Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Handiham World for 09 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Smiling Pat with handiham coffee mugOne of the highlights of my amateur radio career came only recently, at the last Handiham Radio Camp session in August. Considering that I have been in ham radio since 1967, when I started as a teenager, that highlight has been a long time coming.

No, it isn't that I recently acquired a new piece of radio gear for which I've been saving my pennies for decades. I didn't put up a brand-new 70 foot tower with stacked 20 meter Yagi antennas. I didn't finally come out on top of the heap in some contest. (That would be the day!) Nor did I participate in a trip of a lifetime DXpedition to East Overshoe Island.

It wasn't any of those things, worthy as they might be for amateur radio goals. Believe it or not, it was something even more exciting, something I have waited all too long to do, and something that really brought the spirit of amateur radio back home to me.

I became a Volunteer Examiner.

Admittedly, for most of my amateur radio career there was no such thing as a Volunteer Examiner program. When the VE program started, I held only an Advanced Class license, and participating fully in the VE program meant that I would have to first earn my Extra Class ticket. I felt that I had really very little incentive to do so, since I didn't use Morse code all that often anyway and seldom even ventured outside the General Class phone bands. If I went for Extra, it would be in my own good time. And it was. I finally had to help Dr. Dave, KN0S, teach a radio camp class in Extra. Actually, I did far more learning than teaching in the class and decided to sit down and take the written examination, which I passed. After that, it was only a matter of time until the Morse code requirement was dropped to five words per minute.

I could wait for that! The change took effect in less than 365 days, which meant that all I needed to do was attend a VE session and seal the deal on the upgrade. I don't feel too bad about that, because after all I had passed a 13 word per minute exam at an FCC office, and remembered even being able to copy the 20 words per minute code as it was given to the Extra Class candidates by the stern-faced FCC examiner. Of course that was a long time ago, and I didn't have any burning desire to brush up on code to do the Extra when the requirement would be going away anyway.

Extra Class licensure is an accomplishment in itself, but it took me several more years to finally make the decision to study for the VE exam. The occasion presented itself when one of our Handiham members called to ask me whether we had the ARRL VE Manual in any kind of accessible format. I knew that we had it in text and audio, but I also knew that it was several years out of date. Perhaps this was the time to revise the manual and turn it into a Daisy book.

Well, that is easier said than done. The PDF document is easy for a sighted person to use, but the nature of how PDF handles layout on the pages can sometimes be more than a little confusing to someone trying to plow through the document using a screen reader. There was nothing for it but to go completely through the document line by line, editing to make the text flow as it was intended.

"What the heck", I thought to myself. "I can't help but learn this book since I'm going through it line by line. I might as well go ahead and take the VE exam and get accredited."

Which is what I did. The way the timing worked out, I was able to get my ARRL VE badge by the time Radio Camp week arrived. That meant that I could participate in my very first VE session at one of our camps, and this was something very special to me. It meant a lot to reach this goal and share it with my friends at Courage North. Of course I had to explain to the VE team leader that this was my very first session and that I pretty much had to learn just about everything, but everyone was helpful and understanding. I got to read the exam for one of our blind candidates. It was wonderful to hear about the successes and a bit hard to learn about the folks who didn't quite make it, but the session just brought home to me what a very kind, understanding, and helpful community we are in the Amateur Radio Service.

I should have done this sooner. It's a great way to give back to the community.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager