Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Handiham World for 2 February 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Squawk! Polly want a cracker!

Cartoon parrot on tree branch, holding microphone.

That's what a parrot says, at least in the cartoons, right? Parrots are great imitators when it comes to hearing something and quickly learning to repeat it. That's why we say someone is "parroting" when they simply repeat what they have heard. Believe me, if someone is accused of parroting when they are speaking, it is not a compliment. It means that the speaker is repeating what was heard without really thinking about what they are saying.

I hear plenty of parroting on the air. My pet peeve is one I heard again this week: "Of course EchoLink isn't real ham radio."

Excuse me? Do the people who keep repeating this over and over again like parrots really know what they are saying? Have they thought it through? I submit that they haven't, and would like to back up the bus a bit here and ask them to answer these simple questions:

Is an amateur radio license required for the legal use of EchoLink?

Could you get into trouble because you violated FCC rules when using EchoLink?

Does a voice transmission on EchoLink use the public airwaves?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Oh, sure, it is possible to have a computer to computer conversation on EchoLink, but it can quickly segue into an on the air conversation when another station joins on a connected repeater or simplex node. But those are the easy questions. Now, here's a hard one that I want to ask the "EchoLink isn't real ham radio" parrots:

Why isn't EchoLink "real" ham radio?

Take your time, EchoLink detractors. Think about it. I'm pretty sure there isn't a really simple answer to parrot back to THAT one.

If the answer is that you don't actually go on the air with EchoLink, well, that's not true. You can, and do. If it's because a computer is involved, does that mean that SSTV and RTTY are not real radio? Those modes use computers as integral parts of the station. If it's because EchoLink doesn't fit a narrow, preconceived notion of what constitutes ham radio, well, THAT I would believe. Which brings me to the next question, also not an easy one:

So what IS "real" ham radio?

This is not easy to answer. If you say that it is only about sitting in front of an HF radio connected to a beam antenna and working DX without using a computer or the Internet, you are going to get objections from operators who control their radios with Ham Radio Deluxe and who check that application's built-in DX spotting feature. If you try to limit real ham radio to a particular mode, you will certainly hear from others who have enjoyed radio for years and who never used that mode. Anyone who operates a radio at a distant location by the use of an Internet remote base control point would also beg to differ.

The way I look at it, ham radio is like a big tent where there is room for lots of different interests and ways to have fun. In fact, I would suggest that even builders and experimenters who prefer designing and building their own gear are "real" radio amateurs even if they seldom get on the air. There is really no point in telling someone else who enjoys a different activity that what they like doing is somehow less valid or real than what someone else does. That's why I try really, really hard to think about what I say before I say it. Remember, once it goes out over the air, it is impossible to keep others from hearing it!

Besides, thinking before you speak could actually make you seem pretty wise. I think I'll leave the mindless repetition to the parrots and just get on the air and encourage others to enjoy ham radio in its many different facets. Get on, have fun.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Skype study hall

Last week we mentioned that we have an ongoing need for some kind of forum in which technical assistance or study assistance can be offered to our members. One idea that crossed my mind was to run a Skype conference with up to 10 participants. This would allow a number of people to discuss some topic of interest in a small group setting in a more private forum than one could find on EchoLink, for example.

I have completed a page in the members only section of the Handiham website to guide users. It is found by going to the member section, then the "Audio this week" link, and then the "Handiham Skype Conference" link.

Running out of entertaining club projects?

Small tools and wire

Did you drive your mom nuts when you were a kid and the weather outside was rotten and you were bored?

"MOM, there's NOTHING to do."

Yeah, me too. It might have been a rainy day or maybe the snow was piling up outside but it was too windy or cold to actually go out to play in it. Good old Mom could always think of something to distract us brats. Games and projects were high on her list.

Well, one great idea that my local ham radio club is trying this week is a group activity where participants diagnose malfunctioning amateur radio gear. On the "test bench" (which will really just be a table in the public library meeting room) will be not one, but two - TWO - malfunctioning manual antenna tuners. There will be a few small hand tools and test instruments available to help diagnose and (hopefully) repair the two "patients".

This kind of activity would really be fun at Radio Camp this summer, wouldn't it? I would love to get this kind of activity set up in a small group environment so that we could put our heads together and try to figure out some basic fixes for radios or accessories. Meanwhile, a great big "way to go" to the Stillwater, Minnesota Amateur Radio Association for coming up with this mid-winter project to keep us kiddies from being bored!