Thursday, August 28, 2008

Handiham World for 28 August 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

Photo: Pat, WA0TDA, with headset microphonePat with headset microphone

Here we are, a day late with your weekly edition of Handiham World. Yesterday in the very early morning hours we experienced a real fireworks show in the sky over Courage North: a lightning storm that dropped buckets of rain. When I awakened and wandered over to the computer, I quickly discovered that the Internet connection was not working. That, of course, meant that I could not produce your weekly e-letter as usual. It turned out that our T1 line had failed and that a representative from the service provider had to make repairs. By the time the repairs were completed in the afternoon, I had already gotten on the road and my only window for producing the content had closed.

Nonetheless, I did want to say a few words about the week at Handiham Radio Camp. Overall, we had a very successful week. In typical Minnesota fashion, I would describe the few problems we ran into as, "could be worse".

Several days were rather windy, limiting our waterfront activities. When the wind died down, we were able to get two pontoon boats out onto the lake for maritime mobile operation. One of the boats was equipped with an ICOM IC-718 station, which was operated on 75 and 20 m. Both boats also operated on our 2 m simplex Echolink node frequency, allowing campers to connect to virtually anywhere through the worldwide network of connected stations.

Another project was the handiham remote base HF station. This went even better than I expected, with Lyle Koehler, K0LR, doing the engineering work to set up a Lenovo computer with the Kenwood software necessary to host the remote base and to connect and set up the Kenwood TS-480 radio and all associated pieces of equipment. We even managed to do a "dry run" of the system in our Extra Class Seminar, where campers were able to check it out and test the accessibility features of both the Kenwood radio and the software. Although I intend to write more about the wonderful TS-480 in some future edition, I do have to say that we are thrilled with Kenwood's attention to accessibility features. Likewise, the control software that users will run on their home computers to access the remote base is very accessible with screen reading programs like JAWS. Once the campers had a chance to do some hands-on with the station, Lyle and I transferred it to its permanent location in an attic room above Courage North's dining hall. The reason for this location is that it puts the radio in close proximity with the necessary computer networking equipment and also allows us to keep the antenna a bit further away from other antennas that are installed at Courage North. Bill, N0CIC, helped Lyle and I get the antenna into the air in flattop configuration. Bill is truly an expert with a wrist rocket slingshot that he has modified for wire antenna installations! The antenna is a G5RV that will tune 80 through 10 m. As with other G5RV installations, we found that we had to add additional coaxial cable to make the antenna tune in the phone band on 75. We have decided not to use the internal tuner on the Kenwood radio. Instead, we have installed an LDG auto tuner designed to tune instantly as soon as its senses RF. This removes one complication for users, who won't have to bother tuning an antenna.

The remote base station now enters what we are calling a "beta one test phase". A few tech-savvy users will operate the station and provide us with feedback about any problems they run into. In mid--September, Lyle and I will return to the station location to iron out hardware problems, should any crop up. We also plan to put the computer on an uninterruptible power supply and a surge protector at that time. Based on what we discover during beta testing, I will write a user manual. Of course all of this will take some time, but we will give you frequent updates in your Weekly Handiham World.

One interesting aspect of radio camp is simply hearing from campers whether or not they enjoyed the week. Spontaneous comments are always more accurate because they come from the heart -- at least that's my theory! I heard over and over again that people were having fun and they were wondering when the next camp would be. Several commented about the transportation to and from Camp, which we have to admit was not the best this year. Unbeknownst to us, the bus company that serves the nearby town of Bemidji, Minnesota, changed their schedule. That meant that we did not have a bus service that would serve campers on Wednesday. The alternative, airline transportation from the Twin Cities, nearly doubled in price from the previous year. Clearly we have to figure out some better options for 2009. Of course airline transportation is getting expensive no matter where you go or what your airline of choice happens to be simply because fuel costs are being passed on to the traveling public. I suspect that the high cost of diesel fuel also was behind the change in the commercial bus schedule. Fuel and travel costs are likely to have an impact on other amateur radio activities like ham fests and conventions. Amateur radio operators are problem solvers by their very nature, so it will be interesting to see how hams solve this problem! Anyway, we are looking at a somewhat different camp schedule in 2009, and we will have more information at a later date.

When you get a large number of amateur radio operators together in one place and ask them to program their radios, you find out pretty quickly how many of us need a little bit of help. Radio camp always involves things like hidden transmitter hunts, operating on unusual simplex frequencies, and then returning radios to their former state so that campers can use them as usual when they get back home. It sure is easy to forget how to run a radio when you don't change the settings all that often. I have fond memories of an emergency training exercise conducted at my local radio club where almost none of us could program every function on our portable radios that was needed for the exercise. It certainly reminds me that I need to pick up my radio from time to time and go through at least a few of the basic procedures.

Well, I am supposed to be on vacation, so I am going to make this a rather short newsletter.

Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager