Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Handiham World for 31 January 2007

transceiverIn this issue you will find:

  • The station of 1967
  • Sam and Ham
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Five
  • KA0PQW is a featured artist
  • QST article converted to DAISY
  • Call for camp frequencies
  • In RekkyTec: Free software media player looks accessible to me!
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Today, we continue our look back to 1967, when the Handiham System started, and find out what life in the world of radio was like. What was a typical ham radio station like 40 years ago?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Handiham World for 24 January 2007

transceiverIn this issue you will find:

  • The pressure is on; studying for General in 1967
  • Today is the day -- Morse Code Report and Order is published in the Federal Register
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Four
  • Radio Personality Dean Spratt is a Silent Key
  • Call for 60 minute cassette tape donations
  • Welcome back, Rusty!
  • Audio Readout for the MFJ-209 Antenna Analyzer: The SKI guys do it again!
  • We start programming radios for California Radio Camp
  • What should our next DAISY book be?
  • In RekkyTec: Possibly useful links
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Handiham World for 10 January 2007

transceiverIn this issue you will find:

  • Ham radio tests in 1967
  • Morse code watch
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Three
  • General and Extra pool revisions posted
  • We start programming radios for California Radio Camp
  • First Handiham Daisy format book in the testing phase
  • In RekkyTec: A nifty online power calculator
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Last week, we talked about whether ham radio and the Courage Handiham System were still relevant. Today, we look back to 1967, when the Handiham System started, and find out what life in the world of radio was like. What were the licensing requirements, and how do they compare to today's?

I find it convenient to talk about 1967, because that is the year that I got my Novice Amateur Radio license -- just as Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, was enlisting the help of several Franciscan sisters in Rochester, Minnesota to help teach people with disabilities how to get their first licenses.

One of the really big differences between then and now was that there was no published question pool. Although we have a hard time imagining what that was like today, prior to the FCC's decision to publish all of the questions and answers in the public domain, prospective amateur radio operators in 1967 had to study from a book that covered material likely to be on the exam. Exact questions and answers were not given in the study materials, but by and large all of the material that would be in the exam was covered. The exams themselves were multiple-choice, as they are today. A Novice examination could be given by any amateur radio operator with a General license, and the honor system was used, since no other persons were required to be present during the examination; just the test-taker and the General Class operator administering the exam. In 1967, there was no such thing as a "VE team". All examinations other than Novice and Conditional were given at an FCC office. There were FCC districts around the country, and the offices were only in major cities -- 1 office per district. A district would encompass multiple states, so a person taking an amateur radio exam would have to travel quite a long distance. That is why there was an exception for the Novice Class. It was deemed too expensive and troublesome for beginners to travel long distances for a test that could easily be administered by a General Class amateur radio operator in their area. Incidentally, the Conditional Class was available as an upgrade with General Class privileges, but only to those who lived hundreds of miles from the nearest FCC district office, such as citizens serving overseas in the military, or people living in isolated areas in the United States.

Although the Novice Class was designed to be a relatively easy beginner's license, it did include a mandatory five word per minute Morse code exam. The Morse code exam was always given first, before the written test. If the test-taker failed the Morse code exam, he or she was sent home to study. The written exam would not be administered until the Morse code part of the test had been successfully completed.

Of course this meant that the entire process of getting started in amateur radio was very different than it is today. Without a published question pool, and with a mandatory five word per minute code requirement, studying for the exam meant learning the code by listening and hands-on practice, and studying the written material in a completely different way, keeping one's mind open to the fact that a question about an electronics concept or an FCC rule might be asked several different ways. Some people argue that this really worked better to help people learn and understand concepts! For the written exam, ARRL produced a simple study guide. That's the one I used, and I had no trouble passing the written exam. All of the concepts, rules and regulations, and operating concepts were covered, and the test seemed easy. Obviously the license manual had been written by someone who knew what was very likely to appear on the test itself. Morse code study was another matter. The only way one could learn the code was to memorize the characters and listen to code practice on a shortwave radio, from a long playing record album made especially for code practice, or by practicing one-on-one with another ham. Then, as now, it was commonly accepted that one learn the code by listening and not by looking at a page showing printed dots and dashes.

All of this meant that studying for the beginner license was not something that could be accomplished in a day or weekend. Learning the code and studying the license manual would take most people at least a month, maybe longer. It was a far cry from today's weekend Technician Class licensing classes! However, the Novice Class license was quite a bit different in its purpose than today's Technician beginner license. New Novices were expected to spend their time on the HF bands, using Morse code, not phone. The license was good for a year, during which time the Novice built up code speed and studied the much-thicker General Class license manual. If the Novice operator didn't get on the air, there was really no way to build up the skill needed for that all-important General. It was in this atmosphere of strict licensing requirements that new Handiham members had to study and learn. No wonder Ned felt that people with disabilities needed a bit of help!

Next week: Passing Novice and studying for General.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Handiham World for 10 January 2007

In this issue you will find:

  • Is ham radio & the Handiham System still relevant?
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Two
  • Last call: California Radio Camp
  • Handiham office move on Thursday
  • In RekkyTec: Podclass debuts, Bright comet streaks through sky tonight
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Dr. Tom Linde, KZ0TPicture: Dr. Tom Linde, KZ0T, has taken life by the horns and wrestled it down! (Bryan Watt photo)

Last week, we talked about the early years of the Courage Handiham System. In those years, people with disabilities were often shut-ins, technology was pretty limited, and the Internet did not exist. Furthermore, advocacy for people with disabilities was, at best, on the back burner.

Today, although the situation is far from perfect, people with disabilities have far more resources at their command. Motorized wheelchairs help people get around. Public transportation is designed to accommodate wheelchairs, and it is now normal to see "curb cuts" that allow people to navigate sidewalks in metropolitan areas. The workplace has become more disability-friendly as well, and attitudes have changed to an expectation that people with disabilities and sensory impairments will live a full, productive lifestyle. This is due in no small part to an increase in awareness about disability issues, and, of course, advocacy.

Technology has improved at lightning speed, and continues to evolve daily. Personal computers and the Internet have made many tasks, including worldwide communications, much easier for everyone, not only people with disabilities.

What does this mean for the Courage Handiham System? What about ham radio in general?

Ned Carmen's original vision was to "open a window to the world for people with disabilities via amateur radio". Doesn't the Internet open a window to the world for everyone? And since people with disabilities are no longer shut-ins, do they even need the communications and networking potential of amateur radio in the first place?

The answer is a resounding... maybe. After all, it depends on a person's interests, abilities, and (in these busy days) spare time. Let us consider some of the advantages that an amateur radio license has to offer:

  • By studying electronics, FCC rules and regulations, operating procedures, and the like, people who decided to get an amateur radio license share a common experience. All of us have had to practice and study to pass an examination. This creates a bond and an understanding not unlike membership in a fraternal organization.
  • Amateur radio offers other opportunities, too... getting one's license is only the first step. After that there is plenty of potential to continue in a lifelong learning activity that can include electronics, even advanced electronics and design, organizing and managing group activities, learning about and writing software, building computer systems, and much, much more.
  • There is also a competitive aspect to amateur radio operating. This is not everyone's cup of tea, but for a person with a disability who has a competitive spirit, contesting via amateur radio is a healthy, safe activity with a level playing field, where people with disabilities have the same chance of success as anyone else.
  • Public service and amateur radio remain, as they have over many decades, a staple for many operators. Helping one's community, volunteerism, and amateur radio go hand-in-hand.
  • Technology is changing rapidly, and amateur radio publications and organizations, including local ham radio clubs and the Courage Handiham System help to keep amateur radio operators aware and up-to-date. This includes, for Courage Center and the Handiham System, a mission to help people with disabilities understand assistive technology.
  • There is a social aspect to amateur radio that cannot be overlooked. Amateur radio operators gather, in person at club meetings and special events, ham radio conventions, and on the air. Making friends and keeping in touch with them will always be a part of amateur radio activities worldwide. Friendships bridge cultures, national boundaries, race, religion, and politics.

Now, let's get to that resounding "maybe" that I talked about earlier. We recognize that amateur radio is not for everyone. Some people are simply not interested in technology or radio. Fine, they will find some other activity that suits them. There are, after all, many activities open to people with disabilities that were not available 40 years ago, and there is certainly a more accessible world out there. On the other hand, there are people with severe disabilities or multiple disabilities who, in spite of all of the advances made in assistive technology and advocacy for people with disabilities, still remain somewhat isolated. These people may benefit from the challenge and friendship potential of amateur radio. Then there are the people who, whether they have a disability or not, simply do not understand what amateur radio is all about. They may or may not be interested, but there is really no way to find out unless they have a way of learning what amateur radio is about in the first place. I'm going to drop a final category of potential ham radio operator in here, and that is the person who thinks they understand what ham radio is about but they really have a misguided notion. Let's talk about each of these in turn:

The person who is not interested in technology or radio: If a person tells you that they are "not interested", I think you have to respect that. On the other hand, if they are willing to visit your local radio club or attend a field day session just for fun, they may become interested. At Handihams, we sometimes hear about people who "would really enjoy ham radio" from a well-meaning person who thinks cousin Joe would be thrilled to get a ham radio license just as they were. We dutifully send out information, but cousin Joe really isn't interested in the first place, and that is that. On the other hand, maybe we will hear from cousin Joe someday -- we are always hopeful. The main thing is to respect people's feelings and interests and not to behave like a high-pressure salesman!

People with disabilities who are still somewhat isolated: This kind person is really a pretty good prospect. Ned Carmen's "open a window to the world" mission can still apply, because this potential handiham member may experience limited opportunities for competition, friendship building, public service, and other things that ham radio can offer quite easily.

People who do not understand what amateur radio is all about: Here we are talking about most of the members of the general public. Many have heard about "ham radio", but that is just about all they know. They have never taken the time to think about it nor have they been exposed to any kind of amateur radio events or experience. This is where ham radio organizations like the Courage Handiham System and ARRL can find fertile ground to recruit and grow new amateur radio operators! The question is how, and the answer is usually marketing... the website, materials that can be used for club programs and Hamfests, appearances before public service and fraternal organizations, good press, and (probably most important) word-of-mouth. Our handiham members can spread the good word by letting others know about the fun of amateur radio.

People who think they understand what ham radio is all about but really don't: This kind of potential ham is really a challenge. They may have dismissed ham radio as something they would never want to do because they don't understand what it is all about. Typical points of confusion are that ham radio is like CB radio or that they will have to learn Morse code. They may believe that one has to be an engineer or mathematician to pass the exam. Perhaps they think they will have to travel hundreds of miles to take an exam. Maybe they have been exposed to only one aspect of amateur radio and don't know about others; one example would be a person who thinks amateur radio is all about sitting in one's basement and working DX, when in fact that person may really be quite interested in amateur radio's public service activities like SKYWARN, if only they knew more about the full spectrum of what amateur radio has to offer.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Amateur radio and the Courage Handiham System are as relevant to people with disabilities today as they ever were, but society and technology have changed relentlessly over the past four decades. We like to think that we have kept up, but it isn't easy... for us or for any other amateur radio organization faced with competition from the many other distractions people have in their lives today. On the other hand, you have to realize that this is a major societal trend that affects other activities and not just amateur radio. We hear that there is a decline in participation in bowling leagues, hunting and fishing, service organizations... the list seems to be endless. Video gaming, Internet browsing, and sitting in front of plasma television sets with about a million channels to choose from is bound to have some sort of effect. However, we believe that amateur radio is and remains a solid, viable lifelong learning activity that simply sitting in front of a screen cannot match.

To be continued next week.

Would you like to read Dr. Tom Linde's book, "I Am Not What I Am"? You can borrow it in audio format from the handiham audio library if you are a member.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Handiham World for 3 January 2007

transceiverIn this first issue of 2007 you will find:

  • Handiham System Celebrates 40 years!
  • New logos for 40 year anniversary
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part One
  • The Trading Post returns
  • Step up to the plate
  • Elmer: Why handiham readers don't give you the letter of the correct answer
  • In RekkyTec: Email Address Harvesting
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Fans of classic television will certainly remember comedian Jack Benny, who never wanted to admit his age and always claimed to be "39". Well, folks last year the Courage Handiham System was actually 39 years old and this year, 2007, and unlike Mr. Benny, we are going to admit that we are now turning 40.

Sure, sure... you have been at office birthday parties where some poor colleague has turned 40 and gets those awful black colored balloons placed on their office door or in their cubicle.

The message: "you are an old coot and life is now just about over for you, ha ha ha!"

Well, most of us have marked milestones in our lives, and birthdays remind us about where we have been in life and where we are going. Of course those black office balloons are a good-natured joke, because everyone knows that at age 40, there is still plenty of tread left on the old tire and many of the best things in life are yet to be.

One of the things that 40 generally marks in a person's life is a real, no-nonsense passage into genuine maturity. The things that we did in our youth may have been risky and careless and probably (as often as not) really stupid, and the nice thing about turning 40 is that we can look back and think to ourselves, "it's lucky I survived my youth".

You know what? I think the same thing is true for organizations and institutions. Times change, methods and goals evolve over years, and even the overall mission of an organization may not be quite the same. Certainly a historical perspective is useful in planning for the future and setting new goals. However, one thing that can get in the way of thinking clearly about how to get things done and even about what should be done within an organization is its history.

Let me explain.

When the Courage Handiham System came to life in 1967 as the brainchild of Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, the following things were true:

  • The Internet did not exist.
  • Transistors were around, but only found in a few consumer items and advanced business systems and still were not common in the design of ham radio equipment. Almost every home sported an All-American five... a classic five tube AM radio.
  • Computers used transistorized switches, but not integrated circuits, and filled entire rooms. They did basic calculations rather well but could not outperform today's handheld calculators.
  • People with disabilities were often shut-ins, unable to get around town or sometimes even around their own homes. There were no wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, wheelchair lifts, and certainly no accessible transportation options. Furthermore, people with disabilities were often marginalized in society and did not have jobs.
  • The telephone and postal mail were the main methods of communication for most people.
  • Ham radio operators enjoyed a special status as cutting edge innovators in worldwide communications.
  • The use of Morse code in many services, including the military, commercial shipping, and the amateur radio service, was very common.
  • Although it began in the 1950s, in 1967 Single sideband (SSB) was still in the experimental stages for most ham radio operators, who continued to rely on Morse code and amplitude modulated (AM) phone.
  • In 1967, Oscar-1, the first "Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio" (believe it or not) had already been launched six years earlier. The space-age was under way, and amateur radio operators, as I said, were on the cutting edge of new technologies.
  • Battery technology was primitive by today's standards. The common lead-acid batteries were big, bulky, and really heavy. Furthermore, they didn't provide power for very long. Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries were around, but most ham operators didn't own them, as portability wasn't a first consideration in the design of the typical ham radio station.
  • In 1967, phone operation was still really expensive. Most people who were just getting started, including me as a teenager, opted for basic Morse code equipment because it was so affordable.
  • In 1967 my callsign was WN0TDA. People starting out in amateur radio in the United States began with the "Novice" license and had an "N" in their callsigns, sort of like those "Student Driver" signs you see on driver training cars! The Novice license was defined as a beginner license and was designed to expire at the end of the year (later two years). The reasoning was that if you wanted to be a ham radio operator you would be given a beginner license, get experience and build code speed, and take your General class exam for access to the HF bands. Once a person passed the 13 word per minute code exam and the written theory exam, they earned General status and access to all of the ham radio bands and frequencies, along with getting rid of that "N" in their callsigns... my callsign became the current WA0TDA.
  • Incentive licensing was first announced by the FCC in 1967. Hams had different opinions, mainly because operators with General Class privileges would lose spectrum space. It was a matter of great contention over several years. However, incentive licensing did set the stage for Handihams to teach classes at several different levels.

Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, worked in healthcare in the small Minnesota city of Rochester. Rochester was at that time already famous as a medical center and the home of the Mayo Clinic. What Ned saw when he visited people with disabilities was the rather sad situation of people stuck in their homes, often times wasting their lives in front of a television set. Ned's genius was that he saw amateur radio for people with disabilities as a way to reach out and "open a window to the world". After all, amateur radio was something that you could do from home and it really didn't matter much if you had a disability, as everyone was equal on the air. It was simply a matter of figuring out how to help people with disabilities and sensory impairments such as blindness learn what they needed to learn to pass the exams.

Sister Alverna, WA0SGJNed enlisted the help of a group of local nuns, the Sisters of St. Francis, on April 30, 1967. Although their first action was as weather watchers during a thunderstorm that passed through Rochester that day, the Sisters were committed to helping Ned with his new project, and several received their licenses. Among them was Sister Alverna O'Laughlin, WA0SGJ, the former Educational Coordinator for the HANDI-HAM System, now retired.

The first HANDI-HAM was Edna (Eddy) Thorson, N0YL, who took her General Class license exam in December, 1967.

To be continued next week.