Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Handiham World for 30 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat enjoys a cup of coffee from his Handiham mug.

Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November
... Yes, that's the way I remember that September is one of those shorter months, and here we are at the end of the summer season here in the northern hemisphere. There have been a lot of changes in the works for the Handiham program, including our plans for moving Radio Camp to Camp Courage, changing the date of the camp session to the month of May, staffing cutbacks, and -- the one most people have been asking about lately -- the office move.

All of this change is not simply brought about by the current economic recession, though some of it is definitely the result of having to work within a tighter budget. While we would definitely prefer to keep all of our staff on board, right now we simply cannot afford to do so.

While I had hoped to have the office move completed by the end of September, we are not quite there yet. Early October is the most likely time we will be ready, but thanks to Avery and CJ (K0CJ) as well as George, N0SBU, and Mark, WA0PYN, we have made excellent progress preparing for the move by getting some of our equipment out of the way. The next step, coming in early October, will be to move the storage cabinets out to Camp Courage so that we have dry, dust-protected storage for donated equipment that will be used at camp sessions and to move our file cabinets and other necessary office equipment.

Some of our members have not been keeping up with the news about the move and have asked for equipment through the equipment loan program. Since Avery operated the equipment loan program, that part of our services has been suspended temporarily while we figure out how it is going to be handled in the future. At least for the year 2010, we will be distributing equipment to campers at radio camp. This compromise position on distributing equipment allows us to continue to serve members with this part of the program while avoiding the time-consuming and expensive packing and shipping associated with the traditional equipment program. It will still get equipment into the hands of members who need it. Those members who have already borrowed equipment through the loan program will see no change at all, since they may continue to keep the equipment on loan as long as they are using it and keeping up with their Handiham membership obligations.

One of the common questions we are hearing is what our contact information will be. The telephone numbers for Jerry Kloss and Avery Finn will be discontinued. The numbers for Nancy and me will remain in service. E-mail to Nancy and me will remain the same, but you should delete Courage Center e-mail addresses for Avery and Jerry. If you have questions about e-mail addresses, you may always contact me at my address. We must not forget about where mail should be sent. It's pretty easy; any mail sent to our current address, 3915 Golden Valley Road, will reach us as always. If we make any changes in any of this contact information, you will hear about it through your weekly e-mail newsletter and on the Handiham website, which, of course, will remain at

Several of you have asked what the new headquarters station will be like. We think the station will be much more functional because we will be located in a rural area where there is little powerline interference or other electrical noise. As many of you know from following our newsletters over the past few years, electrical noise from the ventilation system at Courage Center has been the bane of HF operation at W0ZSW. In fact, the electrical noise is so severe that practical HF operation has come to a complete halt. Energy-saving motor control systems are the culprit, and it is with much relief that we can finally say goodbye to this terrible RF interference problem. Camp Courage has most of its electrical wiring running underground, making for a quiet RF environment. Our station will be located in the basement of the camp reception center. Reception, in this case, refers to the place where visitors to camp stop first to do business, register as visitors, drop off packages or mail if they are making deliveries, and so on. Ironically, "reception" can also refer to radio reception, which we will finally be able to enjoy again on the HF bands. Don't let the fact that we are in the basement cause you to assume that the station can only be reached by going down a dark stairway, pushing aside the cobwebs, and making your way to a dark corner behind the furnace. No, it is not like that at all. The basement is a walk-out, so there are windows and a door directly out to the parking area behind the building. Bright sunshine and no steps -- that's what will greet you as you come into the new Handiham headquarters station at Camp Courage. Wheelchair users will find the station area accessible. Those of you who are familiar with the station at Courage North or the station at Courage St. Croix will recognize the familiar cabinet housing the station equipment. The carpeted floor helps to hold down noise and the well-placed bright florescent lighting makes the area a good workplace.

Radio Camp at the new location will also be a great improvement in many ways. As much as we like Courage North, the newer cabins at Camp Courage provide better, more accessible space for wheelchair users. The new cabins are state-of-the-art and will make the Radio Camp experience much more enjoyable for everyone. Since we are also on a lake at Camp Courage, we will continue to have the same fun with waterfront activities like the pontoon boat maritime mobile operation, sailing, and perhaps even a visit to an island in the lake. The month of May should provide us with temperate weather in late Spring, not too hot and not too cold. The setting of Camp Courage, which is three times larger than the acreage at Courage North, is in hardwood forest rather than pine forest, which will be a change -- but not a bad one, because both locations are scenic and designed to be accessible. Radio Camp first began at Camp Courage, and was held in the month of May. At that time, it was considered a "convocation", more like a meeting that extended over several days. Today's modern Radio Camp session is a week long and includes much more amateur radio education and more activities.

Yes, I know these are big changes and that some of them are more than a little difficult. No one wants to say goodbye to regular staff members like Avery and Jerry. One good thing about amateur radio is that it has always been a helpful community of dedicated volunteers, whether hams helping other hams through their local radio clubs, friends working together, or through an organization like ARRL or the Handihams. We know that both of these friendly "Elmers" will continue to help other amateur radio operators in every way that they can. As we move into the coming year, we are already seeing signs of economic recovery around the world. Hopefully our volunteers and supporters will continue to enjoy working with us and making sure that we build even more financial stability into the Handiham program. The new headquarters station will be really great, and we even hope to install a second Handiham Remote Base to fill the needs of our members who cannot put up regular antenna systems. Change, whatever inconvenience it may bring us, also holds the promise of opportunity. We will be looking forward, building on what we have and making sure that our core services continue to meet the needs of Handiham members.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Handiham World for 22 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Good news! Linda, N7HVF, is donating a recorder to replace our broken 4-track machine. Thank you to everyone who offered to help. We are also looking into mastering the monthly digest audio via computer, which we think will help us to provide better audio quality.

An APH recorder, shown here in a ham shack

Photo: A typical APH 4-track recorder.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Handiham World for 16 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

It was bound to happen. What I am talking about is something that we had hoped to put off until the distant future, but you know how old Murphy works. The unfortunate recent breakdown of our trusty APH four track tape recorder has placed us in somewhat of a bind with our tape production.

An APH recorder, shown here in a ham shack

Photo: A typical APH 4-track recorder.

While our tape volunteer, George, N0SBU, has been able to get the September audio digest out, there was a significant delay in the production Of four track cassette tape for our blind members who do not use computers. Even so, George had to make a modified version that only included three tracks. The fourth track is garbled, apparently because of a problem with the machine.

Although the group of 4-track users is shrinking as more and more of our members become computer-literate and get their audio directly from the handiham web site, there is a core group of mostly elderly blind users who still depend on the older audio tape technology. Of course we certainly want to continue serving these members, but it is difficult to justify buying replacement equipment in what is an extremely challenging budget year. Thankfully, our high-speed duplicators are still functioning. If those quit, it would truly mark the end of the four-track program, because replacement cost would run into the thousands at a time when the sun is setting on this old technology.

One possible workaround is to master the digest audio into the correct format on my computer, using Audacity. The trick is to get the audio tracks into the correct order and direction of play. I have asked for some help in determining the way to do this. Of course the computer makes it easy to reverse the direction of a track from front to back and to make the tracks speeded up to twice the normal speed so that 60 minutes of program material will fit into each track on a standard 60 minute cassette master. Remember, a standard 60 minute cassette plays for only 30 minutes at the regular speed on a single side. Because the Library of Congress standard calls for playback at one half the normal speed, if we use the computer to speed the audio to twice normal, not only will it fit into a single track, but it will also sound normal on playback at half speed. If we can figure out how to do this on the computer, we should be able to bypass using the APH machine and use any standard stereo cassette recorder to produce the master, taking the audio directly from the soundcard of the computer through a line to the tape recorder input. In some ways, this is a better way to produce an audio master in the first place and should result in better final audio fidelity. On the other hand, we do have to be sure we do it correctly so that users don't encounter tracks that play out of sequence or even worse, backwards!

We are looking at various alternatives, but we could really use a new or gently used tape recorder capable of producing National Library Service tape cassettes. If you can help us out, please e-mail Patrick Tice at

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Handiham World for 09 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Smiling Pat with handiham coffee mugOne of the highlights of my amateur radio career came only recently, at the last Handiham Radio Camp session in August. Considering that I have been in ham radio since 1967, when I started as a teenager, that highlight has been a long time coming.

No, it isn't that I recently acquired a new piece of radio gear for which I've been saving my pennies for decades. I didn't put up a brand-new 70 foot tower with stacked 20 meter Yagi antennas. I didn't finally come out on top of the heap in some contest. (That would be the day!) Nor did I participate in a trip of a lifetime DXpedition to East Overshoe Island.

It wasn't any of those things, worthy as they might be for amateur radio goals. Believe it or not, it was something even more exciting, something I have waited all too long to do, and something that really brought the spirit of amateur radio back home to me.

I became a Volunteer Examiner.

Admittedly, for most of my amateur radio career there was no such thing as a Volunteer Examiner program. When the VE program started, I held only an Advanced Class license, and participating fully in the VE program meant that I would have to first earn my Extra Class ticket. I felt that I had really very little incentive to do so, since I didn't use Morse code all that often anyway and seldom even ventured outside the General Class phone bands. If I went for Extra, it would be in my own good time. And it was. I finally had to help Dr. Dave, KN0S, teach a radio camp class in Extra. Actually, I did far more learning than teaching in the class and decided to sit down and take the written examination, which I passed. After that, it was only a matter of time until the Morse code requirement was dropped to five words per minute.

I could wait for that! The change took effect in less than 365 days, which meant that all I needed to do was attend a VE session and seal the deal on the upgrade. I don't feel too bad about that, because after all I had passed a 13 word per minute exam at an FCC office, and remembered even being able to copy the 20 words per minute code as it was given to the Extra Class candidates by the stern-faced FCC examiner. Of course that was a long time ago, and I didn't have any burning desire to brush up on code to do the Extra when the requirement would be going away anyway.

Extra Class licensure is an accomplishment in itself, but it took me several more years to finally make the decision to study for the VE exam. The occasion presented itself when one of our Handiham members called to ask me whether we had the ARRL VE Manual in any kind of accessible format. I knew that we had it in text and audio, but I also knew that it was several years out of date. Perhaps this was the time to revise the manual and turn it into a Daisy book.

Well, that is easier said than done. The PDF document is easy for a sighted person to use, but the nature of how PDF handles layout on the pages can sometimes be more than a little confusing to someone trying to plow through the document using a screen reader. There was nothing for it but to go completely through the document line by line, editing to make the text flow as it was intended.

"What the heck", I thought to myself. "I can't help but learn this book since I'm going through it line by line. I might as well go ahead and take the VE exam and get accredited."

Which is what I did. The way the timing worked out, I was able to get my ARRL VE badge by the time Radio Camp week arrived. That meant that I could participate in my very first VE session at one of our camps, and this was something very special to me. It meant a lot to reach this goal and share it with my friends at Courage North. Of course I had to explain to the VE team leader that this was my very first session and that I pretty much had to learn just about everything, but everyone was helpful and understanding. I got to read the exam for one of our blind candidates. It was wonderful to hear about the successes and a bit hard to learn about the folks who didn't quite make it, but the session just brought home to me what a very kind, understanding, and helpful community we are in the Amateur Radio Service.

I should have done this sooner. It's a great way to give back to the community.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Handiham World for 02 September 2009 (repost)

Re-post of correct file.

Handiham World for 02 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Second Base Umpire of Hugo Becomes a Librarian

Second Base Umpire of Hugo Becomes a Librarian

By George LaValle, N0SBU

I’m sure that all of you are aware that the Handiham headquarters office is moving to Camp Courage near Maple Lake, MN. When I first heard about the move, I asked Pat what would become of the tape program. He said it possibly would also go to Camp Courage.

Since my volunteer duties include making up the monthly digest tapes, I felt it would be a long trip to go out there to copy them. I offered to move all of it to my home QTH here in Hugo, MN. Between last Thursday and this Monday I was able to move all of it over here. I now have the tape library here in my basement. I hope to have an updated tape list available soon as there have been some changes to the list.

I would like to thank Pat, WA0TDA, Nancy our administrative assistant, and of course Avery, K0HLA, who taught me how to use all of the equipment to make the tape copies and what all of the different masters are for and why.

With their help we made this move seamless!

So from the “Hugo Tape Library” I would like to bid you a good week. Please check out the Manuals and the Members Only pages on the Handiham website to see what we have in our tape library. Give us a few weeks to reorganize, though, and to get current information on the site.

73 from the Second Base Umpire of Hugo, N0SBU, George.

Now where did I put that last tape order that Nancy sent me?

Take a look at George's library setup in this Adobe Flash slide show: