Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Handiham World for 29 December 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Snow covers the coils on a Butternut vertical antenna.

Photo: Snow is piled up on the WA0TDA Butternut vertical. Welcome to another new year.

Can you believe it? It's the last week of 2010, and we are tying the ribbons on another year here at Handiham headquarters. I can't help but notice on the television, radio, and other media that a popular activity this time of year is the retrospective. Everyone seems to want to set out their own list of significant events that happened over the past year. Why should we be any different? At the end of the year it probably makes sense to take stock of what has happened, both good and bad, and where we think we might need to go from here.

Let's get the bad out of the way first so that we don't have to worry about it anymore. From our perspective, 2010 wasn't exactly an easy year to get through. The lingering effects of the Great Recession were still very evident in the world of non--profits. We had to deal with budget cutbacks and staff cuts. The economists say that we are no longer in a recession, but some of the everyday conversations I have had throughout the past year in places ranging from the barbershop to the city park while walking the dog say otherwise. The nice lady who cuts my hair at the barbershop was also cutting back on Christmas gifts for her kids. Her husband had been laid off for some time now. A fellow dog walker mentioned the involuntary furlough from his work. Nonetheless, we still hold out hope that people will come through for us and support the Handiham program, and we certainly hope that the economists have their heads on straight and that they are right about everything getting better.

We consolidated our office move from Golden Valley out to Camp Courage at Maple Lake, Minnesota during 2010. Our office space is roomy and convenient for operation of the new remote base equipment available to our members via the Internet. 2010 also saw the move of Minnesota Radio Camp from Camp Courage North to our new headquarters at Camp Courage in Maple Lake. We all appreciated the new state-of-the-art cabin space, though we encountered some noise problems on the HF stations from florescent lighting fixtures. Holding the camp in the month of May didn't work out quite as well as we planned, with somewhat windy weather limiting our time available to operate maritime mobile from the pontoon boat. The volunteers of the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association stepped up to the plate and really helped get the stations set up and operate the VE session. All told, I would have to rate the office move as much more difficult than the radio camp move, but both worked out quite well in the end. Our phone numbers and mailing address remained the same as before, which made things easier.

2010 saw the addition of the second remote base station, W0ZSW, which we located at our new headquarters. The existing remote base at Courage North, W0EQO, remained in operation and will continue to do so. Since the stations are hundreds of miles apart, they can be operated at the same time with no worries about interference with each other. Station reliability has been good over the past year with minimal downtime. Our users have been resourceful and have enjoyed the stations with very few requests for technical support.

Another resource added to our Camp Courage infrastructure was the W0EQO 2 m repeater, thanks to a loan of the equipment from Don, N0BVE, and installation and oversight assistance from other folks, including Matt, KA0PQW. This repeater has been in operation serving the Maple Lake area since last May. We are on track to get a new frequency pair and do some necessary upgrades.

2010 saw increased participation in our online audio lectures and a drop in cassette tape production. This is expected as Handiham members make the transition to web-based and digital audio. We made a few new Daisy book projects and we are trying to figure out how successful these were and where we will go with them in 2011. Ken, KB3LLA, helped us out quite a bit when we had Daisy questions. Our volunteers who read for us monthly, Ken Padgitt, W9MJY, and Bob Zeida, N1BLF, continued their efforts in support of making current amateur radio publications accessible to our blind members, enabling us to have material in a much more timely manner then it would be available from other sources.

Band conditions improved somewhat in 2010, but so far this new solar cycle has been lagging and HF band conditions along with it. Fortunately, the Handiham EchoLink net stayed healthy and enjoyed good participation throughout the year. Regular net control assignments were developed during 2010, and that extra organization really helped keep the net on track. Our net control volunteers did a wonderful job, though, as some have noted, there have been a few bumps in the road considering that some of our net participants are relatively new to amateur radio and EchoLink. Overall, I would judge the net to be a wonderful success over the past year and I am thankful that we have it available as HF band conditions continued to be marginal. The addition of the *HANDIHAM* high capacity conference server hosted by Mike, N0VZC, was a huge help in keeping the Handiham EchoLink net organized.

I would have to say that 2010 struck me as the year that Chinese handheld radios started coming into their own. Several models include self-voicing features that blind users will find helpful. One game-changer in this radio market is the low cost of even dual-band handheld radios coming from China. We will be watching this trend with a great deal of interest, especially the availability of self-voicing accessibility features. 2010 was the first year ever that a self-voicing Chinese handheld radio was demonstrated at Handiham Radio Camp, thanks to Larry, KA0LSG.

When I installed a new ICOM IC-7200 transceiver here in my own ham shack early this year, I was pleased to note that it came with a speech function already in the circuitry, which meant that there was no extra speech chip for blind users to purchase. Another trend in the new radios is the USB connector at the back to provide for rig control and porting of audio between the transceiver and the computer. This will make remote base control easier than ever. It also has the potential to allow users with disabilities to control more radio functions more easily via computer software.

ARRL put its excellent new website online during 2010. Overall, the availability of more amateur radio resources via the Internet was a positive trend because people with disabilities often use computers to gain access to information. We continued to keep the Handiham website updated and accessible as well, and continue to work toward simplicity of use and solid functionality so that our Handiham members will be able to make the most of everything that we put online. As far as I can recall, we had only one short web outage during 2010, which meant that the website was pretty reliable.

Overall I would have to describe 2010 as a year in which the Handiham system made significant strides toward serving members in new and better ways while continuing to hold fast to our values of helping people with disabilities to earn their amateur radio licenses and be part of a vibrant amateur radio community. Those things have always been at the core of what we do, and we have all pulled together to make the past year a success, even with not so good HF band conditions and the less than ideal economic situation. I guess I would have to say that I am pretty satisfied with where we are at the moment, and I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for 2011 to be a year full of good DX, lots of activity on the ham radio nets, and – as always – fun and friendship combined with learning and public service here in our Handiham community.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Predictions for the New Year

Plugged in cartoon robot

So where do you think the new year of 2011 will lead us in amateur radio? Will there be any stunning new technology introduced at Dayton HAMVENTION® in May? Will the sun burst to life with impressive sunspot numbers, resulting in fantastic DX conditions? Will any new assistive technology leap to the forefront as the "must-have" new gadget of the year?

I'm going to stick my neck out and share my prognostications for 2011. They may be flat-out wrong, but the weatherman is wrong lots of the time too, and he still has his job.

Chinese handheld radios and newly-introduced mobile VHF/UHF radios will continue to create interest in the amateur radio market worldwide. The low prices for these units may produce some downward price pressure in the overall amateur radio equipment market. Whether this will ultimately mean lower prices for consumers in the short term with fewer choices later on, it is hard to say. Quality will remain somewhat less impressive in these Chinese radios compared to that of the Japanese manufacturers, at least in this coming year.
The sunspot cycle will produce higher numbers, but still be sub-par compared to previous cycles when we enjoyed great HF band conditions. Still, it will be more fun to get on HF and work DX, and it will be easier to do so in 2011 than it was several years ago thanks to improving solar conditions. Bottom line: Now is the time to upgrade to General.
This is an easy prediction because it happens every time there's a change in the question pool. People will suddenly discover that they have been dragging their feet a little bit too long in studying for their General Class licenses and that they will be required to test from a completely new General Class question pool starting on July 1. I don't know why this always seems to be a surprise, but I guess people just have a hard time remembering that the question pools are changed on a rotating basis. 2011 is the year for the new General Class. Just as predictable is the likelihood of a higher demand for VE sessions in late June. If you find yourself in this predicament, study now and test as early as possible.
Remote base operation of HF stations will come back into the amateur radio consciousness as more and more equipment becomes available with easy computer connectivity, such as USB ports that can send and receive both rig control data and digital audio between the radio and the computer. This development will make it easier for people to consider setting up their own remote base stations. Meanwhile, EchoLink will remain a very strong contender, getting quite a bit of use around the world every day. These technological developments will continue to dovetail nicely with the goals and capabilities of an aging population of baby boomers looking toward retirement housing but not wanting to deal with huge antenna systems.
2011 just could be the year when the online-only magazine Worldradio really shines as a leader in the amateur radio publishing business. As everyone knows, publishing houses are caught in a tug-of-war between print and digital. People with disabilities have a stake in digital, because it has the potential to provide much more timely accessibility to more material than print publications ever could. It may be just a little too early to predict the availability of all amateur radio publications online, but I think the unmistakable trend in the publishing business is to at least augment print material with similar if not exact duplicates available online with either an advertising-based business model or a pay-for business model or some combination of the two. This will be interesting to watch. In 2010 the ARRL made its Technician, General, and Extra Q&A books available through Amazon's Kindle reader. All of these ARRL publications have the text-to-speech Kindle option enabled, a great convenience for blind and low vision users. I will say for sure that I think 2011 will see more and more digital publications in the amateur radio realm.
Repeater systems without Internet connectivity such as EchoLink, WIRES, or IRLP will continue to be underutilized during 2011. In 2010, some of these repeater systems barely had any activity at all. Other digital repeater systems will probably hold their own, but remain regional in nature and not reach most of the amateur radio users.
Amateur radio operators may get a real public service workout this Spring as huge amounts of snowfall and heavy precipitation in March bring regional flooding here in the Midwest and in other parts of the country. There is already a great deal of snow on the ground in the upper Midwest and Spring flooding is a near-certainty.

And my last big prediction:

We will be ready to deliver an exciting new year of Handiham services beginning on Monday, 3 January 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Handiham World for 22 December 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

As we cruise into the final weeks of the year, we need to remind our readers & listeners that we survive only because of your generosity. Non-profit programs like Handihams look for a significant part of our support at year's end. I hope you will take a few minutes to find the return envelope in your Handiham World print edition and help us out with anything you can. If you don't have an envelope, you can call Nancy at 1-866-426-3442 to donate by credit card, or choose the donate online option at Courage Center's website. The instructions on how to designate your gift specifically to the Handiham program or donate by mail are in your weekly e-letter and on the Handiham website.

Thank you for your support!

Ah, yes. Computers. We love them and we hate them. The ham shack computer is so full of promise; it can do logging, rig control, callsign look up, digital modes, QSL cards, EchoLink, remote base operation, and then switch gears and become the family's web browser and email hub. It may even turn into a gaming console when it is not running the ham station.

That's when everything is working, of course. As computer users, we have all experienced the frustration of a locked-up machine, an unresponsive application, or a blue screen of death or its equivalent. You Mac and Linux users out there have had similar problems, so don't sit there smirking!

Today's topic is computers, mostly as related to ham radio, of course. We'll have a few of the usual weekly features as well.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Multitasking - How much is okay?

graphic of computer
We have all heard the term "multitasking", which seems to be in the popular media spotlight these days. When you multitask, you supposedly do several things at once. Multitasking is supposed to save time and make you more efficient. This is not always the case, as has been often-noted when people who are supposed to be paying attention to a critical task like driving a car are also trying to put on lipstick, send a text message on a cell phone, or (for that matter) find a frequency on their amateur radio transceiver. The results can be disastrous!

On the other hand, sometimes multitasking makes sense. When I am out taking a brisk walk in the park for my daily exercise, I can also take the dog along so that he gets his walk. In addition, I can take along an iPod and listen to the ARRL Audio News and Amateur Radio NEWSLINE. This kind of multitasking works well because the resources demanded for each task do not overlap too much. For example, I don't need to use a lot of brain power to put one foot in front of the other while taking a walk in the park. Instead, that brain power can be used to think about what I am hearing about amateur radio news on the iPod. Occasionally, the dog will need to stop and a small amount of brainpower will be redirected to that interruption. The important thing to remember about multitasking is that each task will require specific resources. Sometimes the resources needed for one task will be the same ones needed for a second task, so it will be necessary to use the resources first for task one then for task two, perhaps switching back and forth between the two different tasks as a way of sharing resources.

Computers work the same way. In a single-processor computer, even though you may be performing multiple tasks, the processor is really only doing one thing at a time. Sharing the resource of processor power can be done by switching between tasks rapidly so that it seems as if the computer really is multitasking. Some computers have multiple core processors, which allows them to run parallel processes for true multitasking. What I am getting to with this talk about multitasking is that it is possible for us to ask too much of our personal computers. You may have found out (as I have) that some software programs simply don't play well with others. You may find yourself having to close one software program before you can use another one. Hardware resources in any single computer are limited as well. If you are using your personal computer for rig control, you are probably tying up a serial port. If you are using your computer for EchoLink operation, you are tying up soundcard resources. You may find it difficult to switch between EchoLink operation and voice dictation using the same soundcard. After using one sound-enabled application, you may find out that the level settings for the next sound application you want to use are completely off base, requiring you to make a trip to the Windows mixer to reset everything. If the ham shack computer is also the family computer, you may run into the problem of who gets to use the computer when you want to get on the air.

The personal computer is really good at multitasking, but there may come a time when you have to decide to set up a dedicated ham shack machine. The advantages are many and include not having to draw straws to see who gets the computer during the big contest weekend, having only ham radio related software that you really need installed on the ham shack machine, and the ability to dedicate hardware settings and connections to ham radio rig control and VoIP applications like EchoLink. You can even set your web browser settings so that frequently used ham radio websites come up right away in tabs. There is also great advantage in returning to the ham shack, sitting down, and finding the computer in more or less the same state that you left it in the last time you used it. Yes, you are still asking the ham shack computer to be a multitasker of sorts but instead of having to do everything that the entire family might demand of it, your ham shack computer can now do targeted multitasking related to amateur radio use and applications. With the price of personal computers falling, it seems reasonable to go the route of a dedicated computer for your ham radio hobby.

"That is all well and good", you say, "but even my ham shack computer doesn't seem to have enough hardware resources like sound card inputs to handle all of the different amateur radio applications."

Ah, yes. That is a common complaint. These days it is not unusual for the ham shack computer to be used in digital modes operation, EchoLink, and remote base operation using Skype. How are all of these sound applications supposed to work on a single machine?

One solution is to add USB sound devices. Each USB sound device functions independently from the computer's internal sound card circuitry. For example, if you use the computer's existing sound card for PSK-31 operation, you may find it more convenient to have a USB headset microphone for use with EchoLink. Since each functions independently, the mixer settings should remain at their proper settings once set up for each application. You can buy USB headsets for as little as $30 on sale, and you can get a pretty good one any time for under $60. The time saved in not having to fiddle around with mixer settings or plug and unplug cables into the soundcard every time you change modes of operation on your ham shack computer is well worth the small expense and effort to get a USB headset installed. Incidentally, if you have a need for a second USB sound system, whether it is a desk microphone, a webcam with USB microphone, or a second USB headset, you can generally simply plug it in to a second USB port and set it up for still another application. This would enable you to have separate sound systems for PSK-31, EchoLink, and Skype. If you are going to ask the computer to multitask on sound operations, this is a great way to cut down on potential conflicts and save yourself a lot of time and grief.

Before we leave the subject of multitasking, I want to share a tip for our readers and listeners who drive a car and operate a mobile ham radio station. All I have in my car is a 2 m mobile rig, but it has a huge potential to distract me from my main task, which should be paying attention to my driving. I find that I can talk on the radio all right while driving and of course everyone understands if you tell them that you need to pay attention to your driving while at a busy intersection or if traffic and weather conditions are deteriorating. The main distraction with mobile operation involves changing channels on the 2 m radio and taking your eyes off the road. I have solved this problem by setting up the radio's memory channels so that I can navigate through them without taking my eyes off the road. One trick familiar to many blind Handiham members who can operate just about any 2 m radio with memories is to set up the local National Weather Service in channel space one. Since the National Weather Service is always on the air, you can just twist the memory channel knob until you find their broadcast and then click the tuning knob clockwise or counterclockwise a given number of clicks, counting clicks to the channel you want to use. Even if there is nothing on that repeater channel, by counting clicks from the known National Weather Service channel you now are assured that you are on the correct repeater. Another thing I figured out was to set up repeaters in memory slots that track logically by geography. For example, I start with my local repeater, then I travel west on the interstate and soon find that I need to switch to a second repeater and then finally a third repeater as I continue going west. On my radio, the local repeater can be found before I even leave the driveway. After that, I have the radio set up so that one counterclockwise click of the memory channel knob takes me to the next repeater to the west. Another counterclockwise click takes me to the third repeater, again as I proceed in a westbound direction. On the return trip I reversed the process and my memory channel clicks take me clockwise as I drive to the east. Sometimes these simple solutions in setting up our radios can minimize dangerous multitasking while driving.

I don't want to say that multitasking is always good or always bad. We all multitask to some extent, and we ask our ham shack computers to do it all the time. The trick is to think things through and plan to set up your station and your equipment so that multitasking works for you! (Read more on the Handiham dot org website.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Handiham World for 15 December 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat, WA0TDA looks at his Yaesu VX5R manual.

Last week we asked: How do you use equipment manuals, and what can be done to make learning about a radio easier? Let me know so that we can figure out where to go with this next new frontier.

As you might expect, we got some interesting and insightful responses. I will condense the main ideas down to just two different methods of making a manual accessible.

  1. A popular suggestion was to create the manual in HTML with links from topics listed in the contents directly to the relevant section of the manual. So, for example, if you wanted to read about how to set a memory channel, you would find "setting memory channels" in the contents, then follow that link directly to the part of the manual main text that has the instruction on setting memories. One example of why HTML is good was sent by Gerry, WB6IVF. He said: " I think that HTML is the best because you can create links that are accessible by the tab key, and you can use the arrows to move with in a line and spell something or transcribe something to Braille character by character. So in other words, if a document looked to a blind person like a web page, I think we would find it easy to get around. Daisy is good, but it isn't easy for everyone to use yet."

    Another writer favored HTML, but added that a special description of the front and rear panels of the radio should be written so that blind readers would not have to ask someone sighted to map out the location of controls for them from the print diagrams.
  2. Some of you have Kurzweil scanners and are able to scan the print manual, or alternatively to download the manual from a company website and use the embedded text in the PDF version. Getting the information into the linear system used by screenreaders is still somewhat problematic as some items like sidebars and captions can get out of context. However, the availability of embedded text PDF manuals is still a great advancement from the paper-only days! A description of the panels is still needed, however.

I was surprised at this request for HTML functionality, but it really does make a lot of sense. While DAISY does provide for at least a similar way to navigate through a book, it is still a learning process that is new to many users. DAISY is built upon XML, and as such is similar to web-based documents. The question in coming months and perhaps years is whether the standard for DAISY will be so well-accepted that it will be preferable to website-like manuals designed in plain old HTML. We could try converting a text to HTML and give it a test run, but the question will then be what to do with users who do not have computers but who have the government-issued NLS DAISY players.

Time will tell, of course. I am going to put on my prognosticator's hat and predict that cassette tapes will really take a hit in 2011. I've always hated the way it's so hard to find a particular part of an audio instruction manual in a tape. Another problem was the way adequate control layouts were not always added by the volunteers who read the manuals. This year Sony discontinued the venerable Walkman portable cassette player, and of course the National Library Service discontinued support for the old 4-track production system. RFB&D also moved forward, leaving cassette tapes behind. At Handihams, we still get a few requests for tapes, but in 2011 these will all be "special order", as they are no longer in stock and have to be produced on an as-needed basis.

The new methods of producing manuals will be HTML and DAISY. We hope that these can be augmented with users teaching via audio how to find one's way around the radio and adjust the settings, as well as to use the radio's basic functions. Actual users with experience doing these "quick start" guides can really be helpful, not as a substitute for the manuals, but as an added reference.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Handiham World for 08 December 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

How do you learn to operate a new radio? Or look up something about a radio you've already owned for years?

Pat, WA0TDA looks at his Yaesu VX5R manual.

One of the most popular services that the Handiham System used to offer was audio tape versions of equipment manuals on cassette tape. We have a few of the old manuals still available in that aging format, but let's face it - most people would rather forget how awful finding anything in an audio tape reference book can be. Sometimes the manuals were long, and that meant multiple tapes. Which one had the part about setting the memories? And even then, which track would it be on?

We now take the approach of recruiting a blind user who can teach the radio from a blind perspective. An audio file (or series of files) can be a lot more helpful to another blind user, since learning from a blind teacher pretty much eliminates all the usual dumb mistakes sighted people like me make when we are trying to get a point across.

Thankfully, the radio manufacturers are making equipment support documents like instruction manuals available in accessible PDF via website downloads. The accessible PDF isn't perfect, but it does contain embedded text that can be searched. This puts the blind (or sighted) operator in the driver's seat when it comes to finding the part of the manual that one wants.

The next frontier is to figure out how to make these manuals into a somewhat easier to navigate DAISY format. As we contemplate what our blind and sighted Handiham members really want, I thought it would make the most sense to simply ask:

So here's my question to you: How do you use equipment manuals, and what can be done to make learning about a radio easier? Let me know so that we can figure out where to go with this next new frontier.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Handiham World for 01 December 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

View of IC-7200 and other gear on the WA0TDA operating deskYes, this morning's web cam photo reveals that the WA0TDA ham shack is still not as tidy as it might be.

The magazines on the left are ones I use for researching equipment and recording for our blind members, the IC-7200 is in the center and an LDG AT-200PRO tuner sits on top of the rig and takes care of touching up the SWR on the Windom and vertical antennas. Mounted below the cabinet to the left of the Icom is a Yaesu FT-2800M, a 2 meter radio that's just plain reliable and easy to use. If you have sharp eyes, you might be able to make out the NHK World coffee mug my son Will, KC0LJL, brought back from Tokyo for me. The IC-706M2G is out of sight below the edge of the desk. Tidying up the ham shack is always something that needs doing, but is generally scheduled for "tomorrow". Now that the new year is so close, I can make it a new year's resolution. That's called creative procrastination!

December already.

It hardly seems possible that we are nearly at the end of 2010. When I think back on all of the things I had planned to do this year, it seems that many of them are still on the "to do" list, especially the work I knew needed to be done to bring my ham shack up to par. The one big thing I did manage was acquiring and installing the new ICOM IC-7200 transceiver, a vast improvement over my aging and cranky Yaesu FT-747GX. The main ham shack computer was also replaced and both ham shack computers were outfitted with Windows 7, bringing much-needed updates to the operating systems. Left undone were all but the most essential antenna maintenance, and this leaves me with antennas that really should be upgraded or replaced altogether. Well, it's 15°F with a stiff wind and snow out there in the backyard right now, so the chances of getting the motivation to do antenna work seem pretty slim. I miss having my EchoLink node operational, but have simply not had the time to set it up and put it on the air. The node had been working just fine, but when I replaced the ham shack computer that ran the node, I ran into some configuration problems with the new machine and with many other things clamoring for my attention, the node simply had to go silent. On the positive side I was able to configure Ham Radio Deluxe to control two rigs at the same time to simplify logging. Now that I have written all of this stuff down, maybe I didn't do so badly this year after all.

Meanwhile, back at the office...

Scissors cutting a dollar bill - budget cuttingHandiham World Screenshot

2010 has been a challenging year economically for nonprofit programs like ours. Still, when I think back to what we accomplished during 2010, we managed pretty well. We completed the office move to Camp Courage, which was no small accomplishment. Thanks to help from volunteers, we were able to get an excellent wire antenna strung up so that remote base station W0ZSW could be on the air from Camp Courage. Remote base station W0EQO was maintained in working order throughout the year and remains an excellent resource at Courage North. We managed to run a successful Minnesota Radio Camp at Camp Courage, the first radio camp in many years to return to that location after a long run of successful sessions at Courage North. We maintained and even expanded the online audio offerings available to our members any time from the Handiham website. Again, thanks to volunteer assistance, we were able to maintain the audio cassette tape availability to our members who still do not have access to computers. We were able to publish the Handiham World Weekly E-Letter all year long with very few interruptions in all of its various formats including the weekly podcast. A summer print edition of Handiham World with a giving envelope was also published and distributed.

In your mailbox soon...

Now, as we approach the end of the year, a new print edition of Handiham World will soon be arriving in your mailbox. It has Handiham news, but it also contains that all-important giving envelope. Please consider using the giving envelope to send your tax-deductible gift in support of the Handiham System again this year. As I said, it has been a challenging year for nonprofits. Our parent organization, Courage Center, has worked hard to be as efficient as possible, and all of us have had to work very hard to provide a high standard of service. That includes the Handiham program, which has seen its share of belt-tightening over the past year. If you support what we do it really is critical to step up to the plate at this time of year and use that giving envelope.

We really appreciate it, and thank all of our members, volunteers, and supporters.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Handiham World for 24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pat, WA0TDA, holding microphone, superimposed on screenshot of W0EQO Internet remote control interface

Don't forget that the Handiham Internet remote base stations are available for members to use throughout the upcoming holiday week.

The Handiham office will be closed Thursday, November 25, and Friday, November 26 for an extended Thanksgiving holiday. We will reopen on Monday, November 29. Wednesday, November 24 we close early.

Even though this is a holiday week, the Handiham nets will go on as usual at their regularly-scheduled times. If a net control station is not available, we will have a roundtable conversation on the frequency. Sometimes I think that there is even more amateur radio activity on holidays, simply because those folks who might ordinarily be at work will instead have an opportunity to head for the ham shack and get on the air. Of course if you have guests at your home, you need to be polite and see to their needs first. Hey, maybe they would like to see your radio equipment and learn about amateur radio!

Earlier this week I spoke with a Handiham member who was asking if we still have a 20 m net. Well, the 20 m net is listed on many websites as still being active, but it has really fallen out of use during the lengthy sunspot minimum. Now that we are coming into a period of higher solar activity, we will start the 20 m net again. The net time is Monday morning at 9:30 AM United States Central Standard Time. Our net always stands down if the Salvation Army Net is on the frequency. The 20 m frequency is 14.265 MHz. Please join us on Monday morning and let's see if there is interest in continuing this net or if we should take a look at a different time and frequency. To summarize:

Things to remember about the Handiham 20 meter net:

We meet on 14.265 MHz SSB Net time is Monday at 9:30 AM Central Standard Time Net control station needed; volunteers welcome! Everyone is welcome – you don't need to be Handiham Radio Club member. We always stand down for the Salvation Army Net if they happen to be on the frequency.

I have to admit that I am not all that thrilled with a Monday morning net on 20 m. The band is probably not going to be open to the West Coast all that well, and in the early days when the net time and frequency was originally chosen, it was truly the bad old days for people with disabilities and they were usually stuck at home during the day without jobs. Today is different and many people with disabilities, including Handiham members, have regular employment and are thus not available for a daytime net. Nonetheless, we will soldier on and try the daytime net again and see what happens. In the for-what-it's-worth department, the daytime EchoLink net does actually offer the possibility of people to check in via computer from their place of employment, hopefully during break time! So I do think that we have daytime activity covered pretty well. It is still the evening 75 m net that needs testing, and we will begin doing that tonight at 8 PM, just one half hour after the Wednesday evening EchoLink net begins. That will give the EchoLink net control station a chance to announce that the 75 m net will be starting at 8 PM United States Central Standard Time. Let's plan to be on 3.715 MHz, plus or minus QRM. I do need to remind you that this frequency is in the Advanced Class portion of the 75 m band. You must have at least an Advanced Class license to transmit on 3.715 MHz, although anyone, licensed or not, is free to listen on that frequency. As we go ahead and develop this net, we can always change the times and frequencies if that should prove necessary. If there is no net control station available at any given net time, we can just have a friendly roundtable on the frequency. Please feel free to use the Internet remote base stations to check in or to listen, especially if skip conditions for your part of the country (or world) do not favor 75 m. Remember that the EchoLink feature is available for listening.

I'm not going to make any promises about when I will be able to participate in nets this week, although I'm certainly going to try to get on the air as much as I can. We are going to have a house full of guests that will include extended family, and my son Will, KC0LJL, is driving back home from university with three Japanese exchange students who will stay with us over the extended Thanksgiving holiday. You can bet that it's going to be pretty busy around my QTH, but you never know when you might be able to introduce a new person to amateur radio, especially if they can get on the air and talk to someone from their home country!

So, from the staff, volunteers, members, and supporters of the Handihams, we wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and we hope to hear you on the air!

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Handiham World for 17 November 2010

Dr. Tom Linde, KZ0T, Silent Key

Dr. Tom Linde, KZ0T, laughs at a joke while volunteering at Handiham Radio Camp in California.

Dr. Tom Linde, KZ0T, long time Handiham member and volunteer, became a silent key on Monday 15 November 2010 at 1:30 AM. Tom died peacefully in his sleep at home with family members at his side.

As you might expect, Tom and I met each other through amateur radio. I'm not sure when Tom was first licensed, but his accomplishments in amateur radio were pretty amazing and included working all states on 6 meters, something I haven't done and many of us will never do in our entire amateur radio careers. Yet Tom, whose speech was compromised by his disability, managed to train himself to speak the necessary amateur radio jargon and call signs clearly so that he could accomplish this feat. He made use of Morse code and always enjoyed the competitive and also the social aspects of amateur radio. When I started with the Handiham staff at Courage Center in 1992, it wasn't long before Sister Alverna O'Laughlin, WA0SGJ, told me about "Dr. Tom". He had been in Handihams since the late 1970s, and had made a name for himself on the amateur radio bands.

When I first met Dr. Tom, I had to listen up when he spoke. His CP made it difficult for him to form the words clearly, but he was never offended if I asked him to repeat something or say it in a different way so that I would understand. His accomplishments outside amateur radio included earning his PhD in psychology and having a full working life as a professional psychologist. Family was always important to Tom, and he raised his family in the heartland of Iowa with his wife Ann, who preceded him in death nine years ago.

I quickly learned from Tom that he was interested in helping others through the Handiham program. As a volunteer, he assisted at our radio camp sessions, teaching in operating skills so that he could share his experience with other Handiham members who had disabilities. He was also pretty darned good at inspiring those Handiham members who had trouble dealing with their disabilities. After all, as a psychologist he had heard every excuse in the book why the glass was half empty instead of half full, and he knew better from his own life experience. It was hard to complain that you couldn't do something when Dr. Tom showed you by example that it could indeed be done and that even a severe disability would not stop you from reaching your goals.

Dr. Tom taught at a number of radio camps in both California and Minnesota. He joined the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association where he made many friends, and was active on the air, even trying new things like wheelchair mobile HF operation.

One of the most interesting things I have ever seen was not actually part of amateur radio at all. It was when Dr. Tom conducted the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra. Lyle Koehler, K0LR, built a robotic conducting system so that the members of the orchestra could see and follow flashing lights as Dr. Tom directed them. Tom was truly a renaissance man who loved music and art and would frequently catch you off guard with his wry and cerebral sense of humor. He published a book about his life that will carry on inspiring others to overcome their disabilities and accomplish their goals. "I Am Not What I Am: A Psychologist's Memoir: Notes On Controlling and Managing Personal Misfortune" is available through in print and in spoken word audio from the Handiham system for our blind members. The ISBN-13 designation is: 978-1420867633. I strongly recommend this inspiring book.

His son Peter, N0EDI, in a touching tribute, remembers his father in his 80 years of life as all of these things:

A Son,
A Brother,
A Husband,
A Father,
A Grandfather,
A Student,
An Extra Class Ham Radio Operator,
A Ph.D. Psychologist,
A Published Author,
An Artist,
A Music Lover,
A Guest Conductor of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra,
A Traveler,
A Teacher,
A man who pushed the boundaries of CP farther than anyone thought possible,
Ultimately, he was My Dad, without whom I would not be the person I am today.

Memorial services are currently being planned for Rapid City, SD and Sheboygan, WI. Tom, a generous spirit giving even in death, requested that his body be donated to help medical science. There will be a headstone in Knoxville, IA, next to his Wife (Ann) and youngest son (Matt), who preceded him in death.

We will miss the kind wisdom and positive outlook that KZ0T brought to Handihams and to the airwaves. I count myself privileged to have been his friend.

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham System Manager

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Handiham World for 10 November 2010

Welcome once again to my humble QTH:


Avery visits Handiham HQ in October & uses the station.

To many of my friends, retirement means being more active than ever and being involved in more things than while they were in the work force. Some of my other friends just sit around all day with nothing to do except watch TV, listen to the radio, or read. For me it has been a little of both. I am hunting for another job just for something to do to keep active with people on a more daily basis. Also, I have been meeting with several of the people I went to high school and grade school with so very long ago. We are planning a 70 year, weeklong, Birthday Bash because we will all turn 70 at the same time, plus or minus a couple months. Many will be flying in from all over the world. Once a month we have a lunch for those who happen to be in town at that time.

Because of my interest in Amateur Radio Since 1956, when I first became licensed, I have never been lacking any friends and have always had something to keep my interest. There is always new technology to keep up with. In fact, I have attended several local ham radio events and do a considerable amount of listening both on and off the ham bands. I also check out many of the ham radio web sites to see what is new and what various clubs are doing. Of course I have been checking out the Handiham web pages too. I have been out to the new offices and visited with Pat and Nancy a few times too. Pat & I have worked on a couple Handiham projects as well.

Which brings me to this: Although my rigs consist of a Yaesu FT-100 & VX7R , a Kenwood TS-50 with the automatic antenna tuner, an Icom IC-T7H HT, I also have and use a couple of HT scanners , a Bearcat R4020 and a Radio Shack Pro-96, which I use to listen to many things both on and off the ham bands. They scan pretty fast so I do not miss very much and I catch most of the VHF/UHF nets and things going on. Many times I am listening to the Handiham net on the scanner and go to jump in only to notice that there is no push to talk switch on the scanner.

One subject of interest to me is the question of a 75/80 meter Handiham net and where on the band to have it.

My suggestion was, half kidding, to have a slow speed Handiham CW net on 75 meters.

How about it? What do you think?

I would volunteer to be ONE of the net controls if we have some others that would help.

I know, I know... The requirement for CW has been dropped. But here is the funny thing about that. More and more people are learning the code just for the fun of it. And, some people cheat using computers to translate the code so they don't even need to know it. If you think about it, there is plenty of room in the CW part of the band for a net and the range would be greater using CW than on SSB so people from outer areas would have a better chance of checking in.

And, Yes! I know Handihams has a Slow Speed CW net on 7112 Friday Mornings. However Paul, the net control, is on the East Coast and as many times as I have tried to check in from Minnesota no one has heard me. Another slow speed Handiham CW net for those of us on "THIS" side of the Appalachian Mountains might be what is needed.

What do you think? Please send your ideas , suggestions, wishes to be a volunteer CW net control, etc. to Pat at and he will pass on the information to me.

So, until next time...

73 es DX de K0HLA Avery

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Handiham World for 03 November 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

In this edition:

  • Still waiting for frequencies!

  • Plain text frequency chart updated

  • Split Rock on the air event

  • Dip in the pool

  • Operating skills: How to use beacons

  • November events released

  • Live ham radio broadcast from starts this morning!

  • Remote base progress report

  • Video feed of Mars Rover being outfitted

  • Phone number for this podcast - call & listen if you don't have access to a computer.

  • This week at HQ

No feedback as to frequency for new 75 meter net

FT-718 rig

Hello, anyone out there? I'm still waiting for your feedback on frequencies you have listened on during the continuing search for a place to park our new 75 meter net. If you could get back to me with your suggestions for a clear frequency anywhere in the Extra, Advanced, or General portions of the band, I would really appreciate it. Our first choice would be a clear General frequency if possible, but if one is not available in the evening, which is when we will have the net, then we will go with an Advanced or Extra frequency. The 75 meter band DX window will not be used. It is 3.790-3.800 MHz. The AM calling frequency of 3.885 MHz is also reserved as is the SSTV frequency 3.845 MHz.

Please e-mail me this week with your frequency and time suggestions, frequency reports, and other suggestions about the net.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Handiham World for 27 October 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

In this edition:

  • New net will be on 75 m

  • Band plan isn't the same as frequency chart

  • Dip in the pool

  • NASA internships available for students with disabilities

  • Launch date set for Discovery mission

  • Putting in a speech module proves to be quite a chore

  • K1RFD puts in a guest appearance on TIPSnet

  • This week at HQ

It's time for a new HF net - Part 3

FT-718 rig

Two weeks ago we said : We need at least consider moving our HF net to 160, 75, or 40 meters, and those bands are likely to be most useful in the evening. Because 160 requires a very long antenna, it is impractical for many users. 40 can get crowded, but requires the shortest antenna of the three. Of course we can consider reviving our 17 meter "non-net roundtable", which was originally started by Alan, K2WS, but the sun will have to spit out a few more spots for that band to get where it needs to be. So what do you think? 160? 75? 40? Or something else? And what about the time and day?

Decision time is here! we really need to get moving on this new net, and the consensus seems to be building around 75 m as the best band. Therefore, we will proceed to the next step, which is choosing a net frequency. Most of the responses I have gotten indicate that users would prefer a frequency in the Extra or Advanced class portions of the phone band. We were reminded by one respondent about the "DX window" in the ARRL band plan, which is 3.790 to 3.800 MHz. The Extra portion of the band runs from 3.600 to 3.700 MHz. The Advanced portion runs from 3.700 to 3.800 MHz. The General portion runs from 3.800 MHz to the top of the band at 4.000 MHz. All General frequencies are available to Advanced and Extra licensees, of course.

So the next step is to start listening in the evening for clear frequencies. Please report the frequency and the time you listened along with the day of the week so that we can pick a mostly clear spot for a regular weekly net. By the way, the net does not have to be weekly – it could be daily, a couple of times a week, or whatever Handiham Radio Club members think is appropriate and reasonable. Send your reports to me over the coming week so that we can move on to the next step and get the word out about our new 75 m net.

By the way, there are no plans to make this a formal traffic net or anything like that. While I wouldn't rule out the possibility of handling traffic, I think it would be fun to just have a nice social net on HF during the long winter evenings. As with the daily EchoLink net, we could enlist net control stations or simply have a more or less uncontrolled roundtable gathering. Maybe we will have some of both, depending on who shows up to join in the fun!

Please e-mail me this week with your frequency and time suggestions, frequency reports, and other suggestions about the net.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Handiham World for 20 October 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

It's time for a new HF net - Part 2

FT-718 rig

Last week we said : We need at least consider moving our HF net to 160, 75, or 40 meters, and those bands are likely to be most useful in the evening. Because 160 requires a very long antenna, it is impractical for many users. 40 can get crowded, but requires the shortest antenna of the three. Of course we can consider reviving our 17 meter "non-net roundtable", which was originally started by Alan, K2WS, but the sun will have to spit out a few more spots for that band to get where it needs to be. So what do you think? 160? 75? 40? Or something else? And what about the time and day?

Interestingly enough, the 75 meter band seems to be favored so far. More than one respondent has suggested that we would have the best chance of success in the Extra Class segment of the band. The reason cited was that the General segment is crowded in the evening when the band is open to longer distance communications and thus most useful for our purposes.

I think we can agree that the 160 meter band is "out" because of the antenna requirements. 40 is a good alternative because of its propagation characteristics, but the phone portion of the band is less than half that available on 75 meters and there is no doubt that it will be difficult to find some open real estate for an evening net. Besides, we already have the CW net on 7.112 MHz.

So what do you think? A 75 meter net in the evening to be in the Extra portion of the band? Remember, only participants with Extra Class licenses would be able to transmit, but anyone could listen. We could initiate a "check in by email", or some similar system, which I have heard on other nets, to accommodate those without transmit privileges. Another idea would be to have the Handiham Radio Club as the net sponsor. We do need regular HRC activities, aside from a single meeting at Radio Camp during the year.

Weigh in! I hope to hear from you about these suggestions soon. Please drop me an email, and I'll share your thoughts with our readers and listeners.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

QST Reviews Wouxun KG-UVD2 & KG-UVD1P Talking Handheld Radios

Wouxun KG-UV2D handheld radio available from

The Wouxun KG-UVD1 talking HT created quite a stir at Hamvention in May, both for its low price and for its built-in speech access for the blind. As I stated in a previous story, "Handiham volunteers Larry Huggins, KA0LSG, and Ken Silberman, KB3LLA, both found the new Wouxun 2m/70cm KG-UVD1P HT at Dayton, and Larry actually had his radio along to demonstrate to us at Handiham Radio Camp."

We have had many questions about this radio, but details on its overall quality and functionality were mostly anecdotal. That has changed with a QST review of the latest versions of the KG-UVD2 & KG-UVD1P talking handheld radios by Bob Allison, WB1GCM, ARRL Test Engineer. Bob's article appears in the November 2010 QST, which will be available to blind Handiham members in the upcoming Friday audio updates in the Members Only section of the Handiham website. QST is also produced in audio through the Library of Congress National Library Service and will be available for the new NLS digital players, available to those who qualify for services. The NLS version of QST is the complete magazine without advertising, but it takes some time to produce and is typically around a month later than the print mailing or Handiham digest version.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Handiham World for 13 October 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

It's time for a new HF net.

20 meter beam from our old camp location in Malibu, California

When was the last time you thought about getting on 20 m and being part of the Handiham net? Don't be embarrassed to admit that you haven't thought about it for a long time. Neither have I, as a matter of fact, so you are not alone. The 20 m net died several years ago when our last regular net control volunteer Mike Knox, WA0KKE, finally had to throw in the towel.

What happened?

Like many things in our technologically-driven existence, there was no single cause for the demise of the Handiham net. A prime suspect certainly had to be the relentless, never-ending sunspot minimum that we are trying to claw our way out of with limited success, even now in 2010 when the sun should be really perking up. As most of you know, the higher solar activity associated with more sunspots creates ionospheric conditions that favor really good high-frequency radio propagation. In a really good solar maximum, the HF bands crackle with strong DX signals and one can "work the world" with just a few watts of power on bands like 10 and 15 m. Sad to say, it has been so long since we have seen those conditions that many operators have simply drifted away from regular HF operation, especially if they did not have room for wire antennas that would allow them to tune 160 through 40 m, bands that remain usable even during solar minimum conditions.

The 20 m band sits astride the critical part of the HF spectrum that just barely remains inside the "always useful" zone. At sunspot minimum, it is generally crowded with DX seekers and anyone else simply looking for an open band with capability of working stations at some distance during daylight hours. Even then, 20 isn't always reliable when solar storms wipe out the bands. So what happened was that the conditions on 20 simply didn't favor continued scheduled net activities. The net control station would be faced with terrible band conditions and fewer and fewer check-ins. In spite of my efforts to find another net control station, no one was interested, and I guess I don't blame them. Who wants to preside over a net with no stations checking in?

But we can't ignore other factors that came into play during the deterioration of the HF bands during the sunspot minimum. The rise of the Internet followed by the spread of broadband connectivity made EchoLink much more practical and reliable than HF communications. The VHF and UHF repeater systems with EchoLink capability came into their own as HF activity deteriorated. More and more people made the move to EchoLink. The Internet is also a huge factor in siphoning away people from ham radio - and most other leisure time activities. It's not that the Internet is good or bad per se, it's just that people only have so much time for all of the competing leisure time activities, and ham radio is simply finding a new "normal" in this very different world.

Another factor is that a daytime 20 m HF net is simply too hard to conduct when more and more people with disabilities are going to school and work, instead of the "bad old days" situation in which people with disabilities simply sat around housebound. We are glad that those days are gone, but Handiham members who work and go to school cannot be expected to have the time to check into a daytime net on any regular basis. You simply can't count on enough folks having a day off from work or a school holiday to keep a critical mass of net participants.

So what to do?

I would suggest a change in net frequency and timing. We need at least consider moving our HF net to 160, 75, or 40 meters, and those bands are likely to be most useful in the evening. Because 160 requires a very long antenna, it is impractical for many users. 40 can get crowded, but requires the shortest antenna of the three. Of course we can consider reviving our 17 meter "non-net roundtable", which was originally started by Alan, K2WS, but the sun will have to spit out a few more spots for that band to get where it needs to be. So what do you think? 160? 75? 40? Or something else? And what about the time and day?

I hope to hear from you about this suggestion soon. Please drop me an email, and I'll share your thoughts with our readers and listeners.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

New at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair: Wouxun KG-UV920R

Wouxun KG-UV920R dual band mobile radio

The Hong Kong Electronics Fair opened today, October 13, and runs through October 16.

Amateur radio is about to be introduced to a brand-new entry in the mobile dual-band radio category, the Wouxun KG-UV920R. Although at this time we have little in the way of product specs, the Wouxun dual-band handheld radio that was demonstrated at Handiham Radio Camp early this year created quite a lot of interest because of its built-in speech frequency readout for blind users. The KG-UV920R features dual-frequency display and cross-band repeater capability. It comes with more than a thousand memory channels. It also includes an unusual receiver that covers the short-wave bands! We are waiting for a more detailed specification document so that we can tell if speech frequency readout will be a feature - and we sure hope that it is! At this time, no pricing is available.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Handiham World for 06 October 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

John, N0BFJ, has handled the VE paperwork at many radio camps.
Photo: John Hoenshell, N0BFJ, enjoys being a VE and handles the paperwork at radio camp sessions and also volunteers during VE sessions at Dayton HAMVENTION. He believes that team members with disabilities can participate in a successful session.

Can a VE session be more than just a process of overseeing test takers in a room and handling their FCC paperwork?

This morning I had a different, but VE-related, question from one of our blind members. She was asking how she might participate in a VE session if she became a volunteer examiner. She mused that being a VE sounded interesting and that she would like to participate, but she wondered if it would be practical since she couldn't see a room full of test takers. Since this topic comes up from time to time, I thought I'd take another look at what a VE session is about. While I am by no means an "expert" VE by experience, I can relate to testing in general - I was trained as a teacher, after all - and I have observed people with disabilities for decades. I have been present at many VE sessions over the years, especially at Handiham radio camps, but have only relatively recently become a VE myself.

I got to thinking about the very best VE sessions I had observed. What made them stand out from the others? It was more than the success of the candidates, though that always helps. It was more than the team arriving prepared and being able to process the paperwork efficiently, too. It was more than promoting the session and arranging a good location, though those things were important.

But what was it?

Well, let's discuss the typical VE session a bit.

Our blind Handiham member is right in assuming that a blind VE cannot observe a room full of test takers as a sighted person might do during a VE session. That does not mean that a blind VE cannot participate. At our radio camp VE sessions, I suggest that blind VE team members sit at the tables where the exam is being read by volunteer readers to blind test takers. This assures that the exam is being proctored so that all rules are followed. A sighted VE simply looking at a room of test takers cannot know what is being said at each table in this kind of an adapted test session. Blind VE team members understand how tests are given to blind candidates and are potentially better at this kind of observation than anyone else.

The paperwork table is probably one place a blind VE would not be as useful. In every VE session, the team leader should try to match skills & capabilities with the tasks at hand. If there are no blind test takers to proctor, a blind VE might instead be part of the meet & greet team, setting candidates at their ease and answering the usual questions about what to expect during the testing, any rules of conduct (no smoking, quiet please, bring test to table at the side of the room when finished, etc.) As testing progresses and candidates start to turn their exams in for grading, a blind VE can then be stationed outside the testing room to answer questions that candidates might have. Typical information requested ranges from when they can use their new privileges if they pass an element upgrade to the location of the rest rooms.

Another job that every VE team has is communicating test results to the waiting candidates. There is no reason a blind VE cannot help with this job - and a savvy VE team leader will know who is best-suited for the hardest job - the delivery of the bad news. If a blind VE can handle telling a candidate that they didn't pass but can do so in such a way as to help that person accept the news in a positive way, the entire VE team will be grateful! You don't have to see to help candidates, successful or not, learn more about your ham radio club. Post-testing is a great time to talk with candidates and invite them to club and ARRL membership, and yes, even Handiham membership if they have a disability.

For the excited new Technicians and Generals, you might start a conversation about which radios are best, pointing out the availability of the club's repeater system or the best ways to check out the the HF bands during the improving sunspot cycle.

In the end, a successful VE session is one that provides an opportunity for the candidates not only to pass their exams, but to leave the test site with the information and enthusiasm that will carry over to participation in the club and regional activities as well as getting on the air! When you look at a VE session as more than just three team members overseeing a room of test takers, you can easily find places for blind VE team members to be a part of this most rewarding of volunteer activities.

I hope to hear you on the air soon.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

cartoon hippo in a pool of water

A dip in the pool

No one told you there was going to be a quiz, right? I thought it would be fun to pick a question out of the question pool and see how many of us can remember the right answer. Ready? Here we go:


What type of semiconductor material contains more free electrons than pure germanium

or silicon crystals?

A. N-type

B. P-type

C. Bipolar

D. Insulated gate

Did you pick answer A, N-Type? That's the right choice, and easy to remember if you think of "N" standing for "negative" and an excess of electrons in a material would give it an overall negative charge.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Handiham World for 29 September 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat, WA0TDA, on 1.902 MHz with IC-706

At this time of year I am always taken by surprise at how quickly the daylight hours fade every day here in the northern hemisphere. That means more hours of darkness and more HF radio fun in the evenings, as we mentioned last week when we extolled the virtues of 160, 80, and 40 m for long-distance communications. Things are also looking up in the daytime communications department, because my Windows sidebar gadget, "Full Sun 2.1" by John Stephen, shows me the face of the sun becoming more regularly dotted with sunspots. More sunspot activity means that the shorter wavelength HF bands like 10 and 15 meters will soon become much more reliable for very long distance daytime contacts.

If you have a Technician Class license, now is the time to consider an upgrade to General Class so that you can really use and appreciate all of these HF bands at a time when conditions favor some really great operating.

What makes me think about this upgrade business today of all days, when I am busy with your weekly E-letter and podcast is that tonight I will be teaching a two hour General Class course on rules and regulations. The course is open to anyone, but of course Technician Class license holders would probably be the most interested since they have already completed their first license and are familiar with ham radio terminology and operations, at least on the VHF and UHF bands. While some HF frequencies are open to Technician Class licensees, pretty much everyone realizes that an upgrade to General is a necessity if one is really going to enjoy shortwave operation.

One advantage that I feel that I have in teaching rules and regulations is that those who have passed the Technician are already familiar with the fact that we are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission and that the section of the rules governing the Amateur Radio Service are called Part 97. Anyone with a license should already know about frequency charts and about how the various levels of license allow for operation in different band segments. Everyone is already familiar with the fact that transmit power levels are regulated and that examinations are given by a VE team. Starting with this foundation of basic knowledge makes the General Class study regimen that much easier. I always start out the course by assuring my students that the examination for General Class will be 35 multiple-choice questions without any Morse code testing. Yes, I know that the code requirement has been gone for quite awhile now, but I still encounter students who either don't quite believe it or simply haven't gotten the news. One thing I have learned over years and years of teaching is that one cannot assume that the students know all of these basics on the first day of class!

Although I am very familiar with teaching into a microphone for our blind Handiham students, these courses taught in front of a class of students from the general public will only occasionally have a blind participant. This is going to sound a little bit odd, but I have to remind myself that I will now be expected to provide some visual learning cues as I speak and answer questions. For a traditional teacher of amateur radio at a typical radio club course the situation is reversed and that teacher may have considerable difficulty working with blind students. It all serves to remind me that the first time I meet my students I am going to have to assess them to find out how they learn and be flexible enough to adapt my teaching style accordingly. In teaching amateur radio courses, flexibility is the key. Your students will help guide you if you are open-minded enough to listen to them – just as we always tell new operators to listen on the bands before transmitting.

When I see a classroom full of students who are interested in amateur radio, I know that they are motivated to learn. After all, amateur radio classes are completely voluntary and these people could be doing something else instead of sitting in a ham radio class. This is a tremendous advantage and opportunity for me – and you – as teachers in amateur radio. Our students want to learn. We need to make sure that we are prepared to teach by having our teaching materials and any audiovisual equipment ready to go at the beginning of class so that we can move right into the topic at hand and make sure that we use the time as efficiently as possible.

Today we have the Internet and all of its amateur radio resources as study aids for post-class reinforcement of each week's classroom topic. Since I am teaching rules and regulations and the radio club has chosen the ARRL General Class License Manual as the official study guide, I will be referring my students to the section of the ARRL website that provides further information about that particular book, including extra study material, any corrections that might need to be made in the text, and – most importantly – a question pool organized to follow the book. Not everyone knows about this special question pool, so I never assume that my students have discovered it on their own. Believe me, it makes quite a difference to be able to follow the question pool in the same order as the chapters in your textbook. I also freely recommend other amateur radio websites that might help with either studying or practice examinations.

One disadvantage of having to teach the chapter about rules and regulations is that it is not considered a "fun" topic. When one thinks about rules and regulations, it brings to mind memorizing really dull legal-sounding rules and lots of frequency limits. I won't deny that there is some of that, but your job as an instructor is to help the students learn how to learn. That might mean pulling out the US Amateur Radio Bands frequency chart and helping the students to make sense of a page full of data that might otherwise seem overwhelming. One trick is to divide the frequency bands into the ones where there are no special General Class subsections and those that do have subsections. Breaking the frequency chart down in this manner can help your students remember which bands they may get questions on regarding frequency limits. Of course there is going to be some memory work no matter what you do in the classroom to help the students organize their thinking. I tell my students in no uncertain terms that they will have to sit down and do some memorization and that they will do it as homework. My volunteer instructors at Handiham Radio Camp have told me for years that studying at home is vital to ultimately passing the examination during the VE session at camp. Fortunately most radio club classes meet weekly for 8 to 10 weeks, giving your students much more time to study at home. Just be sure that they understand what to study and help them develop good study habits.

My classes are always interactive. I don't prefer to lecture from a podium for an hour and then have a question-and-answer session. Most people learn best if their questions are answered the instant they pop into their heads. If you wait to have a question and answer session you will find that many of your students have forgotten questions that might've come up during the lecture. A better way to conduct the class will be as a discussion that can be interrupted to answer questions. Time will be a factor, so a good teacher learns to manage this kind of interactive classroom experience in order to keep the class moving along while still allowing the students to participate actively during the entire class period.

Since my class is going to be in a two hour time frame, I am going to plan for a mid-class break. Your students will be more alert if they can attend to personal needs and walk around a bit instead of having to sit for an extended period of time.

Finally, when you are wrapping up your class, your students may feel overwhelmed with all of the material that you have managed to cram into the evening's session. Once they return home and think about what they have learned, which may even take the rest of the week, they may have other questions that they wish they had asked during the class. That's why I always provide my e-mail address and invite my students to ask questions whenever they think of them. My radio club teaches classes in Technician and General, offering the first license in the spring of the year in conjunction with an emergency weather spotter course. The upgrade class to General is offered in the autumn. All of the classes are taught by a team of volunteer instructors so that no one instructor will be tasked with many classes to prepare for over the course of 8 to 10 weeks.

I hope your radio club is offering classes as well. Over the years I have received the sad news from time to time that a radio club is dissolving and distributing its assets to worthy causes like the Handiham System. While I am always glad to receive support for our program, I really hate to see an amateur radio club closing its doors. I suspect that one of the biggest factors in the demise of these clubs was the absence of an education program to teach amateur radio classes. A club without an educational program is a club that is not building a base of new amateur radio operators in their community. This is a recipe for an aging club membership that will eventually diminish to a few members and eventually the plug will be pulled on the club. Don't let that happen to your club. Volunteer to help with an education program. If you have never been an amateur radio instructor, you may want to sit in on a class taught by one of your other club members or even a neighboring radio club's class. The idea is to learn how to teach and then get out there and do it. Rest assured that your efforts will be rewarded by the new members you will bring into the amateur radio community. You will have more members in your club, and these new members will have new ideas. Eventually they will become instructors themselves and they will also serve in leadership positions and provide new club programs. They will be the ones who will take up the mantle of "Elmers" who will be able to keep amateur radio healthy and growing into the future.

I always feel honored when I am asked to teach one of our classes. I hope you will feel that way, too.

I hope to hear you on the air soon.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

cartoon hippo in a pool of water

A dip in the pool

No one told you there was going to be a quiz, right? I thought it would be fun to pick a question out of the question pool and see how many of us can remember the right answer. Ready? Here we go:

G1A01 [97.301(d)]

On which of the following bands is a General Class license holder granted all amateur

frequency privileges?

A. 20, 17, and 12 meters

B. 160, 80, 40, and 10 meters

C. 160, 30, 17, 12, and 10 meters

D. 160, 30, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meters

Do see how sneaky I can be? In my opening remarks I specifically referred to teaching my students about dividing the frequency chart into bands where General Class licensees have full privileges and bands that have frequency restrictions. Think about which one of these is the correct answer and we will provide it at the end of this newsletter and podcast.