Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Handiham World for 24 February 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Red Cross emergency communications truck at Dayton

If there is any theme that runs through publicity about amateur radio these days, it is generally one about the reliability of our communications in an emergency situation. In story after story that I see ferreted out by Google News, ham radio operators tell the press and the public about the way amateur radio operators can stay on the air to provide vital communications when cellular phones are overloaded or down altogether and other communications infrastructure has failed. The training and volunteerism of amateur radio operators are also highlights of these articles, and the very best of these stories also include some human factor - a volunteer operator who has helped the community, a team of operators who have worked in tandem with emergency personnel to provide backup communications, and sometimes even a victim who owes a debt of gratitude to amateur radio. These are themes that the ARRL has taken a leadership role in promoting, and the evidence is that the strategy has worked. More new hams than ever joined the ranks of amateur radio here in the United States last year.

Quoting from a story on ARRL's website, "A total of 30,144 new licenses were granted in 2009, an increase of almost 7.5 percent from 2008. In 2005, 16,368 new hams joined Amateur Radio's ranks; just five years later, that number had increased by almost 14,000 -- a whopping 84 percent! The ARRL VEC is one of 14 VECs who administer Amateur Radio license exams."

Of the many reasons people become interested in amateur radio, the one I have heard most often in recent years is that new hams want to earn a license so that they will have the means to help in emergencies and to be of service to the community. This, among the other themes, has been expertly promoted by ARRL in special websites, publicity releases, articles, and videos. Taking on the erroneous image of ham radio as an "outdated technology" that has been all but replaced by the internet, ARRL answers the questions of why we are relevant in the 21st Century on its Wordpress "We Do That Radio" and "emergency-radio" websites.

Well, with all of that in mind, we turn to the large cardboard envelope I received from Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, this week. Matt had told me he was sending me an article, but I was surprised and delighted to see that it read:

Honored by President Obama

Local ham radio hobbyist recognized

Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, reflected in Gordon West's car roof.

The story appeared in the February 18, 2010 edition of the Star-Eagle newspaper, and featured a photo of Matt, KA0PQW, in his well-equipped ham shack. In the article, staff writer Jody Wynnemer explained that when a letter arrived from the White House, Matt had learned that he had been selected to receive a President's Volunteer Service Award.

"Congratulations on receiving the President's Volunteer Service Award, and thank you for helping to address the most pressing needs in your community and our country", the letter began.

Matt was recognized for his work with the Community Emergency Response Team in Steele County, Minnesota. He recalled how he volunteered and handled communications during a flood in 2007. It had been nine hours until the National Guard could relieve him, and in the meantime he handled traffic in and out of the flood zone, passing messages to authorities in Winona.

Those of us who know Matt as a Handiham leader and volunteer understand what a great spokesman he is for amateur radio. To paraphrase a familiar saying about politics, all good ham radio work is local - at least that's how it begins. Local ham radio classes, local Skywarn training, local ARES exercises, local club meetings and programs - and local news stories, just like the one that features Matt. Of course ham radio is worldwide by its nature, but getting the word out about the things we can do really does begin right at home.

Congratulations to Matt, KA0PQW, on this wonderful honor!

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Handiham World for 17 February 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

This week has been a challenging one for the Handiham Echolink net. Jim, WB4LBM, a regular net control station, is in the process of moving and is not available to take several net sessions per week as he sometimes does. Of course this has left the net control duties to a small group of stations, and I have heard some grumbling about how the net is run and how the few net control stations really could use some more help. We have attempted to schedule regular net control stations for given days, but that has not worked. Howard, KE7KNN, our net manager has been willing to assist operators who need help learning their net control basics, but he has not been able to recruit enough qualified stations to fill net control positions through the week. Believe me, I have also gotten plenty of advice about how the net should be run. Since the net is a Handiham Radio Club activity, I think it is reasonable for club members to weigh in at the next club meeting, which will be at radio camp in May. Until then, my advice would be to "lead by example", by which I mean that if you have specific ideas about how the net should be run, you should feel free to contact Howard and arrange to take a net day, even if it is not every week. Perhaps you would like to simply be available from time to time to fill in as a net control station, which is certainly helpful. In fact, operators who are flexible like this can be very valuable to any regular net. After all, we never know when a scheduled net control station will be unable to take his or her regular session due to other commitments, equipment failure, illness, or emergency. Every net has this need for flexible operators who can step in. If you do so, you have an opportunity to showcase your ideas on how the net control station should run the net.

We have few rules, which makes stepping in to run the net relatively easy. It helps to have a preamble describing what the net is about and what your expectations as net control station are. One of the best preambles I have heard is from net control station Paul, KD0IUA. When you hear him taking the net, listen to his clear, concise preamble. When you have heard it, you certainly know which net is on the air, who is the net control station, and what the net control station expects of you as you check in. These are preamble basics that you can use to help set the tone of the net. As I said, you may have your own ideas about how to run a net and your specific preamble can reflect those ideas. Some people will find it necessary to write their preamble down so that they don't forget anything. Others will be able to rattle off their preamble from memory. The key is to figure out what works for you.

Perhaps we should consider simply having fewer net sessions each week. Yes, I know this has been brought up before and it has not been resolved. One concern that I heard is that the regular daily net format is a social gathering that is now well-established and has its own momentum. Having fewer net sessions would break that momentum and make it difficult for our members to remember to check in. When something happens every day, it just seems to be easier to maintain a regular schedule, doesn't it?

One thought that I had was that we might abandon the daytime net schedule and instead have a daily evening schedule. Matt, KA0PQW, pointed out that the repeater schedule is pretty well booked up in the evenings, so we would not be able to have a daily net at all unless we stick to the daytime schedule. The Wednesday evening net time is very good from the standpoint of working people, many of whom cannot take time from their jobs or be close to their stations during the daytime net. The Wednesday evening net allows North American stations whose operators work regular jobs to have an opportunity to check in weekly with us.

For example, our 7:30 pm Wednesday net plays out around the world at these times:

Eastern: 8:30 pm

Central: 7:30 pm

Mountain: 6:30 pm

Pacific: 5:30 pm

Hawaii: 3:30 pm

GMT: 01:30 am the next day

Tokyo: 10:30 am the next day

Middle East: 4:30 am the next day (Qatar)

Australia: 12:30 pm the next day (New South Wales)

You can see from this schedule that the Wednesday evening net offers completely different opportunities for stations around the world and here in North America to check in and share their comments. I like the idea of offering the evening net on Wednesday, which appears to be the only practical day from the standpoint of available repeater time here in the Twin Cities. We need to put our best foot forward with experienced and dedicated, preferably scheduled, net control operators on the Wednesday evening shift. This is the net that is going to earn the most listeners and participants around the world. It won't do to have a newbie running this net and making mistakes. Let's save the daily daytime net for those stations who need a little bit more practice. Yes, this will be a change from our previous philosophy of having training going on on Wednesday evenings. The way I look at it, we have the potential for many listeners in North America on various repeater systems able to tune in because they are home from work. If we have our most tightly-run net sessions on Wednesday evenings, we will earn a good reputation for ourselves. Does this make sense?

The daily daytime net happens at a time that does not really earn it a "prime time" following. Therefore, why not schedule net control operators who are newer to the hobby for daytime sessions to help us fill all of the available sessions? Furthermore, if a net control station cannot be found, why not simply start a QSO on the net frequency and make it a completely informal roundtable of Handiham Radio Club members and anyone else who simply wants to join in?

Suppose, for example, it is a Thursday and time for the daily net, but there is no net control station. Anyone listening on that frequency would then be free to call "CQ Handiham roundtable" and simply start a conversation with anyone who wants to join them. In a roundtable situation the stations checking in don't have a net control station to report to. Instead, stations typically check in when they want to and then remember the order of the stations checking in and the conversation is simply passed around the circle from one station to another. So let's say that I am listening on frequency and there is obviously no net control station. I might decide to put out a call like this: "CQ Handiham roundtable". Jerry, N0VOE, comes back to me and we start talking. During a break in the conversation, Ken, KB3LLA, throws out his callsign. If Ken throws his callsign out just as I have finished speaking, Jerry might then acknowledge Ken and finish what he has to say before then turning the conversation over to Ken, KB3LLA, for his comments. Now we have established a three-station roundtable. The order is as follows:

  1. Pat, WA0TDA

  2. Jerry, N0VOE

  3. Ken, KB3LLA

When Ken, KB3LLA, finishes speaking, he turns the conversation over to me like this: "WA0TDA, this is KB3LLA". I then say what I want to say, which is probably going to be related to what Jerry has mentioned and any topic that Ken has brought up. When I am finished with my comments I am ready to turn the conversation over to Jerry by saying, "N0VOE this is WA0TDA". Jerry then takes his turn as the conversation develops on whatever topic is being discussed and he turns the conversation over to Ken when he is finished talking. Thus, the round table proceeds in this same order with three stations until someone else enters the conversation by giving their callsign during a break. The thing to remember in Echolink operations and repeater operations is that it will be necessary to leave enough time for more stations to join the roundtable. You may have to discipline yourself by counting mentally until you learn to leave enough break time in the conversation before you take your turn. If a fourth, fifth, and sixth station join the conversation you may think this can become confusing. Well, all you have to remember in the roundtable is the station that comes before you in the conversation and the station that comes after you. The station that comes before you should always turn the conversation over to you. The station that comes after you will expect you to turn the conversation over to them. So it really isn't rocket science, but it does take a little bit of practice.

So I would like to propose the concept of a Handiham roundtable to take the place of the daily net when a net control station is not available. In some ways, a roundtable can be even more fun than a regular net session. In a roundtable, one thing that you have to expect is that it may take a while for the conversation to come around to a point where you can check in with the group. For stations with little time to spare during lunch hour, it may be difficult to wait around for the right time to get in. On the other hand, a short-time station can still check into a roundtable to say hello and state that they cannot remain in the group conversation. In those cases, the short time station simply checks in with the group and right back out again and does not take a place in the rotation.

Some roundtables will run quite smoothly while others will be plagued by operators who can't keep the order straight or who talk far too long, monopolizing the conversation. Believe me, this goes with the territory and you simply have to expect a few bumps in the road like these when you participate in a roundtable. On the positive side, the roundtable situation is friendly, informal, and often more fun than a controlled net. A controlled net may be able to check in far more stations, but this is done at the expense of interesting and meaningful conversation. There is nothing wrong with this; it is simply a trade-off that we have to understand and learn to live with.

So what do you think?

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Handiham World for 10 February 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat, WA0TDA, talking on EchoLink with boom mic headset

An EchoLink contact inspires some thoughts about radio clubs and your own expectations.

I had an interesting conversation last night on Echolink. While chatting with one of my friends, we got onto the topic of radio club projects. I'm going to paraphrase this, but I think we concluded that both of us had been in a number of different radio clubs and that whenever a club took on a project, the results were often less than satisfactory and the process of getting the project underway and completed was complicated by difficult to reconcile opinions on how things should be done and what the club goals should be.

Of course this is a common problem in any organization, but perhaps more so in a radio club where members have joined voluntarily and are not compensated or even required to stay focused on any particular aspect of club business. We all know that radio clubs have different purposes. Most of the clubs I have belonged to have been "social clubs" that have been formed simply to bring together amateur radio operators who share a broad common interest in ham radio. In that kind of club, you can expect several members to be interested in technology and building equipment, a few to be dedicated to particular modes of operation like Morse code or PSK-31, and a more or less general commitment to being helpful to one's community as volunteer or emergency communicators.

In the social club, projects still need to be completed. The problem is that the club members have different ideas about what club goals should be, and this may make it difficult to get enough people on board as project volunteers. If, for example, the club has several members who are interested in Echolink communication, these club members may suggest that it would be a good idea to have a club program explaining Echolink, and perhaps even Echolink-enabling the club's repeater system.

Details, details.

Like all good ideas, the devil is in the details. Who will put on the club program, and will there be Internet access available for the presentation? Even if there is Internet access at the club's meeting location, will Echolink work through the firewall? Then there is the audience. Some of the members of the social club will not be computer users. It is simply a fact of demographics that many amateur radio operators are older and did not use personal computers in their work lives before retiring. Some will have learned computing and gotten online, while others have not. Almost anyone in the club who is in their "working years" will be familiar with personal computers in the workplace and generally have one or more of them at home, including in the ham shack. Teens and college kids will have grown up with personal computers and portable communications devices and will use them effortlessly.

All of this means that your audience at the club meeting will be pretty diverse, computing-wise. When you think about it, the Echolink presenter has the challenge of talking with at least three audiences: non-computer users, computer users at some intermediate level of understanding, and expert computer users. You can see that right off the bat starting a club project that will ultimately get the club repeater Echolink-enabled is going to be quite a challenge even at the first step of explaining what Echolink is all about. And this, mind you, is just the beginning. No one has even talked about building the Echolink infrastructure to make this happen on the club's repeater! You can see that there will be quite a challenge for the few Echolink aficionados in the club to bring the entire club "on board" with their project.

It's like herding cats!

No matter what the project, a small group of organizers within the club will face similar problems. Organizing a ham fest, planning a field day event, preparing for and publicizing Technician classes, you name it -- the list is endless. In a given club, there may be a core of a half dozen really dedicated participants who are willing to put in extra time and effort -- and sometimes even their own money -- into getting projects like these off the ground. I guess where I am going with this is that we really have to have reasonable expectations of amateur radio clubs that exist primarily for social purposes rather than a single dedicated goal. If a club is dedicated to DX, that club is going to attract like-minded members who will be focused on that particular goal of keeping up with DX news, working DX and verifying contacts through Logbook of the World and QSL cards, organizing and promoting DX-related on the air activities, and so on. All of the club members are interested in the same thing.

Since this is not the case in the social club, our expectations should not be that the club can necessarily do justice to every single interest group's project goals. Now, I am not saying that simply because you might be in a minority interest group within your social amateur radio club that you should not pursue your agenda and attempt to bring the rest of the club along with you on a club project. What I am saying is that you should expect that you will meet some resistance along the way and should not be disappointed or discouraged when a project seems to run into roadblocks, delays, and misunderstandings. Remember, the various interests within a broad-based social club will sometimes be quite different, and some members may see your project as not really good or bad, but not really benefiting them personally and therefore not worth supporting. Others may become interested in your project through your efforts at educating them through a club program or programs. Some may not be interested even after you have given your program presentation your best shot, but they may still see some benefit in not standing in the way of your project, simply because they know that there are benefits to a club that supports a variety of different interests.

Moving on without feeling guilty.

Okay, you have been a member of your radio club for a year or more, and you still feel that the club isn't really going anywhere, at least as far as your interests are concerned. You have tried volunteering and putting on presentations, but there simply isn't a lot of interest in your project area. Furthermore, there seems to be little interest from the other members in forwarding other projects. Perhaps the time has come for you to say goodbye to a club that has simply not met your needs. There is no shame -- and should be none -- in leaving a club that doesn't provide a satisfying experience for you. On the other hand, before you make a decision to leave, you really have to ask yourself whether you have been open-minded toward other club members' ideas and whether you have made a genuine effort to educate other club members about your area of interest and your project. No one should have the expectation that club projects, especially ones requiring investment of club funds, will gain quick acceptance and universal approval.

Yes, it is all about finding the right club for you and having reasonable expectations. Doing some research on the ARRL Big Club List can be a good place to start if you are looking for an amateur radio club, whether it be a general interest social organization or one that has a specific interest area. Since the ARRL list can be sorted geographically, you can find a club close to you. If a local radio club sponsors a repeater system, listening on the club repeater can give you some insight into that club's interests and sense of purpose.

Club websites are a good place to research more in-depth about each club's specific mission. I don't know about you, but I am always wary of club websites that have not been updated and whose recent newsletter information is several years old. Websites with mission statements and up-to-date resources about club nets and meetings are an indication that you are looking at a club that "gets things done", so you might want to put that club down on your list for a visit during a regular membership meeting.

Should you belong to more than one radio club?

Well, perhaps. You may decide to belong to a special-purpose club that shares your amateur radio interests. You may also enjoy belonging to a social club where expectations are entirely different. Matching your interests and goals to the radio club as you do your research can make your experience in the club a pleasant one. After all, amateur radio is a hobby activity as well as a communications service. You are not in it for frustration and aggravation -- you are in it for fun, and finding the right club and having reasonable expectations will go a long way to making sure that you and everyone else in the club will have a great ham radio experience.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Handiham World for 03 February 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

See you in May

Dr. Dave Justis, KN0S, and snowman friend after storm in Virginia, January 2010

That's what Dr. Dave Justis, KN0S, writes. Just look at Dr. Dave standing by that big snowman. You would never guess that he lives in Virginia, and that the snowfall there has been most unusual for that southern State!

Dave is planning to be at Minnesota Radio Camp at Camp Courage, May 21 through 28, 2010. A long-time Handiham volunteer, Dr. Dave is a veteran of many radio camp sessions at locations in California and Minnesota. The return to Camp Courage, which is a big change for us, actually brings the Handiham program closer to its roots.

Dr. Dave remembers when the first radio camp sessions, then called "convocations", were held at Camp Courage. For the past 20 years Minnesota Radio Camp has been at Courage North, deep in the pines of Northern Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Camp Courage, founded in 1955, is just an hour west of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, in southern Minnesota.

The new location will provide campers like Dr. Dave excellent accommodations and much more convenient transportation options.

Find out more about camp or download an application on - Just follow the radio camp application link.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,