Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 01 January 2014

Welcome to Handiham World.

Happy New Year from all of us at Handihams!

The Handiham office is closed on New Years Day and will reopen on Monday January 6, 2014.
Since I am actually sending this out on December 31, you still have time to donate to support the Handiham program. 
  • Giving is easy by clicking this link: www.couragecenter.org/GiveToday 
    Be sure to use the pull-down to designate Handihams as the recipient of your gift. 
To make a credit card gift call 763-520-0542. Be sure to mention the Handiham designation option to ensure your dollars support the program. 
Thank for you supporting ham radio and the Handiham program. We wish you a very fine and prosperous new year.  (And of course good DX!)

From the archives, it's Daily on the Air (DOTA) - Something to resolve to do in 2014:

Cartoon guy driving car with mobile antenna
I've noticed that there isn't much activity on my local repeater. Perhaps I'm just not listening at the right times, but I've sampled the repeater throughout the day on different days of the week, and aside from some scheduled net activity, users seem to be maintaining "radio silence"! I don't think this is just true of my local repeater, either. Some repeaters have always been more active than others, but the overall activity level just seems to me to be down over the past few months. 

Every experienced ham radio operator knows that there is an ebb and flow in ham radio interest and activity, sometimes corresponding with the season. Here in North America, during the winter, we are likely to be challenged by difficult driving conditions that may spur an increase in repeater activity during commuter "drive time". Ham radio is seen by some as a wintertime activity, so repeater activity can pick up simply because people are stuck indoors. There is a daily rhythm to the use of a typical repeater as well, with long-time users sometimes appearing at the same time of day for a short exchange. But getting back to my repeater, there are long, silent stretches of dead air throughout most of the day. I know there are people out there either listening at home or in their vehicles, but the repeater is still going unused. 

What to do? I decided that I'm going to try an experiment. I call it the "DOTA", or "daily on the air". That way it rhymes with "GOTA", which, during Field Day, stands for "get on the air". With DOTA I simply resolve to have a contact on my local repeater every single day. It doesn't have to be long, nor does it have to be at any particular time. It could be with a person I already know, or it could be a random contact with a person I have never met on the air. If I don't hear anyone, I will just say, "WA0TDA listening", and see if I can shake someone loose! My DOTA plan went into effect this morning, and, not hearing anyone on the repeater, I made a short call. Immediately, another member of my radio club answered and we had a short conversation. He told me about his new transceiver, and how he was planning to earn his HF privileges. During the rest of the day, I think it might be a good idea to listen to the repeater and see if I hear anyone calling. My QTH is only about a mile south of interstate Highway 94, and I may be able to hear stations new to the area as they operate mobile and check out the Twin Cities repeaters. After all, if I were driving someplace and wanted to have a QSO, I would want someone to answer me if I made a call on their repeater system!
My theory is that activity builds more activity. When a repeater is perceived by the local ham radio community as one that is reasonably active, it is more likely to get used. Try DOTA yourself and let me know if it works for you. 

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator

Monday, December 23, 2013

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Welcome to Handiham World.

And a Merry Christmas to you!

Pat with microphone & Santa hat
This week we are taking a few minutes to think about what is important on a day like Christmas.  Lots of gifts!
No, gifts are nice, but I'm really talking about getting together with family and friends to celebrate the season, whichever tradition you follow.  The traditional message of peace is a theme that the world could use, and add to that kindness, sharing, respect for each other...  Pretty soon we are all getting along!
So, since it is Christmas day, I'll wish you all a merry Christmas.  And since we celebrate many holidays this time of year, I'll also wish you a wonderful, happy holiday season from all of us at Handihams! 
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Welcome to Handiham World.

A dip in the pool - first thing this week!

Read/listen here - entire podcast/eletter

Pat shows off his new Plantronics USB headset!
It's time to test our knowledge by taking a dip in the pool - the Amateur Radio question pool, that is. 
Last week we went to the Extra Class pool and examined a question about VHF/UHF operating, which created some controversy:

E2C06 asked, "During a VHF/UHF contest, in which band segment would you expect to find the highest level of activity?"
The correct answer was: C, "In the weak signal segment of the band, with most of the activity near the calling frequency."
Two Handiham volunteer instructors disagreed with the question's wording.
Matt, KA0PQW:
Hi Pat, Just a little bit on VHF contesting. While you are right most of the contesting is in the weak signal part of the band there is an FM-only category. It is also true that 146.52 is off limits, but they do use 146.55 and 146.58 and some other frequencies on two meters. On all of the rest of the bands 6 meter FM, 1.25 meters, and 70 cm and higher you can use the FM calling frequencies. Two meters is the only band that using the FM calling frequency 146.52 is not allowed, so you can certainly contest on 52.525, 223.500, 446.000, and higher bands. Seems to me that question is not well asked. I have seen a few other questions like this, some of which are more opinion than fact.
I hope this helps some. Thanks & 73,
 Matt,  KA0PQW
Bill, K9BV:
I disagree with C (and probably the FCC!) because a contest would wipe out any weak signal operation!!! Therefore, D is the best choice as most contests seem to operate near calling frequency, especially if the contest is lightly attended...
Bill - K9BV
Matt and Bill are both right, but of course the QPC (Question Pool Committee) would probably point out that in any multiple choice exam one is supposed to pick the "most correct" answer.  Even so, given the great variability in contests and usage by band, I'll have to concede that this isn't really that easy to answer. 
This gets me to thinking about the question pools and how some of the questions can seem clear enough when they are first added to the pool, but once feedback is received from the greater amateur radio community, such deficiencies get called out.  In other cases, the technology changes faster than the pool questions, and that can leave questions about legacy technologies still sitting there in the examinations we place on the table in front of the candidates. 
I thought about this last week when I was preparing my audio lecture on television, specifically fast scan amateur television.  There are several - actually more than several - questions related to cathode ray tubes (CRT's) and the scanning technology that has become mostly irrelevant between the time these questions were conceived and today, when LCD screens and digital TV are the norm.  Most of us no longer have any devices with CRT's in them anywhere around the house!
The point is that the QPC always has a challenge keeping the pools relevant to today's technology while also producing clear, unambiguous questions.  This is most definitely NOT an easy job, so be sure to check out the pre-release versions of the question pools as they are posted on the NCVEC website.  Having good questions in the pools is important, and if you spot something that is in error or not clear, you may have a chance to weigh in to get it changed.  It is best to bounce your thoughts off a friend who is familiar with the pools to find out if he or she concurs with your opinion on the question.
Finally, I think we should have a new question this week, and it comes from the General Class pool:
G2B01 asks, "Which of the following is true concerning access to frequencies?"
Possible choices are:
A. Nets always have priority
B. QSO’s in process always have priority
C. No one has priority access to frequencies, common courtesy should be a guide
D. Contest operations must always yield to non-contest use of frequencies
The correct answer is C, "No one has priority access to frequencies, common courtesy should be a guide." 
Guess what?  This is another one of those questions where there is room for interpretation!  In selecting the MOST CORRECT answer, you can often look for qualifiers like the word "always" in the answer.  In this case, three of the four answers have "always" in them, and that should set off the warning alarm that those choices may not be correct.  The reason is that in the real world, "always" covers too much territory.  Few things are "always" correct.  For example, if answer B had read "QSO’s in process usually have priority" instead of "QSO’s in process always have priority", I would have to choose that as the best answer, at least as correct as answer C.  Similarly, if answer A had read "Nets sometimes have priority" instead of "Nets always have priority", which could certainly be the case in a communications emergency during a Skywarn activation, that one would be equally correct. 
Guy with his head in a book
Today's homework: Help keep wrong or ambiguous questions out of the final release. The newest Technician Pool for July 1 2014 release is available for your inspection at the NCVEC website.
Please e-mail handiham@couragecenter.org to comment.
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Welcome to Handiham World.

Change is in the wind.

Allied catalog page from 1968 showing Ocean Hopper shortwave receiver kit
I'm looking at a page from a 1968 Allied Radio Knight-Kit catalog, and reminding myself what it was like in the heyday of short-wave listening.  The "Ocean Hopper" said it all right in its name, which conjured up dreams of far-off places around the globe.  On the same page there is the "Space Spanner" 2-band receiver kit, which would let you "thrill to broadcasts from Moscow, Rome, and Havana".
Yes, those were heady days for a young guy who just got his General Class license.  Like many ham radio enthusiasts of the day I had begun my exploration of the science and art of electronics by listening to the radio.  First it was AM broadcast, which I discovered would serve up distant stations late at night.  We had an old RCA Victor radio, and I discovered that it had something called "short-wave".  After figuring out that there was a place to connect a wire antenna I discovered that there was an entirely new world of radio out there, and one didn't need to stay up late into the night to hear stations from around the world!  Back then, all nations considered having an official short-wave service a necessity, and if they could afford to set one up, they did.  Havana put a stout signal into cold, wintery Minnesota and made me think about palm trees and Caribbean beaches. Radio Moscow had an air of dangerous intrigue - a propaganda outlet for Communism, for heaven's sake!  The BBC was a stalwart, highbrow source for world news.
When I visited the ARRL website, as I do every day, I spotted a story about good old short-wave listening: Voice of Russia — former “Radio Moscow” — to End Shortwave Broadcasts.  Yes, another international service has bitten the dust.  Not, mind you, that I would have even noticed had it not been for the ARRL story.  Like most of us, I get my news and information from many different sources, all of which have access to world-wide stories.  The Internet has made world-wide communication so ubiquitous that I rarely even stop to consider that it's the reason I actually listen more to the BBC now than I did back in the days of short-wave.  The BBC is carried on my local public radio service, Minnesota Public Radio, and is available as an Internet stream as well as on the FM broadcast band.  Unlike the Ocean Hopper, my FM radios and my Grace WI-FI radio serve up a perfect signal anytime without regard to the vagaries of short-wave propagation.
Is this good? Or bad? 
I guess the only answer is "yes" because it is really both.  It's good to have more reliable, clear reception.  It is there when I want to listen, and I don't have to put up with fading and interference. On the other hand, Internet-dependent radio is also a potentially brittle technological confabulation, mostly reliable and getting more so, but still potentially breakable.  It's just that there are so many points at which the break can happen:
  • Your home network could fail or reassign IP addresses, interrupting connectivity.
  • Your ISP could experience an outage for many reasons - equipment failure, overload, or damage to infrastructure, such as when a fiber optic cable gets cut by an excavating crew or storm damage cuts an overhead cable or topples a tower.
  • Bad guys could mount an attack on a web service, interrupting streaming.
  • A government could deem a service to be undesirable and block it.  So could an employer, if you listen at work.
  • A computer problem at your own PC could disrupt streaming.  We all know that our home computers are complicated and depend on hardware and software dancing together perfectly!
Short of losing power or having a solar storm, short-wave is going to be there for you.  It's simpler and therefore less "brittle", and less likely to break.  In fact, the same thing is true for Amateur Radio in general, assuming that the Internet is not a link in a radio system.  This ability to stand alone without complicated infrastructure is one of our features!
But, as we suggested, change is in the wind.  Short-wave broadcasting has been declining in importance for a long time, and the world has become increasingly dependent on Internet communications.  To me, that makes our unique ability to carry on standalone communications even more valuable!  If the power goes down, I can get going again on emergency power.  I can't say the same thing about an Internet outage.  I like the Internet and use if for lots of things, even ham radio applications like logging, remote base operation, and VoIP services like Echolink and IRLP.  But here's the thing:  I may embrace the changes that made these services possible, but I have not - and will not - forget about short-wave and its unique advantages.  I'll enjoy the BBC on  an Internet radio, but I won't set aside my HF station. 
You just never know when you'll need to "ocean hop" without a smartphone or computer.
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator

Read or listen to the entire newsletter this week.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 04 December 2013

Welcome to Handiham World.

Last week we talked about display advertising in ham radio publications and how blind readers did not have access to it due to postal regulations. There is a resource we discovered that will work for you!

Microphone & eyeglasses (drawing)

Blind?  Try alternative ways to access ham radio advertising content on the web.

Since most of us relish the display advertising in all of the ham radio publications, I'm not surprised that one of the most popular activities at Handiham Radio Camp is our discussion of the display ads in the current magazines.  Last week's e-letter and podcast featured some news about what I saw in the latest magazines.  Of course that kind of discussion is fun, but it's hardly comprehensive and it probably doesn't cover what you are looking for at any given time.  For that kind of targeted research, you turn to the web. 

The Internet is a big place.  That is at once both an advantage when you are searching for something and a disadvantage.  There is truth to the saying that you can't really sip information from the Internet - it's more like trying to drink from a fire hose, with the information coming at you fast and at high volume.  This is a problem for guys like me who can see the pages of search results, but blind computer users experience the web in a different, more linear way.  With screen reading programs providing the necessary interface between the computer and the user, content must be read a line or phrase at a time. You cannot quickly take in an entire page on the screen.  That makes searching a challenge, and it means that blind computer users need to have a strategy to target their searches in order to narrow the results more efficiently. 

While looking through my December 2013 QST print version, I discovered what is just the ticket:  An on line version of the QST Index of Advertisers that appears at the back of every issue.  The URL is: http://www.arrl.org/ads/adlinks.html, which takes you to a page entitled "Meet Our Business Partners".  This page is open to any user, whether logged in to the ARRL website or not.  The thing that makes it really useful is that it closely mirrors the Index of Advertisers in the print version of QST while providing links to advertiser websites, or in some cases, toll-free phone numbers. 
Well, if QST has that kind of resource, how about CQ?  I know that the print CQ has an "Advertiser's Index" at the rear.  Sure enough, a visit to the CQ website did turn up "CQ Amateur Radio Advertiser Links", exactly what I was looking for.  The URL is: http://www.cq-amateur-radio.com/cq_advertisers.html. Like the ARRL page, there are links to advertiser websites as well as phone numbers.

"This is a bonanza", I thought to myself.  "Is there a third list on the Worldradio Online site?"
Sure enough - the URL is http://www.worldradiomagazine.com/wr_visit_ads.html and the site is called "Visit Our Advertisers". 

I suggest that you save all three websites in your browser bookmarks.  I have lots of bookmarks, so I've created a "Ham Radio" bookmark folder just for Amateur Radio related pages. Whether you can see the ham radio display ads or not, these bookmarks will prove useful many times as you research new products or simply look for contact information from Amateur Radio manufacturers and services. 

Happy hunting!

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator