Oakville ARES

ares_cl6The Oakville Amateur Radio Club is reorganizing its ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service)  group and we’re looking to adding digital D-Star communications and MESH networks. (See my post on the Oakville Amateur Radio Club Blog VE3HB for more on MESH.)

These are very exciting times for the Oakville club as new initiatives and a stronger emphasis on working together has taken place. So when it comes to ARES, where are we?

According to the ARRL (where ARES started) website, ARES consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.

Every licensed amateur, regardless of membership in the ARRL (the same applies to membership in RAC) or any local or national organization is eligible to apply for membership in ARES.

In Canada (and this from the RAC website) emergency service activities in each RAC Section are under the direction of the Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC), who is appointed by the Section Manager (SM).

The radio amateurs in each community within the Section register their facilities with the local Emergency Coordinator (EC), who is also appointed by the SM or SEC. In order to provide better support in areas where there is a large number of EC appointments, the position of District Emergency Coordinator (DEC) is appointed by the SM. Being RAC officers, these appointments must be RAC members.

Again from the RAC site any amateur radio club can start an ARES unit in an area where one does not currently exist. No proposal for a new ARES unit can be acted upon when it conflicts with an existing recognized RAC ARES group.

This is a good thing of course as it avoids issues with just who is in charge of the emergency. (Watch this 1950′s Tony Hancock comedy sketch. It’s hilarious and as poignant today as it was when it first aired.)

Here in Oakville we’ve got ARES groups all around us. Just about every club has one including Burlington,  Mississauga, the Halton ARC, Hamilton ARC and many more.

Regrettably in the past there has been some issues with ARES management as the organization falls under the notoriously poorly managed Radio Amateurs of Canada and as such some Ontario hams went off and started a new group called ECOA (Emergency Communications Ontario).

This situation is really unfortunate but no surprise when one talks to hams who are ECOA members and left the RAC-run ARES association in frustration.

We’ll see how Oakville ARC does and which way it goes.


Are We Better Off?

Ask yourself: Is Amateur Radio better off now in Canada than it was five years ago?

If you answered no, then what are we doing about it?

Ask yourself this: What is RAC’s purpose?

Can’t answer that question in five words or less?

Didn’t think so and that’s why RAC isn’t going anywhere but its members and even some of its executive group are…going that is.

So what should RAC’s elevator pitch be?


N.B. Hams Get DD Exemption

Great news: The New Brunswick government tabled new legislation this week that provides an exemption to that province’s distracted driving law for amateur radio operation.

New Brunswick hams fought long and hard to get this exemption and hams in every province should take note and take similar action.

And before the usual Sparkies get their Depends in knot and figure out how to reply to a blog post, the operation of amateur radio equipment in moving vehicles by the driver has a history going back to the beginning of the automobile.

Unless those who comment have something new to say I won’t be posting replies here.

Amateur radio use while driving a vehicle was never part of the problem of distracted driving especially while using a cell phone to text or dial a number, and the possible banning Amateur Radio use isn’t part of the solution.

Ageing Ham Radio operators still driving their vehicles well beyond the time somebody should have lifted their licenses is more of an issue than the use of Amateur Radio mobile equipment. Now the use of mobile radios by octogenarians who drive is just down right frightening.

I know. I’m a senior and I’m not half the driver I used to be. My time is coming :(  Meanwhile I can feel free to driver and operate while in New Brunswick.

BTW I got this notice via RAC which credited the efforts of local amateurs and, get this: RAC’s national strategy to address distracted driving legislation.

This from a bunch of guys who can’t agree on what toppings to order on a pizza! I kinda have problems believing this claim as I’ve never heard of a “national strategy” from RAC on anything but maybe I’m out of touch?

FREE Contesting E-Book

It’s snowing heavily in Oakville so today I downloaded Dave K1TTT’s FREE 30th anniversary edition of his 700-page ebook on building a superstation.product_thumbnail.php

If you’ve ever wanted to know the ins and outs of creating a station capable of consistently  scoring in the top 10 (or better even winning) a contest (let alone a category) then Dave’s book is a great introduction.

The downloadable PDF book is available from LuLu.

BTW I foolishly missed being in the Commonwealth Contest last weekend when conditions sounded amazing (again). So this weekend I’m looking at the Russian DX Contest with my fingers crossed.

The Russian DX Contest is different for a couple of reasons. First Russian contesters tend russiato be excellent operators with an uncanny ability to hear weak signals through Aurora flutter.

Honestly I’ve worked Russians who it took me many minutes to piece together their call sign through the flutter, fading and noise only to have the Russian op get all my info (even on QRP) on the first and certainly the second attempt.

But that’s not all. The Russian DX Contest is only 24 hours long and you can work in CW or phone or both. Here’s a link to the rules.

It’s one of my favourite contests. BTW the map comes from EI8IC’s very helpful and informative website.

Getting Ready For Dayton?

Yes we’re planning the annual pilgrimage to Dayton in May. wouxun-kg-uv8d

It’s a 7 1/2 hour drive from Toronto and this year we’ll drive down on the Wednesday so we can take in Four Days In May, which features the day-long series of QRP workshops on Thursday.

Friday is all day at the massive flea market (It takes a healthy mobile ham almost a day to work properly.) followed by dinner out and then Rod, VE3RHF, will probably hunt out some action at the digital forums (And you thought I was talking about going downtown didn’t you?)

Saturday it’s back to the flea market with a smattering of sitting down at the DX and Contesting forums held onsite. Saturday night is the amazing Contesting Dinner sponsored in the past by CQ Magazine and featuring a whole sack of door prizes.

Sunday morning we leave for arrival back in Toronto by late afternoon.

BTW the photo is of the soon-to-be-announced Wouxun KG-UV8D, dual-band VHF/UHF FM handie rumoured to sell for around $150!!!!!!!! That’s just a little more expensive than a new battery and charger for your old WT.

At $180 or so I’ve got my eye out for a Correct Systems CS700 DMR unit that works on the Motorola digital system.

RAC Relevant?

Adult Content Warning: I am actually going to say something nice about RAC!

What? Yes it’s true. I think RAC might be working at becoming vaguely relevant.

And we can thank our new (paid) director (unelected) of communications and fund raising Vincent (Vince) Charron, VA3GX/VE2HHH for the new energy around Facebook and Twitter and now Paul Burggraaf, VO1PRB, chief information and technology officer, who sent all members an electronic link to the electronic version of The Canadian Amateur which actually worked and looks terrific on screen.

Seems eTCS comes in a Flipbook version (which requires Adobe Flash Player) and if your computer can’t handle Flash a full colour Adobe PDF download will pop up.

TCA is a very good publication. Period. I was a group national magazine editor with a bunch of other editors who reported to me. I know magazines and TCA, especially when considering who publishes it (RAC) is hitting way beyond its class. I’d makes some major member-friendly changes but all-in-all it’s still pretty good as is and the colour eTCA version is way better than the old paper edition.

For the last four or five years I’ve produced more online copy about Radio Amateurs of Canada than RAC has posted. Why? Most of the old Sparkies at RAC don’t have a clue about social media, public relations and don’t even mention membership engagement.

Now we’ve got two guys who are coming out of the shadows and are posting stuff online and not just posting some crappy version of an old fashion newsletter which is printed in TCA. Ugh.

RAC still sucks but now we’ve got a couple of guys who are actually doing something new and I for one will get behind these initiatives.

Now if brain-trust at RAC (and I am being ironic) would figure out that no one becomes a RAC member just to get TCA and offer the electronic version for FREE to everyone, everywhere and then drop the awful and boring RAC-reports and write some compelling stories about RAC successes and reasons why readers should join RAC the membership would grow month after month.

BTW membership is still a disaster stuck at around 4,000 members. According to a published report by one of the RAC directors hundreds and hundreds of former members have not renewed.

So we have our membership voting with their feet and they’re voting to go elsewhere (ARRL?) where they perceive more value.

Plus, and even worse, RAC is doing little to nothing to grow the hobby. We have no national program or overall plan to bring more people into Amateur Radio. And don’t mention the word vision!

So Vincent and Paul you have your work cut out for you.

Same with you guys who are directors. It’s time to step up. Start talking to your existing members and start offering services to the overall Canadian Amateur Radio community.

What RAC has been doing for the last five years hasn’t worked.

Let’s get with the program and actually do some membership involvement projects.



But I’m Exempt!

That’s likely going to be your first comment to the cop that’s pulled you over and is about to write you a new hefty ticket for distracted driving if he or she spots you holding a microphone while driving.20100105_cop-writing-ticket_614mz

It might help to be carrying a copy of the legislation, but that precludes the concept that the cop is willing to read your handout. The cop may just write out the ticket and let the courts decide about your exemption. That’s not helpful.

I’ve suggested that the Ontario RAC directors and our newly minted communications person write a letter (an email will do) reminding the major policing services in Ontario that we are exempt and get it out right away while the topic is front-of-mind.

RAC has an explanation of where they were back in 2012. It’s 2014 and I don’t know what RAC is or isn’t doing to make our temporary five-year exemption. Our current exemption expires in 2017.

Amateur Radio usage in a moving automobile by the operator of the vehicle was never part of the problem of distracted driving and banning the use of microphones by Hams (while allowing taxi cab and garbage truck drivers to do so) won’t be part of the solution.

In demonstrations with ministry staff, we adequately demonstrated the difference between holding a cell phone and a ham radio microphone.

Come on RAC now’s a good time to do something to help your members in Ontario.


Distracted Driving Fines Double

The fine for distracted driving in Ontario is going from roughly $150 to $275 in a couple of days.Security-guard-talking-via-walkie-talkie-device-via-Shutterstock-615x345

Since Amateur Radio operation is exempt, this might be a wonderful opportunity for our Ontario directors plus our new unelected director of communications and fund-raising (How do we get an unelected salaried director? What is this a French-language thing? If so, it sure doesn’t serve the rest of us when it comes to clarity.) to send an email to the major police services in Ontario plus the Ontario solicitor general (who is responsible for policing) and the association of Ontario chiefs of police or whatever they are calling themselves reminding them that Ham Radio operation is exempt.

Cops don’t like the fact we’re exempt as it’s really tough to tell the difference between a driver holding a cellphone in their hand and a radio operator speaking into a microphone. To the cop in motion, both look like cell phones being held in a hand.

BTW guys attach the regulation which is available online but hyperlink it in the text to avoid spam filters.


More RAC Thoughts

Having waxed so eloquently and enthusiastically about the changes we’re seeing at RAC in my last post (below) I have a couple of late thoughts.

I wonder if our new director Vince Charron is actually a board member? If not, why is he being referred to as a director?

Second I noted in the RAC emailed newsletter (Can you guys not figure out blogging?) that director Charron is “working” at RAC headquarters. Does this mean he’s being paid?

And, if he’s being paid, did I get any say in this? It’s conceivable based on the amount of digital traffic going through here on a daily basis I might have missed this information.

Anybody know anything??

I’m not sure where I stand on any of this but I can’t remember being in the loop. Of course, that’s happening a lot these days and RAC is the least of my worries. Remembering to wear my pants when I go outside is higher on my list.

RAC Is Looking UP

imagesLooks like the old stale RAC has got some new thinking emerging at long last.

Case in point RAC now has a Twitter account @RACTWEETS! Plus the RAC Facebook site is really active.

If you’re active on social media you’ll know the power of Twitter (people launch revolutions with it among other things) and Facebook (over a billion users and growing) to keep members informed and involved in the decision-making process of their organization.

Talking about decision-making our Ontario South Director Rod, VE3RHF, moved a motion at the RAC Board meeting which was passed to publish the minutes of board meetings prior to their formal acceptance at the next board meeting which could be two months down the road.

This means we, the members, can see what was discussed at a board meeting shortly after the meeting via draft (in other words not yet accepted by the board) minutes of the meeting. (Even my Toastmaster club does this as the secretary emails out of draft set of minutes immediately after each meeting and the chair of the next meeting asks for errors or omissions before formally accepting the minutes as is or as corrected. Pretty simple stuff but RAC has never been doing this being more secretive that the Kremlin.)

With sole exceptions of personnel matters involving paid staff (who have professional reputations to maintain) and financial issues (where disclosure of specific information could be detrimental to the organization) there is nothing the board members or executive members discuss which should be consider private and privileged in a non-profit, member-supported hobby organization.

The way we’ve been doing things for the last number of years was both unhelpful, even distractive and caused some of us to be highly suspicious of the motives behind this behaviour.

Mostly I put it down to board and executive members being ignorant of how to conduct themselves as leaders of a transparent and public group. Sure mistakes have been made over the years but attempts to hide or minimize the situations made them worse.

I’m thinking specifically in how past RAC boards have mishandled the appointments and dismissals of volunteers. IMHO it’s been simply appalling and inept. Having said that, I am hopeful based on some of what we’re reporting above, that the current board and executive are starting to show some understanding of their role and the concerns of their members.

I think we should thank Southern Ontario Director Rod, VE3RHF, for his work and I encourage you to read his blog posting on his personal blog (because RAC hasn’t figured out blogging yet) the Canadian Radio Research Lab (CRRL – that should create some visceral reaction from some).

And while I am at it, let’s thank Vincent, VA3GX/VE2HHH, RAC’s new director of communications and fundraising for his initiatives.

I am not privy to any information but that’s never stopped me before.

It appears that with Vincent’s recent arrival there is new energy to revamp the awful and creaky current RAC website. Vincent’s saying we’re going to have a better, newer, friendly (I am tempted to comment!) platform to benefit all members, Amateur Radio operators and the general public.

Good heavens might we have accidentally attracted someone who understands the basics of public relations? All members and AMATEUR RADIO OPERATORS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC? Oh glory be!!!!!

Plus Vincent is likely behind the Twitter account and the promotion of the Facebook page.

This is momentous change in thinking if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly.

Finally (and only because I have been such a rabid critic of RAC in the past) I want to point out Vincent’s promotion in the February 2014 RAC Report of the Maple Leaf Legacy Circle. Read more about how you can help RAC by leaving a legacy gift in your will (You do have a will don’t you Sparky?).

I’ve got to stop. I think I’m starting to tear up :)