Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Handiham World for 31 October 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

Happy Halloween! 

Pat, WA0TDA, holds Jasper the Corgi_Cocker Spaniel mix, who  is dressed up in his festive jester collar for Halloween.
Halloween falls on e-letter day, so Jasper and I just have to wish you all a happy Halloween!  We have moved our office from Camp Courage back to Courage Center.  Moving day was yesterday, October 30. 
Of course the really big news is the storm damage on the East Coast.
I've noticed the same things happen every time there is a widespread emergency like this one:
  1. There are always people in the general public who are not prepared, either because they do not hear the warnings or do not heed them.
  2. It still surprises people when public transportation and communications infrastructure cease to function.
  3. A core of dedicated amateur radio operators remains ready to provide alternate communications. This is sometimes a surprise to the general public and even to politicians who should know better.
In recent weeks we have reminded our readers and listeners about how important it is to have the basics ready on short notice. I'm not going to rehash that here and now, but I do want to be sure that all of us treat every disaster like this one as a learning experience. As amateur radio operators, we are far more likely than the general public to be paying attention to the news and know of approaching weather, especially tropical storms and large weather systems that may spawn flooding rainfalls, blizzards, or tornados.  I hope that this storm has not caught you off guard and that all of our Handiham friends stay safe and sound, high and dry!
York dock near the KN0S QTH with waves crashing agaist the piers.
Photo courtesy Dr. Dave Justis, KN0S, Wicomico, VA:   "I have turned the beam off to the SW as the winds are now shifting.. Listen up at 14.325 on the Hurricane net."  The York dock near the KN0S QTH is pictured here. The photo was sent to me on Monday as Sandy was approaching Virginia, traveling north through the Atlantic. 
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Handiham Word for 24 October 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

On the horizon: A resurgence of remote operation! 

Pat, wa0tda, holds smartphone that controls radio in the background of the photo.
Remote base amateur radio operation has been around a long time, but it was relegated to the esoteric world of experimenters and  those amateur radio operators who simply had to locate their stations far away from their homes due to antenna restrictions or because they simply lived in a location that was terrible for operating.  Most of us were pretty well settled into the comfortable "ham shack in the basement and antenna in the back yard" way of thinking about amateur radio.  In fact, this notion has persisted and actually kept some of us from staying active on the air once the time came to downsize and move to a condo or apartment.  The scenario typically plays out by making the decision to get rid of all the old HF gear and taking down the antennas before selling the house.  Perhaps the VHF/UHF radios will be packed for the move in the hope that one can at least stay on those bands that would not require big antenna systems - in other words, repeater operation.
Of course we have more options than ever before if a VoIP-enabled repeater system happens to be available to us and we can reach it from the condo.  IRLP, EchoLink, WIRES - all provide options for getting on the air and breaking free of the limitations of a local VHF signal. But HF operation gets into your blood.  VHF, even VoIP-enabled, is just not the same. You want to stay in touch with your friends who are still on the HF bands.  You like to chase a little DX.  You miss those HF nets.  It would be great if there were only a way to stay on HF without all the antenna headaches. 
Well, you do have some options. 
If you own a car, you can always try HF mobile operation or "HF portable" operation.  You drive to a location where you can deploy a wire antenna, operate portable for a period of time, and pack up and drive home. This is not the best option, but it is a way to stay on the air if you have a car and the time to drive it somewhere to set up a portable station.  Operating with a mobile antenna on the car is also a possibility, but not always the best choice when you have to pay attention to your driving. If fact, I don't recommend it unless you have someone else doing the driving while you operate the radio. In any case, mobile operation is not an option if you don't own a car!
Another option - if you can call it that - is to put up an indoor or stealth antenna.  I am not fond of this option because it can result in lots of RFI problems - both receive and transmit - and you also have to be aware of exposing yourself, your family, and your neighbors to RF. The results on the air are less than stellar, to put it mildly.
For most of us, even those who do own cars, HF operation is much more practical and convenient if we can get on the air right from home. When you cannot put up an antenna, you have to consider remote base station operation if you want to get on the HF bands from home.  There are a couple of paths you can investigate.
  1. Operate your own remote base station.  This involves considerable research and careful planning because you will have to locate the station at a place where you will have access to do maintenance, where there is some means of communicating with the station, (such as a link radio, phone line, or internet), a good site where you can put up antennas, electrical power, and security.  The home of a relative or friend might work, or you may have the financial resources to acquire property and build the infrastructure. 
  2. Use a public or shared remote.  This is a better option for most of us. Public remotes sometimes have a membership fee that is used for station expenses, but when you consider the cost of maintaining your own station, it is quite a bargain to be able to share those costs with other users. The down side is that the station may not always be available when you want to use it. The remote station may not be located in a place where HF conditions permit you to check into regional HF nets in your home location. 
I was watching the internet program "Ham Nation" last week and they were talking about remote base HF operation. In that video they showed an Elecraft transceiver connected via the internet to a station in a different and very good location. You could sit in front of a real radio and control it as you would if it were connected to an antenna directly instead of to a remote station. This was a solution that might appeal to a user who could have their own private remote.  If you check the pages of the ham radio publications you will find the occasional article about remote operation and advertisements for various remoting solutions. Regular readers and listeners know from this publication that the Handiham System is hosting the W4MQ software and Jose, KK4JZX, and a group of beta testers are working to update the software, which is free to any amateur radio operator, as the original author Stan, W4MQ, intended.
But back to the original statement: On the horizon: A resurgence of remote operation!  Why do I think remote base operation is about to cease being the realm of alpha geeks and experimenters? 
The answer lies in demographics.  Our greatest population age group is in the Baby Boomer generation. While some of us (myself included) are still working, many others have retired.  And those of us still working are thinking about retirement. Our houses, once full of children and their friends, are now quiet and almost empty.  There are probably a couple of rooms we never even use.  The lawn is too big to take care of, and there are lots of maintenance tasks looming around the house and the garage. Maybe the driveway full of wintertime snow is becoming too challenging to face for another year. If this sounds familiar to you, you might have already downsized to a condo or smaller property and have had to face the problem of how to remain active on the HF bands. 
Of course people have always been retiring, and us boomers are not unique to the problems associated with moving into smaller digs.
What is different with my generation is that there are so doggoned many of us!  And in our numbers resides the bulk of the ham radio population.  With more hams than ever facing downsizing and the potential loss of HF antenna options, the market for remote base HF operation is only going to grow. That is one reason for those ads you are seeing for remote base software and hardware. It is time to begin learning more about remote base operation, so we will be featuring some short articles on this topic in the near future. 
Just to tickle your fancy, imagine the following:
  • Bill has been an active HF operator but has found it much more difficult to navigate the stairs to the basement ham shack in recent years. Although he can get down there on occasion, he is more comfortable controlling his station from the recliner in the living room. You don't have to be miles and miles away from your remote base station - it could be just down the stairs!
  • Fred likes to travel, and while on a car trip with his wife, he lets her do the driving and uses a remote base station in his state to check into a regional HF net. He likes the wireless internet service that is available from his mobile carrier.
  • Mary travels for business and when she is at the hotel she uses the hotel internet and her laptop computer to operate a remote base and make some HF contacts.
  • Larry has an excellent HF station at home and enjoys his lake cabin, where he uses the private remote base that he set up at his main QTH. 
  • Tom and Janet needed to simplify their lives and have moved into a condo.  Both enjoy HF operation via a shared remote base station where they pay a small fee for annual maintenance. 
More to come - so stay tuned!
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Split Rock Lighthouse to light up with RF

cartoon lighthouse with seagull on top
It's that time again - Time for the Handiham-affiliated Stillwater Amateur Radio Association to put the Split Rock lighthouse on the air to commemorate the sinking of the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald.
The "Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald" special event (Split Rock Lighthouse) is Nov 3-Nov 4, 1500Z-2345Z.  The station callsign is W0JH and the sponsors are the Stillwater, MN. Stillwater (Minnesota) Amateur Radio Association & Radio City, Inc.

Suggested frequencies are 21.360, 14.260, 7.260, 3.860.
Certificate: Shel Mann, 1618 West Pine St, Stillwater, MN 55082.
Requested W0JH QSL Certificates will ONLY be sent via e-mail in PDF.
W0JH will be operating from Split Rock Lighthouse (ARLHS: USA 783; Grid Square: EN47).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Handiham World for 16 October 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

Update: Handiham Office Moving

Last week we told you that the Handiham Program, originally part of Courage Center's Camping Department, is moving back to Courage Center.  There is a fairly short timeline for the move, because the moving truck arrives at camp the last week in October.  Because of the work associated with the move, I will be unavailable on Wednesday. That's why your weekly e-letter is a day early.
The good news is that October is usually a pretty reasonable weather month in Minnesota.  But - and this is just Mother Nature's way - it might just not be ideal.  I remember one October - it was 1991 - when we were just getting ready for Halloween. My son Will was going to go up and down the block with me on his very first Halloween trick or treat! But the trick was delivered by the weather - we had a huge dump of snow and ice.  There was no going out, even to the end of the driveway, so deep was the snow.  Even if we could have shoveled our way to the street, the streets were impassable. It would be many hours before travel would even be possible, and days before it became practical.
So I'm hoping that our office move will proceed on a day in late October when we have more typical weather.  But recalling that awful blizzard does also remind me that being prepared is a deliberate choice.  You have to decide that you are going to be ready for disruptive problems with infrastructure, and that could mean that travel becomes difficult or impossible, the power may fail, or that severe weather will cause anything from localized to widespread damage. Even crime and civil unrest are not out of the question.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you live in fear of such things, nor that you should build some kind of bunker.  The reasonable course of action is to start by assessing risk.  For example, if you live on the top of a hill you can probably cross floods off your list, but being prepared for lightning or wind damage is pretty reasonable.  Risk assessment is an important part of emergency planning, because it takes probabilities into account and that means that you will be adding those items to your list that are most likely to be used in a real emergency. If you are in ARES®, you have probably already attended training sessions or worked alongside public safety officers during emergency practice drills - or maybe even the real thing!  But all of us, even if we do not participate directly in public service communications, should be aware of the need for basic emergency preparedness.  From a communications standpoint, having a spare portable power source is a good idea. Keeping batteries for handheld radios charged and ready to go in a known safe location in your home is also a must. Keep other grab-and-go items like flashlights, small tools, and the first aid kit in known locations so that any family member can find them quickly.
Not all disasters happen quickly.  In the summer we worry more about severe storms moving in with conditions that may spawn tornados in minutes. In the winter the tornado risk drops dramatically but does not disappear altogether. In its place Mother Nature sends us blizzards and ice storms, but these typically move in more slowly and cover wide swaths of geography.  Weather radar and satellite images give us much more warning.  It is simply an example of how risks are always changing and how our planning and preparation must change as well.  A seasonal preparation for us is to get the snow shovels into position at both entrances to the garage and running the snow blower for the first time before the snow arrives. We check our fuel supply and make sure that we have a couple of cans of gasoline, both for the snow blower and for the portable generator. We change the batteries in all of our smoke detectors, and while we are at it check our battery supply and our flashlights.
But the typical ham's go-kit will not change too much with the seasons.  The core items related to communications will be the same summer and winter, and it will always be a good idea to keep those batteries charged and check the portable radios periodically.  Seasonal preparation will involve adding winter clothing and a blanket, perhaps a small shovel, and extra fuel. Things like bottled water and packaged food can be the same no matter what the season.
Anyway, my point is that we need to be aware of how risks change - and not only be prepared but flexible!  You might want to check out the emergency preparedness section on the ARRL website and start with the basics for good, flexible, reliable portable amateur radio operation. Then you need to be sure your home is stocked for the season, bearing in mind that winter could bring you a few surprises!
Finally - and I know some of you may need a reminder - Those antennas out in the back yard or on the tower won't fix themselves if they need service.  There is still time to get antenna maintenance done, but that window of opportunity is closing.  Having more than one antenna is good insurance if something goes down in the middle of the snow season. When you get done with this edition of your weekly e-letter check your antennas.
We will be checking on the feasibility of keeping remote base stations W0ZSW and W0EQO in operation as an alternative, but with the camp infrastructure (including the Internet providers) changing, there will be some inevitable disruption of service. As most of our readers and listeners know, we do a daily update called "Remote Base Health Report" on  Please check that as much as you can for more timely updates.
The W0EQO repeater will be temporarily decommissioned as a result of the move.
I will know more about when services will resume sometime in November.  In the meantime, we appreciate your patience.
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Handiham World for 10 October 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

Handiham Office Moving

As Jose, KK4JZX, reminded me in an email this morning, change is inevitable.  He had three excellent quotes about change:
  • "Become a student of change. It is the only thing that will remain constant." - Anthony D'Angelo'
  • "We must learn to view change as a natural phenomenon - to anticipate it and to plan for it. The future is ours to channel in the direction we want to go... we must continually ask ourselves, 'What will happen if...?' or better still, 'How can we make it happen?' " - Lisa Taylor
  • "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another." - Anatole France
Well, fasten your seat belts, because we are moving again, thanks to a big change.  The Handiham Program, originally part of Courage Center's Camping Department, is moving back to Courage Center.  Since 2009 we have been officially "officed" (Is that even a word?) at Camp Courage near Maple Lake, Minnesota.  Our mailing address has always been at the main Courage Center address in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and that has not changed.  However, we are moving lock, stock, and barrel out of our digs at Camp Courage.  There is a fairly short timeline for the move, because the moving truck arrives at camp the last week in October. 
This move will address ongoing problems we have had with logistics, since Camp Courage is an hour drive west of the Twin Cities metro area.  While any move is disruptive and unsettling (that change thing, you know), it is necessary to help us continue operating the program.  In the upcoming weeks we will be extremely busy with this project and will be unable to offer our services at the usual level. Services affected will range from the remote base station availability, tech support on lost or forgotten passwords, detailed communications on technical support issues, the equipment program, and answering the phone.  Yes, even answering the phone is difficult when you are planning for and following through with a project this big and time-consuming.  On the plus side, Nancy will be able to take most of the regular calls and email messages during the regular hours she works.  Since Pat (that's me!) will be managing the move - which is going to mean being away from the phone and computer for long periods of time and traveling to and from Camp Courage (a three hour round trip for me), obviously I will not be available.  While I will try my best to stay in touch, I will likely not have time for weekly audio lectures, and perhaps even the weekly e-letter and podcast will see some scheduling changes.
I will know more about when services will resume sometime in November.  In the meantime, we appreciate your patience.
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Kudos to MFJ

MFJ antenna dummy load

MFJ Enterprises celebrated their 40th anniversary October 5th and 6th (Friday and Saturday) in Starkville, Mississippi. The event was carried live on the W5KUB website, and darn it, I missed it because we were busy all last weekend. This morning, when I checked the W5KUB website, I saw that there is archived video of the event.
It did serve to remind me that MFJ has been around a long time, and when the MFJ catalog arrived in the mail this week, I was intrigued by the huge selection of ham radio accessories that have been added over the years.  There are things you just can't find just anywhere - things like azimuth-elevation rotators, ceramic doorknob capacitors, air-wound coils, ceramic insulators and other project parts, feed-through panels for antenna cables, and the Speech Intel Enhancer for people with hearing deficits.  It's a rare ham shack that doesn't have at least some MFJ products, that's for sure!
In any case, the annual catalog was a welcome sight in my mailbox, and it enjoys a spot in my periodical collection, within arm's reach from the main operating position in the radio room.  Congratulations to MFJ on four decades of providing products to the ham radio community.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Handiham World Podcast for 03 October 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

Knight Kit T-60 transmitter
Back in the fold and confused as heck.
From time to time I talk with an amateur radio operator who has been "away from the hobby" for a while - sometimes quite a few years. The scenario is that this person has kept his (or her) license current but has simply been busy with other things and has not only not been on the air, but has not been paying any attention at all to radio-related publications or websites. This sort of thing has been happening for the entire history of amateur radio. When I was first licensed as a teenager, I was full of enthusiasm for radio and electronics, so it was hard to understand how some of the other guys seemed to be able to set ham radio aside for a period of time and simply not be active at all. The explanations varied, but usually boiled down to being busy with work and raising a family. Over the decades that I have been licensed, I have found that my interests have changed and there is a natural ebb and flow in my attention to amateur radio. Still, I have never actually taken any kind of sabbatical from amateur radio in the sense that I put the equipment away and didn't get on the air. Some people do that. Even when I didn't operate a lot, I did stay in touch with my friends and kept up with the amateur radio news. I'm a long time ARRL member and QST has always been a good source for news and information about amateur radio and technology.
But what happens when you pack the equipment away and never read anything about amateur radio for a significant period of time?
The answer is that you are in for quite a surprise. In fact, there may be more than one surprise. For one thing, your treasured amateur radio equipment that has been packed away in boxes for the past 15 years is now hopelessly out of date. Vacuum tube equipment, if it was part of your ham shack decades ago, is now pass̩ unless you are an aficionado of such antique gear. If your equipment was used and sort of old when you originally got it, it may not even cover all of the modern bands. It might have analog frequency readout. Even if it is solid-state, the battery that maintains the settings may have died long ago and left the radio in a factory default mode. Even worse, equipment that has been stored unused for long periods of time may not even work. Frequently the storage conditions are less than optimal, especially if they allow for the intrusion of moisture Рeven humidity Рor are places that are allowed to get extremely cold or extremely hot, such as attics or garages. Most often the storage place is a basement, and if the basement is not well ventilated, humidity can be a slow killer as it causes contacts to corrode. Equipment that contains large electrolytic capacitors can be especially dodgy after long periods in storage because the capacitors may deteriorate. All in all, equipment that is unused for a long period of time is probably going to be a disappointment.
Another thing that I run into is people who, because they have not kept up with the amateur radio news, simply don't know about changes in the rules and regulations and the state of the art in amateur radio. Thus is it possible to run into people who still don't know that the Morse code examination is no longer a testing requirement and who have never heard of the 60 m band. It's a pretty good bet that these are the folks who will have the old, dysfunctional station that they think they are going to put back on the air. If my contact with this person is a phone call, I know that I'm going to have to settle in for quite a discussion as I bring them up to date on the last couple of decades in amateur radio. Doing so can be tricky; how does one explain EchoLink when the person has no idea that a personal computer is an essential component in the modern ham shack? You have to be kind of careful and tactful with some of your explanations because you have to remember where the other person is coming from. In a sense, it is as if they have time traveled, 20 years into the future, and when they look around they see technology that they never even imagined could exist, much less understand and use in amateur radio. I always try to start with the basics and help them assess their amateur radio goals so that I can make suggestions as to how they might proceed to get back into the hobby. The idea is to make getting back into amateur radio seem like a reasonable and reachable goal, and that means that you will have to help them figure out what they want to do. If they have kept up their amateur radio license all these years, they have obviously valued amateur radio as a worthwhile activity. I always figured that it is my job to help them be successful, and that can be as unique for every person as there are people with amateur radio licenses. The secret is to set them at ease so that they do not feel overwhelmed and hopelessly out of date. A friendly discussion about how they enjoyed amateur radio in the past can lead to clues about what their goals in amateur radio might be today. It never hurts to suggest the local radio club as a helpful resource.  Amateur radio publications and organizations like ARRL have a fantastic array of services and resources in print and on the web. Although I am willing to provide phone number and website information for amateur radio vendors, I like to make sure that a returnee to our amateur radio fold has a pretty good idea of what his or her goals are before putting down some big bucks for a new station. On the other hand, I am not going to be shy about helping the person understand the limitations of decades-old equipment that they have had in storage.
If you have a chance to help someone who has been out of amateur radio for a period of time, please be a good listener and help them to reach their amateur radio goals. Won't it be wonderful when you are able to make a contact with them on the air, and welcome them back?
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Troubleshooting 101:  SWR goes up when adding radials to vertical

Cartoon guy with hard hat and toolbag climbing tower
You have installed a short HF trap vertical antenna, ground-mounted in the back yard.  By short, I mean that it is a typical multiband antenna that uses a combination of reactances to be resonant on several HF bands without a tuner. If you consider that a quarter-wave on the 40 meter band would be around 10 meters, or over 30 feet, and your antenna is shorter than that because of the inductance in the traps, then you can expect the feedpoint impedance of the antenna to be lower than that of a full-sized quarter-wave single band vertical for that band.
With me so far?
Okay, so you connect the feedline, 50 ohm coax, and run some SWR tests.  The antenna tunes great, and the SWR is low - as close to 1:1 as you can get - in spite of the fact that you have not even put down any radials.  Tuning around with the receiver, you hear a few stations on several bands, but nothing spectacular.  An attempt to make a contact on 20 meters fails because you just can't seem to get through.
Time to finish the job by adding the ground radials that the manufacturer recommends! 
After the radials are in place, the bands really seem to have improved.  Stations are more numerous and louder, and it's time to check the SWR again before trying to make some contacts. 
Problem: The SWR has gone up!  It's not 1:1 anymore, but it isn't 3:1 either, though it does get pretty high toward the band edges on 40 meters. In fact, it's a bit too high - around 2:1 - where you like to hang out on 40, in the General class phone band, but lower, around 1.5 to 1 in the CW band. How should you solve this problem so that you can use the antenna in the phone band?
It is important to know what is going on here.  You might assume that the radials are cut to the wrong length and have detuned the system. It would be a lot of work to pull them up and put in new ones. But the problem did show after you installed the radials, right?
What you need to know:  Loaded (trap) vertical antennas that are physically shorter than a quarter-wave will typically have a rather low feedpoint impedance, below the 50 ohm impedance we would like to see when we use coaxial cable like RG-8X or RG-213. Over a perfect ground, this would result in an SWR of over 1:1, sometimes quite a bit over. However, you installed your vertical over the soil in your back yard, which is not a perfect ground. Ohmic loss in the soil might add just enough to the too-low feedpoint impedance of your vertical antenna to add up to a better match for the 50 ohm coax!
But there is more to a good antenna system than having a low SWR.  A dummy load has a low SWR and it is not an efficient antenna. Ground radials add to the conductivity of the soil, cutting ohmic loss and making the antenna more efficient.  That is why the addition of the radials is recommended by the manufacturer and why you found out that after they were installed you were able to hear more stations.  Unfortunately, adding the radials also had the effect of raising the SWR by cutting those losses that were contributing to a better match between feedline and antenna!
What to do:  A less than perfect SWR is not a tragedy and the antenna will work quite well as long as the transmitter will put out full or nearly full power. In the case of the 40 meter tuning problem, you may need to tune the antenna by taking it down and shortening the overall length by telescoping the tubing at the top section, or following whatever tuning procedure is recommended by the manufacturer. This brings the resonant point close to where you need it to enjoy whatever part of the band you wish. The manufacturer may also recommend a matching device at the feedpoint.  You can also use your automatic antenna tuner to flatten out the SWR so that the radio will put out full power when you want to run RTTY or CW, assuming the antenna's SWR might now be higher on the lower frequencies in the 40 meter band.  Whatever you do, don't skip the initial tuning process outdoors at the antenna, because an indoor automatic antenna tuner cannot compensate for an antenna that is far out of resonance.
A good radial system is your vertical antenna's best friend, even though it may raise the SWR a bit on some installations.  Overall, the gain in efficiency is well worth it!