Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Handiham World for 27 April 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

And welcome to our special occasional computers-drive-me-crazy edition! Since the personal computer has become such a mainstay in the ham shack, every so often we devote an edition to the blessings and curses these machines visit upon us, and this is that edition.

If you are anything like the typical computer user, you use your computer to do a variety of plain vanilla tasks like web browsing and email. These functions are so mainstream that even grandma and grandpa have become comfortable with them. I know from my experience with amateur radio and amateur radio operators that most of us will go way beyond asking our computers to do those basic things. The typical ham shack is full of equipment that is just begging to play "tag, you're it" with your computer. There is a specialty software for everything from antenna modeling to rig control, and of course VoIP software like EchoLink. Ham radio operators are often interested in other activities like astronomy, photography, aviation… The list seems to be just about endless. Personal computers can host software applications to make all of those other hobby activities even more fun. With all of these different applications installed on the ham shack computer there is potential for conflicts and – dare we say it – computer problems.

Who among us hasn't had their personal computer drive them crazy on a semi-regular basis? Whether it is just one application that simply refuses to work even though it worked perfectly the day before or the whole computer being overtaken by malware or perhaps some kind of hardware failure, we have all experienced the frustration of dealing with this machine that has become pretty much essential in our daily activities. Why do we keep it around? Well, because it's so doggone handy! I know I would hate to go back to the bad old days of typing on a typewriter. I've always been a terrible typist and make oodles of mistakes that used to require gallons of white correction fluid. When I type something on a typewriter, it is more efficient to use a paint roller to apply the correction fluid to the page than that little brush that comes in each bottle of "Type White". In fact, I am typing this using voice input computing, Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be specific. I know my blind friends would hate to go back to the days before personal computers and modern screen readers opened up so many pathways to accessibility. And in the ham shack my radios are controlled by software, Ham Radio Deluxe, and I'm afraid I've gotten pretty spoiled with how easy this software makes keeping my amateur radio logbook up-to-date. Although the computer may be a pain in the posterior more often than I think it should be, I would never go back to the bad old days of pre-computer ham radio.

So today let's take a look at some ongoing issues with computers in the ham shack and computers in general as well as some new stuff that has been suggested to us by Handiham members.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Pat Tice

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Handiham World for 20 April 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Kenwood TS-590S transceiver front view

My May 2011 QST magazine arrived last week, and I was pleasantly surprised to see an excellent review of the new Kenwood TS-590S 160 through 6 meter transceiver. This radio is of special interest to us at Handihams because it uses the optional VGS-1 voice chip that gives excellent access to the menu system and the frequency display for blind users. Some listed features are:

• 100 W heavy-duty design
• Built-in automatic antenna tuner ( 6 ~ 160 meters )
• USB & Serial DB-9 ports for PC connectivity
• Kenwood ARCP-590 Control Software
• Kenwood ARHP-590 Radio Host Program for VOIP
• CW Auto Tune
• Beat Cancel

Although the QST article does not assess the TS-590S from the standpoint of a blind user, it is an excellent overview of the radio and is well worth the read. The article has been read for our blind members and is available in the members only section of

Lyle, K0LR, and I have both taken a quick look at the ARCP-590 Control Software and we think it will be blind-accessible. Of course neither of us has that rig, so we are hoping a Handiham member who owns one will do some experimenting with the various accessibility features of the radio itself and the software, and then write up the results for us to share with our readers and podcast listeners.

For another take on the TS-590S, check out the eHam reviews. These reviews are all written by users, and if you find the post by K3UL from April 19, you will be able to read what a satisfied blind ham thinks. I'll give you some useful links at the end of this story.

I'm going to just add a few words of my own to the discussion, because I've noticed that some potentially helpful information is not necessarily part of the usual review process. I know that my blind friends will be interested in what the front panel of the radio looks like. Anyone familiar with radios like the TS-440SAT and the TS-570SAT will feel right at home (almost) with the front panel of the new 590. Unlike the vastly different layouts of the TS-480SAT or TS-2000, this radio is the familiar rectangular shape with the big main tuning knob near the bottom center. Just to the left is the keypad for direct frequency entry or band selection. The keypad follows the expected 3 by 4 arrangement. Buttons for the antenna tuner, power, and attenuator (among others) are in a familiar location at the upper left of the front panel. Below them are the headphone and microphone jacks. I'm beginning to think at this point that I would have to look at the model number to make sure I wasn't sitting in front of the venerable TS-570! On the lower right corner, easy to find, is the audio gain control. The outside concentric control is RF gain, as one would expect. The upper right corner is home to the XIT/CL control, another oft-used adjustment. Between these controls and to the right of the main tuning knob are the adjustments having to do with filtering, such as the notch control, noise blanker and IF filter. Immediately to the right of the main tuning knob are the split and M/V buttons. To the lower left of the main knob is the usual frequency lock button, which doubles as the fine tuning toggle. Other familiar buttons to the immediate left of the main tuning knob are the various mode selections. This doesn't cover everything, but it should be enough to let you know that as a blind user, you will be in somewhat familiar territory if you have already familiarized yourself with the TS-570, or to a lesser extent with the TS-440.

In a sense, radios are like other technologies in that switching between models and brands can be a problem. Imagine, for example, what would happen if the main controls in cars were not standardized. If turning the steering wheel clockwise made the car turn right in one model, but left in another, or if the brake were a pedal in one but a button on the steering wheel in another, you can imagine the disastrous consequences for anyone trying to switch between cars! So one unspoken and really significant feature in the TS-590S is this familiar feel and standardization. I'm just putting it out there as one more reason Kenwood has hit a home run with this model!

For Handiham World, I'm...

Pat Tice

Now, here are the links I promised: (See

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Handiham World for 13 April 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Cartoon people examining document with magnifying glass

Have you ever participated in a poll or survey about a product or policy?

There are plenty of surveys out there, covering everything from political candidates to laundry soap. They are used to help make decisions about how to best improve and market candidates and products. It would be unthinkable for a company to refuse to poll its customer base about product preferences. By querying the consumers, the company finds out what is working and what is not, so that they can fine tune a product or service and ultimately sell more of it.

Recently my local radio club sent out a survey designed to find out what the club members think is most important in terms of club activities. In all my years of belonging to all sorts of clubs, especially radio clubs, this is the first club I have encountered that conducts such periodic surveys. What a great idea!

Some clubs are focused on a very specific mission and stray very little from a path toward their goal, but most radio clubs at least have some flexibility in their mission and can happily sponsor a variety of activities that might include on the air nets, ARES training and deployment, SKYWARN, classes in amateur radio, hidden transmitter hunts, Field Day, a club repeater, and... Well, you get the idea. Where the survey comes in is when the club has so many ideas for projects that they cannot all reasonably be given enough time and support to be successful. While the club leadership may decide for the entire group, it is always better to gain the confidence and support of the membership in deciding which projects to put at the top of the list and which might be better off tabled until some later date.

A properly designed survey can be a valuable tool to help a club chart its future. It is not going to be enough to simply ask for ideas in an open meeting. Not every member is present at every meeting, and some members may speak more persuasively than others, even though a survey done in private, when each member has a chance to think about what he or she really would prefer the club to do, might be entirely different. Another thing a survey can do is to lay out a variety of choices as well as to solicit original ideas from members. When I looked at the well-designed survey our club sent out, I was reminded of many good and worthy projects that our club has supported over the years. If pressed to remember all of that stuff on my own, I know I would have forgotten many projects, which would have made it more difficult for me to help the club make decisions on what to do. When I wanted to comment on a couple of items, I found comment space available so that I could put my thoughts down in my own words. Our survey asked for members to "rate" each project idea from one to five, based on whether the item was of no importance all the way up to great importance to the member. A couple of entries were blank, allowing each member to add a couple new items in the rate by number list. Although I can see the survey to complete it on paper if I wish, it was nice to see that the survey was available via email in an accessible format. That method also saves printing costs.

I realize that my preferences on the club survey may not be what others want, but I know I had my say and that it is likely at least some of what I like will become club policy. If your radio club seems to be stuck in a rut and lacking in direction, why not suggest that the club conduct a survey to find out what club members would like to do for projects and activities? It is a great way to stimulate thinking and bring out new ideas. Everyone will have more fun and the club and the greater amateur radio community will be the better for it.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Pat Tice

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Handiham World for 06 April 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Guy with his nose buried in a license manual.

It's been a busy week at Handiham headquarters with Nancy out of the office and the phone ringing all day long, and on into the weekends and evenings. When you run a program across time zones, that's the sort of thing that happens. There has been quite a lot of interest in amateur radio already this Spring - I can't help thinking that the growing solar activity and improved sunspot numbers have somehow toggled the "upgrade to General or Extra" switch for many of our Technician operators who might have been satisfied with repeater operations during the long dry spell of a seemingly endless sunspot minimum.

For those hoping to upgrade to General, time is ticking on the old question pool. The pool is in effect until the stroke of midnight (presumably Eastern Daylight Time) on July 1, 2011 - and that leaves (realistically) only a couple of months to pass the exam. While many VE teams will undoubtedly schedule exam sessions in late June ahead of the big changeover, can you really count on being able to attend one of these late sessions?

Let's consider what could happen if you wait until the last minute to get to a VE session:

  1. The session could be cancelled or the venue could be changed. Sometimes this happens when a VE team member gets sick or has an emergency, or if the exam meeting space becomes unavailable.

  2. You could get sick or have something important come up.

  3. Your transportation to the VE session might fall through, causing you to miss the session.

  4. You might miss passing by only a question or two and wish you had another opportunity to test again before the question pool changes.

So do you see what I'm getting at here?

Any of a number of things can come up to change our plans. It has certainly happened to me before; it's something I learned early on in life when my parents insisted that I study for tests and complete homework projects well ahead of time in case something might come up later on. That has proven to be a good life lesson and I hope I have passed it on to my son. When something is really important, you have to plan and pace yourself so that you reach your goal.

If you have been studying for General you really need to think about testing soon, and that means getting ready to pass. When you have completed your studying through the ARRL license manual, Gordon West audio CDs, or Handiham audio lectures, you should be taking practice exams. We recommend the website for its ease of use by people who access it with screenreaders and for its great selection of up-to-date content. Taking practice exams on a regular basis adds two important things to your studies: First, it familiarizes you with the questions and reminds you of what you have already studied. Educators call this "reinforcing" your learning. Second, it teaches you how the test will be structured and allows you to become comfortable with answering questions. If you plan to take the exam with the help of a volunteer reader, you might even want to have someone read the practice exam to you and mark the answers down as you direct, just as you will be doing at the actual exam. One useful feature of the website is the "practice exams by email" option that allows you to email an exam with answers to yourself or your volunteer reader to print out and read so as to simulate the actual test session. If you are taking an exam that will be read to you, be sure to practice using the "no figures" option. The practice exam that is generated will have no figures but will still have the proper mix of questions from all topic areas in the question pool. When you are consistently passing practice exams, you know that it is time to take the real exam at a VE session. If you take practice exams and consistently miss by many points, you should take stock of your study plans and hit the books again, even if it means possibly having to take the exam under the new question pool. If you are missing only by a question or two on the practice exams, you still have time to work on those problem areas in the question pool that are giving you trouble. You can always email me if you are a Handiham member taking our course and I will do my best to help you.

If you are studying for your Extra, you have plenty of time... Or do you? The Extra pool changes next summer, on July 1, 2012. If you have been half-heartedly studying and thinking about how far away the test is, you might want to look again at your study plan. Unlike the Technician and the General with their 35 question exams dealing largely with operating procedures, rules, and basic electronics with simple math, the Extra exam is a 50 question test with some no-nonsense engineering concepts and college level math concepts. You can learn this material and pass the exam, but it will not be easy unless you apply yourself in regular study sessions and learn where you are weakest so that you can concentrate on improvement where it counts. Again, start taking practice exams. It does not make sense to go to a VE session unless you are really ready, because all you will do is waste time and money if you are still at the point of only getting half of the answers correct. Study, study, study! For challenging material like the Extra, you may want to check out your radio club to see if there are others interested in upgrading at the same time so that you can form a small study group. If you meet regularly and help each other learn, it will not only be more fun but you will be more motivated to be at each study session.

For Handiham World, I'm...

Pat Tice

All About Ham Radio: Does having the top license really make you a good operator?

Cartoon guy carrying "all about ham radio" books.

Some people feel that earning their Extra makes them not only the big dog but a good operator as well.

It just doesn't work that way. You get to be a good operator by listening, learning, and gaining experience on the air. A good operator learns by his or her mistakes and does not repeat them. A good operator is aware of his or her operating weaknesses and takes steps to gain more knowledge and experience in those areas. Good habits help, too. You can start forming good habits by starting at the beginning, when you earn your Technician license. Those good operating habits will carry on through your entire ham radio career. Bad habits work the same way, and they can become so much a part of our operating that we don't even realize it! Lately there is a movement to eradicate the term "73's", which is an incorrect variant of the proper term "73", used when signing off. It's easy to get into the bad habit of saying "73's" when you hear others doing so, but if you know that the right expression is "73" and make it a habit to say it that way every time, you will be cool and correct on the band!

Of course the way we say 73 isn't really that big a deal as far as good habits are concerned. The really important good habits have to do with following the rules and operating safely. Some examples of good habits:

Always use your full callsign to identify.

Always use standard phonetics, because in an emergency this good habit will help you be understood.

When driving a car and operating mobile, make driving your first job before doing anything with the radio. There are times when driving is so intense that you might need to simply tell the other station that you will talk to them another time because you have to concentrate on driving.

The good habit of always putting the main task first before radio will help to keep you and others safe. If you are cooking something on the stove or taking care of small children, stay on task and leave the radio until later. Don't risk burning dinner or having a toddler wander off because you got involved in an interesting conversation on the radio.

When working in potentially dangerous situations such as on a tower, always use safety equipment and have a spotter in case anything goes wrong.

Always follow safety procedures when working around electricity.

I'm sure you can think of other good habits to make part of your radio life!

Strap on your tool belt! It's time for...

Troubleshooting 101: I can't connect to the HANDIHAM conference on Echolink!

Small tools and wire

Okay, here's one for you to figure out: You've been using Echolink for quite a while now, and you feel comfortable with operating through your computer. You have forwarded the ports and opened the firewall for the Echolink application when you configured your wireless router. It is usually pretty easy to connect to the HANDIHAM conference server, node 494492, because you have saved it to your favorites in Echolink, and it virtually always connects without a problem in one or two tries. You like the HANDIHAM conference because the station list appears and you know that most of the net participants are likely to be using the same conference, so you can get a better idea of who is around listening or planning to check in to the net.

Because you enjoy being on the go and taking ham radio along, you also take your iPod, iPhone, or Android phone with you and have the free Echolink app installed. Whether you are at home using your own wireless router connection to the internet or traveling and using the phone's data plan or a Wi-Fi hotspot somewhere, it is easy to use Echolink when the net time rolls around. At first, you found that it was simple to connect to the HANDIHAM conference server, but lately it seems as if it is becoming much more difficult to make the connection. Oddly enough, you can make a connection to the Echolink test server and to one of your friends who agreed to help you run a test, and when you use your computer to connect, there is no problem at all.

Can you suggest what might be wrong and what you could do about it?

Send your replies to for possible inclusion in next week's edition of your weekly e-letter.