Catching Up

I can’t decide whether I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to blog much or whether I’m just slowing down. It’s probably a little of each. And doing so much creates so much blog fodder that it can be overwhelming. There’s so much to write about, you can’t figure out where to start.

So, what I’m going to do here is just report quickly on a bunch of things that I’ve been doing lately. I’ll come back to some and write more about them later. Others, I won’t.

More QSLs from Stations Whose Callsigns Spell Words
Sorry to bother you again with this, but for some reason, this fascinates me. Below, you’ll see the latest three that I’ve added to my collection: K5SEE, N4SHY, and K2DOT.

K5SEE QSLN4SHY QSLK2DOT QSL

I heard K7OIL on PSK the other night, but wasn’t able to work him. :(

Even more Boy Scouts This Year!
Last year, we had about 120 Boy Scouts attend the 2007 Radio Merit Badge Day. Man, that was crazy. This year was even more crazy. This year, more than 150 showed up! I got Michelle, KD8GWX, to capture some of the craziness on video, and I promise to edit that tape real soon now. Stay tuned for that.

This year, I was partnered with Mark, W8MP. Mark is a really great operator, and he’s great with kids. He convinced one guy, Paul, WA9URF, to stay on the air for more than an hour and talk to more than 40 of the Scouts. Thanks, Mark and Paul!

Thanks to all the other hams that helped out (in no particular order): Pat, W8LNO; Dave, KC8TQB; Ralph, AA8RK; Jeff, W8SGZ; George, K8GEO; Don, K0QEA; and, of course, Jack, WT8N, who really organized the whole thing (and paid for breakfast, to boot).

2008 General Class
For the past couple of months, I’ve been teaching a General Class license course. As always, this class was a lot different than the classes I’ve had in the past. For one thing, a lot of them dropped out this time. There were a dozen who started back in January, but by the end we were down to just five or six.

Life intruded for a couple of them—one student’s wife (or daughter) broke her leg, for example. For some, the material was just over their heads at this point. But, a bunch of them just quit coming. I feel kind of bad about that.

Like last year, a couple of them passed the test before the class ended. Congratulations, Arvid, KC8VGO, and Ian, N8SPE! Arvid was in my very first class five years ago, and he passed back then, but just couldn’t get the code. I’m happy that he finally got his General ticket.

One thing I did differently this time is to have a class project. Five or six of the students built the DC40A QRP transceiver. Building them has taken a bit longer than I anticipated. Even though the class is over, we’re still finishing up the kits. Even so, I think it’s been a great experience for the students.

Ham Radio at the Hands-On Museum
We’re still working on setting up a ham radio station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. One development is that we’re applying for a grant from the IEEE Foundation. We’ll also be applying to the ARRL Foundation.

The IEEE Foundation wants to give money to projects that promote engineering as a career. That’s our slant, anyway. We titled our project, “Kids Connect to Wireless Technology.”

That’s all for now. Gotta go rake the leaves off the lawn and fertilize.

WA2HOM is on the Air

Earlier today, we activated the WA2HOM callsign for the first time at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. WA2HOM is the vanity callsign that I was issued specifically for operations at the Museum.

The first contact occurred at 1510Z with KA3FNH. Overall, we made 14 contacts, including nine SSB contacts and five CW contacts. Four of our contacts were with stations operating from lighthouses that were participating in the International Lighthouse-Lightship Weekend.

More importantly, we were able to give some several adults and kids an introduction to amateur radio. One, Brian, who’s ten years old, says he’s all ready to take the test and can’t wait until the September 8 test session.

For the next four months, we’ll be operating from the museum on two Saturdays each month. The dates are:

  • September 15th, 29th
  • October 20th, 27th
  • November 10th, 24th
  • December 1st, 15th

If you’re in or near Ann Arbor, come on down and operate for a while. If not, listen for us, probably around 7280 (SSB) or 7050 (CW).

A Teacher Institute for the Great Lakes Division?

From the 8/10/07 ARRL Letter:

==> 2007 ARRL Teachers Institutes Reach 45 Schools

Forty-eight teachers representing 45 schools from around the country attended the 2007 ARRL Teachers Institutes, held this summer in Rocklin, California, Spokane, Washington and at ARRL Headquarters in Newington. Each class of 12, ranging from pre-school teachers to college professors, got the opportunity to explore and experience firsthand wireless technology basics, how to teach basic electronics concepts integral to microcontrollers and robots, as well as how to bring space technology into the classroom. The four day course culminated with building and programming a robot.

[lots of stuff deleted]

[Education and Technology Program Coordinator and Director of the ARRL Teachers Institute Mark Spencer, WA8SME] has many long range plans in mind for the Teachers Institute. “In the next 10 years, I would love to see a Teachers Institute in each of the 15 ARRL Divisions. These instructors would work in conjunction with their state’s science museum and run the Institute regionally through the museum. What a great way to bring science to kids,” Spencer said.

I think this is an idea worth pursuing once we get the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum station up and running.

Getting Started Info Sheet

I’ve gotten two calls in the last week from folks interested in our amateur radio classes. I hate having to tell them that they have to wait until the next class starts, so I tell them that they should give it a try on their own and go on to list the Internet resources that are available to help them.

That got me to thinking about putting together a one-pager that gives a little background and lists these resources. The result is “Getting Started in Amateur (Ham) Radio”.

I realize, of course, that not everyone is a self-learner. For those folks, I tell them to feel free to call me with any questions they may have. I also volunteer to have them come over to my house and see my humble station.

Feedback, please
I’d love to get your feedback on this info sheet. You can email them directly to me or just comment here. Thanks!

UPDATE 7/8/10
I’ve just updated this info sheet and have changed the name to “Getting Into Ham Radio.” It now contains the correct URLs for my new study guide and links to the ARRL website.

You Learn Something New Every Day

On the Elecraft mailing list, there was some talk about the term “Elmer,” which in amateur radio parlance is someone’s mentor. I thought that the term was of ancient vintage, but apparently, it was coined as recently as 1971.

According to Norm Fusaro, W3IZ, The term first appeared in QST in a March 1971 “How’s DX” column by Rod Newkirk, W9BRD (now also VA3ZBB):

Too frequently one hears a sad story in this little nutshell: ‘Oh, I almost got a ticket, too, but Elmer, W9XYZ, moved away and I kind of lost interest.’ We need those Elmers. All the Elmers, including the ham who took the most time and trouble to give you a push toward your license, are the birds who keep this great game young and fresh.

So, not only is the term of fairly recent coinage, but the original Elmer was fictitious. Even so, I beam proudly whenever someone calls me that.

Two Good Ideas for the GOTA Station

I think one of the good things about Field Day is the Get on the Air (GOTA) station. Its purpose is to introduce newcomers to HF and get those that have been off the air for a while back on the air. At the ARROW Field Day, we try to get as many people to make a contact as possible.

Unfortunately, the rules don’t always encourage this. Last year, for example, one operator had to make at least 50 contacts to get 50 bonus points. That doesn’t encourage sharing. This year, the rules say that to get a 20-point bonus, one operator has to make at least 20 contacts. This is an improvement, but recently on the ARRL PR mailing list, Terry, KB9YXV, had a couple of suggestions on how to make the GOTA station even better:

I have watched some of the public in the past as they watch a special event station working a pile-up and the operator says, “W9B, QRZed? Again? QSL. QSL K9ZOF, W9B. Your 5/8 in Wisconsin with a little QRMary QSL? Roger! 73’s W9B, QRZed?… This will go on for awhile and if the observer does not walk away they will ask “Is he done testing yet? When will he talk to someone?” So for demonstration purposes the members of the MVARA are going to operate the W9FCC G.O.T.A. station using plain, no radio jargon, english.

Another idea for the Field Day organizers. How about an incentive for working a G.O.T.A. station? Many times while operating the G.O.T.A. explaining how to make a contact or while a guest operator is operating the station that you are contacting will not communicate with the G.O.T.A. station because it takes too much valuable time out of their “contest”. They can work 5 “normal” stations in the time that they work one G.O.T.A. station. My proposal for the ARRL Field Day rule makers is to make G.O.T.A. contacts worth 5 points. This would make it worthwhile to take the time to make a contact with a guest G.O.T.A. station operator. Then if one G.O.T.A. station worked another G.O.T.A. station it would be worth 10 points.

I like both ideas. The first will make the operation more understandable for both newbies and observers. The second will encourage GOTA operation.

Anyone else have any good ideas?

No-Nonsense, General Class Study Guide

Well, it took me a little longer than I anticipated, but the beta release of my The No-Nonsense, General Class License Study Guide is now available. The new General Class test is a bit harder, I think, than the old test.

Anyway, I’d be happy to have any and all review this. Comments and suggestions are more than welcome.

If you’re still studying for your Tech license, you can download my No-Nonsense Technician Class License Study Guide. Both are completely free. I would just like to hear of your experience in using the guides, either for personal use or as a text for a class.

QCWA, ARNewsline Announce Roy Neal, K6DUE Amateur Radio Mentoring Project

I am joining the QCWA just so that I can take part in this program……Dan

From Amateur Radio Newsline Report #1552, May 11, 2007:

Los Angeles, CA. (May 7, 2007): In a joint statement issued today the leadership of the Quarter Century Wireless Association, Inc. (QCWA) and Amateur Radio Newsline, Inc. (ARNewsline) have announced that QCWA has become a co-sponsor of the Roy Neal, K6DUE, Amateur Radio Mentoring Program®. This is a post-licensing educational service created by ARNewsline in January 2004 and designed to pair new hams with veteran amateurs in hopes that some of the established ham operator skills can be passed down to new generations.

The program is loosely based on a similar program created by Broadway choreographer/ performer Ann Reinking through her own educational foundation, the Broadway Theater Project. This is a Florida based training program connecting students with seasoned theater professionals. If we may quote Ms. Reinking:

“Its sort of an un-written law or rule in the world of dance that you pass on what you know. This particular craft is at its best when its passed from one person’s hands to the next.”

According to ARNewsline Executive Producer Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF, what Ann Reinking says about “dance” applies equally to our world of Amateur Radio. Maybe more so, because, for decades the knowledge and tradition of our hobby/service was passed down from seasoned operators to newcomers, one on one.

“Amateur Radio is a tremendously complex arena”, says Pasternak. “We have licensed hams who are truly experts in numerous fields ranging from bouncing radio signals off the moon, to writing complicated software which enables new forms of two-way communication. We want to take advantage of that talent pool to help educate the next generation of operators, and generations to follow.”

The success of the program has been such that the number of people seeking post licensing assistance has risen far faster than the number of available mentors. This has meant long delays for some who have placed requests. The addition of the member base of the QCWA makes available close to 10,000 highly skilled radio amateurs as potential mentors, each with a minimum of twenty-five years of experience in the hobby.

“This is a good deal for all of Amateur Radio,” says QCWA President John B. Johnston, W3BE.

Johnston, a retired career FCC employee and Dayton Radio Amateur of the Year award winner believes that it is important to keep ham radio traditions alive:

“We in the QCWA are the elder statesmen and stateswomen of Amateur Radio. We are the people who have spent a sizeable chunk of our lives learning the artistry that goes with being a radio amateur. We know how a radio works. We know how an antenna works. Most of all we know that Amateur Radio can only survive if it passes its combined knowledge on to the next generation of radio amateurs. By becoming a co-sponsor of the Roy Neal, K6DUE, Amateur Radio Mentoring Program® we place the QCWA in the enviable position of being the vehicle to hand off the combined knowledge and traditions of our members to those new hams who will carry this knowledge on.”

Under the agreement, ARNewsline will continue to solicit those looking for assistance and maintain the database that matches those desiring assistance with a mentor willing to assist. Willing members of the QCWA will be asked to register by e-mail to mentor@arnewsline.org stating their name, call, location, contact information and area of expertise. As request for assistance are received the person asking will be referred to the person closest to him/her who holds the qualifications and knowledge to assist. John Johnston believes this to be a program that all in QCWA should be a part of:

“This is a chance for each of us to leave our own personal legacy within ham radio. If we do so, we assure the service of another generation of skilled and caring operators who will be a true asset to the service. I urge all of you to sign on.”

His words are echoed by ARNewsline’s Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF. He says that while Amateur Radio includes world-class experts in a number of specialties, there are literally thousands of hams who have operating skills also worthy of passing on. For example, contesting is very popular, said Pasternak. Yet it is a tough nut to crack for a beginner.

“Contesting is also intimidating. Good contest operators often are able to contact four stations per minute for hours at a time. The great ones can do even better. How they are able to do that is a skill that should be passed on through mentoring”, Pasternak said.

Two large pools of Amateurs are needed to make mentoring work. First, there must be a group of volunteers who have a skill and are willing to share their time. The second group is made up of the large number of beginners who want to learn.

Newsline and QCWA are now seeking applicants for both groups, said Joe Eisenberg, K0NEB, who oversees the databases: “Send us an e-mail if you’d like to be a member of either group”, said Eisenberg. “The mentoring address is mentor@arnewsline.org Tell us your name, call letters, address with zipcode, phone number, when we can call.”

“The project’s namesake, Roy Neal, K6DUE, was himself a mentor. He helped strengthen ARNewsline and mentored me to become a better writer and producer,” said Pasternak. “The program is a lasting tribute to Roy’s efforts on behalf of all radio amateurs.”

Amateur Radio Newsline Inc. and the Quarter Century Wireless Association, Inc. are both 501 (c)(3) federally-designated not-for profit corporations. Contributions to the QCWA, and/or ARnewsline are tax deductible.

For more information please contact John B. Johnston (W3BE) – QCWA (john@johnston.net) or Bill Pasternak (WA6ITF) – ARNewsline (newsline@arnewsline.org).

One More Way to Do a One-Day Tech Class

On the ham_instructor Yahoo group, Norm, K6YXH, posted the following:

For all of you who are teaching multi-day Tech classes, consider the 1-day session as “Day 1″ of a multi-day course. I call it a ‘Inverted Ham Radio Class” because the test comes at the beginning instead of the end.

I’ve done it both ways, teaching 8 – 10 week community classes, and my current thinking is that 1-day is better because fewer drop out and we can use subsequent classes to concentrate on getting the new hams on the air and radio active.

At the first meeting, everyone passes their exam. In multi-day classes, I’ve had drop out rates of up to 50%, and not all of them go on to pass the exam. I’ve seen pass rates well below 20% after a semester of teaching high school students from a standard text. So, after the first session where everyone (well nearly everyone) passes, we have follow-on sessions where we do the important teaching, including giving advice about buying radios, getting the new hams on the air and involved in community service.

For Day 1, we pretty much follow W6NBC’s method. (Thank you, W6NBC, for publishing on the web – I had no idea we could do this and no confidence that it would work until I saw your site!)

We send two documents to students who sign up, and ask them to read them at least once:

  1. A list of the Tech Question Pool with just the right answers (no wrong answers to even skip over – no table of contents, no index – 25 pages (less if you use double side printing). I put a copy of that in the Files section.
  2. A “No- Nonsense Study Guide” like KB6NU’s.

Since we e-mail these to the examinees, we have no printing costs and no one has to buy anything except printer paper and ink to get started. We suggest that they read both documents, but if they’re pressed for time, just read the Q&As. We suggest they take practice exams on-line to see if they’re ready and ask them to keep reading until they can pass the practice exams reliably with scores of 85% or more.

At the study/exam session, we start at 9 am and take breaks every hour. At the breaks, I answer questions that students have quietly asked while the rest study. Typically, I spend 15 minutes answering those questions and explaining things like the calculations for Ohm’s Law and Power, and Frequency and Wavelength. I bring a dummy load, volt meter, piece of stripped-back coax and some portable antennas to show off.

But most important, I limit answers to 2 minutes and try real hard to avoid getting drawn into technical explanations in front of the class for questions like, “What’s CW?” and “What is SSB?”

If students want longer explanations, I make sure they’re already passing the practice exams and then take them out of the room to answer without disturbing the readers. One wanted to know the physics that allows direct radio waves to travel further than light waves – some are clearly more prepared than others!

Many report passing with just one read through the Q&As. Several passed without actually reading all the way through even once! At our last session, 24 of 24 passed, and many of those got 100% or missed just one or two. About half read at least a little bit outside of class, but some picked up the material for the first time at 9 am on Day 1.

Around noon, we collect exam fees (GLAARG VEC charges only $4), check ID and fill out the exam roster – we have people come into another room to do that, leaving the class to study. BTW, we allow anyone to attend just for the VE Session, including upgrades for General and Extra.

We bring in an exam team at 1 pm – most examinees are finished and turn in their answer sheets within 15 minutes. We typically grade exams and complete all paperwork by 2pm, including handing out CSCEs. We use a ‘production line’ approach, using a dedicated VE team for grading, filling out forms and completing the CSCEs, plus a few to do quality checks and answer questions.

The Day 2 training session is as close to the exam session as we can schedule. We bring in our radios, do ‘show and tell,’ and answer questions.

Day 3 is ‘how to program your radio’ – we show them how to enter simplex and repeater data and how to use memory. We use PowerPoint and have a team of experienced hams to go around and help. We ask that the students bring their manuals so we don’t get stuck.

Day 4 is a ‘get on the air’ practice where we bring a hand- held radio and have each one of them check into a weekly net – the net control expects the new hams and gets them to talk a while, introducing themselves to the others on the net.

I think I like this approach, and not only because they’re using my No-Nonsense Technician Study Guide. It gets people their licenses quickly, thereby giving them a sense of accomplishment right off the bat and keeping them interested, and then lets them learn by doing.

Radio Merit Badge Session a Big Hit

Earlier in the year, Jack, WT8N, my partner in the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum project suggested that we try to get more Scouts interested in ham radio. He looked up the requirements for the radio merit badge, and then we met with the program director, James McLellan, of the local council about holding a radio merit badge session.

2007 Radio Merit Badge Day Patch
Each of the hams participating got this cool patch from the Boy Scouts.
(Photo: Jeff Zupan W8SGZ).

The program director, James McLellan, was very enthusiastic about having us do this. Jack originally thought we’d do this at the museum, but McLellan suggested that we hold this event at Camp Munhackie, located about eight miles north of Chelsea, MI. He also suggested that we hold it on the last Saturday of March. This was a good date, he said, because later dates would conflict with the Scouts’ camping activities. McLellan also suggested that we set up a number of “activity stations,” each covering one or two of the merit badge requirements. These would all prove to be good suggestions.

For one thing, we did not anticipate the turnout that we would get. In fact, Jack was worried about getting anyone to show up at all. Well, about a month before the event, McLellan contacted us and said that 12 had already signed up. This number steadily increased over the course of the month. A week before the event, McLellan reported that 77 had pre-registered! It’s a good thing that we didn’t press to hold this at the museum. They don’t have the classroom space to handle that many kids and their parents and troop leaders. When all was said and done, McLellan had counted 105 Scouts who had checked in!

The suggestion to set up several “activity stations” was also a good one. This really worked out well, with the scouts going from one station to another. That way none of the stations was overloaded.

Jack decided that there should be five stations:

  1. This station covered merit badge requirements #1 and #2. The topics covered included basics of radio—including how radio waves are propagated—and callsigns. There was also an introduction to Morse Code, with three keys and a code practice oscillator available for the Scouts to play around with. Jack, WT8N, and George, K8GEO, manned this station.
  2. This station covered requirements #3 (the electromagnetic spectrum, DX vs. local signals, and the FCC) and requirement #4 (how radio waves carry information). Bruce, KD8APB, and Patrick, KD8DZB, were responsible for this station.
  3. This station cover requirements #5 (safety precautions) and #6 (schematic diagrams and electronic components). Glenda, N8KPL, and Steve, WB8WSF, set up and ran this station.
  4. This station covered requirement #7A, 5 and 6 (how to make emergency calls, HT vs base stations). Mark, KD8AOM, and Jeff, W8SGZ, were responsible for this station.
  5. This station covered requirements #7A, 1 through 4 (license requirements, Q signals, and actual QSOs), as well as requirement #8 (describing a typical amateur radio station).

I manned station #5 with Mark W8FSA. At our station, we had the club’s IC-746PRO connected to a 40m inverted-V antenna that we set up outside. We were lucky in that the lodge has big, screened windows. We were able to easily remove the screen and snake the coax out to the antenna. Also fortunate for us, 40m was in decent shape, and we made a bunch of contacts.

The lodge at Camp Munhackie
The lodge at Camp Munhackie was more than big enough to accomodate the 100+ Scouts and assorted parents and Scout leaders.
(Photo: Jeff Zupan W8SGZ).

Shortly after the antenna went up, I contacted NX2ND on CW on 7040 kHz. This station is aboard the USS Ling, sitting in the harbor of Secaucus, NJ. I took our working another special event station as a good sign. After I mentioned that I wanted to make sure that we could make phone contacts, the NX2ND operator, Howie, suggested that we both QSY. After a couple of minutes, we also worked on phone on 7232 kHz.

After that, Mark did most of the operating, and I was kept busy explaining things to the kids. I had made charts explaining some of the material, and I was really glad that I did so. There would have been no way that I could individually explain everything to the kids.

I was also kept busy signing the Scouts’ merit badge applications. Every requirement had to be dated and initialed on the forms. Then, after they had completed all of the requirements, Jack or I had to sign off on the form. This not only required two signatures, but also writing down our addresses and telephone numbers! I personally signed 62 of these applications.

This really was an overwhelming experience. For one thing, I never anticipated such a big turnout. For another, really was impressed with the scouts. They worked very earnestly on meeting all of the requirements, which were not easy. For example, they had to draw schematic symbols for three different components, and then match a real component with the schematic symbol. To meet each of the requirements, they had to do something similar.

They also asked very good questions, and I think some of them were genuinely interested in amateur radio. At the very least, we’ve given them a glimpse of what amateur radio is all about and hopefully sparked their interest.