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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Handiham World for 22 September 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat, WA0TDA, on 1.902 MHz with IC-706

Happy Autumn!

Now that autumn has returned and the equinox is upon us, conditions on the amateur radio bands begin to favor some of the longer wavelength parts of the HF spectrum like 160, 80, and 40 m. True, there is still a great deal of interference from thunderstorms that pop up in the warmer climates, but the interference isn't nearly so bad as it had been during the height of summer. The longer nights also mean less ionospheric D-layer absorption on those bands, which translates into more opportunities for long-distance contacts. In short, from this point forward we will see rapidly changing conditions on some of the bands where regional HF nets typically meet on a daily basis. This, as you might expect, can lead to potential interference as skywave propagation begins to move out from a few hundred miles to over 1000!

With more and more of our Handiham members earning their General Class tickets and becoming more involved with HF operation, we now have an opportunity to learn how the HF bands change from season to season. As always, we recommend doing plenty of tuning around and listening on the various bands to learn when there are band openings and how the more experienced operators are taking advantage of them.

One of my favorite bands has always been the 75 m band, and I have made plenty of random contacts but also enjoy checking into my favorite regional net, PICONET, on 3.925 MHz Monday through Saturday. Interestingly enough, this net has long been associated with Handihams -- way longer then I have been with the Handiham program. Propagation on 3.925 MHz during the 9 AM to 11 AM central time "morning net" is generally the best, because during the previous overnight hours thunderstorms have quieted down and the bands are generally less noisy. As the day wears on, D-layer absorption increases and signal levels drop. There is also an afternoon session, from 4 PM to 5 PM, in the summer. In the winter, the PICONET expands its afternoon session to 3 PM to 5 PM, since conditions for sky wave propagation are better. But this can pose a problem: Skywave is so good that a New York net on the same frequency can now be heard in the Upper Midwest. No doubt the New York stations are also hearing us. Generally this overlap of nets isn't a problem, but sky wave can work against you when the band "goes long" and stations from over 1000 miles away begin to sound as loud as the stations a hundred miles away. This situation calls for flexibility on the parts of net participants. If it is possible to use a directional antenna, a rarity on 75 m, interference can be mitigated by turning the antenna to favor only the stations in your area. Switching between wire antennas that favor particular directions might also help, as well as using a wire antenna instead of a vertical antenna. The wire antenna will most likely have a higher angle of radiation that will favor closer stations, while the vertical will have a lower angle of radiation that will favor the stations over 1000 miles away. Flexibility on the part of the net control stations is also called for. If interference is a problem, a net control station should consider cutting the net a little short or changing frequency just a bit. Of course this is not always easy when you have a net running and if you, as the net control station, want to change frequency everyone will have to understand the plan and change with you. It can be a challenging job for a net control station to herd everyone to another nearby frequency without having some strays!

160 m is especially useful over the winter months. While there are not as many structured nets on that band, you can run into "regulars" -- stations that often get together on the same frequency about the same time every evening. In the summer 160 m is good for propagation in a regional area during the nighttime hours. In the winter, like the 75 m band, 160 m lengthens out and long-distance contacts are possible. If you are planning to try to earn a certificate like Worked All States on 160 m, winter conditions are your friend. Most evenings at 8 PM Central Time there is an informal get-together on 1.902 MHz. Most net participants are members of the Handiham affiliated Stillwater Amateur Radio Association.

40 m is a good band summer and winter and during sunspot lows and sunspot highs. It benefits by reduced thunderstorm interference during the winter months. You can work DX on the 40 m band, and an advantage it has over 160 m and 75 m is that a wire antenna for 40 m will be able to fit into most suburban lots. Furthermore, a vertical antenna for 40 m can be quite efficient and requires less inductive reactance to make it tune, as compared to a 75 or 160 m vertical. As always, cutting ground losses through an extensive radial system will yield good results.

Of course the sunspot cycle is on the way up and we can expect more DX to appear on 14 MHz and higher frequencies, but please don't forget about 160 through 40 m. With winter conditions approaching here in the northern hemisphere, opportunities for fun on these bands are not to be missed!

I hope to hear you on the air soon.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Handiham World for 09 September 2010

Welcome to Handiham World!

Back at work!

The Handiham World weekly is finally back at work after a couple weeks of rest & relaxation. While the e-letter went on holiday, I also took my vacation at exactly the same time. What a coincidence!

Pat poses in front of Eiffel Tower

In the accompanying photo, I am posing in front of something that would make a perfect ham radio antenna support - the Eiffel Tower. My XYL and I made the trip to celebrate our anniversary, and she was a saint to put up with my obsession with ham radio and antennas. According to Wikipedia, "The tower stands 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building." Just imagine the signal you could get out with a multielement Yagi antenna on top, right?

As nice as it is to travel, it's always great to be back. Today will be mostly filled with member contacts like phone calls and emails, because I have quite a backlog. I hope to get our audio magazine digest updated either later today or perhaps tomorrow if I run out of time today, but rest assured I will eventually catch up - in the meantime, I am coping with the jet lag by draining out the entire coffee pot.

One of the most fun things was checking in to the PICONET on 3.925 MHz via the Handiham remote base from France and Italy. This is certainly proof that a remote base station can be useful when setting up antennas or traveling with lots of radio gear is simply not practical. I also enjoyed making some Echolink contacts, including a check in on the daily Handiham net. These days, one does not need to give up regular operating just because you are staying in a hotel. These new ways to use technology enhance our options to use ham radio, and I'm sure thankful to all of our volunteers and supporters who make it possible. The best thing about ham radio for me has always been staying in touch with my community of friends. In order to get through all of the calls today, this edition will be a bit shorter than usual, but hopefully still worth a few minutes of your time.


Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager