Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handiham World for 21 December 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Pat reads from AMSAT newsletter.
This is your last Handiham World for the year 2011, as we are closed next week.  It has been a pretty good year overall, with lots of good ham radio news.  The burgeoning sunspot cycle has helped make HF operating really fun again, and the recent reports of record numbers of amateur radio licensees have been heartening to those of us who are worried about the future of our hobby. I have my Google News page set up to show ham radio stories, and I'm always finding out about great, positive things our fellow amateurs are doing in their communities.  
This gets me to thinking about a recent post I came across on a ham radio mailing list.  It was a response to a previous post, scolding the original poster for not posting relevant material.  Actually, the original post was a rather pleasant report about how several candidates had passed their exams at a VE session.  You can guess that the original poster, feelings hurt, felt pretty unwelcome.  It really doesn't matter who was right or wrong about the relevance of the content. Most of the subscribers liked the original post and asked the poster to please stay on the list.  One thing for sure is that everyone felt a little less cheer after reading though all of that stuff.  Sometimes the same thing happens on the air, though less frequently, thank heaven.  
Let's see what it takes to stay positive. Sometimes it is necessary to be a bit more deliberate in what we do and say.  Will what we say to someone on the air or on an Internet mailing list actually solve a problem?  Is the problem so serious that it requires a comment?  Is there a tactful way to say it?  
Much of getting through one's day depends on knowing when to speak up and when to keep your counsel. In the vernacular, you might say, "Don't sweat the small stuff", or "Pick your battles."
It really makes very little sense to risk hurt feelings over who didn't bring a dish to pass at the club picnic.  On the other hand, it is definitely reasonable to call someone to task for illegal or unsafe behavior. Learning this kind of diplomacy is not something one does without some time and effort.  As a married man and a father, I have learned over the years that teamwork is more important than determining who is right or wrong in running a household. It doesn't matter who forgot to take the dog out or left the garage door open.  It will do no good to take the attitude that fixing blame for such things somehow earns points for you.  The positive thing to do is to take the dog out and close the garage door yourself.  If the problems persist, figure out a way to solve them, perhaps with a reminder on your family smart phones or computers.  
Let's practice!  Your club newsletter editor has made an error, listing the date of the club's flea market wrong.  Do you:
  1. Get on the club Internet mailing list and immediately complain about the newsletter, the editor, and the overall lack of quality in "this day and age"?

  2. Notify the newsletter editor politely about the error and offer to help get the word out about the correct date for the event?
Ha, ha, this isn't really all that difficult.  If you went with answer number one, you are probably going to be appointed newsletter editor when the other guys quits.  If you correctly chose the second answer, you are a positive problem-solver.  As a bonus you are seen as a team player and don't have to learn how to edit the newsletter on short notice!
We are on a roll here with positive news about ham radio every day.  Now let's all try to be positive problem-solvers behind the scenes, making amateur radio more fun than ever in 2012. 
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Handiham World for 14 December 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Butternut vertical antenna covered with a wintery coat of fluffy, white snow.
Wow, it's hard to believe that we are only a week and a half until Christmas and two and a half weeks until 2012.  My January 2012 QST arrived in the mail the day before yesterday, and it is sure to provide some good reading over the holidays. The theme of the issue is "DIY", or "Do It Yourself", and big letters on the cover proclaim:  "Winter...  The perfect time of year to build something!"
In case you have not been following the DIY movement, you will certainly want to catch the article by Allen Pitts, W1AGP, on page 75.  "The DIY Magic of Amateur Radio" gives an overview of what is going on in the world of creative "makers" who enjoy the challenge of building projects from scratch.  As Allen points out, there is nothing new about doing it yourself in amateur radio.  Most of us will eventually build something for the ham shack, even if it is a simple project.  Even the most impressive home-built project had its roots in earlier simple projects that allowed for a learn-as-you-go evolution of building skill and confidence.  
There are different reasons that motivate builders.  If you don't have much money in the ham radio budget, building your own antenna is a good way to get on the air and enjoy the process of figuring out what you are going to make, finding the parts, and learning to to make an antenna by actually making an antenna.  For that second project money might not be an object, and yet you might still decide to build your own project, because you can recall the fun and satisfaction of that first project.  Yes, building your own ham radio projects really does grow on you!  
Since there is a growing "DIY" movement out there that is not necessarily ham radio oriented, wouldn't it make sense to help those folks learn about ham radio and its long history of building?  That's what Allen's article is about, and it showcases a new 8-minute video available on December 27 through the ARRL's We  Do That Radio website.  I'll provide the link to the ARRL website story at the break. 
Kudos to ARRL for pursuing this line of marketing amateur radio.  There are many misconceptions out there in the General Public, and it is important to tell our story to set the record straight.  Finding new and creative ways to get the word out is simply part of the new reality of sharing amateur radio.  If you'll recall the post 9/11 days when emergency communication became a hot topic, amateur radio stepped in as a flexible volunteer-oriented way to augment existing public service communications.  Excitement grew around serving as emergency communicators, and there was a lot of growth in the new ham population.  The EMCOMM system evolved, too.  We now have a well-trained cadre of communicators whose focus is on that vital aspect of amateur radio.   Now it is time to move on to other interest groups, and makers are prime candidates for the exciting world of amateur radio building!
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Handiham World for 07 December 2011

Welcome to Handiham World!

Heathkit HM-102 SWR/Wattmeter poses with Icom gear at WA0TDA.
Image: A venerable and still useful Heathkit HM-102 SWR/Wattmeter poses proudly amid my Icom gear. These days, it is an occasional test instrument rather than a device that is used every day. 
Kits - electronic kits - have always been a part of my ham radio world since I was licensed as a teenager in the late 1960's.  Kits were around before that, and hearken back to the long tradition of amateur radio operators building their own equipment.  While not the same as designing and building one's own gear from scratch, kits do allow those who want to feel more vested in their radio equipment to enjoy the "hands-on" experience of assembling the radio and learning more about the layout and circuitry than if they had simply unpacked a new rig and put it on the air.  I can't think of a time when I haven't owned at least several kits.  Some of them have been transceivers or transmitters, while others have been accessories or test gear. 
The motivation for owning kits has changed through the years.  Back in 1967, when I got my Novice ticket, and a year later, when I upgraded to General, it was more important to me to find affordable gear so that I could just get on the air. Kits like the Knight T-60 transmitter filled the bill. Paired with a Lafayette receiver that drifted like a rowboat in a hurricane until it warmed up, this little station was the source of more on the air fun than you could ever imagine. I was already familiar with Knight-Kits, having built a two tube regenerative receiver, the "Span Master", while in high school. When I made the inevitable move to SSB, the Heathkit HW-100 was the kit of choice. It's 20 tube circuit was challenging to assemble, but I laid everything out on our family's ping-pong table in the basement and just followed the directions.  It worked the first time, and after alignment and installation of the case, provided my first really solid experience with phone operation, though I had plenty of fun working DX on CW. 
Over the years I built other kits, some of which were test gear that I still own and occasionally use today. Some kits, like a Heathkit SB-201 linear amplifier, were purchased assembled on the used market.  Later on I donated that amp to Handihams, having decided that high power wasn't really all that fun or useful. There are plenty of good used radios and accessories on the market, originally built from kits but working well today. 
Today's kit builder is motivated less by the need for economy and more by the desire to experience the fun of putting some of one's own effort into the station equipment.  However, there is an important new niche in amateur radio kits - that of simply offering equipment that isn't available any other way.  A third development is the evolution of superior kit radios that rival or best the already-assembled competition!  Cost does not necessarily enter into the decision making for any of these three kit builders.  
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a group of kit builders here in the Midwest.  The Four State QRP Group has a kit building service and has built kits for hams who are blind or who just can't see well enough to complete a kit themselves. They do not charge for their service and would like to offer their services to our members.  This is an option for those who cannot build a kit on their own but who would like to experience the fun of operating with a transmitter that would not otherwise be available to them. A link to their website follows after my identification. 
But what about kits that can be assembled by blind hams?  One inquiry that intrigued me recently came from K9EYE, who would like to find a kit for a QRP A.M. transmitter that is possible to assemble with minimal soldering.  Pierre and I both remember as kids having electronics kits or "labs" that were designed to allow for experimentation with a variety of circuits.  Since they were designed with clip and plug connectors, they lent themselves to assembly by just about anyone.  For some reason you couldn't trust kids with hot soldering irons but wood burning sets seemed to be okay.  Anyway, we all survived to tell about it today!  But we would like to find some blind-friendly kits.  If anyone has sources or ideas, please let us know.  
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice
Handiham Manager