Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Handiham World for 28 April 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

When did "anything goes" become acceptable?

blackboard with ABC on it

Today we are going to try something completely different. I want you to relax and close your eyes and empty your mind of all of the worries and details of what you are doing right now. Turn down the radio, turn off the television, and prepare to take a trip backward in time. Now, I don't want to admit that I am "old", but I have been an amateur radio operator for quite a few decades -- since 1967, in fact. For me, this trip back in time will take me to those teenage years in the 1960s when amateur radio first appeared on my horizon and ultimately grabbed my attention with its promise of communications technology and cutting-edge connections to science and learning. These were the days of the great space race when science and technology were really cool things and everyone knows that teenagers go for the "cool" stuff. Gee, today I'm not sure the word cool is even so cool anymore.

Some of you will be older than I am and will be able to remember World War II and the exciting and interesting role communication played during those years. Others will be younger but will still be able to remember a time when they became fascinated with amateur radio and its promise of civic engagement in public service communications, new and exciting technologies, and a great way to make new friends.

One thing that will be common to all of us traveling backward in time today and remembering those first days of fascination with amateur radio will be a good feeling about those who helped us to learn amateur radio and the civil and friendly nature of the amateur radio service. Sure, there may have been more rules about Morse code and keeping a log book, but the more important consideration was the fact that the amateur radio bands were by and large a safe place for a teenager to hang out, for a kid to learn basic electronics, and even for a grandma to work DX.

In fact, no matter how old you are you can probably remember kindergarten or your first few grades of elementary school and how you learned basic civil behaviors like sharing, being polite, not talking while others are talking, and what is and what is not appropriate language and behavior. Your teacher would certainly not allow you to wear a cap in the classroom or get up and start running around during a history lesson. If one of your classmates let loose with a swear word, even a mild one, it would certainly result in a trip to the principal's office and some sort of punishment. Oh, how we hated to stay after school on a sunny Spring day while the rest of our classmates headed out the school door to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

Can you guess where this little essay is going?

Well, I have to bring you back to today and reality. Yesterday I was tuning around on the HF bands. Propagation has been rather poor these last few days and I was anxious to find out if there was something wrong with my station after I had been away on vacation for a couple of weeks. You never know; perhaps a feedline had gone bad or something had happened to the antenna system. Anyway, in the course of my travels up and down the HF spectrum I came across a conversation on the 20 m band. As is often the case, I could hear some of the stations on the frequency but not others. Listening for a while allowed me to find out whether propagation conditions allowed communication to the east and west coasts from my location in Minnesota.

It turned out to be a more or less informal roundtable net without a formal net control station. In this kind of a situation, stations just take turns and remember who is next in the roundtable discussion. It generally works pretty well in a small group situation where all of the stations can hear each other. Of course I would not consider entering this roundtable myself, because I could not hear at least two of the other stations, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to listen along for awhile to see if propagation conditions would change.

That certainly proved to make for some interesting listening.

One of the stations started to go on what I could only describe as a rant about former VP Al Gore and how terrible he is and what a liar he is, and on and on and on. Another station picked up on that theme and spiced it up with several derogatory words that I can only say would not be acceptable in polite company -- and that certainly would have gotten him sent to the principal's office for detention had he been in Mrs. Cunningham's third-grade class.

Of course at this point my ear was glued to the speaker. How bad could this train wreck of a QSO possibly get? It wasn't long before I found out.

The roundtable continued along these lines of character-bashing and complaining with nary a single positive thing to say. In due course, one of the stations started tearing into President Obama, saying, "I won't even call him president; just Obama."

But wait, folks -- that's not all. This poor guy got himself so worked up about how awful President Obama is that he dropped the proverbial "F-bomb". Mind you, this is all going out on the air for anyone and everyone with a short-wave receiver to hear. No one in the roundtable group complained about this jeremiad and inappropriate language, at least as far as I could tell. It seemed like everyone in the group was like-minded, joining together in their celebration of stupid, boorish behavior.

Okay, so that's bad language being used on the air. My wife and I both drive and since we are often in the car together, we observe other drivers and their behavior. We have developed a theory about bad drivers: "When they're bad, they're bad." What this means is that when we see a driver failing to signal or wandering around the road while using a cell phone or some other careless behavior, it is also highly likely that that same driver will exhibit bad behavior across the driving spectrum. For example, that same inattentive driver is more likely to blow a stop sign if they fail to signal and wander back and forth across the driving lane. "When they're bad they're bad."

This same concept applied to the guy in the roundtable who dropped the F-bomb while trashing the President. He went on and on and on talking and talking even though band conditions were changing and the other stations in the roundtable complained over the top of him that they were only getting every third word or so. An operator who has one egregiously bad habit is more likely to exhibit other undesirable and perhaps illegal behaviors on the air, such as failing to comply with identification requirements as set forth in Part 97. When they're bad they're bad.

As part of our ongoing operating skills review, I think we need to not only revisit the necessity to comply with basic station identification rules, but we also need to recall a time long ago when we were taught in elementary school to be nice to each other and play well together. Courtesy, respect, thoughtful consideration of other people's feelings -- all of these things are basic to a civil society and good communications skills. Please don't get me wrong; I am not saying that no one should discuss politics or political figures on the amateur radio bands. What I am saying is that respectful civil language is called for at all times when we are using the shared resource of the amateur radio spectrum. Anyone could be listening. Furthermore, coarse, rude, or inflammatory language demeans and degrades the amateur radio experience for all of us -- even for those who were participating in that ghastly roundtable on 20 meters. A coarsening of language pulls everyone down and makes it more difficult to have an honest discussion about any topic.

I don't care what your politics are or what your religious or other personal preferences might be. When I first got started in amateur radio, I read and heard from others of the time that it was always best to stay away from topics like sex, religion, or politics while on the air. Of course times have changed. Commercial talk radio and cable television news channels cross over into territory where we don't want to go. Bad language and insulting and demeaning comments along with sexual innuendo might have found their way into these other services, but they are still not welcome in the amateur radio service. If you want to talk about politics, there is no rule against your doing so. If you want to talk religion, you can do that as well. The thing to remember is that as an amateur radio operator you have an obligation -- a duty, if you will -- to maintain the amateur radio bands as a place for anyone to safely visit for a listen. Political discourse can be polite and civil. Name-calling and bad language will only ruin the bands for everyone else.

So that is my operating skills lesson for today. Think before you speak and always be polite and civil even when you disagree with someone else. Share the bands and remember that children or newcomers to the short-wave bands may be listening anywhere and at anytime. Always be kind and helpful.

And won't you please use your callsign? Use it every 10 minutes during a conversation and at the end of a series of transmissions to comply with the legal requirements, but use it even more than that to help avoid confusion about who is talking and when. When I teach the Technician class for my local radio club, I tell these new hams to be, "Use your callsign often -- you won't wear it out."

Patrick Tice, Handiham Manager

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Handiham World for 21 April 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Did you miss us last week?

Did you miss us last week?

Image: Pat, WA0TDA, in the ham shack

Your weekly Handiham World E-Letter and the Friday audio notification were on holiday at the very same time that I was on Spring break. What a coincidence that was, eh? I am grateful for our volunteers who still help us to maintain continuity in the Handiham program even when paid staff are out of the office for one reason or another. Volunteers quite simply keep things running behind the scenes as they work with those who need text read into audio format, tapes made and sent out, or a friendly phone call to explain a learning concept or how to operate a radio. Volunteers who give us hands-on help with projects and equipment really make a huge difference in how we are able to serve our Handiham members. When Nancy or I, the Handiham program's only paid staff, take vacation or have to attend meetings or training related to other aspects of our work, we do still get somewhat behind in our member contact and program administration duties. It can be a little frustrating to have so much work to do and so little time to get it all done. If it weren't for the volunteers, the Handiham program would never have survived for all of these decades -- since 1967. We are so grateful and appreciative for all of the hard work our volunteers do every day.

Thank you, volunteers!

Patrick Tice, Handiham Manager

Camp Courage to go on the air with a new repeater system

Icom IC-706M2G transceiver showing 145.23 MHz on the frequency display

Image: ICOM 706 Mark 2G displaying the new repeater frequency of 145.23 MHz

Can you believe it? Handiham Radio Camp begins exactly one month from today, on May 21. As part of our preparations to build a solid amateur radio presence at Camp Courage, our new location near Maple Lake, Minnesota, we are ready to install a 144 MHz repeater that will be on the air 24-7, available not only during the week of camp but all the rest of the year, each and every day. Not only that, but the repeater will be Echolink-enabled. That will provide a valuable resource to any amateur radio operator living or traveling near Camp Courage.

We chose 2 m for several reasons. Many of our Handiham members already have 2 m handheld radios and can bring them to camp. A handheld radio will work perfectly at low power because the repeater will be right at camp and very easy to access. Another very practical reason is that a couple of years ago we received the gift of a used repeater. It needed some repair, and thanks to our volunteer Claire Robinson, K0CJ, we got it in excellent working order. It wasn't actually put on the air because we didn't really have a place for it. However, we did get it prepared to go on the air using a pair of 2 m frequencies that is shared and unprotected for purposes of repeater coordination here in Minnesota. Several weeks ago volunteer Don Rice, N0BVE, was helping me with another project at our new headquarters office and I showed him the repeater. Don has taken the initiative to locate the necessary repeater parts such as a duplexer so that we can get the repeater on the air prior to radio camp next month. Dave, N0KP, donated a tone board and tuned the duplexer. There was still the question of an antenna, and Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, has led an effort to procure a new 2 m antenna so that we can do the project right. Several donors have stepped up to the plate to help us with the cost of the antenna, and I will write more about them and the project later on, once we have done the installation. I will also have some photos to share with you.

This new repeater system is not intended to be a wide-area repeater, and the signal will probably not exceed a 20 mile radius from the transmitter. However, reception will be rock-solid at radio camp and the nearby surrounding area. Furthermore, the availability of Echolink on this repeater will make it a fantastic resource that will allow us to stay in touch with Handiham members who cannot make the trip to radio camp but who want to talk with their friends during radio camp week.

In recent years we have had a repeater system and a simplex Echolink node available at radio camp, thanks to Lyle Koehler, K0LR, and Don, N0BVE. These systems operated only during radio camp week and had to be set up and taken down for every camp session. This added to the work that we needed to do during every camp session. The addition of a permanent repeater system will be a welcome improvement to our new headquarters location at Camp Courage.

The new repeater will operate on a frequency of 145.23 MHz with a negative offset and a tone of 114.8 Hz. The antenna will be a Hustler G7 with a gain of seven DB.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Handiham World for 07 April 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Media Hit: NPR reports that ham radio is experiencing a surprising and healthy growth

Media Hit:  NPR reports that ham radio is experiencing a surprising and heathy growth

Image: Phil Temples, K9HI, operates on the HF bands at a recent Handiham Radio Camp session.

We consider any mention of ham radio on a network like National Public Radio to be a real media hit! NPR is reporting that far from being a fading 20th-Century technology, ham radio is instead experiencing healthy growth. The story appeared on the NPR network's "All Things Considered" afternoon show on April 5, 2010.

There was some interesting listener feedback today - we heard one fellow who took the story to task for not including a mention of amateur radio's role in emergency communications. You will also find many interesting comments on the NPR website.

HF band conditions remain generally poor as solar wind buffets ionosphere

HF band conditions remain generally poor as solar wind buffets ionosphere

Image: SOHO solar view as of 7 April 2010. reported last Monday that a solar wind struck Earth's magnetosphere at approximately 0800 UT and sparked the strongest geomagnetic storm of the year. The event registered 7 on the K index scale.

The ham radio HF bands remain in exceptionally poor shape, with widespread outages. Aurora activity is continuing. Strange whistling sounds are being heard on the HF bands, and usually reliable net frequencies have been nearly wiped out by poor propagation and noise.

One Handiham Remote Base user reported that the station wasn't working right - he could only hear noise. Of course not all of us have experienced the effects of a widespread solar wind and the resulting poor HF conditions. This morning the Remote Base was checked on 75m, and stations are being heard somewhat better than they were in the past two days.

Today's reports: "NOAA forecasters estimate a 45% chance of geomagnetic activity and a 10% chance of severe geomagnetic storms around the Arctic Circle during the next 24 hours. The source of this activity is a fast and gusty solar wind stream that has been blowing around Earth for two days."

More at:

FCC loses in case regulating Internet service providers

FCC loses in case regulating Internet service providers

Washington Post: Comcast on Tuesday won a legal challenge against the Federal Communications Commission, in a ruling by a federal court that undermines the agency's ability to regulate Internet service providers. For more information, visit the Washington Post online.

April Events by N1YXU

April Events by N1YXU

As you look through the events page for this month, you will notice there are quite a few activities. I confess my bias in the “Editor’s Pick of the Month” since a good friend of ours is one of thirteen operators who are currently in Iraq. Check out the details, and be sure to listen for them.

Welcome to Spring! Get on the air and have a good month with amateur radio. Until next month….


Laurie Meier, N1YXU

Read the Events at

Nets and Emergency Communications Review by WA0TDA

Nets and Emergency Communications Review by WA0TDA

Photo: Patrick Tice, WA0TDA, in his ham radio shack.

Nets & Emergency Communications - second in our series of an operating basics review.

By Patrick Tice

This web outline is based on a PowerPoint presentation that I use to teach these concepts to prospective new hams who have enrolled in the Technician Class course. We are presenting it here because the skills and terms related to nets and emergency communications are so basic to good operating that we can all do with a review. Read the rest on, or listen to the audio version.