Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Handiham World for 28 February 2007

40 years of the Courage Handiham SystemIn this issue you will find:

  • Slow News Day
  • Will Morse code survive in the marketplace of amateur radio modes?
  • Avery tackles 40th anniversary ideas
  • In AT: The AT Boogie
  • Elmer answers another upgrade question
  • In RekkyTec: Windows Vista upgrade page
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

It's a slow news day.

Dennis, N0CCR, Matt, KA0PQW (front), Kathy & Colleen
Well, actually this newsletter is going to be a bit shorter than usual because I have come down with a terrible cold and Dragon NaturallySpeaking is having a bit of a problem recognizing my voice in its current toad frog condition. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but I am going to have to have my trusty computer read the newsletter for you while my stressed-out vocal cords recover.

Pictured L-R: Dennis, N0CCR, Nurse Kathy, Matt, KA0PQW, and "Cruise Director" Colleen. Kathy & Colleen both have guitars, but this picture is all "show business" - there is really no music going out on the air over Matt's HT during radio camp! Photo credit: K9HI

We are back from California Radio Camp, full of new and exciting ideas about the Handiham Radio Club and the upcoming Minnesota Radio Camp, which will happen in late August. While we were at camp, something really big happened; Morse code testing went away here in the United States, as it had already done in many countries around the world following WRC-03. In 2003, the international requirement for Morse code testing was dropped, initiating the slow but steady change in examination requirements. Here is an interesting question for you: What jurisdictions around the world still require Morse code testing for their amateur radio licenses? This is not a trick question -- I really don't know the answer and would like to find out.

I have been reading about the impending changes in the Morse requirement for years, of course, just as many of you have. The Morse code debate has been heated at times, with many opinions that seemed to come from every different direction. With the testing question now settled, it seems to me that Morse code can now be learned for fun and to gain that all-important proficiency in CW for serious DX work. What I would like to suggest is that Morse code proponents offer classes through their local radio clubs to make sure this really happens. It would be a shame if someone who wanted to learn the code simply didn't have the resources through their local club.

All of this reminds me of a situation we had at our headquarters office years ago. As I recall, it was prior to WRC-2003 and there was still plenty of discussion about the value of Morse code in the overall scope of amateur radio licensing. Our Education Coordinator had been hearing quite a lot from vocal proponents of Morse code and invited them to offer a class. Believe it or not, absolutely no one would step forward. It seemed like all of that huffing and puffing about Morse code was just hot air and no one could be bothered actually doing the work to share the Morse code with others in a local course.

Is that situation still the same today? Well, I don't think so. My local radio club, the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association, recently offered both a beginner code course and speed-building. Such local courses will determine whether Morse code survives in the marketplace of amateur radio modes. In fact, amateur radio modes of operation really are much like a marketplace. Some are popular and have real staying power, such as FM repeater operation and single sideband HF operation. Others seem to be popular for a short time, gaining widespread use and then falling back considerably in popularity. Packet radio seems to fall into that category. Although Morse code has been popular for many decades, one could say that it has had an unfair "subsidy" in the amateur radio mode marketplace because it was a required testing element. It will be interesting to see whether or not it can hold its own on the now-level playing field with other modes of operation.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Handiham World for 14 February 2007

40 years of the Courage Handiham SystemIn this issue you will find:

  • Tony, W0KVO, gets gets all historical on us
  • He's BAAAACK! Avery's QTH returns.
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Seven
  • Welcome to HF planned
  • Red Cross backs off on credit checks for volunteers
  • Car bomb at YI9DXX
  • Camp frequencies listed
  • In RekkyTec: Camp Costanoan
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Does your ham radio club have special social get-togethers?

Tony, W0KVO, with Jerry, N0VOE at Handiham HQMine does! In fact, one of the things that really sets a good, effective amateur radio club apart from a run-of-the-mill, so so club that never seems to increase its membership or be able to find volunteers for anything, is those social gatherings. My club, as I have mentioned before, is the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association, SARA, a handiham affiliated club. It was at one of these social gatherings, a lunch at a buffet, where I sat down to talk with long-time handiham volunteer Tony Tretter, W0KVO.

Many of our handiham readers and listeners will remember Tony as the guy who did the audio tapes -- literally for decades. Handiham members the world over who could not read regular print studied with Tony as he patiently read through the material, taking time to teach concepts along the way. Tony's special method of presenting ham radio study materials was so much more than simply starting at the front cover of a book and reading to the back. One of the things that Tony insisted upon was an understanding of the concepts behind the questions and answers in the question pool. Whether he was teaching about circuits, comparing them to a cooling system in a car where the coolant circulates, or working some Ohm's law problems, when you studied with Tony you always got more than just a "reader".

One story I have heard Tony repeat a couple of times happened at Handiham Radio Camp. A lady camper who had studied every evening using Tony Tretter's audio cassette tapes was amazed and excited to hear his voice "in person" for the first time at camp. She was so excited upon meeting Tony that she blurted out, "I go to bed with you every night!"

Tony recalls that she realized what she had said and got pretty embarrassed, but of course everyone knew what she meant about listening to the cassette tapes every evening as she went to bed, learning a little each day from master instructor Tony. In any case, Tony was flattered by the compliment -- one of many he has received over the years.

I know that you have had many teachers when you were growing up, as I did, and you have probably taken courses in various things as an adult. But I'll bet you can name only a handful of really special teachers. These are the teachers who really cared about you as a person and were willing to go the extra mile to make sure that you would succeed at learning the material. Tony is that kind of a teacher. After a radio camp session, Tony would often follow up with his students to make sure they understood the concepts and were able to get on the air. After all, simply having a license would not be enough. You have to actually use the license to start having fun with amateur radio. Sometimes, of course, Tony's students would have a lot of learning challenges and would not be able to pass the examination at radio camp. In those cases, Tony was willing to answer questions for students in the months following radio camp so that they would be able to ultimately pass their examinations and to get on the air. In fact, when Tony recorded his tapes, he did invite listeners to let him and the handiham office know of their progress and to ask questions about any of the material that might be confusing. Not every instructor would be willing to go so far. After all, there were handiham members all over the world and who knows when they would call on the phone?!! But Tony always liked hearing from his students - and that is the mark of a really good teacher.

Anyway, we had quite a nice lunch, and Tony gave me some QSL cards and some handiham history. What we have decided to do is have Tony visit handiham headquarters in Golden Valley, Minnesota and talk with Jerry Kloss, N0VOE, and me as a part of the handiham history project.

Next week: We will be at California Radio Camp. I will get a short newsletter out if I can, but don't bet on it. Things get pretty busy during radio camp week.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Handiham World for 7 February 2007

40 years of the Courage Handiham SystemIn this issue you will find:

  • The volunteers of 1967: WA0SGJ
  • Welcoming new Techs to HF
  • In AT: The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Review, Part Six
  • General Class Q&A pool audio
  • WA6IVG to visit camp
  • Last call for camp frequencies
  • In RekkyTec: Show me the money
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Today, we continue our look back to 1967, when the Handiham System started, and find out why volunteers made the difference.

Sister Alverna, WA0SGJIn 1967 Ned Carmen, W0ZSW, and a small group of Franciscan nuns were starting what would eventually become the Courage Handiham System. Ned and the Sisters were volunteers, of course. It was exactly the way ham radio clubs operate today, with volunteers from the club making it their special mission to teach others about ham radio. The nature of the amateur radio licensing process was such that it required a fair amount of study and commitment, and people with disabilities had far fewer opportunities and resources in 1967 than they do today to get started in such an activity. Remember, in 1967 it was necessary to learn the Morse code for the beginner license, the Novice. After that, the Novice Class licensee had only a year to upgrade to General, which required a 13 word per minute Morse code examination at an FCC field office. Considering the lack of accessible study materials, the primitive state of accessible public transportation, and the general lack of understanding about people with disabilities and where they should fit into society, it was an uphill battle. So, in 1967, volunteers like Sister Alverna O'Laughlin, WA0SGJ, became important assets in a one on one educational effort to get people with disabilities into the cutting edge technology and worldwide communications of amateur radio.

Although those of us who have grown up with television and mass marketing are certainly familiar with huge, expensive advertising campaigns that are designed to reach millions of people at a time, that was never the way it was with the Handiham System. Instead, it was a matter of explaining to local radio amateurs that the program existed and that there was now a way for people with disabilities to be recruited and trained with accessible study materials.

In 1967, the cassette tape was new technology. In fact, the standard compact cassette that we know today wasn't even marketed widely in the United States until the early 1970s. However, the new cassette tape format had a great advantage over what had been the standard in taping for years -- the reel-to-reel tape recorder with its big, clumsy reels of tape that needed to be threaded through pinch rollers and tape heads back onto a take-up reel. While not every volunteer could manage the technology of reel to reel recording, small cassette recorders would soon make it easy for Handiham volunteers to record study materials onto tape cassettes. These cassettes, which could simply be popped into a player and needed no threading, were easy to use and quickly accepted by people with disabilities.

Although teaching new Handiham members one-on-one was certainly a possibility and one of the ways amateur radio education was accomplished in those early days by volunteers like Sister Alverna, it soon became evident that candidates for an amateur radio license needed to study at home, on their own, a considerable part of the time in order to learn all of the material. In particular, Morse code instruction would require daily study, something that would be difficult if the Handiham System had to depend on volunteers always meeting in person with Handiham candidates. The tape cassette came to the rescue by providing a way for Handiham volunteers to record lessons, read books like the ARRL License Manual, and send Morse code -- all by tape cassette. Sometimes, Morse code could be taught with prerecorded materials. I remember studying in 1967 with a long-playing record album of Morse code letters and words. Electromechanical devices designed especially for teaching Morse code existed even back then. One of them was called the "Instructograph", and it produced perfect Morse code by means of a paper tape that ran from one reel to another across a switch. Holes punched in the paper tape opened and closed the switch, and the tape reels were powered by either an electric or a windup motor. When I was learning the Morse code, my Elmer, or ham radio helper, loaned me one of these machines to augment my practice with the LP record album.

N0YL became the very first Handiham member to get her license by the use of recorded study materials, thanks to the early Handiham volunteers who were willing to spend time talking into a microphone so that the study materials would be accessible. She has been the trustee of Handiham Headquarters Station W0ZSW for many years and will be stepping down from that volunteer position this Spring, when a new trustee will be named by the Handiham Radio Club.

Over the years there would be thousands of amateur radio operators who would enjoy worldwide communications, the challenge of building and understanding electronic equipment, competitive amateur radio contesting, and finally sharing amateur radio with others, just as they had learned themselves, by becoming volunteers. It is all about hams helping hams!

Next week: some special volunteers.