Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Handiham World for 28 January 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat with boom headset micWhat is the best way to run a training net? As many of you know, we will be having a special net on the regular handiham EchoLink frequency once a month, and it will be devoted to teaching net participants how to be good net control stations and for those who do not want to be net control stations, how to be good net participants. The very first session of this net will be on the first Wednesday evening of the month at 7 PM Minnesota time. So you will need to look for us on the 145.450 MHz N0BVE repeater system, node 89680. You can connect the very same way that you always do for the daily EchoLink net. The first session will occur on Wednesday, February 4.

But let's get back to that original question: exactly what is the best way to run a training net? Jerry, N0VOE, asked me that question because he is very likely going to be the first one actually stepping up to the plate as the net control station for this new net. It's a reasonable question.

Just cover a single major topic while paying attention to good net practices otherwise.

Let's say the topic is on how to open a net. Since you are going to follow good net procedures anyway, you open the net with a short preamble and then call for participants who might have emergency traffic, then any traffic, etc., etc. You have now given good example. Take the stations checking in, then when you feel you have a quorum, go ahead and open the discussion topic. Feel free to discuss why a preamble is useful, why you should call for emergency traffic first rather than later, and so on. After the topic has been discussed for awhile, invite a net member to try it for himself or herself, right on the spot.

Do not cover more than the single major topic. This will help you maintain the focus of the net so that participants don't go wandering all around, figuratively speaking. If you feel like some playacting, pretend you are checking in while someone else does the opening. We can have a net discussion board by email afterwards, so people can say what worked and what didn't.

It need not be very long. I would say this is an absolute maximum 30 minute net. That way, we do not ask participants to commit to a long, drawn-out session that will take up an entire evening. We are likely to get more people returning to the net to learn a little bit more about proper net operation if we are prepared and stick to one simple topic.

In other news, I've heard from a couple of Window-eyes users who have had excellent success navigating the new Worldradio online publication. One reported to me that many of the ads are accessible, which can be very useful for anyone interested in the latest ham radio technology... and aren't we all?! As I expected, the Worldradio online publication is being well received by handiham members everywhere, including those who use computer screen reading software. Our hats are off to CQ Publications for making this online resource disability-friendly.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Handiham World for 21 January 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

WorldRadio Online first issue is ready to read!

WorldRadio Online first issue is ready to read! Front cover screenshot.

It is a banner day in ham radio publishing. A long-time print journal has made the transition to that great printing press in the clouds, the Internet.

The February 2009 issue of WorldRadio Online was uploaded late on Tuesday, and is available for downloading and viewing. Currently it is available only at the main CQ Amateur Radio website, but will also be available at the entire CQ family of websites soon. We are pleased to note that the "With the Handihams" column appears on page 26 in this maiden issue. With this publication, CQ Communications, Inc. joins the other major amateur radio publisher, ARRL, in offering significant online content.

Although Bob Zeida, N1BLF, will continue to read selected portions of WorldRadio for our monthly magazine digest that serves our Handiham members who cannot read regular print, we are pleased to note that the online version has a number of very useful accessibility features for people with disabilities.

The format is Adobe PDF with embedded, searchable text. This is the industry standard, and beside providing the useful search feature that allows users to easily locate key words anywhere in the entire publication, it also allows blind users with screenreaders to access the embedded text and read the articles. Since some of the advertisements also carry embedded text, blind users will have access to them for the first time. In reviewing the ads, we noticed that they are hyperlinked to the advertisers' websites.

For those of us in the bifocal stage of life, you can enlarge the print on your computer screen. This can definitely make life easier when you are enjoying the columnists you know and love, like Krusty Ol' Kurt and his Aerials column and you don't have to strain to see the fine print.

Then there is the color. Long ago in the late 1970's, when Don, W0DN, and I began advertising our funky new Butternut antenna in the ham magazines, there was no color to be found on the pages of the ham radio publications. Yes, QST and CQ readers enjoy a splash of color these days, but WorldRadio never changed its newsprint textured paper and black and white format. That has changed, and the new look adds pizzazz!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Handiham World for 14 January 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Remote Base and Morse Code

Remote Base Update: Morse Code operation

Screenshot: W4MQ Remote Base CW pop up window

Did you ever own a gadget, a radio, or a piece of software that you really understood completely? I must say I had a bit of a surprise earlier this week when using the handiham remote base software by W4MQ. I had been using the remote base as a beta tester for a number of months now, but I had never really had occasion to use the CW mode setting, even though I had tuned around in the CW portion of various bands a number of times in the past. In fact, Avery, K0HLA, had asked me if it was possible to operate using Morse code with the remote base.

"Heck, I think it must be possible, but I'm not sure how you would hook up a key and whether you would use some kind of modulated audio or just how it would work", I replied.

After all, the radio obviously received very well in the CW portion of the bands, and some of our handiham members would likely be interested in operating Morse code from time to time if such a thing were possible. Well, as Lyle, K0LR, and I worked through a number of beta testing issues, one thing that came up was something called "auto mode". This is a setting made by the administrator of the system that causes the radio to go back to whatever default mode is set for a given portion of a ham radio band. For example, on the 20 m band if you were using a frequency of 14.280 MHz, the auto mode would place the radio in the USB mode automatically, so that you would be on the right side band. The user can, however, control the mode manually. It is assumed that this will sometimes be necessary. Anyway, this setting was not being changed automatically when I did my testing, so I noticed that the radio would typically just keep the same mode that I had been listening in on single side band whenever I went to the CW portion of the band. Only this week did I think to manually change the mode to the CW setting. The first thing that I noticed was that the audio filter was automatically changed to a much narrower width that would be more appropriate for Morse code operation. The second thing I noticed was that the radio no longer said "no transmit". And the third thing was that a little pop-up window appeared that would allow me to simply type into a text window and send Morse code automatically! Because I had already logged on to the software using my own call sign, this handy little application already knew who I was. It has several shortcut buttons that allow me to send CQ, call QRZ, call a specific station just by entering the station's call sign in a form field and pressing the call button, and probably even more that I haven't discovered yet. So here I was, using this software for months, and only this week discovering a major feature.

I don't know whether to be a little bit embarrassed by this, or whether I should just chalk it up to the fact that there was so much other stuff to test that a fellow might be expected to miss a thing or two here and there. I will readily admit that I seldom have an actual QSO using Morse code, but I do listen to code rather frequently just to see what band conditions are like, mostly on 20 and 40 m.

Discovering this new Morse code feature (new to me, anyway) was almost like discovering a gift that I had forgotten to open up at my last birthday party. Who knows what else the remote base might serve up as a really fun and useful feature? We are still hoping to open the remote base and get it out of beta mode within the next few months. It has been doing extraordinarily well surviving the cold Minnesota temperatures in its unheated ham shack. Already this week Courage North has had an early-morning low temperature of -35°F. I think I can almost feel the cold radiating back at me right through my own computer when I connect to the remote base!

For Handiham World, I'm Patrick Tice,

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Handiham World for 7 January 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Taking stock of where we are with amateur radio publications might be in order, since January is the last month a print edition of Worldradio Magazine is published. Publications have come and gone over the years, but Worldradio's situation is different - it will be published online with free access to content that is supported by advertising. Once upon a time, ham radio magazines just bit the dust - many of us remember 73 and Ham Radio, both of which were popular, strong publications in the mid-1970's. They both eventually stopped printing, and there was no Internet publication, so that was that.

So what exactly is a ham radio publication these days? I'd have to say that it can include electronic magazines, or so-called "e-zines". In fact, your weekly Handiham World is an e-zine as well as an audio podcast. That's a definite improvement over the old print Handiham World, which used to be published only four times a year. But what about ham radio websites that contain news content? Do they qualify as "publications"? ARRL, eHam, Amateur Radio NEWSLINE, This Week in Amateur Radio, The RAIN Report, and QRZ all have news items, but there are lots of sites run by hobbyists, too. Do we include them? And if we do, what kind of journalistic standards should we expect? Does there need to be an editor to keep things civil when disagreements arise? Does someone need to enforce standards of grammar and spelling? Who does fact-checking for accuracy?

This isn't only a question in the world of ham radio, either. Traditional media publications are struggling with the very same questions. Atlantic Monthly, which has been around since 1857, still publishes a print edition but has a free content website. How will newspapers and magazines pay the bills in the new electronic order? Will we see more and more ham radio publications head for that big printing press in the sky called the Internet? I think so, but when? And what are the advantages and disadvantages?

From the standpoint of a business manager, the biggest concern is revenue. How will the publication pay for staff, materials, utilities, and office space? Even if a print publication maintains a readership of print subscribers, what's to keep everyone else from just getting the information for free from the magazine's website? And if the website is the main portal for the magazine's readers, will advertising on the web support all the expense of staff and offices? There will be savings in printing and mailing costs, though, and these are significant.

From the reader's standpoint, the whole Internet publication thing is the best deal since sliced bread. You don't have to wait for a print magazine to arrive in the mail. If you are blind, you can read the web version with your screenreader. You don't collect a pile of old magazines in the basement. There is less waste, and the Internet is definitely a "greener" alternative. And how can you argue with the price? Free, versus a hefty subscription fee.

Believe me, this issue is not going to go away. Every ham radio organization is going to face the problem of how to keep a viable business model as print publications fade slowly from the scene. A few publications, like Consumer Reports, charge a fee for online content, but most publications that have tried to do so have not been successful. We want to keep our ham radio publications financially sound, and membership organizations like ARRL healthy and viable.

The best advice I can offer right now is to keep your membership up to date and support the advertisers - whether on the web or in the print magazine.

For Handiham World, I'm Patrick Tice,