Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Handiham World for 30 July 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

ARRL Instructors Manual 4th editionHave you ever taken your place at the head of a classroom and taught a course about amateur radio? I know some of you probably have. Others of you may be thinking, "I wouldn't know how to begin to teach."

Sure, you may be blind or use a wheelchair, but that doesn't mean you can't be part of your local radio club's team of educators. In fact, one of the best ways to keep amateur radio healthy in your community is to make sure that regular classes are taught for the beginner license. Now, here's the thing with clubs: It is too easy for most of the club members to just sit around and let a few really gung-ho members do all the club's work, whether it be teaching classes, writing the news letter, getting club programs together, arranging for meeting space, and all the rest. Clubs that call on help from all the members, each doing some of the work to which they are suited, will do best in the long run.

I'd like to challenge you to be a teacher, and to share your experiences with us. A good place to start is a publication you may not even know about, but I'll bet your club's educational coordinator does: The ARRL Instructor's Manual edited by Mark Spencer, WA8SME. I've got both the Third and Fourth editions, and was happy to see the chapter by Peter Kemp, KZ1Z, carried over to the Fourth edition. In this important chapter, KZ1Z gives us "The Teacher's Guide to Amateur Radio Instruction".

Starting with the very basics, this fine article covers every aspect of teaching, beginning with the questions you may have as a prospective teacher: What is a teacher? Who can teach? How does one organize a class? Becoming a ham radio instructor and organizing a class may seem like overwhelming tasks, but remember that you can accomplish them if you just break them down into smaller steps, each of which you know you can complete. As a former public school teacher myself, I know that I can use a good reference on setting up and running a class. No one, even experienced teachers, will turn down an opportunity to learn more about teaching, so that they can become even better at it!

One slip-up that new teachers make is failing to put together a "lesson plan". Thankfully, KZ1Z gives us a complete list of what a good lesson plan should include. There is nothing like having a lesson plan in hand to give the new teacher confidence as they walk (or roll) up to the front of that classroom! In fact, we use lesson plans at Radio Camp sessions. As an example, let's say that the course we are teaching is one in Operating Skills, and the topic for that morning is "Diagnosing a Problem With the HF Rig". Your lesson plan would include specific objectives for the student, such as:

  • Find and reconnect a disconnected power cable or antenna
  • Turn on a power supply
  • Determine when a mode switch is set wrong and correct it
  • Determine when a filter setting is wrong and correct it

...and so on. You get the idea. What we want to do is know what specific skills the student will know once the lesson is completed. This makes it easier for you, the teacher, to stay focused on the job you need to do. It's surprising how much more smoothly your teaching will go if you take the time to learn these basics from the ARRL Instructor's Manual.

Blind handiham members may be interested in the KZ1Z chapter. If so let me know and we will see if we can get it read into special audio for our members. You can get your own copy of the print book on the ARRL website. It is publication number 256.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Now, back to our vintage QSL card series.


Hey, what gives? This is no vintage card! It's a sample card from N5VLZ, and the theme is AMTRAK mobile. The card shows a train pulling into a station at night, with platform lights illuminating the side of the train. Very cool!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Handiham World for 23 July 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

Photo: Will, KC0LJL, holds up a sign that says "Courage Center Handiham System" at Dayton. This is the place to find out about any and every interest in amateur radio, but not every ham radio club can do it all. Should your club be a "special interest" amateur radio club? Or should it be a general-purpose club with no special concentration on a given type of operating or purpose?

Will, KC0LJL, holds up Handiham signIf you have been an amateur radio operator for quite a long time, you know that there is an ebb and flow to ham radio activities and interests. There is a clear seasonal difference between summertime amateur radio and wintertime amateur radio. As a teenager, I was extremely busy during the summertime, because I enjoyed experimenting with antennas. Conditions might not have been the best for long-distance communications on the lower HF frequency bands, but that didn't matter to me. Other amateur radio operators simply hung up their headphones until the cool, crisp days of autumn brought them back into their ham shacks. During the hottest weeks of summer, even antenna work was problematic for me. The local ham radio club suspended meetings during the summer anyway, so it was truly the "dog days of summer". Even today, decades later, many radio clubs still follow the same pattern of taking the summer off. People want to get outdoors and enjoy summer activities, band conditions are generally poor, aside from sporadic E-skip, and (even worse) we are stuck at the very bottom of the sunspot cycle with new cycle 24 taking its sweet time getting started.

As usual, my main amateur radio activity during the summer has been operating VHF mobile, checking into some regional HF nets, and doing a bit of antenna maintenance in the backyard -- hardly a frenzy of amateur radio operation! I didn't expect the e-mail I got from our local club president seeking the opinion of each and every club member about what kind of activities we would like to see in the upcoming "ham radio season".

The e-mail asked, "what kind of a club would you like us to be?"

Now, that sort of took me by surprise. What kind of club did I want to be in? Would it be an amateur radio club that is primarily a social organization, where I meet friends face-to-face on a monthly basis and participate in on the air social nets? Would it be a club that is more focused on competition and contesting, perhaps sponsoring its own contests and offering awards? Maybe a club that is dedicated to technical and engineering excellence, including building and experimentation, would be more fun and might be more attractive to newcomers interested in learning about electronics and engineering. We wouldn't want to forget about public service, either. The club would probably be interested in supporting SKYWARN training, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, participating in public service communications for non-emergency events like parades and bicycle races, and working with government organizations and public utilities in shared training programs. Maybe the club would want to direct its efforts toward specific parts of the spectrum and modes of operation, such as VHF and UHF. Or perhaps DX should be a main focus.

There is no doubt that a successful amateur radio club is able to define its scope and purpose to meet the needs of its membership. This e-mail just appeared in my inbox, so I am still thinking about it. While I enjoy all of the aspects of a social club, I realize that simply visiting and enjoying a cup of coffee with other club members is not going to be enough for those who are interested in serious amateur radio competition on the air or members who are interested in building equipment or designing antennas. The question then becomes, "What is the right mix of amateur radio activities for MY club?"

Here is the thing you have to understand about specialization versus generalization: In an environment like a large urban area with high tech industries and a robust economy, there are likely to be more specialized activities, and I don't just mean in amateur radio. In the San Francisco Bay area, for example, you will find your choice of specialized food stores and coffee shops, just as you will amateur radio clubs with specialized goals and interests. If you live in Podunk, you are probably going to have to buy your cup of coffee at the gas station on the corner of Elm Street and the main highway, and the nearest radio club will be 10 miles away in a somewhat larger city, and the population of amateur radio operators in the area will be too small to make up a group that is anything but a general-interest amateur radio club. The forces of demographics will not be denied! Furthermore, even in an urban area where there is a choice of perhaps six to eight amateur radio clubs, over half of them may be general-interest, rather than having any sort of specialized purpose. If there is a club in your urban area that is specialized, chances are that its geographic reach is much larger than the city limits, and it may be statewide or regional, or even national in its reach for membership.

These are the thoughts that are swirling around in my head as I wonder about how to answer our club president's e-mail. I enjoy more than one amateur radio activity and would hate to see the club get too specialized. On the other hand, my QTH is in the greater Twin Cities area, which has a variety of clubs from which to choose. I wouldn't want to stubbornly stand in the way of a club changing its focus, when clearly there are other members who might be energized by such a change. I guess I'll continue to think about this before weighing in on the subject. In the meantime, I wonder if your local ham radio club ever does this sort of polling of its members to see if interests are being served, if the club is on the right track, or if there might be something that needs to be changed. Summertime, the ham radio doldrums, may not be the best time to get on the air, but I'm pretty sure that you can still sit on the patio with a glass of lemonade and contemplate what should happen in your radio club after summer vacation.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Handiham World for 16 July 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

Perhaps you have seen the ARRL story about Edward Thomas, KC0TIG, and his son. They were electrocuted while putting up an antenna. The story is a familiar one; raising an antenna and contacting high-voltage power lines with deadly results.

It is a terribly sad story. Edward's granddaughter witnessed the accident and had to alert neighbors, who called 911. Neither man could be saved.

Back in the mid 1970s, when Don, W0DN (now a silent key), and I started the Butternut antenna company, we had to learn how to make commercial antenna products. Both of us had made plenty of antennas as home-brew projects, but when you make products that you are going to sell to the public, you need to follow certain protocols. One of these was to place a bright yellow warning sticker on each antenna. That sticker, which warned against contacting power lines with the antenna, has probably saved some lives over the decades, but I suppose there is no way to know that for sure.

In the accompanying photo, you see a well-worn sticker on one of my own Butternut antennas.

"DANGER", it says, "WATCH FOR WIRES". It continues by warning the user that they can be killed by power lines and that they should read the instructions.

These days, I'm sure that all antenna manufacturers provide warning labels on their products as well as prominent warnings in the text of the assembly instructions. The problem is that such warnings become so familiar to us that we might simply begin to ignore them. As amateur radio operators, we should always put safety first. Of course no one would argue with that, but safety practices are not really something that you can simply turn on and off like a switch. People who assemble antennas cannot always be counted upon to read instruction manuals, especially the part at the beginning that cautions you to look up in the air for overhead power lines. Even the bright yellow stickers can miss getting one's attention. No, safety is not just another paragraph in the instruction manual for your antenna. It is a long-practiced habit that we have adhered to from day one, whether it be at Field Day, setting up for an emergency, or putting up a new antenna from scratch.

Always look up. Always.

The thing about habits is that they can guide us in the right direction even when the brain slips into neutral. In an emergency situation when antennas need to be put up quickly, your mind is going to be on getting set up as quickly as possible to provide communications. If you are in the habit of always scanning your surroundings, looking up, down, and around before putting up any kind of antenna structure, you are more likely to do the right thing, avoiding overhead power lines. I remember reading about another tragic accident in 2005, where four men, volunteer leaders, were electrocuted at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia. They were putting up a pole to support a dining canopy, when it apparently contacted a power line. It can happen - and does - when you least expect it. Even four sets of eyes did not see the overhead danger.

Aluminum ladders, antennas and masts, towers, guy wires, gin poles... all of these conductors are likely to be used by amateur radio operators in the normal course of antenna installation and maintenance. If you are not in the habit of looking around you for hazards, there is no time like the present to start training yourself to do so. Know your surroundings by taking a tour around your property. Where does the electrical service enter the house? Is it overhead or underground? Are there power lines running adjacent to your property? Are they overhead or underground? Simply put, this basic walk around your yard can be a life-saver. You need to avoid contacting overhead lines or digging into buried cables.

The person most responsible for your safety is YOU. Antenna manufacturers can put all the warning labels in all the right places, but having good safety habits in the first place is even a better bet! Start building those good habits today.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Handiham World for 09 July 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

Hopefully everyone is getting their issue of Handiham World this week. We are offering a couple of alternatives for delivery. For a number of years, we have had a "handiham" group on Yahoo. Although this requires a Yahoo login, it is a good way to get delivery of our Wednesday newsletter. I have decided to make sure that we keep the Yahoo Groups mailer up-to-date each Wednesday. It is up to users to maintain and administer their own Yahoo Group settings. Go to Yahoo Groups, find the search field, and type in the word handiham. You should find the list pretty quickly. Note that the name of the list is simply "handiham", not "handihamstudy".

Not everyone will be interested in joining Yahoo in order to get the weekly newsletter. In that case, you will want to stick with our standard delivery system. Yes, I know... it has been a real mess over the past few weeks and technical support from our service provider has still not untangled the problem completely. That is why we are looking at moving the Mailer once again to a different provider, one that specializes in mailing lists and that has been used successfully by another amateur radio group, TIPSnet. The name of the service is, and we think it will provide consistent, reliable service while providing the ability of users to adjust their own settings. Believe me, I am certainly anxious to put all of these mailing lists problems behind me so that I can concentrate on providing better content for the newsletter as well as improving the quality of our Friday audio lecture series. I have a request in to the Freelists administrator.

And speaking of the Friday audio lecture series, I was informed by a couple of members that some of the Technician class audio was actually missing! When I checked it, I found that beginning with lecture 47 all of the audio was missing from the server. This apparently occurred because our file transfer session when changing servers was interrupted. I have corrected this problem, thanks to alert handiham members who informed me.

NM1K QSL cardNow, back to our vintage QSL card series. Today we have a card from Rusty, NM1K. Guess what? I'll bet you can still get one of these cards from Rusty, who sends out many NTS birthday messages to handiham members and friends. Work Rusty on the air and QSL to get one of these beauties. Thanks, of course, to Rusty for all of his good work with NTS, the National Traffic System.

We will bet that you have vintage QSL cards, too. If you can send a scan or photo of your vintage QSL cards, we will feature them here. What the heck - the HF bands are still pretty poor, so we might as well keep ourselves busy with vintage cards! Please send the images to along with a few words, if you wish, explaining the card or perhaps recalling those days when you were sending lots of these out. We will also feature your comments and callsign in the story.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager