that junk he brought home from Hamvention.

Last week we were at Hamvention™ and the ARRL national convention in Dayton, Ohio.

Believe it or not, even with all the talk of recession and pandemic flu in the news every day, the show was a good one, and our experience at the Handiham booth was very positive. While we will have to wait for final attendance numbers to be released, Dayton was certainly worthwhile for us. Of course I am behind in my work, so the weekly e-letter is late. When I sent out a "poor me, I'm so busy that I need more hours in the day" notice yesterday, I got the following highly sympathetic suggestions:

  • Sleep less...
  • Well you could do it, but it would involve moving to another and larger planet, I think Jupiter.
  • Maybe it has something to do with traveling over time zones especially the International Date Line a few times...
  • There is a thing called the day stretcher. You find them at Wal-Mart right next to the cucumber stretchers.
  • Learn to say 'NO" when asked to go to meetings. But then what do you do for a job?!!
  • Daily, at noon, turn the hands of the clock backwards by an hour or so. This will gain you the extra time required, but first check with the XYL to make sure your extra time doesn't interfere with her timing or else you won't have much time at all, on earth or elsewhere!
  • I'd give the person who could tell me how to get more hours out of a day a big bear hug!!!
  • This is my secret: Time travel -- oops, now it's not a secret anymore. I put my mp3 lessons on my cell phone mp3 player and listen when driving (I don't get distracted when I must pay attention to driving.)

Thanks to all who shared their words of wisdom. Geez, a guy sure can't get any sympathy around here!

But back to Hamvention.

Ken, KB3LLA, Handiham Radio Club President, was at the booth, as were Handiham volunteers John Hoenshell, N0BFJ, and John Pedley, N0IPO. Volunteer Bill Rouch, N6HBO, also visited and was quickly recruited for some booth time! It was in speaking with Bill that I started to form some real insight about what is happening in the realm of the Handiham program.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself. First, I should tell you that I drove to the show, all the way from Minnesota. That put me behind the wheel for almost 12 hours each way, and I knew I would be bored without an audio book to keep me company as the miles passed by. I'd recently visited the bookstore, where I'd picked up an audio CD copy of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's book "The World is Flat - A brief history of the twenty-first century". The six compact disks in the book would surely keep me occupied for quite awhile, when I was not on two meters or tuned in to the car radio.

So I listened to Tom Friedman, a Minnesota native who grew up not far from Handiham headquarters. In "The World is Flat", I learned that Tom was talking about the way technology, specifically the availability of high-speed internet communications, has made it possible for people to do their work from anywhere. That in turn means that you can be in Bangalore, India doing an information technology job as easily as you can do the same job from an office in Chicago. Heck, who even needs an office? This, according to Tom, flattens out the world. There are other "flatteners" as well, and they all work together to make it easier than ever before to do work in any place, at any time. People can collaborate on projects from every corner of the globe instead of sitting together in a meeting room.

But let's get back to my visit with Bill, N6HBO. Bill earned his license at Radio Camp, so he knows a thing or two about the challenges faced by people with disabilities. Anyway, Bill asked me about wi-fi radios. I wrote some time ago about my Christmas present, which was a Grace internet wi-fi radio, and Bill said he also recently got an internet wi-fi radio. We were soon comparing notes. He operates an excellent small mail-order business featuring ham radio accessories, and he thought such a radio might be of interest to hams. The thing is, Bill could never operate a business like his as efficiently as he does without the advantages of the flat world. He is able to use the internet to do his marketing, and his products can be manufactured wherever they can be made most efficiently. Bill's "Ham4Less" business is a success because he understands how to make the flat world work for him, and his customers benefit from quick service and good prices in the bargain!

So much has changed since I first started working in the Handiham program myself, way back in 1991. While we had Handiham members worldwide back then, the world was anything but flat. It took months to get an audio cassette tape to someone outside the United States. If you lived in New Zealand, you were certainly going to wait longer to get served than if you lived in Denver. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, uh, office, we had exactly one IBM Selectric typewriter for our document processing. Letters sent by postal mail and telephone calls via long distance were our usual methods of communication. You thought twice about making too many long distance calls, because the expense would break the budget. Contacting members by letter was so slow that you sometimes forgot what the conversation was about. With the telephone, you often traded voice mails in a frustrating effort to get things done. Sister Alverna, WA0SGJ, kept a huge bookcase full of index cards containing the membership. Down in the basement, shop volunteers like Rex Kiser and Ken Williams repaired donated vacuum tube equipment.

Today, in the new flat world, we deliver audio and information to our members around the world at the same time, which is whenever they want it, no matter where they live. It is as easy to listen to our audio or get information from our website in Europe or Australia as it is in Iowa or Minnesota. The playing field has been leveled, allowing us to serve more people when they want to be served, and do so wherever they happen to be, as long as there is internet available and they can reach our Handiham website. In the office, things have changed, too. Staff computers can access a shared member database, so that when we answer a phone call, we know the basics about the member who is calling. We can often research the answer to a question while the member is on the phone, saving another call back to that person. Thanks to secure computing technology, even if a major blizzard that keeps me home for the day strikes, I can log in to CITRIX and do my work as if I am right at my desk. Remote control also flattens our world with access to the Handiham Remote Base HF station. You can be anywhere with internet access and run the station. Handiham members who cannot put up antennas are now on a level playing field with those who can. I work every day with volunteers who live hundreds or thousands of miles away, trading files and collaborating on projects as if they are right here in the same room, working with me.

Talking with Bill at the same time that I was reading Tom Friedman's book really brought the point home to me: We have made quite a leap into the 21st Century flat world, and it has been good for all of us at Handihams!

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager