Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Handiham World for 26 September 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

This week I will get a chance to do something really important:  teach a class for my local radio club.
Pat holding NSL digital cartridge
Photo: Pat, WA0TDA, holds up an NLS digital cartridge, one way that audio lectures can be delivered to Handiham members. 

As you know, I do teach on line every week, using the power of the web to teach Technician, General, and Extra class courses. That is a very effective way to teach, but there is also a demand for teachers willing to work directly in a classroom with potential new hams or those who want to upgrade their licenses.  That is what I will be doing when I teach tomorrow evening at the Stillwater, MN Public Library as my club, the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association (SARA) offers its General Class upgrade course. My job will be to teach the rules and regulations.  Other volunteer instructors teach different topic areas, making it possible to offer the classes for 10 weeks without asking any one instructor to give up time each week.  After the last class in the series we always schedule a VE session for the same evening (usually Thursday) the following week.  We figure that if our students are already blocking out time in their day for the class, the VE session should be held at the same time so as to allow for a convenient, easy to plan to follow up and take the test without a long wait.

The less you wait, the less you forget!

Our SARA classes are always free and open to the public, something that supports our outreach to the greater community. Sessions are always held in an accessible location where people who use wheelchairs or other assistive technology can be accommodated. The VE session is held at an alternate location that is also chosen for its accessibility.

If you have a chance, please consider sharing your knowledge of ham radio with others. Check out your local radio club's education program and ask how to become an instructor. ARRL also has some on line resources for members who want to teach amateur radio classes. If you have never taught before, you will likely need to work alongside an experienced instructor to learn how the classes are handled. Much of just about anything we do boils down to some very practical things:
  • Showing up on time (or arranging for a substitute if you can't make it.)
  • Being prepared in advance (Go over the material the day before class so you can refresh your memory of what needs to be covered the following day.)
  • Bringing your teaching materials (portable computer with presentation software, books, show-and-tell items like electronic components, frequency charts to give away... you get the idea.)
  • Watching the clock and giving your class a mid-session break
  • Having a class calendar handy so that you can tell your students what is coming up the following week and when the VE session will be
  • Staying on message (no long-winded war stories!)
  • Compliment your students for correct answers when you ask questions.  For really tough questions, you can even give out a piece of wrapped candy!
  • Build up your students by having high expectations for them and letting them know.
  • Finishing on time (your students have other things to do!)
I hope you will be part of your club's teaching team. It's one of the most rewarding things you can do in ham radio.

Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Troubleshooting 101:  Unrecognized devices

Cartoon guy with hard hat and toolbag climbing tower
A common problem with our new digital radios and accessories is that they can get fussy about being connected to your computer. Recently I read a web blog by a guy who had bought one of those brand-new iPhones - the iPhone 5 that is in the news following its recent release. His problem was that it wouldn't work when it was connected to his car, which had a digital connector.  There was an error message saying that "the device is unrecognized".
That is a common problem with ham gear, too. Sometimes these digital devices sniff each other out like a pair of dogs in the park, decide they are friendly, and then happily play together.  Other times they decide that they just don't get along. How do we figure out what to do to make the two devices talk to each other and work correctly?
Here are some troubleshooting tips. Check them off your troubleshooting list if you find that your device is not communicating with your computer.  If you have not followed them in the correct order, you may have to back up and begin again.
  • Read the instructions! That HT you just bought may theoretically connect to your computer and be programmable with software, but only if you follow the instructions in the correct sequence. 
  • Confirm that your hardware and operating system are supported by the device driver and software.  This can be a common source of problems. You may have to visit an internet discussion board to find out how other users have made their devices work. 
  • Install any special driver software when instructed to do so. This is important! You may be instructed to install the driver and reboot the computer before you even connect the radio.
  • Connect the device to the computer using the designated interface cable and power it on, according to the instructions. It is normal for the computer's operating system to install the driver software when a device is first connected. However, it can trip you up if you have not installed the device driver software first because the computer may pick an incorrect driver if the device is connected before the correct driver is installed. 
  • Test the device - let's say it is an HT - by running the appropriate software, programming software in this case. Does the software run normally?  Does it give an indication that it has connected to the HT?  If it does, you are now ready to use your new HT with the programming software. 
  • If you cannot make the software recognize the radio, the next thing to check is the communication ports. The software will have some sort of setup or preferences menu, and in it you will find a place to choose communications ports and settings. Follow the instructions in the help file and try different ports. This process can be easy with some software and a trial and error game with others. 
  • Consider unusual problems.  One problem I learned about in an internet forum was one caused by counterfeit chips in Chinese-made USB programming cables. If you think you have done everything right but still can't get the devices to communicate, you do have to consider the possibility of this kind of hardware problem. That is why I recommend internet discussion boards.  I can't tell you the times they have solved troubleshooting mysteries for me, from cranky and mysterious radio problems to software that suddenly decided to hang up.  Use them wisely, looking at several possible answers and being patient - don't jump on the first fix you see and assume it is the right one.
By the way, I recently acquired a brand-new Baofeng UV-5RA HT and had a chance to troubleshoot some of these very problems before finally making the radio play nice with my little Dell Netbook computer. The UV-5RA and the UV-5R both use the same programming software and cable and are similar except for a somewhat differently-designed front. How they might differ under the skin, I don't yet know, but I do thank my lucky stars that the KB5ELV Eyes-Free guide is so well thought out. I used it as a supplement to the instruction book before deciding that Buddy's guide was actually way better than the book and instead used the instruction book as a supplement to the Eyes-Free guide.
Still wondering about the guy who couldn't get the new iPhone to work with his car's audio system?  All he had to do was reboot the phone!

Handiham Net Update: 9008 out of service

IRLP node 9008 is out of service due to a server failure.  When the server is rebuilt, the Vancouver IRLP node 9008 will return to service.  Last week it also went out of service, returned for a couple of days, then went down again. The Radio Reference audio stream has also been down for over a week.