Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcome to Handiham World.

Happy New Year

We will close on Wednesday afternoon, New Year's Eve for a long New Year's Day holiday.  We reopen on Monday, January 5, 2015.  
The traditional welcome to the New Year is ARRL Straight Key Night.  I'd planned to acquire a straight key, but don't have one yet.  If you have trouble sending CW, it can be so frustrating to work a paddle and keyer that you might be tempted to just pick up a microphone instead.  A straight key can be the answer for anyone, really.  Whether you have a disability that makes using fancy keyers and paddles problematic or you just plain prefer to form the dots and dashes of the Morse Code yourself, it doesn't hurt to have a straight key in your station.  If you are a newbie to the code, the straight key is an essential practice tool.  It can always serve as a teaching tool later on if you help someone else learn code, and it can always be dusted off for service on Straight Key Night!
If you are not planning to get on CW, there may be some folks welcoming the New Year on IRLP and Echolink.  This sort of thing is usually a free-for-all without any direction; just a gathering of whoever wants to show up with no particular topic, time, or net control.  
Two things we have come to expect at this time of year are year-end retrospectives and New Year resolutions.  We will spare you a long list of happenings about things that you already knew about anyway and we will not badger you about stuff you should do in the upcoming year...  except for one thing, and it is this:
Please check your ham shack for safety!  Today we will talk about preventing fires.
What got me thinking about safety was the sound of the emergency vehicles rounding the corner in front of our house, heading for a residential fire.  This was a few weeks ago, and no one was hurt in the fire, but the damage was profound, between the part of the house that burned and the terrible water damage from the firefighting process. 
We work with electricity every day, especially in the ham shack.  Fires are rare, but they do happen - usually because something was done wrong and has failed as a result. The basics are to avoid overloading circuits, fuse 12 VDC equipment power cables with the recommended fuse sizes, dress cables carefully, away from sharp metal edges and so that they are not a tripping hazard, keep equipment cabinets in place (especially if they contain high voltage), and make sure that everything is adequately ventilated.  
Most of us know all too well that there are never enough AC outlets for all of our gadgets and radio equipment.  Yes, you can solve this problem with a few power strips and extension cords, but be careful what you plug into them.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Welcome to Handiham World.

Cartoon snowman holding handy-talkie.

Holiday wishes

Happy Hanukkah!  The holiday season is well-joined with the beginning of Hanukkah (December 16 - 24) and Thanksgiving already behind us.  Since this will be your second-to-last E-letter and podcast of 2014, we want to take this opportunity to wish everyone all the best for a wonderful holiday season.  Next week we will be closed for the Christmas holiday on Christmas Eve and reopening on Monday, December 22.  We will close on Wednesday afternoon, New Year's Eve for a long New Year's Day holiday.  We reopen on Monday, January 5, 2015.  There will be no E-letter next Wednesday, so we'll take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas.  

What's on your Christmas list?

Assuming you've been good boys and girls, you probably have a wish list.  Will Santa deliver?  I guess he probably has to balance all of your good behavior on the air with the reasonableness of your requests!  Being technical-minded folks, we can imagine a sort of mathematical equivalency.  Let's look at a few examples:
Wish List format:  Item wished for = positive behavior.  We will list the item you would like and the behavior that we think should be required to earn it.  Santa has to have some kind of accounting system, right?
So what happens if you are on Santa's naughty list? 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Welcome to Handiham World.

Cartoon world with radio tower

Yes, you can say it on the air.  But should you?

Just last week I started teaching the "Communicating With Other Hams" section from the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual. Since this is the Technician course, I never assume that my students will know how to start and conduct an actual contact on the air.  The contact has certain procedural requirements, of course.  You need to follow the rules for identification, but aside from that FCC mandate, you do actually have very few restrictions on either what you say or how you say it.  A basic contact consists of exchanging callsigns, signal reports, names, locations, and station information.  If you are in a contest, you'll do a quick exchange of the required contest information and move on to the next contact. In a net, your contact time may be extended over most of the time the net is in operation, even though you may actually say very little unless you are called upon to handle traffic or do whatever it is the net is all about.  In a casual conversation between stations or in a social net, the topic of conversation can vary widely and can go in any direction.  It's always safe to talk about the weather, but maybe discussing photography or aviation may be your cup of tea. Go for it!
This brings me to the section in the book entitled "Appropriate Topics".  It should go without saying, but indecent and obscene language is prohibited.  This is the sort of thing that isn't really defined and is hard to enforce, but most of us generally have no trouble recognizing bad language when we hear it.  Then there is the fatal triad: sex, religion, and politics.  These three topics are deadly at the Thanksgiving day table because any one of them - or any combination - is guaranteed to offend someone and start a family feud.  When I first started my ham radio career, one of the best pieces of advice I received was to avoid talking about sex, religion, or politics on the air.  It was good advice then and is good advice now. 
Just don't do it!
Yesterday I was listening to an early morning net on 75 meters, and some guy decided to tell a joke about a priest hearing confession and an Obama supporter.  In a matter of a few seconds, he managed to offend a major religious group and anyone who voted for the President.  This is bad, bad form.  The venue - a popular, long-running net, should never have been the forum for this kind of thing, which included two of the three "don'ts":  religion and politics. 
What's the net control to do?
The introduction of topics in bad taste can put the Net Control Station in an uncomfortable position.  Put yourself in the unenviable role of the NCS. You don't know whether to chastise the guy or just move on.  It can be tricky, because you have to tread a fine line between blowing the incident out of proportion, thus calling even more attention to it and causing people to start choosing sides, or just doing nothing - which is an implicit acceptance of bad behavior on the net.  Since every incident will be unique, it's hard to be ready with the appropriate response.
I would not be afraid to say, "Please avoid topics involving sex, religion, or politics on the (fill in the blank) net."  This is a fairly benign reminder to your net participants that you do not welcome certain topics. 

Read or listen to the entire podcast here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 03 December 2014

Welcome to Handiham World.

Cartoon world with radio tower

Vintage radio gear?  What does vintage even mean?

Read or listen to the entire news here. 

Retired Handiham volunteer K0CJ with a Collins station in the old W0ZSW shack at Courage Center.
CJ Robinson, K0CJ, is posing with a Collins station in this old photo of the W0ZSW station when it was still located at Courage Center. CJ was one of our long time volunteers at the Handiham repair shop.  I said hi to him this morning via Echolink.  It is an example of old tech vs. new tech.  How times have changed!
Yesterday I talked with a fellow who is interested in getting old equipment on the air.  I chalk this up to a complex mixture of nostalgia, the fun of doing restoration work on old radio equipment, the fellowship offered by participation in on-the-air groups of operators who share your passion for vintage radios, and the good feeling one gets from tackling a challenge and meeting it head on. These days, using old tube gear seldom is a choice made simply to save money.  I guess we'll let the vintage radio enthusiasts define what is "vintage", since we are not experts!
Thinking it through:
I have to admit that I like the idea of vintage gear and vintage operating, but I know myself well enough to realize that I don't have enough time and space to put into that facet of Amateur Radio.  To do it right, I would have to reconfigure my ham shack - as you might expect, since the vintage gear tends to be big and needs adequate ventilation and uses more power.  My ham shack is sandwiched between the basement stairs and the utility room wall, so it can't be expanded.  That would mean tearing everything out and building tiered shelves while still trying to keep everything in reach.  Furthermore, I'm already pretty well maxed out on AC circuits.  To do it right, I'd need to run another 15 amp circuit, and that would mean contacting an electrician.  You don't plug this power-hungry vacuum tube stuff into some cheesy power strip!  This is starting to look like a real project!
Hey, there's more!
But wait, folks - that's only part of what you have to do when you embrace vintage gear.  The ham shack is the place where the old gear shines - it's on display and that's where you will put it on the air.  But what about making it ready after you first bring it home from the hamfest?  You will need a serious workbench to go through the old gear.  It will need adequate power, good lighting, and several essential test instruments and tools.  A good multimeter, an oscilloscope, a dummy antenna load, plenty of hand tools like screwdrivers, nut drivers, wrenches, pliers, a soldering station, and an isolation transformer are all going to come in handy.  These radios are big, and they have vacuum tubes. They require high voltages from their power supplies, along with several other voltages.  There will be lethal voltages present when the radio is powered up, and large capacitors in the power supply can store high voltages even when the radio and power supply are turned off and unplugged.  You have to know what you are doing when you work on this old gear!  There can be dangerous voltages where you don't expect them, including on the chassis and metal cabinet, due to faults in the circuit. An isolation transformer can help, but you have to learn a whole new set of safety procedures to avoid getting a shock.  Even those of us who grew up with this old gear cannot afford to be complacent around it.  After all, we are used to working with 12 VDC power these days, and remembering everything about vintage gear with its hundreds of volts on vacuum tube plates is not always easy!  Things like discharging electrolytic capacitors in the power supply and assuming that you could get a shock by touching the radio's metal cabinet are not things that we think about quite so much with newer gear, but they are vital to keep in mind when working with vintage equipment.  You also have to be careful when handling the old gear, just because of its bulk and mass.  Heavy radios may even call for a two man lift.  Seriously, you can injure your back while trying to heft some of the old stuff! 
The payoff:
We now know that we need well-equipped shop space and a reconfigured ham shack.  If you are still eager to "go vintage" at this point, I think you might be a true vintage radio enthusiast.  The rewards are there for you:  The fun of finding and restoring a vintage treasure, the excitement of giving it a place of honor in your ham shack, and the satisfaction of actually using it on the air.   
Avery, K0HLA, with the Collins station.
Pictured:  Avery, K0HLA, posed with the complete Collins station at the old Handiham office in Courage Center.
(For Handiham World, this is Pat Tice, WA0TDA.)