Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Handiham World for 07 September 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

I don't know how it is for you, but in our household Labor Day here in the USA marks the unofficial end of summer.  Yes, I know that by the calendar September is still really a summer month. Autumn isn't official until Friday, 23 September 2011.  But if you are an early riser like me, you can notice quite a difference week to week as the morning daylight retreats and it is really quite dark when you make that first pot of coffee or take the dog out.  analemma:  Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License. 
Image: The analemma as depicted for the northern hemisphere.  A typical globe of the world has an analemma to help describe the Earth's progress through its seasons. 
The reason for this quick change in daylight hours is, of course, that the Earth is reaching that portion of its orbit around the Sun where the tilt of its axis favors direct sun over the equator instead of here in the northern hemisphere.  We call this the Autumnal Equinox, and it means that our daylight hours are roughly equal to our night time hours - depending on location, of course.  If you look at the analemma on a globe of the world, you can see that it looks like a rather tall figure "8", with the very top of the 8 representing the summer solstice in the north and the very bottom representing the winter solstice in the north (or summer solstice in the southern hemisphere.)  The center of the 8, where the lines cross, represents the two equinoxes, autumn and spring. The thing about the length of the days is that as we make the trip around the top of the figure 8 the days are long and there is little change, but once we start our wild ride down the steep slope of the 8, the roller coaster really seems to speed up and the days get shorter fast!  
For amateur radio, this has some interesting implications.  Since the days are getting shorter, there is less direct sunshine, which in turn means less absorption on the lower HF bands like 160 and 75 meters.  Those bands are also hard to use in the high summer months of July and August because of the thunderstorm static.  Thunderstorms are ultimately driven by sunshine that heats the ground and builds huge clouds from rising air. The jet stream pulls storms through the upper Midwestern United States all summer long, creating a cacophony of noise on the HF bands. As the sun appears to retreat to the south at this time of year, the storms and RF noise also retreat. This makes the HF bands much more useful.  During the winter months the long nights will mean better conditions for long-distance contacts on 160, 75, and 40 meters. If you have not considered getting on these bands, you might think about it now while the weather is still pleasant enough to allow for some serious antenna work. Most of us use either simple wire antennas or verticals for these bands because of their wavelength and the obvious problems one encounters constructing directional antennas for such frequencies. A one half wave dipole for 3.9 MHz would be around 120 feet from end to end, which makes it pretty impractical to try to put on a tower and rotate!
So what that means is that for a few bucks and a little elbow grease, you can get on the air and have an antenna that isn't that different from what everyone else is using.  This is certainly not the case for highly competitive bands like 20 meters, where some stations are equipped with large directional antennas on tall towers.  You will get a chance to be as competitive as you like on the lower frequency HF bands, but you have to get your antenna work done now!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Help us win the Dr. Dave Challenge!

Thanks to everyone who has helped us with donations to the Dr. Dave Challenge so far.  I don't have an update this week due to the high volume of phone calls and the holiday weekend. Money is tight these days and we desperately need your support.  Now, thanks to a generous challenge grant by Dr. Dave Justis, KN0S, we have a chance to help fill the budget gap.  Dr. Dave will donate $5,000 to the Handiham System if we can raise a matching amount.  That means we need to really put the fund-raising into high gear!  If you can help, designate a donation to Handihams, stating that it is for the "Dr. Dave Challenge".  We will keep you posted in our weekly e-letter as to the progress of the fund. 
Nancy can take credit card donations via the toll-free number, 1-866-426-3442, or accept checks sent to our Courage Center Handiham address:
Courage Handiham System
3915 Golden Valley Road
Golden Valley, MN  55422

Be sure to put a note saying "Dr. Dave Challenge" somewhere in the envelope or on the note line of the check.  If you donate online as detailed toward the end of your weekly e-letter, be sure to designate to Handihams and then send me an email letting me know you donated to the Dr. Dave fund:
Thank you so much for your support!

W0GLU License Plate

W0GLU amateur radio license plate - Minnesota circa 1971- Gift of Miriam Kiser.
This vintage automobile license plate was issued to Rex Kiser, W0GLU, in 1971 by the State of Minnesota. It has renewal stickers for 1972 and 1973. Rex is now a silent key, but had literally decades of volunteer experience for the Handiham program. The license plate was a gift to us from Miriam Kiser, Rex's wife.
Rex's specialty was repairing and modifying amateur radio equipment for the use of our members with disabilities. He soon became our crew leader, taking charge of shop activities. Back in the early days, the modifications to equipment included mounting clothespins on band-switch knobs so that people with muscle weakness could get enough leverage to change bands by themselves. The Handiham System also kept a "fleet" of loaner CW transceivers, Ten-Tec Century 21 models. These would be modified by Rex and his crew for use by blind hams. The mod included cutting away part of the plastic bezel covering the radio's frequency display dial and putting tactile bumps on the dial to mark frequency intervals. The blind user could put his or her fingertips through the hole in the bezel and feel the raised markings on the frequency display dial. This was about as analog a frequency display as you can get! It was only in later years that frequency displays started going digital and the door began opening to voice frequency announcements.
In later years, Rex and his crew installed voice modules in radios like the venerable Kenwood TS-440SAT, a very popular radio that appeared in the late 1980's. The VS-1 speech module made it the most blind-friendly HF radio of its day, and the built in automatic antenna tuner in the SAT version freed blind users from the hassle of fiddling with manual tuners. Needless to say, Rex and his crew knew these radios inside and out!
W0GLU was also a regular net control station on the PICONET, which meets daily except Sundays on 3.925 MHz. I would describe Rex as a well-rounded ham radio operator who enjoyed many aspects of radio and electronics. Injured serving his country during WW2, shrapnel pierced his spinal column and he never walked again. That didn't keep Rex from driving his own car and maintaining his considerable upper body strength. I was surprised when he decided to take up adapted skiing with his disabled vets group, but I shouldn't have been. As I said, Rex was a well-rounded guy, interested in helping others by volunteering and in living a good and worthy life.
Rex Kiser, W0GLU - A great ham radio operator who inspires us still.

Image: Rex poses for the camera in the Handiham repair shop.