Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Handiham World for 31 October 2007

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

  • A Halloween scare
  • At headquarters: Server upgrade, gooseneck mic at HQ shack, more
  • Avery's QTH: Halloween snowstorm
  • Lighthouse special event this coming weekend
  • Is open-source the answer?
  • Free screenreader
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Cartoon ghoul with pumpkin and HTGreetings from my work-at-home office and ham shack!

Graphic: The Old Man pays a visit. At least the pumpkin looks happy!

Here's a Halloween scare for you: Last week's "monopolizing the airwaves" comments were not the end of the story. If you will recall, I'd gotten an earful from a Twin Cities repeater user who thought that the Handiham nets were "monopolizing the airwaves". I never believed that to be the case, and said so. I think an aggravating factor was the fact that his favorite EchoLink-enabled machine was sometimes connected during the Handiham net. Frankly, that is not something I can really do too much about, but I decided to listen on that repeater to see if there really was a problem. Guess what? No problem. Hopefully that is taken care of and everyone can live happily ever after.

A few other comments that you were not privy to also flew across the email system, though. While I'm sure offense was not intended, one fellow complained that he understood that Handiham members "are generally retired, are disabled or are otherwise not busy, the users on (repeater frequency withheld) are the opposite of that..."

Then he went on to point out how busy he and his repeater user friends were (because they were working, of course) and how important it was for them to have a nice quiet repeater to use when their busy schedules finally permitted them to get on the air.

But wait, folks. That's not all! Then he went on to scold Handihams who transmitted over the top of him while he was connected to an EchoLink repeater:

"My experience in checking in once or twice a month leaves much to be desired, as I am often keyed over and talked over during my net-control acknowledged check-in. This is disappointing, and the hams that run your net should be ashamed."

Now, let me be the first to acknowledge that some Handiham members are retired, unemployed, and certainly do have disabilities of one kind or another. But that doesn't mean they are not busy, nor does it mean that, even if they have all the time in the world, that they do not have as much right to be on the air anytime they please. I don't recall seeing anything in Part 97 (The FCC rules here in the United States) or seeing anything in any other amateur radio regulations elsewhere on the planet, that gives priority on the airwaves to people with busy lives! In the years I've been working with Courage Center's Handiham program, I have met men and women from everywhere and every occupation. I'll never forget the medical professional who reinvented himself as an Internet vendor after losing his sight, or the vice-president of a big auto company who arrived at Radio Camp in a chauffeured limousine. Homemakers, IRS agents, scientists, doctors, computer science professionals, lawyers, teachers, clergy... we have had them all in Handihams. The idea that people with disabilities or who are blind are somehow sitting at home with time on their hands is just such ignorant thinking that it does put a Halloween scare into me!

Then there is the transmitting on top of others. Yes, that is certainly bad manners, and if the stations who did this actually realized what they were doing, I am sure they would be mortified! The Handiham nets are friendly get-togethers and no one would intentionally "step on" anyone else. But what is really happening here? The Internet introduces sometimes unexpected delays, and "newbies" who are not familiar with the EchoLink system and its quirks can occasionally cause doubling when they fail to allow adequate time to compensate for these delays. Used to operating on local repeaters or on HF, they think they are listening long enough and are transmitting on a clear frequency. Add to that the complicating factor of net participants who are using screenreaders to access their computers, and the sometimes cranky space bar transmit toggle in EchoLink, and the occasional mistake is pretty much going to be the norm.

As Jerry, N0VOE, has said many times, "this is why they call it AMATEUR radio".

Jerry has a point. It really is all about getting on the air, making friends, communicating, having fun, and gaining more technical expertise. But if newcomers are made to feel that they have to walk on eggshells lest they make a mistake, they will be afraid to try anything new. We don't want that, do we?

(Knock at the door))

Oh, excuse me... I have to answer the door.


"I am the ghost of The Old Man... The legendary OM of amateur radio past."

"Are you here for trick or treat?

"No, I just wanted to remind your listeners about the Amateur's Code."

"Go for it. I'll just eat this candy while I'm listening."

The Radio Amateur is:

  • CONSIDERATE...never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others.
  • LOYAL...offers loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs, and the American Radio Relay League, through which Amateur Radio in the United States is represented nationally and internationally.
  • PROGRESSIVE...with knowledge abreast of science, a well-built and efficient station and operation above reproach.
  • FRIENDLY...slow and patient operating when requested; friendly advice and counsel to the beginner; kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit.
  • BALANCED...radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community.
  • PATRIOTIC...station and skill always ready for service to country and community.

The original Amateur's Code was written by Paul Segal, W9EEA, in 1928, and I hope your readers and listeners will pay it heed, before it is too late...

"Gosh, he's gone. Vanished without a trace. Well, more candy for me."

Listen to the podcast to hear it all!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Handiham World for 24 October 2007

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

  • Monopolizing the airwaves
  • At headquarters: Camp dates set for 2008, equipment request submitted
  • Avery's QTH: A teaching moment
  • Space Shuttle audio
  • WWV rumor is good for a laugh
  • Free screenreader
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Greetings from my work-at-home office and ham shack!

Pictures: Cartoon graphic of sun and photo of Dennis, K0CCR, getting on the air.

Drawing of sunC'mon, sun! We are certainly stuck at low ebb as far as solar activity goes. I'm starting to think back to the last solar cycle's upturn, when the Icom company featured "Here comes the sun" ads. No one is ready to proclaim that the current cycle is ready to start producing more sunspots. ARRL reported last week that the sun was blank, and the SOHO sun gadget I have in my Windows Desktop Sidebar tells the same sad story this week. The past weekend I listened a bit on 20 meters and had to check to see if the coax was even connected, but it was just bad band conditions.

So what to do? Fortunately, with winter coming on here in Minnesota, we are starting to see better band conditions on 75 and 40 meters. The summer sun drives the atmospheric conditions that produce thunderstorms, and with less daylight we have less thunderstorm static on the bands. Even at solar minimum, these two bands tend to be reliable spots to make reliable HF contacts.

But EchoLink and EchoLink-enabled repeaters as well as the reliable IRLP system have really come into their own as the sunspot cycle tanked. November 4 will mark the end of daylight saving time here in the United States, which means that we will be making some changes in the Handiham daily EchoLink net. I have heard a number of suggestions about net timing, and we have boiled our choices down to these:

1. Keep the net time exactly as it is, without following the change back to standard time. This would mean that the 11:00 CDT net, which is at 16:00 GMT, would stay at 16:00 GMT but would change to 10:00 A.M. United States Central Standard Time.

2. Change the net time relative to GMT, but keep it the same time relative to Minnesota time. Thus, the net would be at 11:00 A.M. Central Standard Time, but change to 17:00 GMT on November 5.

Your thoughts on this are needed soon, so that we can make a decision.

Now, with that out of the way, here is some related information:

In an email discussion, Jerry, N0VOE, got the following comment from a local Twin Cities repeater user:

"It seems like there is a Handiham net on every day -- sometimes twice a day -- on the air. Is there really a need for MORE nets? Can't the Handiham folks get on the air without a net and participate in our king of hobbies with general chatter without monopolizing the airwaves?"

Are Handiham nets "monopolizing the airwaves"?

I would suggest that the ham bands are in need of more activity, not less. I monitor a few wide-area repeaters and hear little or no activity all day long. Even drive time is usually quiet, thanks to the availability of cell phones. If a Handiham EchoLink-enabled net is on the air an average of, say, 40 minutes a day, that amounts to 280 minutes per week. A week has 10,080 minutes, so if my math is correct, the Handiham nets are on less than 3% of the time. Granted, no one would consider the wee hours overnight as "prime time" on the repeater systems, but even so the daytime net usage can hardly be considered to be "monopolizing the airwaves". While some of the repeaters are linked in the Twin Cities coverage area (which makes the Handiham net appear on multiple systems at times), there are still so many underutilized systems out there begging for someone to throw out a callsign that it is virtually always possible to find an idle repeater.

K0CCR gets on the air to stay in touch with his friends.A ham who has not been active through several solar cycles might not be aware of how solar minima can drive ham radio technology and social interaction. At maxima, HF conditions are great and operators spend a lot of time working DX and enjoying reliable HF contacts, be they nets, contests, DX, or plain old QSO's. At minima, hams get creative and start building systems and gear that are suited to the diminished HF conditions. This is what drove the 2 meter repeater system into the mainstream of amateur radio at a time when manufacturers were selling HF rigs that worked only on the lower HF bands. At the current solar minimum it is VoIP that is now becoming mainstream. The technology follows the band conditions to allow hams to stay connected with new technologies and to maintain the social connections they have built up when HF conditions were better. Thus, VoIP has become a mainstay of really good, vibrant, healthy repeater systems.

EchoLink operation is also more inclusive, allowing Handiham members of any license class to interact over large distances. An HF net, to be as inclusive, would have to be on an HF phone frequency open to Technician class operators, which (of course) means 10 meters. Good luck with that at solar minimum!

So EchoLink can be an excellent way to bring new hams up to speed on operating skills at any time in the solar cycle. It is also ideal, because of its reliability, as a platform for social interaction among friends on the air. It is certainly better to use the repeater infrastructure than to let it sit idle. Unused spectrum is likely to be ripe for the plucking by commercial interests.

The way I look at it, the Handihams are doing their part. Now, how about some other users getting on the air and making use of that other 97% of the air time?

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Handiham World for 17 October 2007

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

  • Last call for antenna work in Minnesota!
  • At headquarters: Camp dates set for 2008, Lifetime membership considered
  • Avery's QTH: A physics experiment convinces the judge
  • Open-source screenreader project
  • Handiham volunteer admitted to Supreme Court Bar
  • Framingham ARA supports Handiham program
  • Meteor scatter fans - get ready for early Orionids
  • Straight Key Century Club membership won't break the bank
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Greetings from my work-at-home office and ham shack!

I'm tanned, rested, and ready after a week of vacation. Well, no, I'm really not, since all I did was take a week off to get things done around the house. At least I had time to finally rehabilitate my zepp antenna by replacing the entire length of wire, trimming all encroaching tree branches, and replacing and re-orienting the 450 Ohm ladder line that feeds it. An inspection of the Butternut vertical revealed that a piece of hardware had come loose, nearly allowing a stainless steel bolt to work its way out of the middle of the antenna. I replaced that from the old junk box and antenna bone yard that every ham worth his or her salt has squirreled away somewhere, and everything tests out as "good to go". Up here in Minnesota, we never trust winter weather to hold off too much beyond October, so one needs to get the antenna work out of the way before then. I remember a huge blizzard on Halloween one year (1991), and the snowfall exceeded three feet at my QTH. It would be a major downer to be in the middle of an antenna project and wake up to that! Who wants to spend the winter watching TV, when there is all that great DX on the ham bands during the winter months?

After that experience, I now look at Halloween as a sort of target date for getting antenna work completed. I know that I can always do any kit-building or experimenting with new modes later on, but it really is the "last call for antenna work in Minnesota" right now. If you are having trouble getting motivated, which sometimes happens when you have several antenna systems to maintain), you might consider performing "triage", the way they do at the emergency room when staff have many incoming patients with injuries. I like to begin by looking at anything that is not working and cannot be reached from the ground. Always take care of those things first, since bad weather will make them much more difficult later on. Then move on to the things that don't require so much climbing, such as replacing radial and grounding wires, sealing wire feed through spots in the walls, fixing the fence around the base of the vertical or tower, and so on. Even if bad weather closes in, those things can be taken care of whenever there is a mild weekend.

One bonus of replacing the entire 125 foot length of my zepp antenna is that the old wire can be pressed into service as additional radial wire around the base of my ground-mounted Butternut vertical. That is for an upcoming weekend... if the snow isn't three feet deep by then!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Handiham World for 10 October 2007

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

Avery's QTH

...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!

Greetings from my work-at-home office and ham shack!

I am taking a week of vacation, but thankfully Avery is still in the office and he has sent you another edition of Avery's QTH.

There are no Friday audio lectures.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Photo: Avery looks for new funny stories with the largest magnifier he can find!

Welcome once again to my humble QTH:

Gosh, folks! I think we started something here as the funnies just keep rolling in. Here we go with this week's.

From Stanley Logvynenko somewhere in cyberspace:

Way back in the 1950's there was disaster in a coal mine in Nova Scotia Canada. Everyone was at the entrance waiting and waiting to be rescued. Also waiting at the entrance was this reporter. Every once in a while he would flash his camera's flash just to check his battery and it worked faithfully. After 24 hours the rescued miners started to come out and this reporter wanted to take the picture so he pointed the camera pressed the button but no FLASH...... He killed the battery by checking the flash too many times!

From David Depew, KF6TPQ, Burbank, CA:

This is not a funny, but is interesting at this 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik and of our U.S. satellite in January, 1958. In my senior year of high school in 1957-1958, I was taking chemistry. For my term paper, I wrote about ancient batteries. Electroplated jewelry from about 1,500 years ago had been found. The electric batteries used electrodes of copper and of iron with fruit juice as the electrolyte.

To research this, I went to the main Los Angeles City Public Library in 1958. As I looked through books on electricity and electronics from the early 20th century, there was something interesting. The old style cardboard cards were in the pockets inside the front of each book. Virtually all of those books had been checked out by "JPL" the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. JPL had designed, built and launched the Explorer 1 satellite in three months. I think that when they got the order to promptly build the satellite, someone was assigned to research in all the old library books for all possible information on batteries, in the hopes of building good batteries for the satellites.

In the 1980's, I met the man who designed and built the first little tape player that was in our PROJECT SCORE satellite. It carried a prerecorded Christmas message from President Eisenhower and broadcast it on December 19, 1958. That was the first voice ever beamed to earth from space.

I hope you enjoyed these week's funnies. Send me some more!

So until next time 73 es DX de K0HLA Avery

You can email Avery with your funny stories or anything else at:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Handiham World for 03 October 2007

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

  • Beep, beep
  • Avery's QTH: Thanks, but...
  • Poll says antennas need work
  • Change of seasons, change of... net?
  • Event certificates mail this week
  • Elmer goofs off
  • Magazine digest status
  • Revised Part 97 in text posted
  • Audio project status
...and lots of other stuff. Tune in today!