Field Day 2009: Stuart Makes His First Contact

One of the great things about Field Day are the stories. Every year, I add a story or two to my repertoire. This year is no exception.

Story #1 starts about 1:30 pm on Saturday. I was at my post at the public information table/GOTA station. We had been ready to rock and roll for at least a half hour, so a group of us were just sitting around chewing the fat when Stuart and his mother strolled up to the table.

Her son was a little on the shy side, so his mother explained that Stuart had seen a listing of our Field Day site on the Internet and had asked her to bring him out to see us. She mentioned that Stuart had been listening to ham radio operators on his little Yaesu handheld scanner for several years and was very excited to actually meet some ham radio operators and see ham radio in action.

Not only that, she said that he had taught himself Morse Code. A kid after my own heart! I quickly volunteered to give them a tour of our Field Day site. First, I showed him our VHF/UHF station, and he seemed really impressed with the five single-band radios.

Next, I took him into the 40m phone station. I asked how fast he could copy Morse Code, and he said 30 words per minute. I cranked the receiver down into the CW portion of the band, and sure enough, he could copy anything that I tuned in.

At this point, it was still only 1:45 pm, so I told him, “Let’s go over to one of the CW stations, and we’ll see if we can make a contact.” We marched over to the CW #2 station, and after getting clearance from the station captain, I tuned around for a clear frequency, then called CQ. Immediately, N5VV, replied.

At this point, Stuart was so excited, he was shaking a little bit. Since the contest was just about ready to start, I kept the contact short, but that didn’t matter. Stuart had finally gotten to see ham radio in action.

Stuart’s mother then inquired about taking the test. I explained that our Volunteer Examiners give the test every second Saturday of the month and gave her the URL of our website. She said that Stuart had been studying and was ready to take the test.

Unfortunately, they had to leave at that point. I told Stuart’s mother that we’d be there through 2pm Sunday and to come back any time. She said that they’d definitely be back the next day.

Stuart Makes His First Contact
Stuart and his mother returned about 1:30 pm on Sunday. He wanted to see the VHF/UHF station again, so that was our first stop. He took a couple of photos of the setup, and then I suggested we go over to the GOTA station. When we first got there, someone was at the mike, but shortly afterwards, they got up, and Stuart and I took the controls.

When we first sat down, I made a few contacts using my call to show him how to use the paddle. I noted that holding the levers down produces a series of dits or dahs, and that by tapping the other lever while holding down the first, you can produce a dit between dahs or a dah between dits.

Then, I asked him if he’d like to try it. He said yes, so just to see how it would go, I tuned up to above 7100 kHz. There was no activity up there, so I set the keyer speed to 15 wpm and told him to send my callsign a few times. He reached over with his left hand and sent it perfectly. Now, remember, this is someone who’d never touched a paddle of any kind before. Not only that, he even sent the K (dah-di-dah) iambically! That is to say that he held the dah paddle while tapping the dit paddle to slip in a dit between the two dahs.

Then, I asked if he’d like to make some contacts. He said yes, so I said, “Let’s switch seats.” We switched seats, and I said, “OK, tune around a little and find a strong station calling CQ.” We found K2ZR, and I coached him a little on how to reply. “Now, remember,” I said, “we’re going to use the W8PGW callsign.” When I gave him the nod to send, he reached over with his RIGHT hand and sent W8PGW perfectly! When K2ZR replied with our call and the exchange, I coached him to reply with “4A MI.” Not only did he do that, but he slipped in a “R” to denote that we’d copied the exchange. When K2ZR replied with a “TU,” I showed him how to log the contact.

That’s all the coaching I needed to do. After the first contact, I said, “OK. Now, tune around for another station calling CQ, and we’ll make another contact.” He was off to the races. As soon as he made a contact, he jumped up to type it into the log. His arms weren’t long enough to reach the computer from where he was seated.

When we started, the keyer speed was set to 15 wpm. After a couple of contacts, I asked if he might want to send faster. When he said OK, I bumped it up to 18 wpm. After a few QSOs with only a couple of mistakes, he asked if we could go faster, so I set it at 20 wpm. Again, only a couple of mistakes, so we bumped it up to 22 wpm. There, he started making more mistakes, but let me repeat, he never touched any kind of key before in his life. I have no doubt that with a little practice, he could easily do 30 wpm.

Overall, he made 12 contacts in the 21 minutes he operated the station. Not a bad rate for someone who’d never sent a character of Morse Code in his life, don’t you think?

As it turns out, Stuart can’t take the test in July, but his mother said that they would definitely do it in August. He has even picked out a vanity callsign. The kid is going to make a great ham radio operator. I can’t wait to get him in the operator’s seat next Field Day.

Let’s Publish a Study Guide for Kids

At a concert Sunday afternoon, I ran into a guy who was in one of my One-Day Tech Classes. He’s really gotten bit by the ham radio bug, and he told me that his ten-year-old daughter has shown some interest, too. He went on to say that he tried using my study guide, but that it was just too dry for his daughter. She needed more explanation.

Well, that comment, and my recent posting about The Manga Guide to Electricity, got me thinking that if we really wanted kids to get into ham radio, then we need to write something like The Manga Guide to Ham Radio.

The thought of doing this both excites me and dismays me. It excites me because I think it—or something like it—would be the perfect way to get more kids interested in ham radio. It dismays me because I’m not sure that I know enough about manga, or about how to write something for kids, to actually pull this off.

Having said all that, anyone want to help me do this?

Electricity for the Manga Generation

I just received this press release today, so I haven’t actually seen the book yet, but it looks like it would be fun……Dan

The Manga Guide to Electricity
Learn About Electricity in a Shockingly Fun Way

San Francisco, CA, March 19, 2009—Rereko is just your average high-school girl from Electopia, the land of electricity. Except she’s completely failed her electricity exam! Now she has to go to summer school on Earth—and this time, she has to pass. Luckily, her ever-patient tutor Hikaru is there to help. So begins the The Manga Guide to Electricity (March 2009, 224 pp, ISBN 9781593271978), the charming third volume in a series of technical EduManga titles from San Francisco-based geek book publisher No Starch Press.

The Manga Guide to Electricity combines an entertaining plot with authentic manga comics and lessons that offer readers a unique introduction to the world of electricity. Readers learn alongside Rereko as her tutor explains the basics of electricity by examining everyday devices like flashlights, heaters, and circuit breakers.

“I’m really excited about this latest Manga Guide,” said No Starch Press Founder Bill Pollock. “I can’t even count the number of people who have no clue about how electricity works or what diodes, resistors, and capacitors do. This is a great and painless way to sort through the mumbo jumbo.”

The real-world examples in The Manga Guide to Electricity teach readers:

  • What electricity is, how it works, how it’s created, and how it can be used
  • The relationship between voltage, current, and resistance (Ohm’s law)
  • Key electrical concepts like inductance and capacitance
  • How complicated components like transformers, semiconductors, and transistors work
  • How electricity produces heat and the relationship between current and magnetic fields

As they progress through the book, readers will explore more abstract concepts of electricity like electrostatic force, Ampere’s law, and the Seebeck effect. Co-published with scientific and technical publisher Ohmsha, Ltd. of Tokyo, Japan, The Manga Guide to Electricity will make learning about electricity a shockingly good time for readers of all ages.

About the Author
Kazuhiro Fujitaki is a lecturer at the Tokyo Metropolitan Vocational Skills Development Center. He has written a number of books on electrical engineering and runs a website offering useful information about Japan’s qualifying examinations for electrical technicians.

electricity_sample2

Space Station QSO a Success

Thanks to Ig, N0EFT, and his crew:

  • Tim, WA8VTD, back up radio operator;
  • Steve, KB9UPS, ARISS mentor and antenna and az/el rotor operator;
  • Olivia, KC8VGH, who handled the microphone and kids; and
  • Candy. KD8IPC, who made the initial contact and helped with the kids;

yesterday’s Space Station contact from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum was a success. Despite the low orbit (21 degrees), the contact lasted nearly nine minutes and they were able to ask 14 questions.

I hope to post video later, but in the meantime, here are a couple of news stories:

How we get kids (and parents) interested in Ham Radio

Barry, K2JV, wrote this for the ARRL’s Contact, an e-mail newsletter for PIOs:

The New Providence Amateur Radio Club of New Jersey has been actively introducing kids to Amateur Radio for about 5 years. The activities and events which we have mentored have been a source of considerable pleasure for the senior club members involved, but also require a considerable effort, both physical and mental.

Our formal programs include:

  • Kids Day twice a year, in cooperation with two township supported Recreation Commissions
  • Operating a GOTA station at Field Day
  • Running an after school Ham Radio Club at an elementary school
  • A program of “Ham Radio at Summer Camp,” also a Recreation Commission function
  • Mentoring ARISS QSOs, 4 contacts at various school levels.
  • Kids march with the Club in the annual Memorial Day Parade. They carry the Club banner and each has an HT on 2 meters using the callsign of and supervised by one of our licensed members.

These activities have given us an “insider’s look” at the behavior and interests of children, mostly of elementary and middle school age. Most of these programs include on the air operating on HF, and sometimes on VHF.

For programs of longer duration like the school radio club or at summer camp, it’s usually pretty easy to identify those kids who show a more than passing interest, and get them right on HF. It is frequently difficult to establish reliable, clear communication on 20 or 40 meters. The stations contacted are uniformly interested in speaking with the kids, but most operators don’t know how to speak with kids. The simple concept of speaking slowly, asking only one question at a time, and making that question something within the comprehension of a child, is something that most of us need a little time to grasp. The control op and mentor usually has to start the kids asking questions which will engage the person on the other end. Such questions include: “Do you have any pets?” or “Do you have any children?” or “What flavor ice cream is your favorite?” This clues the operator on the far end as to how to respond and how to ask a question which a kid can answer.

When we do “Ham Radio at Summer Camp” we are in competition with all the other activities which are going on. It soon becomes quite apparent however, that there are a few kids who will stay at the Ham Station for the whole day, and a few more who keep coming back – generally with the question “can I try it again?” These are the ones we are looking for to bring up the subject of Ham Radio at their schools and at home. We have prompted them when they return to school after the summer, and when their teacher asks “What did you do this summer?” to respond “Oh, I just spoke with a rancher in Arizona who raises Buffalo” or “I talked to a man who was in the jungle in Panama” or for our ARISS communicators “Oh, all I did was have a conversation with an astronaut on the International Space Station!”

One of the most important values of Ham Radio which we try to get through to parents and adults is that it teaches their kids how to speak with an adult who is not a family member, in sentences not monosyllables, and how to behave in the presence of a stranger. The science, technology, geography, etc. which they are learning even if they don’t know it – is purely collateral.

For Kids Day, in order to insure plenty of contacts we usually have a few “ringers” listening on a previously selected VHF repeater or simplex frequency. That way when a kid calls CQ he is likely to get an immediate and clear answer (kids have a short interest span). After that, it’s usually possible to get them on HF to make exchanges with other kids. Even the youngest, grasp the procedures for Kids Day almost immediately. We help them with a “crib sheet” which has the exchange written out, and they recognize the fact that the station contacted is sending them similar information. If conditions are poor, we have some “ringers” waiting on 20 meters too.

For an ARISS QSO, we have used “ringers” in preparing our Student Communicators. We usually do this on VHF simplex and one of our experienced Club Members becomes a “Simulated Astronaut.” This allows the kids not only to get familiar with the exchange protocol which will be used, but also lets them practice the questions which they have made up for the astronaut, and change the question when they hear the answer. This is done under the supervision of the Control Operator for the QSO who is one of our “graduate students” having communicated with the ISS, obtained a ham license, but is still in Middle School or High School.

We have a few “internal rules” for our ARISS QSOs:

  1. It’s all kids. Everyone including the control operator is a “kid” meaning High School or younger.
  2. No adults are visible on the stage, at least not to the audience.
  3. It is advertised as “a conversation with an Astronaut” and the kids respond after their question is answered, thank the astronaut, and pass the microphone to the next communicator.
  4. We introduce them early on, to a Satellite Tracking Program and the NASA website, which they are urged to use at home.
  5. To get more kids involved we do manual antenna train and elevate, and manual Doppler correction. A separate group of kids (usually boys) want to do this.

My Summary
After 5 years a few generalities as related to Ham Radio can be observed:

  • Little girls like to talk to each other. We set them up in small groups, each group with a handitalkie. Using proper protocols and callsigns the groups play games with each other like “battleship” or some games using LEGO blocks, etc.
  • Little boys like to play with electronic toys and love Morse code. They use computer based Morse training programs and soon learn to recognize their names and the names of their buddies. We have them build code oscillator kits and make them work.
  • Neither sex has the capability to carry on a conversation with a stranger. They have not yet learned to initiate a conversation with an adult. They don’t have this problem with their peers.
  • Both sexes tend to answer questions with monosyllabic answers. They can be prompted to answer in sentences, to speak slowly and clearly, but if not supervised they revert to their original style.
  • Girls have a much longer social interest span than do the boys. This is true for social gatherings like the games and communication exercises. The boys will work on the code for a long time, but this is a more solitary activity.
  • Boys like the complexities of games and puzzles more than girls. When on the air we can get them involved in the competitive and contest activities.
  • All children function better in a structured, organized environment. If the Ham Radio environment is made to feel like school, they can relate to it and will behave as though they are in school. Since most of their teachers are female, they all have far less problem conversing on the air with a YL (preferably a grandma) than with an OM of any age.

MI Section Publishes First Youth Newsletter

MI Assistant Section Manager Simon, KC8DYZ, has published the first Youth Radio in Michigan newsletter. Included in this issue are articles by out SM Dale, WA8EFK; Corey, KD8BOQ; and Simon himself.

Another interesting part of the newsletter is a proposal for creating a website just for kids in ham radio. I like this idea a lot. Not only would it be great for kids who are hams in Michigan, but perhaps for kids all over the country.

Buying a Rig for the Museum

As I’ve reported before, we have been awarded a $10,000 grant by the IEEE for setting up an amateur radio station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. $3,000 has been allotted for a transceiver. There are a lot of options, so I’m asking for some help.  Here’s some of my thinking so far:

1. Don’t purchase anything and use our club’s IC-746PRO for a while.
PROS:

  • The IC-746PRO is a good performer, and lots of us already know how to operate the radio.
  • Will give us time to try to get a manufacturer to donate a radio.
  • We could use some of the money for other stuff for the shack.

CONS:

  • Ties up the club’s radio at the museum.
  • Technology is not quite as impressive as some of the newer radios, such as the IC-756PROIII or TenTec Omni-7. (The HOM people want impressive.)

2. Purchase another IC-746PRO for the museum.
PROS:

  • The IC-746PRO is a good performer, and lots of us already know how to operate the radio.
  • We could use some of the money for other stuff for the shack.

CONS:

  • Technology is not quite as impressive as some of the newer radios, such as the IC-756PROIII or TenTec Omni-VII. (The HOM people want impressive.)

 
3. Purchase a TenTec Omni-VII.
PROS:

  • New technology, good performance.
  • Has features that will make remote control somewhat easier.

CONS

  • Eats up the entire budget for a radio.

 
4. Purchase an Icom IC-756PROIII.
PROS:

  • New technology, good performance.
  • Impressive display.
  • Price includes power supply.

CONS

  • Eats up the entire budget for a radio.

Sooooo, what do you guys think?

Teach Your Children Well

A Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song goes:

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

How can we expect kids to pick up on ham radio if we don’t show it to them?

How do we do this? Well, the online article “Teach-in” will give you some ideas. This article describes how a group of Florida hams demonstrated ham radio to a bunch of elementary kids.

As someone who’s done this many times myself, I can tell you that kids ARE interested in amateur radio and even Morse Code. Get out and do it and you’ll find it a very rewarding experience.

Brainstorming at the Museum

One of the fun things about operating at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is enjoying the company of other hams and sharing ideas. Two weeks ago, a bunch of us were joking about how to make CW more fun and get more kids into it. Well, someone noted that since CW is a rhythm kind of thing, maybe someone could make a dancing game out of it. I don’t know how hard or easy it would be to hack one of the dance mat games, but if you could get the thing to generate dits when you step on some of the pads and dahs when you step on the others, that might be kind of fun.

Yesterday, we were talking about the experiences that a couple in the group had talking to Cub Scouts about ham radio. They quickly came to the conclusion that you can’t just talk at them, you have to get them actually doing something. I think that’s one reason kids love to bang on the code practice oscillator at the museum.

Along those lines, they said that one of the more successful activities they had the Scouts do was to design their own QSL card. I think this is a really great idea, and I plan to use this idea when I go talk to kids about ham radio.

What’s Happening at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

When I last blogged about this, I simply reported that we’d applied for a grant from the IEEE Foundation. While we don’t expect an answer to our proposal for a while, Jack, WT8N, and I have been brainstorming about how we might use the money. Part of the money we requested were to go towards, “two to four tabletop displays,” and given that we are working with the “hands on” museum, we’ve been trying to come up with exhibits that kids could actually get their hands on.

Accordingly, we’ve come up with several ideas that will attempt to demonstrate some aspect of wireless technology, but in a “hands on” kind of way. What we’ve come up with so far includes:

  • Morse Code. Being ham radio operators this is a natural. The question is how to do it. Kids do seem to love to “pound brass,” so getting them to use the key to produce a sound is a no-brainer, but how to get them to learn something is another matter. One idea is to have them type in their name, send that in code, then have them try it. Another is to have two stations and have kids send code to one another.
  • Ohm’s Law. The idea for this exhibit would be to have users switch resistors in and out of a circuit, and possibly set the level of a voltage source and have a big ammeter so that they see how changing the voltage and resistance in a simple circuit affects the current in a circuit.
  • See your voice on an oscilloscope. Kids would speak into a microphone and see their voice on an oscilloscope display.
  • Transformer. Similar to the Ohm’s Law display, kids would somehow be able to switch in more or fewer windings and see how that affects the output/input voltage ratio. We’re kind of sketchy on how to actually do this, though.
  • Tuned Circuit. Kids would tune a capacitor and see how that affects the output frequency of an oscillator. This might be a visual display (oscilloscope) or audio output.
  • Directional Antennas. In this display, kids rotate directional antennas and note that when the antennas are pointing at one another, they are able to hear a signal or talk to other kids at second station. We were thinking of doing this with 440 MHz antennas and radios, as the antennas would be of a reasonable size. This might not, however, be legal for unattended operation, even with very low power. Anyone know of a frequency we could use for this kind of thing?

All of these displays would be accompanied by some text that explains the phenomenon.

In addition, to the tabletop displays, we were thinking of conducting regular fox hunts. Kids seem to love fox hunts. One thing we’re wondering about, though, is how well we could conduct a fox hunt inside the museum. That is will the fox’s signal reflect off all the metal inside making  finding it nearly impossible.

Another concern is how safe it will be to have kids running around with 440 MHz Yagi antennas. I’ve done a little surfing on fox hunting, and thought I’d found a way around this by using a loop antenna. One website, though, says that while they are great for direction finding at HF frequencies, they’re not really that good for VHF. Anyone have any experience to share with us on this point?