Form over Function

So what are the symptoms that something really rotten has happened to our national organization?

The simplest illustration is an unyielding conviction that form is more important than function.

Case in point is of course the fiasco of what’s happening to our ability to provide public service to the citizens of Ontario.

This organizational behaviour started way before the current administration and may even have had its origins in the way the days of previous attempts to form a national group. It has the smell about it of we’re right and you’re not and if you don’t like it get out.

Really! What should we care what some group calls itself. Should we not welcome everyone’s efforts and celebrate the coming together?

Apparently not.

RAC has devoted huge amounts of volunteer time to the production of voluminous treatises on what the form of the organization should look like ignoring the actual functioning that is taking place in the field.

There was even a comment that all this communicating (to members) was taking away from the work of creating more documents. Ugh.

We’ve put more value on writing detailed instructions than the act of actually speaking to an honest-to-goodness real member. But of course that’s what bureaucracies do. They don’t communicate. They dictate. They don’t encourage conversation but find ways to squelch it out entirely.

Training manuals and dictates galore are being churned out which are of little, if any, interest of the guy (or gal) with his call-sign ball cap, suspenders and a handheld sitting at the side of the roadway helping out at the community Santa Claus parade. He or she may never have filled out an “official” message form.

(BTW before some fat old guy in call-sign ball cap, suspenders and handheld gets offended, I’m describing myself…okay I confess I don’t own suspenders but I’m due.)

And so sadly we return to our search for Waldo (the guy with the suspenders) whose very existence has been lost in the bureaucratic bumbling and officious behaviours that we are all participating in.

While some may pray that we just shut up and go away that won’t cut it. Perhaps we’re due for a truth and reconciliation review? Funnily enough it’s those who have been treated the worst remain the most passionately connected to vision of what could be.

But still all the potential that could have been is wasted as the debate swirls around us.

All Waldo wanted to do was help out using his new portable radio.

So long Waldo. We hardly knew you.


The Politics of Political Theatre

RAC is holding its annual general meeting this weekend in Newfoundland and as part of the event (two RAC guys in a small hot room with a few clammy members dragged out of the flea market) there’s going to be an online portion.

Now why am I not participating?

Because this is theatre folks. The questions had to be pre-approved and no non-members are invited to participate. And what do you think you’re going to hear as compared to what we’re seeing (ancient web site, no blog anymore, more “firings” of volunteers, falling membership numbers, ARES in Ontario in disarray, no representation of any depth in Quebec, no results on Bill 118 in Ontario – see photo above – and this depressing list goes on.)

Kind of reminds me of the storm of ridicule that Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford brother Doug faces in regards to comments made about closing libraries in this city to save money.

Seems Margaret Atwood tweeted her 200,000 followers about the issue and Doug said he wouldn’t know the world-renown and beloved author if he passed her on the street. (That comment said a lot more about Doug Ford than Margaret Atwood.)

Now to my point:

Doug said if Margaret wanted to contribute she should run for office at city hall. Civil-minded Torontoians in the thousands went nuts.

Isn’t the same at RAC?

If we members want to participate we should volunteer to run for office or submit our questions for approval?

Duh. No. Those we elected we do not empower to govern but to serve.

The last thing we need and what we seem to have is an executive team sitting on their kingly thrones looking down at us lowly peons suggesting if we’re hungry for change we should just eat cake or shut up and go away or words to that effect.

Well I’ve gone away and I’m not coming back until we get a fundamental change.

I’m tempted to go on and talk about rearranging the chairs on the Titanic as the band plays on and wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride stopped sending CQD MGY…CQD MGY and switched to the newly approved SOS SOS SOS…

…but I won’t


As you may imagine the emails are flying fast and furious about who said what, when and to whom when it comes to RAC and ECOA here in Ontario. And there is some disagreement about the history of this issue as published in the section manager’s open letter to all Ontario ARES district and emergency coordinators.

But a couple of points do arise:

First: In his letter which is now so widely disseminate that I have no issue quoting it here, ARES section manager Allan Boyd, VE3AJB, declares himself the new section emergency coordinator as well as section manager.

As the section manager’s position is an elected one and the section emergency coordinator’s is an appointment I’m told that this action contravenes the RAC constitution.

Second point is Allan concludes in the letter that the negotiations with ECOA have taken considerable energy and have come at the expense of developing the Ontario Field organization and the new RAC training system.

What Mr. Boyd and RAC in general seems to not to understand is the members of ECOA are (or more likely were) RAC members. These RAC members were desperately attempting to communicate their needs (and again I guess but displeasure as well) at how RAC was treating them.

Remember these are RAC members and it’s a shame that RAC seems to think actually working with the membership is a waste of time.

So what does RAC do? It so thoroughly disenfranchises these members that they have split off and formed their own working organization.

You know when I left RAC I agonized over whether I was doing the right thing or not for months. I even made a couple of light overtures about returning and every time I did I was immediately reminded why I left in the first place.

The situation with RAC and ECOA is more of the same but this time instead of pissing off one guy they’ve managed to take out a whole province. (I bite my tongue forcefully.)

How to kill initiative in one easy lesson

I’ve seen a copy of an open letter sent to all Ontario ARES district and emergency coordinators sent by the section manager where, among many other comments, he states he has fired the current section emergency coordinator.

This is very distressing news.

The reason for the dismissal as stated was the SEC was also holding the position of president of the Emergency Communications Ontario Association (ECOA).

According to the letter the ECOA was setup in order to allow for the group to access the RAC insurance program. Now this is stated in the letter and I have no idea if that’s true or not and nobody’s paying me to play reporter here so I’m not going to make calls to find out what’s right here.

Besides this isn’t about what is right and wrong and the SM’s letter goes on for two pages of single space type defending RAC’s position in this matter and I’m not going to take up the bandwidth repeating any of it.

No the issue here isn’t who’s right and whining about why something happened or didn’t happen.

The issue is why has RAC allowed this situation become a crisis?

Obviously if the ECOA folks were getting what they wanted from RAC, there wouldn’t be a conflict. But because they didn’t do what RAC wanted they’re out?

Does this have a heavy-handed bureaucratic smell to it?

Ask yourself if this situation sounds like it is in the best interest of Amateur Radio in Canada or is it in the best interest of ECOA or in the best interest of RAC?

Another sad day for Amateur Radio in this country.

RSGB Membership Survey

The Radio Society of Great Britain has released a 41-page survey of its membership and it’s a very interesting read. There’s too much to go into this morning (Monday is still a work day around here.) but the complaints lodged against the Society look pretty similar to the complaints lodged by Canadian amateurs when it comes to RAC.

Comments included:

“RSGB should listen more”

“RSGB is inflexible and too full of its own importance to make changes which would make it useful to clubs and individuals.”

“RSGB needs to be better involve (sic) average radio amateurs in a straightforward way.”

Sound familiar?


CCO AGM 2011

Here’s looking at you kid 🙂

That’s Mike, VA3MW, at the controls of his helicopter equipped with video camera/

The shot was taken yesterday at the Contest Club Ontario‘s AGM. Now this is the way to run an annual general meeting. Actually have some fun. What a novel concept!

The AGM was held at John, VE3EJ’s magnificent contest station and was well attended by over 100 of Ontario’s top contesters. Prizes galore and awards were handed out. A BBQ was enjoyed by all.

CCO is one of the top contesting clubs in the world due in no small part to the excellent and dedicated leadership and management of the club by the executive group.

More photos will follow and will be posted at Peter West Photo.

Is VHF FM the new CB?

It would seem so based on what I was listening to on the Oakville Ontario VHF repeater last night. Foul language, poor procedures and no identification were typical behaviour of a couple of participants in a roundtable discussion.

The sad thing about this poor behaviour is it puts all of Amateur Radio in a bad light especially with other family members who might inadvertently be hearing a radio let on in the house. Children just shouldn’t be subjected to this language and there’s no way to stuff the words back into the speaker box once they’re out.

Back in the days when CB (GRS as it was known in Canada) was so popular you heard a lot of this bad behaviour coming from people who had no license nor any understanding of why other operators took some pride in their stations and their ability to communicate.

There were some really smart and interesting folks on CB and there were some real dullards with obvious personality defects.

For the most part you don’t hear too much of this nonsense on Amateur Radio (although I’d avoid 80 meters in the U.S. phone portion most nights) because it takes some work to get an amateur radio license and nobody wants to lose their privileges.

I suspect the dumbing down of the examination might have something to do with attracting some lesser desirable types especially on VHF repeaters but that’s the way it is.

The original exam took about four to six months of study and getting your “ticket” was a big deal. Now anybody can get a basic license by guessing correctly on over 50 per cent of the questions. I actually watched a guy do this. Sad.

Any hobby the size of Amateur Radio is going to attract a wide spectrum of participants but that doesn’t mean we need to be held hostage by those who chose to behave badly either by design or ignorance.

The easiest way to fight back is to record the bad behaviour and report the offender to Industry Canada. This has been done before and has had the desirable result.

Remember it’s just not the miscreant who puts their own license in jeopardy but the repeater licensee is responsible for what information is carried over the repeater.

It’s not beyond imagining that the club just turns off the repeater to avoid any legal issues.

The other thing we can all do is not communicate with anyone who either doesn’t identify because they have something to hide or think it’s smart to drop comments into an ongoing conversation or use inappropriate language.

We can’t control somebody else’s behaviour but we can control our own.

The Pain of QRP

QRP is wonderful…when conditions allow.

This weekend is the annual IARU contest which is a pretty nice world-wide DX contest with reports consisting of a simple report (5NN or 59 on phone) and your ITU zone. (We’re in Zone 4.)

Conditions, to put it charitably, suck.

I can hear in Russian zones 19, 28 and 29 pretty easily as the band is quiet but signal strength is around S7 and rarely S9.

If the Russians are S7 or less I’m S3 or 4 and likely unreadable in the noise of the contest.

And everybody else is S5 or S6 so I might as well go upstairs and read a book or go buy a KW amp.

BTW the photo is what the station looks like now.

The new LDG Z-11 Pro is on the left with the Logikeyer on top. Next is the TenTec R40/20. Two sets of paddles are attached and Heil headphones are plugged into the FlexRadio 1500 which sits under the desk.

With the exception of the keyer and paddles, everything could actually be put under the table on shelves but I’ve got have some sort of hardware on the desktop 🙂

Under the desk I’ve got an IC-802 and the Flex 1500 is underneath it and a 100-watt or so all-band amp is under that. To the right is a five-position antenna switch and rotor control.


Repeater Protocols

We’ve been having some operating issues on our local repeaters.

One of the problems that cropped up recently was one ham rebroadcast something he was hearing on a scanner. I immediately told him this was not okay.

Here’s why it’s not okay:

Not only is rebroadcasting a signal from outside of the ham bands illegal but much more importantly it puts the licensee of the repeater in jeopardy as well as the guy who is making the illegal broadcast.

The other issue is after one guy does something like this, newer hams may mistakenly think this okay behaviour.

We’ve got one guy who loves to drop in comments but doesn’t identify. Of course, everybody knows who it is as his voice is distinctive but he only gives his call sign at the end of the conversation.

Again, personally, I couldn’t care less and I don’t communicate with anyone who won’t identify when they start their conversation but it sets a bad example and is illegal.

Aside from that it’s fine.

The Milton Fleamarket

The Milton Hamfest is one of the better venues for a fleamarket.

Situated in the Milton Fairgrounds it’s an easy drive from all points in southern Ontario.

This year’s vendor contingent was a little light but the weather and good fellowship made up for it.

I had a chance to talk to the RAC guys including Bill Unger, VE3XT, and a couple of other guys whose names elude me. I asked about the progress on getting a permanent exemption when it comes to distracted driving.

Bill tells me they are attempting to reach the new minister and are awaiting a reply.

Okay let’s be fair. Bill Unger is a good guy. I like Bill. I don’t think there’s a mean bone in his body. He’s trying to do the right thing. And I am willing to cut him some slack but “awaiting a reply” does not fill me with optimism. I offered a few thoughts to Bill (of course I would) and because he’s a good guy he listened and I thank him for that.

The exemption we now have ends in January of 2012. I suggested to Bill that if the minister isn’t in contact with us by September we’d better go to Plan B as the clock is ticking. And no there probably isn’t a Plan B yet but there should be.

Let’s be honest here. If the RAC guys can get the exemption made permanent it will go a long way to shutting up some of the critics like me. It doesn’t mean I agree with the way the ordinary member has been so disenfranchised but at least it will be proof that somebody at RAC is doing something for the membership and Amateur Radio in Canada.

This BTW is my second biggest complaint about RAC. While they maybe doing something (like writing the minister) they don’t share that information with the membership who are entitled to know what’s going on and thus fret unnecessarily and start doing unhelpful things like personally writing the minister to tell her what an amazing bunch of public service groupies we are and how dare she pass legislation on our federally god-given right to talk on our radios.

When the minister reads stuff like this all she sees is a bunch of old guys who run around wearing beanies with propellors spinning on the top. A comparison to CBers by government officials might appear charitable compared to some of the stuff I’ve seen sent by hams to politicians and newspaper editors over this issue.

The RAC guys and gals have to realize that they’re not in the government or military anymore where keeping secrets was standard operating procedure. They’re running a national lobbying organization and ignoring the non-members is bad enough (and will cause the paid membership to plummet which I guess is what is happening) but ignoring the paying members is too unspeakably dumb for words.

And, if on top of that the folks at GHQ can’t get a reply to a letter in time I will hold my breath until I turn blue. Honestly I can’t think of what else to do to get these guys to wake up.