Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Handiham World for 30 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Cartoon couple driving a car
Ho, ho, ho, away your radio will go.
Yes, it is the holiday season again, and many of us (or our spouses) are thinking about shopping for gifts, stocking up on the special foods and treats and decorations and all the rest that goes along with this time of year.
But do you know what else goes hand in hand with the holiday shopping season?  It's the people who do their shopping without paying - the folks who steal.  
The reason I bring this up in the context of amateur radio is that many of us operate mobile, either VHF/UHF or HF or both.  Thousands of dollars worth of radio equipment may be in the car, and you certainly don't want to lose it to thieves. As a former policeman myself, I can tell you - and the experts will back me up on this - that the holiday season is an especially bad time of the year for thefts from vehicles.  The standard advice for anyone who drives a car and parks it in a public space is to keep packages and expensive accessories out of sight.  The car should be as plain and uninviting to thieves as possible.  Here are a few of the things I recommend:
If you own more than one vehicle, consider doing your Christmas shopping with the one that does not have the amateur radio equipment installed in it. This makes it much easier to turn that car into a "plain Jane" that will not attract any attention in the parking lot.
If you have accessories like transceivers or a GPS, get them out of sight. The GPS can probably fit comfortably in the glove box, but I recommend taking the transceiver out altogether and either leaving it at home or locking it securely in the trunk of the car while you are at home, not in plain sight in the parking lot of some shopping center where the bad guys can see that you are putting valuables in the trunk. I prefer using magnetic mount antennas that can quickly be pulled off the roof of the car and tossed in the trunk.
I have become somewhat of an expert in hiding wires under the passenger side floor mat. After taking out the radio and throwing it into the trunk, I can easily disguise the antenna feed line by simply coiling it up and placing it under the floor mat where it is completely out of sight. Any accessory plugs or wires for the GPS can also go under the floor mat or in the glove box prior to my leaving my own property.
Any time you purchase gifts, the time to place them in the trunk of the car is immediately upon leaving the store. Never place them on the passenger seat or anywhere else in the passenger compartment where they can be seen by anyone pretending to park their car nearby. It takes only a few seconds to break into a car and transfer these packages into an adjacent vehicle. Again, the idea is to make your car look as plain and uninviting as possible.
Never, ever return to the car and put packages in the trunk or anywhere else in the car and then leave the car in the same place and return to your shopping. The only time you should place packages in the car at all is when you're getting ready to leave. Anyone can see you putting packages in the car and break into the car, including the trunk, as soon as you are out of sight. If you must unload because you have just too much to carry and it is necessary to make a stop at the car to put packages in the trunk, I recommend that you do so and then drive the car to another part of the parking lot or a different floor on the parking ramp, park it again, and return to your shopping. That lessens the possibility of someone seeing you fill the car with packages and then leave, giving them time to break in.
Even if you have placed your antennas out of sight, don't be tempted to leave radios installed in the front of the car where they can be seen through the windows. Thieves may not know what they are taking, but they probably figure that whatever they get can be sold for a few bucks for drug money. You can't simply depend on a thief not wanting an amateur radio transceiver because they don't know what it is!
I have heard other amateur radio operators suggest that callsign license plates on a vehicle can attract thieves, but I have never found this to be the case. In fact, I think the general public probably thinks of them more as vanity license plates and I have even run into police officers who aren't familiar with call letter license plates. Maybe amateur radio operators are such good drivers that they never get pulled over!
Generally thieves who break into cars want to be able to do so quickly without being noticed. You can improve your odds of avoiding car break-ins by locating your car in a well lighted, busy part of the parking lot. I don't like parking next to blank walls or trucks or vans that hide the vehicle enough for someone to break in while remaining out of sight.
The name of the game is to avoid drawing attention to your vehicle with anything that looks expensive, flashy, or easy to steal. I can't emphasize enough how leaving packages or expensive radio equipment in plain sight can attract thieves at this time of year. They are out there looking for easy money, so you really have to be careful to make sure that your vehicle doesn't stand out as an easy mark.
Even when you park your car in your own driveway your radio equipment can be at risk. I recommend parking cars with radio equipment that you want to leave installed in a secured garage. Don't depend on car alarms to protect your expensive radio equipment. A car parked in the driveway can be burglarized in minutes while you sleep. If you have limited parking space, the car with the radio equipment should be parked inside and the car that must be parked in the driveway should be the "plain Jane" with nothing to attract thieves left in plain sight.
Of course no matter how careful you are, you can fall victim to thieves. You may want to consider insurance coverage for your radio equipment. Your existing automobile insurance may provide some coverage, but supplemental insurance is always available. This is a matter to discuss with your insurance agent. Sometimes relatively inexpensive transceivers, such as 2 m only mobile units, may not be worth paying an extra insurance premium. On the other hand, if you have a truck load of expensive radios that operate on multiple bands and that are difficult to remove from the vehicle when you go Christmas shopping, you may want to consider that extra insurance coverage!
As they used to say on the old Hill Street Blues TV series, "Let's be safe out there."  Timely advice for the holidays!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Early Winter Reading: Becoming a Ham (Part 11)

code key
Becoming a Ham - Part 11
By T. A. Benham (SK - formerly W3DD, a callsign which has been reassigned.)
Tom Benham, now a silent key but who most recently held callsign W3DD, was a ham radio pioneer, and being blind didn't even slow him down! Join us now as W3DD recalls more about satellites in the early days and his experience with a Senate investigation. 
The Teletype Episode
We were a very active part of NASA tracking for a couple of years and the teletype was our means of receiving messages about launchings. One night I stayed in the trailer all night because there was to be a launch about five A.M. We had fitted out the front part of the trailer with a couch, a hot-plate, coffee pot and other things for comfort. I was awakened about three in the morning by the teletypewriter coming on and typing something. Of course, I didn't know what it had written. Perhaps the message required a reply. If so, I would have to use the phone and find out what it was. After thinking about it for a few seconds, I got up, sat down at the machine and wrote, "If what you just sent requires a reply, ring the bell three times. If no reply is required, ring the bell twice." After a few seconds, the bell went ding ding. I went back to bed until five o'clock. A couple of days later, a man walked into my lab and said, "The office in Philadelphia sent me out here to find out what that monkey business the other night was all about." "What monkey business?" "That business about ringing the bell three or two times." When I explained it to him, he got a huge bang out of it saying "Gosh, wait until I get back and tell them that!" and he left. "Voices of the Satellites" got additions made to it during this period. We got the recording of Eisenhower's Christmas message broadcast from a satellite at Christmas 1959, telemetering signals from many satellites, John Glenn's flight in which he talked about the ice crystals, Russians talking back and forth between two space vehicles. As a matter of fact, the news people were out several times with cameras and recorders to watch and listen to the signals as we picked them up. We were not able to pick up satellite signals until they got above the horizon, so there was a delay of about two minutes after launch until the satellite was about 100 miles high before we made contact. In about 1963 we were monitoring a launch. We waited for the two minutes and then began to look for the signal. Several minutes passed with no contact so I went to the teletype machine and asked what happened. In two or three minutes the teletype machine wrote a very short message. I asked someone to read it. All it said was "splash." One time when I thought we would be able to hear the Russian astronauts talking from one ship to another, I invited a member of the University of Pennsylvania Russian Department to come listen. He did and we got a very good signal. Unfortunately, all they talked about was trivia about temperatures in the cabins, how their food was holding out, and such like. But it was interesting to us and he seemed to get a big kick out of it. An interesting but small contribution to the Space effort was made by Ham radio back in 1959. I mentioned that President Eisenhower provided a recorded Christmas message just before December 25th that year. The story has it that the message had not arrived in time for the launch. The vehicle was closed and launch was a few minutes away. A Ham, identity not known, rushed up with a recorder and equipment and said, "Hold it! let me radio the message to the receiver in the "bird". He set things up and sent the taped message to be stored aboard. I recorded the result when it was transmitted some time later.
The Summons
A rather amusing incident took place early in the satellite project. During the first couple of years, there was much conversation about the fact that the Russians had launched before we did. The project for launching was well under way in this country. Werner Von Braun, the German Physicist who was responsible for the development of the V1 and V2 rockets in Germany, was brought to this country at the end of the war and was making good progress organizing rocket development down in Alabama, but the red tape and time spent arguing delayed our program so that the Russians got ahead of us. There was much talk in the US Senate about why we were behind. There was an article published in one of the popular magazines telling what a good job Russia was doing. A Senate Committee was convened to investigate matters. The author of the article and I were subpoenaed to appear before the Committee. I got a small recorder and a few tapes to take with me to demonstrate what I had been recording and asked Corlies to accompany me. We were shown into the committee room and the other fellow was called first. They gave him a hard time and he did not present his information very coherently. The tenor of his remarks was that the Russians were way ahead of us, that he had been there and seen for himself.
Senator Brooks, the chairman said something like, "Well, you certainly have been given a snow job and what you have said does not seem to mean much." Then I was called to the witness table and the chairman said in a sarcastic tone of voice, "Now, what's your story?"
"I don't have a story, as you put it, sir. You summoned me so I'm here. What do you want of me?"
His attitude changed immediately. He said, "We've heard that you have been very active in tracking satellites. We'd like to hear some of your recordings and ask a few questions. Please give us a summary of your activities."
Things proceeded peacefully and pleasantly after that. I played a few samples of the satellite signals and explained what they meant and the information that could be derived from them, both US and Russian vehicles. They seemed to enjoy what I played and were friendly and interested. 
Next week: Moonbounce.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Handiham World for 23 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

On things for which we are thankful, Black Friday, ham radio gifts, and other seasonal musings:
Horn of plenty with handheld radio
If you're like me, you probably think of the Thanksgiving holiday as one to spend with family and friends and to consider those things for which we should be truly thankful. I'm talking about the big things like family, friends, health, and having the basic necessities of life, not trivial things like finding whole berry cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table. Let's just admit right now that I really like whole berry cranberry sauce, but when you are considering thankfulness there are some things that really have to come first.
So family, friends, and health are right up there at the top of the list. But when I consider how I was lucky enough to get into ham radio in my late teenage years and how it has proven to be an exceptional way to make friends, engage in a lifelong learning activity, and always be there for me to push back loneliness whether I was traveling far away from home or stuck inside in the dead of winter. Being part of a community and being engaged in that community has been shown to contribute to a person's overall health and a longer life. Staying engaged in amateur radio is just the sort of thing that can make life just plain better, and for that I am truly thankful.
When I listen to the Handiham nets, I hear people who are friendly and helpful and who are, whether they realize it or not, making the world a better place a little bit at a time each day by communicating with their friends. I am thankful for each and every one of our Handiham members and for our supporters and volunteers and everyone who helps to spread the good word about amateur radio and the Handiham program. I am certainly thankful that so many amateur radio operators stayed close to their rigs and stayed on the air during the extended sunspot minimum that preceded cycle 24. Now, when I see that the United States amateur radio population has topped 700,000, an all-time high, I feel thankful that so many of our fellow citizens here in the United States and around the world still see amateur radio as a worthwhile activity, a way to build community, and a way to make the world a better place.
While not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas, that will be the next big holiday here in the United States, and it will be followed closely by celebrations bringing in the new year of 2012. Popular culture being what it is, Christmas is celebrated as much as a secular holiday of  gift giving as it is a religious holiday. My wife and I were surprised to see lots of Christmas decorations in Japan, where the secular version is prominent. Come to think of it, we even saw Halloween decorations in Japan. Popular culture just has a way of spreading everywhere and anywhere. The reason I mention Christmas and New Year's is that we will be closing the Handiham offices for a fair number of days toward the end of December. We will certainly try to maintain a more or less regular schedule of weekly Handiham World newsletters and podcasts, but some of the Friday audio might not be as current as one would expect in other months of the year. Still, my volunteers always amaze me with their dedication and willingness to help. This Thanksgiving season I definitely have to give a shout out to our Handiham volunteers. They help me with the website, do volunteer reading and recording and audio teaching, help promote the Handiham program, teach at camp sessions and with their local radio clubs, run the nets, and help each other out when technical or operating problems arise. I am so thankful for all of our dedicated volunteers!
Are you planning on shopping at midnight on Black Friday?  Me, neither.
Anyway, if your tradition is to exchange gifts over the holidays and one or more those gifts happen to be amateur radio related, just make a mental note to plan to share information about your new ham radio equipment with your weekly E-letter readers and listeners. If you happen to get some piece of equipment that is still not audio-described for blind users, please consider learning about that equipment yourself and then producing an audio tutorial that we can place on our website as a resource for others who are looking for help. And if you get something really unusual and unexpected as a holiday gift, you might consider sharing your story with your fellow readers. In fact, I think I can imagine some pretty weird and unexpected stuff under just about any Christmas tree. One year, when we were kids, I gave my sister a monkey head carved out of a half-coconut. Boy, was she mad at me. Best Christmas ever!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Early Winter Reading: Becoming a Ham (Part 10)

code key
Becoming a Ham - Part 10
By T. A. Benham (SK - formerly W3DD, a callsign which has been reassigned.)
Tom Benham, now a silent key but who most recently held callsign W3DD, was a ham radio pioneer, and being blind didn't even slow him down! Join us now as W3DD recalls more about satellites in the early days.
The Trailer
During April of '59, the students and I heard of an offer from the Government. If we went to Indian Gap, near Harrisburg, we might be able to pick up some surplus equipment. Two boys and I went and we found a fully equipped trailer that was designed for tracking aircraft. It had a parabolic six-foot dish on top that was driven by a sophisticated system from inside. The trailer was 20 feet long and about 8 feet wide. We could have it for the price of getting it hauled to Haverford, which turned out to be $200. The college comptroller authorized the expense and the trailer was parked in a little lot behind the Physics building. With the help of several students, chief among them Amateur Ridgley Bolgiano, the trailer was converted into a satellite tracking station. The 6-foot dish was too small, so we set about finding a larger one. I had heard that ITT, in Nutley NJ, might be interested in giving a hand, so three of us went to visit. We were received most cordially and I asked my contact if they had any parabolic dishes that were due to be scrapped. He paused a minute, looked out the window, picked up the phone and called the Disposal Department. "Hey Jim, you know that 12-foot dish outside my window? Well, it looks like hell, cluttering up the lawn. Please send it to Haverford College, attention T. A. Benham and get rid of the unsightly thing." That was more than we could have hoped for, but it wasn't all. He next called his wife. "Dear, I have three very interesting fellows in my office and I want to bring them home to dinner so you can meet them." We went to his house, had a very nice lobster dinner and a pleasant visit. In a week or so, an ITT truck appeared with the dish. The boys and I got it put together and mounted on top of the trailer. Then Ken from Gerald Electronics came out and helped get the equipment inside the trailer in good operating condition. Since it was intended to track planes, it was nowhere near ready for satellites. When the trailer was ready to be installed in a location suitable for tracking, it was moved to the middle of a large field about a quarter-mile behind the Physics building. We drove two stakes into the ground and strung a string between them to provide an exact north-south line so the tractor driver could point the trailer as nearly north as could be arranged. He had to maneuver the trailer several times to get it lined up to our satisfaction. We had built a heavy platform for it to rest on so it wouldn't settle in the ground and perhaps alter its position. It was very interesting and exciting. We had electric, telephone and teletype lines buried from the nearest pole, which was about 300 feet away. One of the interested boys paid the monthly charges for the phone, another paid for the teletype, I paid the electric.
Linkup with NASA
Now we became a significant link in the NASA tracking chain, at least until they got their multimillion dollar system going. Ridgley built a remote control system so we could turn on functions in the trailer from anywhere. For example, I was coming home from Washington one evening and knew we had to track something about midnight. We stopped in Baltimore and by telephone I turned on the heat, and the receivers to give them time to stabilize. At that time it was illegal to use phone lines for private purposes, but we dodged the rules. One afternoon, there was a knock on my office door and a man entered saying, "I'm from the FCC. I have a complaint from the telephone company that you are running equipment by remote control through their lines." "No, we're not connected to their lines and are not violating the regulations," I replied. "Well then, why have they complained?" I explained that we had mounted a coil on the wall under the wall phone in the trailer. When the phone rang, a voltage was induced in the coil which we used to control relays, timers, etc. He wanted to see, so I took him to the trailer and showed him. He was amazed and left saying "I guess we can't stop you from that!" "No," I agreed. "We do all this without removing the phone from the hook, so there is no way the phone company could know we're doing it. If they allowed us to use the line, they could charge and it would be much easier for us to accomplish the task." I never found out who complained to Ma Bell. Now days it would be no problem. Back in 1936 when I operated my transmitter from the College I had a dedicated line for which I paid, but it allowed control from only one location. The conditions under which this remote system were built had an interesting quirk. Ridgley was driving back to College from his home in Baltimore. Somewhere along the rather poorly lit route 926, he dozed a little and ran full tilt into the rear of a parked truck. Both of his knees were smashed. He spent many weeks in Bryn Mawr Hospital while they were mending. It was during this time that he and I designed the system, on the phone and in person. Then we got tools and parts together and took them to him. He mounted and wired all of the components on a piece of Plexiglas® measuring about two feet square. It was a beautiful piece of work and functioned like a charm. I was heart broken when it was destroyed in a fire! The operating code was simple. Call the number and let it ring once, then hang up. Within a minute, call and let it ring twice. This set two timers running. Then call again and let it ring three times to turn on the heat, or four times to turn on a receiver, etc. Timing was important. To turn things off, let the bell ring four times the second call instead of three and this would set things up for being turned off. 
To be continued...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Handiham World for 16 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

Pat, wearing headset microphone and making audio recording of AMSAT Journal article.
Image: Here I am recording AMSAT Journal. I find that using a USB headset with boom microphone gives the most consistent audio quality because you can maintain an exact distance between your mouth and the microphone. It is also more comfortable and allows you to use both hands to hold any print material you may be reading from or using as a reference. All recording is done digitally using the open-source software Audacity, which runs on Linux, Windows, and Mac.  For insight into recording digitally, see the "With the Handihams" article in an upcoming issue of Worldradio Online.  The headset pictured here is a Plantronics brand, but I don't have the model number.  It was one recommended for voice dictation by Nuance, the makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking®.

This edition of your weekly e-letter is a little bit early because I must be out of the office all day Wednesday for a meeting. I've noticed that the ARRL Letter sometimes has to shift its schedule around a little bit and occasionally there will be no audio version. Sometimes it is necessary for staff to have days off or take care of other office duties, and recording a newsletter is a specialized job only certain staff can complete.  
Speaking of recording, I recently received my  AMSAT Journal, CQ Magazine, and the December QST. Unfortunately, we have not been able to continue digest articles from CQ for our blind members because of limited staff time, but we do still hope to have some help from a volunteer. Bob, N1BLF, has completed the November WorldRadio digest, but I cannot promise anything from the November CQ, this week at least. I have started recording from the AMSAT Journal and expect to have some audio available by the time we release our audio notification on Friday. Since I must also prepare a new General Class audio lecture from scratch on radio signals in various modes of operation, which can be a complicated topic, it is doubtful that I will be able to tackle QST until the following week.
We are always looking for volunteers who can read for us or assist in the preparation of audio lectures on various operating skills topics and on how to operate particular types of radio equipment. An example of how this is done can be found by listening to the audio lectures done by Matt Arthur, KA0PQW.  Matt has done operating skills lectures on VHF propagation and produced several different audio tutorials on radios.  If you think that you might like to try teaching into a microphone, please consider helping your fellow Handiham members by sharing some of your knowledge about specific radios or about a particular piece of software or some operating technique. If you are sighted and subscribe to amateur radio print publications, please consider becoming a volunteer reader to help out our blind Handiham members.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Handiham World for 09 November 2011

Welcome to Handiham World.

Pat poses in front of Honda driving simulator.
Photo: Pat, WA0TDA, poses in front of the Honda Driving Simulator at the Mazda car rental agency in Chitose, Japan.  Note the Handiham baseball cap!  In Japan one drives on the left side of the road. 
I'm back from Japan, and have some awesome jet lag, so this will be a short one! Today is the day of the big FEMA emergency test, so you might drop me a line and let me know if your radio club or ARES group did anything special to participate, or if you even heard any alerts. 
My XYL and I had a nice visit with son Will, KC0LJL, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Although I had hoped to check into some Handiham nets from there, I just could not make the time shift work for me so that I could stay awake to make that schedule.  It sure was hard to flip days and nights for 10 days, then do it all over again.  One of the oddest things to wrap my brain around was that one can leave Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon and arrive back in Minnesota on Tuesday morning, thanks to crossing the International Date Line while flying east.  It reminded me of that book by Jules Verne, "Around the World in 80 Days" in which the protagonist, Phileas Fogg, wins a bet by circumnavigating the globe in 80 days.  At first he thinks he lost the bet, but because he traveled east around the world, he actually gains a day and is able to win the bet after all.  It's been a long time since I read that story as a boy who hoped someday to see the world!  In the novel, Phileas Fogg traveled from Yokohama to San Francisco in 22 days by steamship. Thanks to amateur radio, I can travel the world via DX any day.  
Japan is known for its amateur radio manufacturers and enthusiasm for amateur radio in general.  While on the road with XYL Susie driving, I spotted plenty of HF beam antennas, but who knows how many wire or VHF/UHF antennas that I missed?  One day we visited the city Tomakomai, a port city south of Sapporo. There was one city block where I saw a real cluster of ham radio antennas, and I'm estimating a half-dozen beams or rotary dipoles in that single city block! That's just amazing! 
While in Japan, I was not able to get on the air using an HT because I did not apply in advance for a JA license.  I did, however, enjoy getting on HF using the Handiham Remote Base station W0ZSW and checked into the PICONET on 3.925 MHz.  If you are a remote base user, please consider checking into PICONET, which has a long-time association with the Handihams. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager