Saturday, February 16, 2008
I would love to think ham radio is a noble hobby and an opportunity for others to enjoy the social and technical aspects of this hobby; a method of exercising "both" sides of the brain in a constructive and one would hope, fun way.
One thing I'm discovering as I enter my 3rd year in this hobby is a bit of, shall we say, disappointment in several areas. These would be the "myths" of ham radio which I though were the unchanging "truths" about the hobby and the people in it.
I bring these things up - not in anger or in malice, but as a point of discussion or reason.
At any rate, your mind may be wondering; What's my beef?
Myth #1 - Ham radio is the pinnacle of technology for civilians interested in electronics and communications.
While this sort of thing is true with some hams - those who experiment with frequencies and modes of operation - these folks are in the minority. Most ham radio activities actually hearkens back to earlier times, from AM to the "newer" yet 50 year old SSB. One can go to any hamfest and pick up any piece of ancient equipment, get it on the air, and successfully use it - perhaps even to another station using the same identical equipment.
Digital modes and capabilities are 40 years old, by many standards, and many hams still use 15 to 25 year old modems to communicate. When I attend hamfests it's more like a trip down memory lane - VOM's, oscilloscopes, even shortwave equipment I used when I was in high school are numerous and prevalent at these events.
I have no problem with preserving our past, but I really question whether we want to LIVE in it. This concerns me to no end and hams spend considerable time and effort obtaining, preserving, and using these relics - to the detriment of more modern equipment or for missing the joy of tinkering in a new mode or capability.
Myth #2: Hams are primarily social animals and seek other hams and members of the public to promote and preserve ham radio.
Some do this, but, as I've mentioned in prior blog entries, when attending club meetings (and I'm talking different clubs and meetings - not just the groups I belong to) the LAST thing fellow hams want to do is reach out and talk to either "new" people in the hobby, or fellow hams they don't already know. In short, they head to their friends they met 30+ years ago and stick with those people. You won't find them congregating with new people, nor do they extend a hand of friendship to people possessing new call signs or help others who look "lost" amongst in a sea of unfamiliar faces.
Also, I've noticed, when hams have an opportunity to promote the hobby they "talk a great game" - saying they will attend this or that event to promote ham radio - but as is the situation with any ordinary hobby, fail to show up. The same handful of people attend and promote those hobbies while the vast majority of those who SAY they contribute - don't. They perpetuate a lie and their imaginary presence at events speaks volumes about how much they really care about their hobby and their community. "Let someone else do it and I'll take 'credit' on the air." I personally grow weary going to event after event and seeing the same 1/2 dozen faces doing all the work and all the promotion. Yet I can expect three or more times that number of hams headed to a local hamfest "looking for deals". To me, that's selfish and self-centered.
Myth #3: Hams are optimistic.
No they aren't. They could quite probably be the most pessimistic, negative, people I've ever met. I think some people actually exit this hobby because they get so tired of the negative vibes over the airwaves and at meetings. It's an increasingly older crowd of white men who lament "America's diminishing greatness", evil politics, terrible nations, and lousy operators worldwide.
Yawn. Let me speak to this ham directly: I'm tired of hearing about how your fellow ham is "lousy human being" and "doesn't deserve a radio license". I really don't want to hear about how you hate "this or that" political party, or how the loss of "CW" has created "morons on the air" and yes, I can tell from your "codified comments" on HF that the "knuckle-head" operator you were referring to from "last Friday night" was a new operator. Good for you. You proved my point by personally dispelling the first two myths. Otherwise you would have pronounced to your fellow hammies how you actually HELPED that operator at better operation. But you know, I've NEVER heard that commentary on HF. Not once. Never. Nada.
Your personal opinions are heard not only by your small group of friends on your nightly informal net - it's heard by many more people - some hams, some shortwave listeners, some international. When they hear negative comments about political parties, people, and countries - that leaves a lasting, NEGATIVE impression of the transmitting party (that would be YOU) and a negative impression of ham radio in general. You are, in effect, driving another nail into ham radio's coffin. Doesn't that make one feel great about the hobby?
Myth #4: Hams mentor others and help them become better, more knowledgeable operators.
Hardly. Many hams never venture out of their shacks. They hide in there - away from family, friends and other hams. Their hobby is their oasis and they selfishly never share their passion or interests with other family members, kids, or new hams. They don't attend club meetings, or if they do, run to their friends with the sole intent to talk about what new "do-dad or "what-not" they acquired for their shack. You never hear a story about how they visited the BSA or some social event and brought in new people to the hobby. You don't hear much from them talking to a new ham on the radio. If they DO talk to a new ham it's usually about how they had "no clue" what an RST is - or how they ventured into contesting frequencies causing the earth to fall out of equilibrium and ruining their contesting fun.
It's another "object lesson" for "listeners" to stay out of the hobby.
Also, you'll hear how these individuals speak affectionately about their Elmer who got them involved in the hobby, but never about how they helped someone else - new - get into their beloved hobby.
Myth #5: Hams are prepared for any emergency and willing to take on health and humanitarian messages and missions for their community.
Nope. Most who claim ARES or RACES certification, or drone on during emergency preparedness nets NEVER check in on their local traffic nets, or actively pursue contact with their local hospitals, Red Cross, or other organizations. Case in point, I had a RACES member proudly check into my NTS net. The usual 3 or 4 people who regularly handle message traffic weren't available. I asked him to take a message in his local area. My request was met with silence. I know he heard my request because he has never checked in on my net ever again. My punishment for daring to ask "royalty" to do something constructive on my net. I can only speculate that his opinion is "how dare he request help of ME - MR. RACES."
In short, if there IS an emergency and his services are needed - I seriously doubt he'll be anywhere NEAR a radio. It's a farce, perpetrated and reinforced on practice emergency nets. I wonder just what would happen, in a real emergency, who would show up and who would pitch in. In another example, NTS performed an emergency drill on our local repeater. This drill included the same 4 or 5 people who regularly check in. The ARES and RACES people - who were given a month's notice as to where and when this event was taking place failed to show up for the drill. Man, now THAT'S community involvement, isn't it? Yet on their own nets, it's so important to give out their "card number" and show THEY CARE (oh - sorry - SPECIAL) and have the card number to prove it.
"Tiring" doesn't begin to describe my feelings about all this.
Myth #6: Hams respect each other.
No, they don't. A recent case in point include a club member of one of the clubs I belong to who won't talk to another member because they felt "they were done wrong." It doesn't really matter that this member has a rather negative profile amongst fellow hams or that they failed, numerous times, to "come through" when they promised to do so on any number of requested club activities. Failing to see the "mote in their own eye" they simply decided to opt out of talking to this person on the air. Childish.
Another example comes from a ham who achieved Extra under the new FCC rules. He immediately applied for a vanity call, and disappeared into the Dirty Secret Ham Association. This is an informal group of people who impersonate "old time" hams - talking and acting - like they've been in the hobby for years. To make matters worse, this individual thought it would be a great idea to berate another ham - on the air - by stating this ham wasn't worthy of doing anything for the club because "he didn't even know CW". This is an interesting comment as the "Extra" ham making the accusation didn't complete Element #1 the entire year he was licensed, instead opting for the change in FCC rules DROPPING Morse Code before venturing into General and Extra class and not actually having to "validate" his CW claim. I doubt the lad could pound out a single letter of code himself! If it weren't so tragic what happened, it would be laughable. His public service was non-existent - his willingness to do things for his local club - noticeably absent.
Lastly, a recent event involved a very public condemnation of ARRL policy in front of an invited ARRL official, in a club meeting - suggesting termination of contact with another organization.
Members were subjected to the tirade which should have happened (if at all) behind closed doors. In fact, the entire episode played out like a scene from another club - one whom the angry club member didn't particularly like for that exact same reason. The irony was striking. It's unlikely this invited ARRL official will ever attend this club's meetings ever again - just because this one member wanted to "set the record straight" in front of "everyone and God". I say, "if you wouldn't do it at work - don't do it anywhere else either!" It was uncalled for and very uncomfortable to watch.
So, if you've read this far, and you are a ham, your blood pressure is probably through the roof. Good thing too, there's a reason why I wrote this. It's simply this. Ham operators - myself included - aren't special - nor do we wield special powers, insight, loyalty, or love. We are ordinary people who, potentially, can do good for their community, but they have to recognize several things.
1. In order to gain the respect of the community, you must give to it freely and honestly before they respect you. No "official" capacity, radio related or not, will automatically give you that respect.
2. You must be honest and caring about yourself and others around you. How you conduct yourself speaks volumes about you and how you relate to others - on and off the radio.
3. Give back to the hobby. Offer your services and not lip-service. A liar is easy to spot - particularly if you are the person "giving" and someone else is SAYING they are "giving".
Our hobby is in trouble. Frequencies and operators are in short supply - both at our peril of non-interest and collective dysfunctional behavior. We have more passion for berating others and "making that radio deal" than finding ways to preserve the hobby.
I find this misuse of personal energy most disturbing. Don't you?
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The first such film I noticed this blatant "faux pas" was the testosterone and explosion laden Bruce Willis summer "blow-em-up", "Die Hard - Part II" (or 3 or something). In that film the "terrorist/bad guy" had reset the ILS markers for landing aircraft at Kennedy International, causing the planes to crash just short of the runway. Suddenly "hundreds of aircraft" were in danger of running out of fuel. Of course, I'm screaming from my theater seat, "Pick another airport - STUPID!!!"
I has a similar moment in "I Am Legend". That movie, created out of a short story by one of my favorite TV/movie writers, Richard Matheson. His works includes some of the best original Twilight Zone teleplays, the cult romantic favorite "Somewhere in Time", and the most memorable TV "movie of the week" ever made, "Duel".
The story revolves around "the last man on earth", Dr. Robert Nevell, tasked with "saving mankind" and reversing a plague called the "KV Virus". Opening shots include Manhattan devoid of any human life and Nevell waiting for someone to appear.
His idea of a "distress call" is to send out a radio message stating "he's still alive" and to contact him, transmitting his message on "all AM frequencies". Well, my question to such a bold move is - well - How did he get the transmission stations to work? Is he an electrical engineer? Where did the power to do these transmissions come from? How long did it take?
Obviously our hero never heard of amateur radio. Any well equipped station would have an emergency power source, HF antenna, and a working radio transmitter which any "normal" person might figure out after a day or two futzing with the controls. Not to mention - if there ARE people out there listening - they would be OTHER HAMS. His odds of someone picking up the signal AND transmitting back to him that most important of message, "You are not alone."
But not our hero. He uses the most complicated and least likely way people might "come to his rescue", running over to all the local radio stations - starting up their generators and separately ensuring "all the AM frequencies" are populated with his message.
Oh brother. Sorry Richard, I'm not buying this line.
In a related apocalyptic show, "Jericho", I'm happy to report, one of the characters had enough sense to run over to the local ham shack, meet the CRAZY ham radio operator (that part was very accurate), and begin transmitting (and getting QSO's) from some 100 contacts to which he documented and "thumb tacked" their locations on the world map, conveniently taped above the Yeasu FT-101B radio transceiver. Now THAT'S using some real thinking. No engineering degree needed!
The "Legend" story is compelling and leaves plenty of action as well as shots of New York more akin to the pre-Disney makeover a few years back repleat with trash, crabgrass, and wild animals wandering vacant New York streets and avenues.
At any rate, much like other shows with huge plot holes, "I Am Legend" also suffers from a similar malady easily noticed by my fellow ham buddies.
As in the early days of the unreliable automobile, broken down on the side of the road, with horse and carriage moving effortlessly by the frustrated driver, a voice shouting, "Get a horse!", our modern version - or more exactly - our 2012 sarcastic equivalent, while Nevill battles zombies and wild leopards, I can hear someone in the audience shouting "Get a RADIO!"
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Created by 3 commercial pilots in 2000, (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation) VATSIM a free simulation software, would couple with the popular Microsoft "Flight Simulator" to create the world's first virtual, air traffic system. Their purpose; create a interest and appreciation for air traffic control by offering an interactive way to experience the job in the "first person".
The program contains the necessary communications software, screens, and instructions to create an "air chair" flight controller and link them to the a huge supply of wannabe Internet virtual pilots. Borrowing heavily from FAA Part 121, the official IFR flight rules used by real pilots, the "game" pits trained controllers to move air traffic from any spot in the world "safely" to any other spot.
So where does the amateur radio operator fit in, and how on earth can a game hone the skills of a licensed operator?
For the amateur radio operator it's a new challenge in sending accurate and technical instructions in an organized way. Learning to stack and monitor dozens of aircraft in 3 dimensional space will give a new appreciation of the men and women who "push tin" for a living.
During one of my stints as TRACOM for the virtual Detroit Metro Airport I had two aircraft taking off simultaneously from runways 21L and 21R. Somehow in the instructions I gave the aircraft on 21L a right turn and the other aircraft of identical type a left turn (instead of the other way around). As you can imagine, this created an instant problem as I almost had a major crash with the loss of "hundreds of virtual lives". A lesson learned: It's easy to make a serious mistake. The same holds true during civil emergencies - say the wrong thing and people, potentially could suffer from your mistake.
In the software a klaxon goes off and the aircraft icon changes to a "conflict alert" icon. Meaning - once the aircraft is handed off to another controller, they know that particular aircraft was in an "near collision incident". That usually prompts some comments from fellow controllers on your "flight control" capabilities.
For us, this game provides us a couple of curiously interesting things.
1. It forces us to work many situations at the same time. Whether it be APRS enabled "net control", for a bike run, marathon, Skywarn or other "spread out" civic event, successfully navigating aircraft to and from tightly controlled airspace via voice is a splendid way to "bone up" for your next event.
2. Using organizational and radio skills and attaching it to new rules and regulations concerning aircraft a whole new challenged comes to a skill you already have - radio communications. If you've "done it all" in the world of amateur radio, unless you're a pilot or flight control in real life, you've never experienced this fascinating hobby.
Try it out - I'm sure you'll be hooked in no time.
The software for this program is free and down-loadable.
Try it out.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
It's my belief every ham should make that effort. They should show their enthusiasm and share that enthusiasm with potential, new hams.
Personally, some of the behavior of seasoned hams suggest the opposite, in my view. And while any licensed ham is free to do whatever is legally allowed, there's an undercurrent of resentment about where the FCC has gone in recent months and a perceived "loss of tradition" involving just how long a new ham should have to "wait" before entering HF or being considered "worthwhile" by established hams.
This may seem "hurtful", but as a new ham myself (licensed only for the last 1 1/2 years) - I'm still feeling a little like an "outsider" myself.
I've heard the following phrases and their descriptions by fellow hams.
Appliance Operator: A person who buys a complicated radio and knows nothing about its operation, construction, or capabilities. They PPT and they are on the air.
Extra Easy Class: These are people who earned their Extra class with 5WPM or without element 1 code as a requirement.
CB Operator Mentality: Anyone - usually with a new call sign - who is trying to learn ham radio with a new rig and reach out to a repeater - any repeater - to talk with someone.
I'm sure there are others, but my point of this post is simple: as radio operators who are passionate about our hobby it's in our best interest to help and engage other operators - particularly our new operators.
Currently, with the new removal of element 1 (CW) from FCC regulations some folks who couldn't or wouldn't learn CW can now gain their General Class license. Listening to some hams you would have thought the world came to an end. But, in fact, the ranks of General and Extra Class have been in decline for years. The result? We could have lost those frequencies with Element 1 still in place. Next to polar bears - the "HF ham" may have become an extinct species.
Many fear a "CB" mentality on HF with the infusion of people who weren't novices, CW aware, or even interested in the technical aspects of the hobby. Some feel this means the "frequencies will go to hell" and I've already hear grousing about how breaking stations go "on and on" not knowing the frequency is in use. Or that people fail to use proper etiquette while communicating with others.
It's our job as hams to help each other and learn appropriate operating procedure. The fact is, you aren't getting Morse Code back as the "filter" to prevent easier entry to HF. It's up to those already on HF to help new people and to police existing hams on proper procedure.
On another, similar topic, it would be nice when new people visit local ham clubs, those clubs embrace visitors, new members, and actively engage them. Even the clubs I belong to fail to make others feel comfortable. They run to their friends and engage in the latest technical topic of the day leaving new people sitting alone, to fend for themselves. My own experience with one club - one I've visited since November (it's now September - 10 months later) where not a single member (or officer) has attempted to talk to me.
Maybe if I looked like the incredible melting man, or had bad breath, or Tourette's Syndrome, that might invite a cold shoulder from veteran members. But that's not the case. From the president down to lowly members - none feel the compunction to talk to their new membership and I'm an example of this. (Yes, I can't jump in and force myself on them - but why SHOULD I?)
Of course, people like myself will eventually go away, never to return.
Sad isn't it? That our "proud" Emering heritage is that thinly applied today. We talk a good game, but do we really believe it?
And you are probably saying, "Tom, you are full of it. We go to events and try to get people to join our club and participate in events."
That may, or may not be true. Some of the public service events I've been to I've watched club members sit as far as they can from a table where people are looking at information about the club. Club members don't walk over and engage those people - again - they sit with their friends outside of "ear shot" and engage conversation with the same folks they've grown used it. Come on people, we are radio operators. Our hobby is about communications with each other.
Field Day is another example of how we ignore visitors. I've noticed how few members of clubs actually walked up to visitors and gave them a tour of the club setup. Or offer materials the visitor can take home. Or offered them a chance to "get on the air". Our "Get on the Air" (GOTA) station sat vacant through most of Field Day. That station should be continuously occupied by new Techs, or those unlicensed to operate - with the most social General/Extra class operator avaiable.
I'm very concerned we aren't even doing the minimal best to extend our hand to the community. One of the clubs I frequent is very much into emergency operations and support. They do a fantastic job with that, but they don't do any sort of "reach out" to the local community in any substantive way. You won't find them in the local school systems drumming up enthusiasm for amateur radio - or for their club. You won't find them responding to new people on their local repeater, or inviting them to a club meeting.
Why is that?
So I say this. Here's what I think is going on - and how to avoid it.
- Drop the "Elitist Behavior" - Sorry, some hams came into this hobby with "home built rigs" or got their license at the FCC field office and are masterful at 28 WPM CW. Good for you! Now share your knowledge and enthusiasm with new hams. Tell them about how "hard it was" but don't hold that against someone new to the hobby. Help them set-up their new HF station. Explain how grounding systems work, share net etiquette, and invite people to your daily or weekly net.
- Move out of your "safe zone". Sure, you're CERT trained, you've been to tornado stricken zones, you've been honored by the ARRL for your community service, and you are on a first name basis with your local mayor. When was the last time you invited a new ham to your disaster meeting? Offered to explain how CERT works? Taken someone on a fox hunt? Invited someone into your shack to listen in on your MARS net? Never? Hummm.... How about inviting a new ham to "go for coffee" - there's dozens of them on 2-meter repeaters anxious to make their first contact. Offer up some of those exciting stories you've collected over the years. Buy the guy (or gal) a cup of coffee - shake their hand and say, "Welcome to the most exciting and diverse hobby on the planet. Glad to have you here!" Imagine their reaction and the satisfaction you get by being the first bonafide REAL ham they've met - and YOU made them feel at home.
- You don't know everything - don't expect new people to know everything either. Everyone has a "comfort zone" involving this hobby. I can't tell you how many older hams lament "new radios", computer software, D*Star, and other technologies which new hams may find interesting. Sure, you know the grid voltages of major transmitter vacuum tubes by heart. You can draw a working amplifier circuit on a napkin. You can load any band with your 40 meter beam antenna and talk the world. Perhaps that new ham who "doesn't know which side of the microphone to talk on," just might know something about how to make that cluster radio program work with your radio. Hummm.... You may be that "hard line" Advanced Class operator who won't upgrade because "Advanced was harder than Extra and I've got the FCC license to prove it", but still can't get their PC to boot! Yikes! Get over it and combine forces with new people. Let others enjoy the hobby by sharing your own expertise with them and they with you. There's no loss in pride by learning new things from people, younger than you, for which they can make this hobby "new to you".
- Stop sitting in that same spot at your club meeting. Engage in the effort to "make new friends." And don't practice "age discrimination" - sit with that 20 something, 30 something, even 40 and 50 something. Find the "new guy in the room" and walk right up to him. Introduce yourself, tell them "welcome to the meeting" and, if appropriate, "welcome to the hobby." It's all about "extending your range" - not through a linear amp, but through mentorship and friendship.
Be the mentor you should be. Be the Elmer you admire.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
It's been quite a while since I added a blog, and while I know it's not a rabidly read blog, most folks who do wander here, do so from the QRZ site. So here we go...
In recent months I've pondered just what FCC rules and regulations have fundamentally changed our hobby over the last few months and more importantly, how it affects us over the coming years.
Here's my list of potential changes we'll see for the future:
1. Infusion of cash for volunteer emergency services.
With President Bush's declaration that amateur radio is an important part of homeland security, such support always means monetary grants from Washington. Many amateur radio clubs realize they have an opportunity to step up and take an active role in assisting in providing amateur volunteers and communications during terrorist or natural disaster. As we all know, during the 9/11 attacks, amateur radio provided communications adjunct to other emergency services.
2. Required upgrades to equipment and support.
To better handle our realized role in homeland security, there's a perceived need to upgrade our equipment to better utilize mobile operations, data transfer and internet integration. While much of this is already in place with modem style communications, and 2-meter/70 cm operations, current communications methods are 20 years old - occupying bandwidth which could otherwise be used for other emergency services. It is no coincidence amateur radio occupies 2-meter privileges nestled between government and civic services. The whole intent was to allow governmental acquisition of those frequencies during emergencies. In short, if we don't provide active 21st century use of those frequencies we'll be swept away faster than "low tech" video tape, dial telephones, and analog TV (it goes away next year!).
3. New ways to entice young people to embrace our hobby.
Many of our brightest engineers, technical gurus, and political leaders got their start, exposed to amateur radio at an early age. Many of these youngsters would both meet, connect and be impassioned from the "amazing" technology. I personally thought it was magic someone could make a phone call from a radio carried on the hip of my ham radio operators who visited my store in Dearborn, Michigan back in 1976. It was amazing and while I didn't get my license back then, I was enticed and eventually was re bitten by the bug just a couple of years ago.
Today's kids can get virtually all the technology, dropping by that same Radio Shack today, everything from laptop computers, wireless internet, chat boards, virtual worlds - you name it - all that "Star Trek" technology is available to them as a consumer. And that's my point, as a consumer Our hobby's future comes from new, and innovative ways to bring technology to our next generation of hams which they consider too irresistible to not get involved with amateur radio.
Tomorrows jobs and tomorrows leaders need something to test their skills, imagination, and leadership skills - a task amateur radio aptly filled for the last 80 years.
Some areas where this idea might provide traction - D*Star radio - the integration, disbursement, load balancing, and various technical aspects will require individuals familiar with and fascinated with our leading edge technology. Connectivity and integration is what we are all about, and this "new way to play radio" attracts new people into the hobby.
Community service and interest still play a role in forming a social responsibility in young people's minds. My local club in Denton County has young, middle age, and older members - they come with a sense of community and the club's main theme is to provide services during emergency. In fact all their meetings are at the EOC (Emergency Office of Communications). The building - new in every respect - boasts a state of the art communications center where hams are a integral part of the entire plan. Their positioning near emergency civic operators and their official, and welcome presence in the center helps to accommodate the need for communications. Their presence on the mobile operations vehicle, Goliath, also shows a commitment on both sides towards making cohesive, operations. It's also an exciting "on the spot" opportunity for kids leaving a lasting impression on those kids. And why not!
4. New ways to promote amateur radio.
Some of this is going on today. Routine opportunities for schools - through an amateur ground station, allow students, and the public, to communicate with the International Space Station - with willing astronauts in Q and A's familiar with major news outlets. Such things the media can relate to and provides positive feedback for NASA, education, and community groups participating in the events.
Other interesting aspects could include "shack walk-through" showing the high tech look our expanding shacks could show to others. We are many times labeled as "nutcases" but usually "brilliant nutcases"; able to do amazing things with electronics. Agreeing and suggesting local media "meet up" with that ham and that ham offering a reasoned and interesting discussion for the watching audience could spark interest.
And this one from the ARRL - how about wearing your club ID during public events. Someone asks, tell them how amateur radio and your local club contribute to the community.
And lastly, clubs must be access able to the public at large. My biggest gripe about clubs is they quickly become "clicks" - where members, once they feel comfortable within the organization fail to reach out to new members, or actively solicit new members.
Ironically, one club I belong to since November of last year has yet to have a single member walk up and talk to me; even the president who "thinks" he's very publicly minded frequently walks by, looking the other way. Some think I'm a visitor - even though I've attended virtually every single one of their meetings. This is NOT how you keep active members. You make every effort to engage new people. But this club is typical of many amateur clubs and it's just unacceptable in promoting our hobby.
5. How licensing creates new opportunities.
While many lament the loss of Element 1 - the Morse Code requirement. Many know when Canada dropped that requirement from it's own "General class" license, it was only a matter of time before the U.S. followed suit.
One thing that's changed from years past is the average American works more hours, and is bombarded with "alternative" high tech hobbies; robbing us of a potential, new ham. The relaxed licensing can get our new members quickly into the hobby. In fact, had the Morse Code requirement not been in place back in the 1970's I probably would have been a ham much sooner and celebrating 30 years in the hobby, rather than just 2!
Easier entry has also brought new folks to HF considerably faster and as anyone can note the technician class community was growing while the general and extra class has been shrinking. That's not a healthy situation and something had to be done to solve the problem. Removing Element 1 will, in the long run, benefit the hobby.
As always, it'll be up to the community to police and mentor new people coming on board. Perhaps we won't have someone so astute at AM radio or able to DX 100 stations in an hour, but then it's better to have someone occupying the frequencies rather than seeing dead air across the spectrum. Some suggest we won't have the space to handle HF communications for all the new people once the bands return. As has been suggested by the ARRL , maybe we need to more efficiently use our spectrum space and allocate it with "the future" in mind. Or perhaps understand our entire band space can be used at different times. One of my extra friends spends his time doing data communications on 2-meter via balloons and satellite, using spectrum many of his similarly licensed hams abandoned long ago.
In any case, we must consider this hobby's potential, and take it someplace the general populace wants to go. We must acknowledge that technology isn't static and the radio and procedures today may change and change drastically over the coming years. While there's tradition and the love of older radios and procedures and, indeed, we can preserve these traditions we also must move forward whenever possible to preserve our value to our non-licensed fellow citizens.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Well, the Nation Traffic Service (NTS), an ARRL entity, provides a reliable way of passing messages so that the "Bob Barker Factor" doesn't occur. Reliable message handling could be the backbone in emergencies when other forms of communication are down or overwhelmed. It could be critical in national or regional disasters and could be the most important message a family member might receive about a loved one communicting their well being after just such an event.
NTS is also one of the first nets many new amateurs check into here in Dallas as DARC hosts the NTS Early Training Net on our 146.880 repeater at 6:30PM local time - every day. Messages from that net are relayed for transmittal on the HF nets (7285, 7290) throughout the day and passed amongst the various relays and nets throughout the United States.
Interestingly, many people check in but don't actually actively take messages. Why? Probably because of "stage fright" - they don't feel they can actually take accurate traffic or are embarrassed on what potentially could happen when calling people - delivering that message to a private residence.
NTS provides extensive training information on message handling, complete with forms, which make message transcription almost trivial, but the website and training is rather silent when it comes to actually explaining how to relay the message to the intended recipient - who may not be an amateur radio operator.
Things to consider:
- The recipient may wonder what the NTS is and may think you are "selling them something".
- The recipient may think a family member has died and you are relaying terrible news - particularly if they are worrying about a family member in a disaster stricken area and you are actually relaying "good news" for them.
- The recipient lets the answering machine screen all their calls.
It's actually pretty easy. Many messages you receive have a priority of "golf" (G) - meaning you may deliver the message but do not have to report back to the sender whether the recipient actually heard the message or not. That takes a lot of pressure off you as you can simply drop them a post card or leave your message on an answering machine. Once done - you're done. No other action required.
For the "selling something" issue, I've found it's pretty easy to have a prepared text when speaking to the recipient. I do the following:
Hi, my name is Tom from the ARRL National Traffic service. I have a radiogram for Bob Barker which was transmitted all by ham radio. The purpose of these radiograms is to help amateurs prepare for future emergencies by accurately relaying emergency traffic. This message is being relayed to you from someone participating in the NTS. This message is "non emergency" in nature but helps hams accurately relay traffic handling before such an emergency should occur. Would you like to hear the message?
Then read the message to them and end the message with, "Would you like to send a reply?"
If yes - then take the message on an NTS form. Get their message info and prepare the form for return to a future net.
It's pretty easy. The real fun comes from talking to the recipient - typically they are fellow hams and you'll have plenty of things in common. You might even want to invite them to either the 88 NTS net or one of the HF nets listed at the end of this article. I frequently tell them about the 88 repeater and the DARC and invite them to a regular meeting. It's a great way to get acquainted with fellow hams, promote NTS and the DARC. If you take messages for delivery in your local area you'll also have an excuse to talk to "that guy down the block" with the huge beam and tower.
Help out your fellow NTS and DARC hams in active message handling. Active NTS/DARC affiliated traffic handlers and net control are: Herman (KE5HYW - Net Manager), Randy (KE5JIT- Net Control - Fridays, Early), and Scott (KE5DKV, Net Control - Monday, Late).
Coverage and Remarks
Daytime Texas Traffic Net (DTTN)
TX and out-of-state traffic; liaisons to other nets.
USA Nationwide Phone net
Mainly TX, AR, OK, LA
Region 5 Net (RN5) - phone
TX, AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, STX, OK, WTX – NTX via liaisons
Mainly TX, AR, OK, LA
Central Area Net (CAN) – phone
For out of state USA traffic not going to RN5 states
Region 5 Net (RN5) -- phone
TX, AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, OK, STX, WTX – NTX via liaisons
DFW area traffic, and any other traffic – liaisons to other nets
Texas Traffic Net (TTN) — phone
Texas and out-of-state traffic liaisons to other nets
Texas CW Net (TEX)
Texas & out-of-state traffic. Liaisons to RN5 & other nets
Region 5 Net (RN5) CW
TX, AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, OK, TN, STX, WTX — no NTX traffic (except via liaisons)
Texas Slow Net (TSN) – Slow CW
Texas & out-of-state traffic, Liaison to CAN and other nets
Central Gulf Coast Hurricane Net – phone
Widespread coverage, TX and surrounding states (7 PM CST, 8 PM CDT)
Central Area Net (CAN) CW
For out-of-state USA traffic not going to RN5 states (except via liaisons)
Southwest Traffic Net (phone)
Widespread coverage, TX and surrounding states
Region 5 Net (RN5) CW
TX, AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, OK, STX, WTX – no NTX traffic (except via liaisons)
Texas CW Net (TEX)
Texas & out-of-state traffic. Liaisons to RN5 & other nets
DFW area and other traffic, liaisons to other nets
Sunday, April 29, 2007
APRS (Automatic Positioning Reporting System) was an outgrowth of packet radio. When GPS (Geographic Positioning System) systems made their way into civillian hands it was only a matter of time before amateurs were able to exploit the navigational nature of satelight positioning systems and put that technology to use on amateur radio bands.
The natural addition of position determination and then the capability of broadcasting that information over UHF/VHF and even HF ham bands created an interactive technology that, at 15 years old, in spite of Internet "instant communications" still isn't available to most non-hams or even most technically forward thinking commerical enterprises. Imagine: you hold in your hands, along with an entry level ham ticket, technolgy better than anything United Parcel Service can dish out!
With that capability comes some interesting applications and capabilities. Think about the possiblities APRS affords.
Community Events: With the appropriate software (Linux, MSOS, OSX, OS9 supported) vehicles outfitted with APRS can use "digital" VHF to transmit positioning to a central net control position. Imagine parades, races, and large social events with volunteers painted on a local or custom made map. Net control can follow those "rovers" and properly deploy resources at the approprate time.
Natural or National Disasters: APRS and more specifically, packet radio allows - when power is out and normal communications are down (include the Internet with that statement folks), packet radio allows users to send hospital lists, NTS messages, and other "data critical" information by "packet". And what's even more interesting is, like how the Internet works, information can be relayed from one remote radio operator to another - WITHOUT repeaters - important should power be out region wide.
Batteries in your handheld might be great, but if you can't use the repeater your effectiveness is limited to only a few miles. APRS and packet changes that by allowing users to relay through nearby radios messages to say, the local hospital where a ham station is manned and ready for emergency messages.
SKYWARN: Some counties and states in North Texas use APRS to effectively deploy storm spotters to key positions. Net control can overlay a weather map onto a street grid and send spotters to good observation positions. Net control can also assist spotters by giving their position and/or allowing spotters to see other spotter locations for location spacing. This greatly reduces spotter voice traffic by allowing net control to instantly know where all spotters are in the field.
Personal Use: Perhaps the most fun a ham can have is an "electronic tag" that states not only your location for other hams "on the move" but you can add other information about yourself to the transmitted packet information; such as the radio frequency you are monitoring (and PL tone if it's a repeater). Make contacts without ever breaking squelch on your radio.
So what do you need to make packet radio work?
In a "Back to the Future" moment - think back to about 1995. You probably connected to AOL or your ISP using a modem. That's the key to "hooking into" APRS.
Here's a list of what you need to get started:
1. Since our hobby is "audio" we'll need a modem to change digital computer signals to audio. TNC's are the modems. Some radios such as the Kenwood TS-2000, D700, and TH-7D already have TNC's built into their radios. Other radios like the Yaseu FT-8800/8900's have an access plug in the back of the radio to plug the TNC into. And if your radio doesn't have that an audio connection to your mike, speaker and PTT will make setup relatively painless.
2. You'll need an interface for the radio. This consists of a data patch cable. As mentioned above, this could be a data connector - usually an RS-232 computer based cable which runs to the GPS (more on that), a computer, and your radio.
3. An "interface device" such as a laptop computer (or tower type if you just plan to monitor 'at home'), to run packet software - although this part of it is optional! Palm assistants have also been pressed into service because of their small size.
4. Software. TNC devices can and do run without software. A "smart" TNC can perform packet relay, send and receive files, act as a digipeater, a bulletin board, and allow simultanious conversations with up to 10 other operators. Other functionality comes from such programs as UI-View, Xastir, and macAPRS which emulated TNC functions while providing additional functionality (such as adding your GPS system).
Connection is relatively easy. Rather than explaining in detail - the above illustration can best show the connection capabilities. The soldering and connection should be trivial for most itinerant ham operators. Check the internet for specfic information on radio connection. Some manufacturers provide "step by step" instructions on how to connect APRS devices to their radios.
Lastly, APRS provides an interesting and unexpected hobby I call "Ham Farms". What's that? Simply, with the appropriate PC, software, and TNC installed, you can watch where and what other hams are doing from the comfort of your home. Whether it be an event on a event APRS frequency or you simply want to watch the national APRS frequency (144.39Mhz), watch hams zig zag across the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex like that old "ant farm" you had before the ants died or escaped. Fortunately no hams have died directly from installing APRS so, I think, you are safe there. I've had some rather interesting QSO's with APRS fanatics. You will note, upon connection, our ARRL section chief Tom Blackwell N5GAR maintains a base station in Dallas. Myself, I run a base station in Lewisville and act as a digipeater most days.
Yes, you will have to dedicate a radio or, if you are running a dual/quad band VHF/UHF rig, a tuner, to the hobby. Some folks use their handitalkies as the transmitter, with a small mag-mount antenna. When they need their HT's they simply detach the hardware and antenna.
Check out the capabilities of this rather unique hobby. Other sites for additional information is as follows:
Getting started: http://www.choisser.com/packet/part01.html
Software (free and shareware): http://www.dxzone.com/catalog/Software/APRS/
Hardware (Tinytracker/TNC): http://www.byonics.com/tinytrak/