Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Handiham World for 25 November 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Handiham Headquarters will be closed for the United States Thanksgiving holiday

Cornucopia showing bountiful harvest of fruit and a handheld radio

Handiham Headquarters will be closed for the United States Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday and Friday, November 26-27, 2009. An audio lecture notification will be sent out early, on Wednesday instead of Friday.

By the way, what do you have to be thankful for? Here is my list of ham radio stuff, in no particular order:

I am thankful for...

  • Antennas that stay up & keep working through the entire Minnesota winter. (You haven't experienced real cold until you've handled aluminum tubing or scaled a tower in January up here on the frozen tundra.)
  • ARRL. I couldn't get along without my address and monthly QST, but I can also rest easy knowing that the League is our advocate on so many fronts.
  • The way most ham radio gear keeps working year after year, reliably delivering good service, when consumer-grade electronics have long since given up the ghost.
  • Repeater owners who welcome activity on their machines.
  • Echolink, IRLP, and WIRES.
  • The Internet and all of the ham radio applications it makes possible.
  • Hams who design circuits or write software for the rest of us.
  • Elmers who help newbies and oldbies (Is that a real word?)
  • Solar cycle 24. Better late than never.
  • Nets. I love the way we can stay connected in our "virtual communities" on the air.
  • Our Handiham members, be they regular members, supporters, or volunteers. Talk about communities - they are the best!
  • Radio clubs. Sometimes you need to just meet other hams face to face.
  • The manufacturers and dealers who work so hard to make amateur radio technology available to us.
  • People who step up to the plate to teach ham radio classes. They are responsible for keeping amateur radio healthy by training new operators.
  • Anyone who funds, plans, or goes on a DXpedition. What these folks do for amateur radio really pushes the limits, and if you don't believe me, take a look at some of the DXpedition videos.
  • Volunteer examiners and their VECs. Having had to travel long distances to take most of my exams at FCC offices, I really appreciate the volunteers who offer convenient, friendly, local exam sessions, giving freely of their own time and talent to help others become hams for the first time or to step up the ladder to General or Extra.
  • Contest planners, QSL managers, people who serve on committees, hamfest organizers, authors, publishers, and all of the others who work behind the scenes to enrich our radio experiences.
  • DSP. Good grief, how could we stand all of that noise we used to endure before ClearSpeech speakers and the digital signal processing now standard in every transceiver?
  • Anyone brave and patient enough to be a net control station.
  • My understanding family, including my XYL, Susie, who encourages me to "get on the air" or "give that guy a call" when we hear someone calling on a repeater as we travel in the car, my son Will, KC0LJL, who writes software for me, and my dog Jasper, who keeps me company in the ham shack.
  • And all of my ham radio friends! Without real people, ham radio would just be a bunch of stuff. Now, don't get me wrong; I like all of the equipment and gadgetry, but what really makes ham radio special for me is... YOU!

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice, , wishing all of our readers and listeners a wonderful holiday week and a happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Handiham World for 18 November 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Matt in the bucket truck lift
Image: Matt, KA0PQW, and the bucket truck lift operator, Jeff, KC0UOW, ride the bucket up to do some antenna work. Photo courtesy Don Rice, N0BVE, taken during Matt's antenna work in October. Don had just completed some work on Matt's 220 MHz antennas, and Matt was headed up to do the final inspection.

It's always a good idea to get your antenna work done before winter, especially if you live in Minnesota, as Matt, KA0PQW does. One may be blind, but that doesn't mean you can't do antenna work. Matt directs and does hands-on work on his antenna projects, and has some great helpers.

I have always recommended having at least one helper available for any antenna project that involves working on an elevated antenna system, whether it is on a roof or high on a tower. The reason, of course, is safety - if something goes wrong, the second person can provide assistance or call for help. Besides, most of these projects really do require at least one more set of hands - and eyes. You can use a spotter to check for hazards like power lines and buried pipes or cables. This goes for any ham radio operator, whether they are blind or sighted. I shudder to think of all the times I have not followed my own advice, but in my defense I was young and stupid. As a teenager, I navigated our family home's rooftop like a monkey - stringing antennas, hurrying down to test for SWR, then running back up the ladder to the roof to make adjustments - all without anyone else around. When I bought a used tower, I was up and down that thing dozens and dozens of times. I did buy a Klein lineman's belt but even so, I worked alone all too often. The closest call I ever had was on an old telescoping mast. I had just finished my antenna work and stepped onto the ground when the steel cable holding the top section snapped and the tower telescoped back down. A few seconds delay in getting off would have meant amputated fingers and toes! Worse yet, I did not have a helper around.

Well, I have learned a lot since then. I ask for help, so that I have someone there to do antenna work as well as to help us both stay safe. I plan to stay safe - and you know what? Staying safe means more happy years of ham radio fun!

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Handiham World for 11 November 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

The move, part 2

Avery's old office undergoing renovation
Image: Avery's old office area showing one of our five big file cabinets that still needs to be moved.

We continue this week with our office move, this time moving Nancy's office and the file cabinets. This is a big part of the move, and will likely cause some disruption in our regular work schedule. We ask for your patience, as phone calls and emails may take a bit longer to answer. I am still working on a solution for our telephone system, but for now all of my phone calls go directly to voice mail. As calls come in, I am notified of messages left on voice mail through an email message, so that I am able to return calls fairly quickly. Nancy is in the office today, but is using a cubicle in the hallway.

The movers will pick up the file cabinets and some other equipment on Thursday, November 12. Nancy plans to be in the office that day to make sure that all of the files and equipment are accounted for, while I will be waiting at Camp Courage to meet the movers and direct the placement of the five large horizontal file cabinets and the other furniture and equipment in our new office. Depending on my schedule for that day, I do still plan to check in to the regional PICONET on 3.925 MHz at 09:00 CST and the Handiham Echolink net at 11:00 CST. We still need to upgrade the antenna systems, so I will be limited to checking in to one or both nets via the Internet. I will try to contact Lyle, K0LR, our volunteer who maintains the Handiham Remote Base, when he runs the PICONET as the regular Thursday morning net control station.

We are still looking at more moving in the near future, too. Because we will be out at Camp Courage, we have decided that it is best to move our equipment storage and test gear out to camp. This means that the Handiham repair shop at Courage Center will close and make the move, though not immediately. I will enlist the help of some volunteers to make sure that the equipment is moved properly. While this decision means more work in the short term, I think we will benefit by having everything right where we need it. It does present a problem when people bring donations of radio gear to the Courage Center, but we think we can simply have the gear set aside for pick up and transport to Camp Courage as needed. We do plan to continue the equipment loan program when we get organized again, with donated gear first being distributed to our campers who need stations and accessories at the upcoming Handiham Radio Camp in late May, 2010.

Since our shop volunteers were all from the Twin Cities area, we will be on the lookout for hams who live close to our new location and who want to volunteer to check out donated ham radio equipment before it is distributed to our members. It should be noted that we do not repair the equipment anymore, as we did years ago. We check it to make sure that it is in working condition. Only the most minor repairs are possible these days, because the equipment is full of surface-mount devices and repairs are generally done by a well-equipped commercial repair facility that has access to modern instruments and a stock of replacement circuit boards. The old method of using basic test gear to track down faults to the component level is just not practical with the newer equipment.

So there is a lot to work out. We are making great progress, but there is more to do. We are rolling up our sleeves and getting right to work!

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Handiham World for 04 November 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Handiham Office Move - New HQ Entrance

Handiham Office Move - New HQ Entrance

Image: A view of the entrance to the new Handiham headquarters. The large double doors are right at ground level for easy wheelchair access. The windows let in plenty of natural light, and the woodland setting is not only sylvan and restful, but it's also RF-quiet!

The round building is quite a surprising change from our old office space in a traditional building at Courage Center. The Camp Courage Reception Center is a two-level round structure, with the main camp offices and a great room on the top floor. That level also has a computer lab and a staff lounge. The lower level, where our new Handiham Headquarters office and station are located, is accessible from ground level without any stairs or ramps because the building is what is commonly called a "walk-out" design, built on a hill, so that both the levels have access directly from ground. You go in the main door and you end up in the camp office level. You go around the building to the side, and you enter the Handiham office, which is down on the lower level.

As I write this, we have a functioning HF station in place, a Kenwood TS-570SAT with a matching Kenwood supply. The antenna is a GAP vertical, which is mounted within 20 feet of the rig, just outside the building, and visible in the photo if you look just to the left of the building. Although we do have a code key and microphone, the station is pretty bare-bones right now. There is additional equipment in a cabinet that is identical to the one at Courage North.

Although I have installed a Kenwood TM-V71 dual band VHF/UHF rig next to the TS-570, there is no antenna system for 2 meters and 70 cm. This deficiency must be remedied before Radio Camp next May, but I am confident that we can get a new antenna up, probably mounted on the old TV antenna mast on the roof, which is also visible in the photo. I have been able to hear the N0BVE repeater system while in my car driving within a mile of Camp Courage, so I am confident that we will be able to access not only that repeater but several others, especially if we can get up a beam antenna, at least for the two meter band. Nearby St. Cloud has an excellent repeater, the W0SV system.

We do have work to do on the headquarters antenna system, that's for sure. Although we do have a very nice triband HF beam in place on a 50 foot tower, the coax does not terminate where we need it in the new location. I plan to ask our volunteers to help me look the situation over and figure out how to complete that installation. Because of the distance to the tower, I would expect that we need to consider buried hard line to keep losses to a minimum.

Another consideration is how we will get on the 160, 75, and 40 meter bands. Although the GAP vertical does tune 75 through 10, it is not adequate for regional net operation, where higher angle radiation is required. To remedy that problem, I would like to look at a wire antenna, something like a center-fed Zepp, around 250 feet long, to really grab those 160 meter signals! Ideally, we will be able to install a second remote base station for our members at this location, and it will add the "top band" of 160 meters to the frequencies our members can operate.

The move to Camp Courage is going to be far better for our station operations; there's just no doubt about it. Several years ago, when the HVAC system was updated at Courage Center, banks of SCR fan motor controllers were installed to make the heating and air conditioning systems more energy-efficient. If the load was light, the AC frequency was varied downward by these controllers. If the load increased, the AC frequency increased. There is an energy savings, but the RFI generated by the system produced noise at S9+10 dB levels on the HF bands. It was intolerable, and we had to resort to porting the receiver signal in from remote receivers at Courage North or the K0LR station, both of which are located hundreds of miles north of the Twin Cities in quiet RF areas. Although this worked for some types of operation, it is hardly desirable or practical for working DX or quickly grabbing a CQ that you would hear, simply because it was a lot of fiddling around to tune both the remote receiver and the transmitter that was sitting in front of us at Courage Center. The new location is very quiet, with no significant RFI. It will be a huge relief to operate without having to deal with overbearing interference.

But the move has not been without some glitches. My phone still isn't working, so calls to my office number go straight to voice mail. The good news is that I have the system set up to immediately email me whenever a voice mail is left at my number, so I can immediately call the person back.

Another issue is how we will handle equipment donations. While we still have a small amount of equipment storage space at Courage Center, it is looking like this space will be needed by another program that rehabilitates wheelchairs for distribution to people with disabilities who cannot afford new chairs.

Thus, I am considering a change for the equipment program to Camp Courage, and that will mean that gifts of equipment will be accepted at the Camp Courage address instead of the Courage Center address. The equipment loan program has already moved to Camp Courage. As you know, Avery Finn, K0HLA, has retired. Since he ran the equipment program, we are trying to figure out how to operate it in the upcoming year. Our current plan is to distribute equipment to our members at the next Radio Camp session in May.

Speaking of Radio Camp, I'll give you an update on our new location for that event in a later edition of your weekly e-letter. For now, I'll just say that we will be on the "Woodland" side of Camp Courage, where we will enjoy brand-new cabin facilities that have some wonderful meeting spaces and living areas, including spacious screened porches for each cabin, as well as gas log fireplaces in the large common areas.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager