Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Handiham World for 11 January 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.
Cartoon guy carrying all about ham radio books.
What better time to review things that need doing or fixing than the beginning of a fresh, new year?  Here at the Handiham office we are busy getting our 2012 bucket list ready to go.  Here are some of our major "to-do's" for 2012:
  1. Fix the website.  This morning I tried to reach and it was so painfully slow to load that the web browser just gave up and displayed an error message. We have been encountering this problem more and more over the past year, and it is related to the shared web hosting server that we are using. More than once the hosting company took the site down, surprising us and causing me to have to drop everything else to deal with the problem.  Furthermore, I have received complaints about audio files not playing through.  This can happen through the loss of connectivity due to server overload.  The Fix: Move the website to another hosting service.  This project is a major one, and will result in a disruption of our website-based services, but it is going to have to happen sometime soon.  We will keep you posted, but before we make the move I would like to hear from you if there is some website feature that you really would like to have that currently does not exist.  In the meantime, if appears to be down, it may instead just be really slow due to overload. Wait a while and try again.  If audio files do not stream all the way through, an alternative is to download them onto your hard drive then open them.  If downloading is slow, try again later.
  2. Improve our audio recording quality.  We depend a lot on audio delivered from the website, both for our weekly audio news and for audio lectures for those who are working on a license or upgrade. And we must not forget about the audio tutorials on how to use various rigs, either.  It has come to my attention that some of the audio lectures are incomplete.  One, for example, is Extra Class Lecture 59, which simply cuts off at the 42 minute mark. An alert Extra Class student let me know about this, and when I downloaded the lecture to check it, sure enough - the audio file was okay up to 42 minutes, after which it simply flat lined to the end.  Checking my original MP3 file, I was disappointed to learn that it was also defective.  Unfortunately the original Audacity file was long gone, so recovery was impossible.  Since the Extra Class pool changes this summer, we have decided to just leave the defective file in place and concentrate on solving these kinds of quality issues with the new recordings that will begin as soon as the 2012 Extra Class pool is released.  To improve our audio, we will be updating Audacity and tweaking the settings.  We will also be using a new version of the Lame encoder for MP3 production.  Because volunteers also produce audio for us at their own homes, we need to get more information out about how to record digitally.  A series of how-to articles on this subject will be appearing in Worldradio Magazine soon. 
  3. Upgrade the equipment at Radio Camp.  Recently I proposed that we acquire a new radio for training purposes at Radio Camp.  At the same time, we would buy a new rotor to replace a non-working old unit on the 50 foot tower at Camp Courage. The proposed radio is the Kenwood TS-590S with VGS1 Voice Guide module.  Following the camp session, the radio could be pressed into service as a remote base station using the accessible Kenwood software interface. This suggestion is under discussion on the Handiham Radio Club mailing list. 
  4. Assess the working space at HQ and make it more productive.  A visit to our headquarters will make you a believer - that we need to do something to organize the working space better, that is. A hodgepodge of work stations, storage cabinets, and donated gear that needs assessment greets you as you walk in.  We need to put some serious elbow grease into making our headquarters a better space for working and operating, as well as for checking radios and accessories out to see if they are working and to make minor repairs, assemble power cables and coax jumpers, and make sure that each radio has all of its accessories.
  5. Expand our Internet Remote Base capabilities.  The addition of a TS-590S station would definitely be an improvement, but what if we could add a DX station with a tower and beam?  That is what we will be discussing as we gather for Radio Camp 2012 in June.  In the long run such a station benefits our members whether or not they attend a radio camp session.  It is an essential service to offer remote base capability now, having begun as a quirky experimental project at Courage North several years ago.  Included in our effort is a revamp of the existing W4MQ software, which could use some additional accessibility features.  Since 2011 we have been hosting the W4MQ software project following the untimely death at age 58 of Bob Arnold, N2JEU, who had been hosting it for the past couple of years. 
  6. Prepare a new Extra Class lecture series.  As mentioned, the question pool changes on July 1.  The Extra Class lecture series, designed to be blind-friendly and accessible to Handiham members with reading disabilities, takes an enormous amount of time to produce.  Based on a variety of references, it will take the student through the concepts and not simply a reading of a textbook or the question pool. I hope to get through it more quickly this time and with better audio.  
  7. Plan for the future.  In the past we have periodically called on volunteers who serve as members of an advisory board. It is time once again to bring the Handiham Advisory Board back to life so that we can be sure we are hearing from our members as we plan our way forward into the next few years.  Obviously technology is changing, and our services must change with it.  I can't see the future any better than the next person, but one thing I have learned from experience is that there is usually wisdom and insight to be gained by bringing knowledgeable people together to tackle projects like this.  Any one person has limitations based on their likes and dislikes.  In a group, we will have a chance to bring forward new ideas, hash them through, and decide where we need to place our efforts.  This is timely, since I will turn 64 in April and will eventually retire.  While that may not happen for a few years, we need to plan now for a smooth transition, and that can't really take place easily without a "future plan" of where the Handiham program should be in the years ahead. 
  8. Leverage social media.  With other amateur radio organizations and services already in the game, we have some catching up to do.  The Handiham program does not have a Facebook or Google Plus presence, and it is no longer possible to ignore these powerful marketing tools. Courage Center, our parent nonprofit company, and Courage Center Camps (of which we are part) both have Facebook pages. Figuring out a strategy is key, since we would need to limit our administrative time on such an account due to limited resources.
So there you have it.  It's ambitious as lists go, but I think you will agree that these are all things that must be done to maintain the program. In due course I will be calling for help and I am confident that we can work together during 2012 to make Handihams even better.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager