Rover Safety

Globe and Mail columnist Peter Cheney has published a photo in today’s newspaper of an Ontario Amateur Radio operator’s vehicle complete with a roof-mounted six-meter beam and various VHF and UHF antennas on a mast fitted with a rotor.

Fortunately Cheney didn’t know what he was seeing but he included it in an article on road safety when it comes to strapping things on the roof of the car.

In the newspaper photo (which thankfully doesn’t show up online) somebody who owns a great Toyota van and who likely was out as a rover during a recent contest might want to check that the piece of plywood (or so it appears) is firmly affixed to the vehicle.

Off hand and without knowing who this is, the setup appears to Cheney to be noteworthy and sure doesn’t make us look great.

Roving is great fun but with all the emphasis on distracted driving and road safety a more modest setup or perhaps a more robust vehicle might have lessened the visual impact of this mobile setup.

And BTW if you’re the happy owner of this setup please, please don’t email Cheney to tell him about how safe and wonderful your rover station actually is. He has no reason to believe you based on the photo and probably couldn’t care less.

Command and Control

Today’s Toronto Star editorial certainly doesn’t mince any words when it comes to what went wrong at Elliot Lake:

“McGuinty should order a prompt, focused review of the command and control aspect of the rescue effort.” (The italics are the Toronto Star’s.)

And isn’t it this same command and control mentality that has infected the Canadian Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and lead to widespread defections nationally and in the case of Ontario hams a virtual mutiny?

From what I’ve seen reading some of the officious and angry emails that have circulated recently many Canadian hams have good reason to fear that ARES is heading down the same path.

Just have a look at some of the recent voluminous planning documents that have been produced and which are routinely ignored by all those ordinary hams ready to serve their communities during public service events and times of need.

What we need now is more team building and less empire building.

What we need now is new leadership and less old-school blundering.

What we do not need now are any more pugnacious and truculent ill-tempered comments from cantankerous old sparks who are doing our hobby and our ARES efforts no good whatsoever.

What we do need now is a way to reengage with ARES and help it to grow into the effective and national organization it could become with new ideas.

Get Resonant

Here’s an endorsement for you. Go out and buy a RigExpert AA-54 right now.


Aside from the fact it works to tune antennas, it does it in record time. The AA-54s ability to create a graph of your antenna’s SWR over a range of frequencies (which you set) is downright amazing.

Where before I’d have to take a reading and plot the results on paper and then do the whole thing five or six times to get a sense of what was happening with my antenna with the AA-54 I just set it up and push a button.

Dare thing will even plot to my computer.

On a hot day like this, the AA-54 told be in about 10 seconds flat that I had to add about a foot onto one of my end-feed antennas. Did it and the SWR went to 1:1 on my operating frequency and I was back inside drinking a cool glass of water while listening to the bands.

Very very cool.

I’ve commented on the tragedy at Elliot Lake (see below) but there is another aspect of this issue that we Amateur Radio operators in Canada should examine.

At almost the same time as the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) team was being deployed to Elliot Lake the federal government’s omnibus bill will end federal assistance to front-line emergency response teams across Canada.

In an article in today’s Globe and Mail former chair of the senate committee on national security and defence, Colin Kenny, says this end of funding is just the beginning of a disaster in the making for Canada.THIS IS A MUST READ!

So how does this affect us?

Aside from the fact that thanks to its heavy-handed approach our national association has screwed up relations with member-based emergency preparedness groups like the Emergency Communications Ontario Association, this is a time when all of us interested in public service and emergency communications should come together.

Of course what we need here is some leadership and I know of one place I certainly wouldn’t go (I base this on the lack of rotation of leadership issue alone.) to find any so what are we to do?

Emergency communications is a big part of our hobby with hotspots in British Columbia and Ontario. I’m not certain about Manitoba but with the annual floods I bet they’re pretty active but also pretty silent on the public relations end of things which is a shame.

I don’t know what’s happening in Quebec (and this is a BIG issue for all of us) and the east coast remains shrouded in foggy thinking when it comes to emergency preparedness IMHO. (Look if I’m wrong here say so.)

What we need right now is a national action committee composed of all interested parties in emergency communications regardless of affiliations or none.

We need to develop a national presence (which is sorely missing) that does the following:

  • register and communicate with interested Amateur Radio groups and individuals across Canada
  • create a national executive directly responsible to the members
  • establish and maintain relations and communications with Industry Canada and Public Safety Canada, the ARRL and ARES
  • setup a national blog (I’d volunteer) to coordinate our efforts
  • create a 5- or 10-step plan of action for immediate implementation
  • we need to seek funding for our projects

Look emergencies are going to continue to happen. It is a natural part of human hubris to think that (a) nothing bad is going to happen and (b) if it does, our officials can handle it.

We know from experience that (a) this isn’t true and (b) stuff happens and when all else fails there’s still Ham Radio.

(I know it might not be pretty but really we don’t need to reach a high standard in order to deploy individuals with radios to checkpoints or welfare centres where they can actually do some good.)

Our local club, the Oakville ARC, held it’s annual general meeting during Field Day last weekend and aside from the usual treasurer’s and executive reports we decided by discussion and vote to investigate the possibility of seeking funding for the installation of a D-Star repeater here in Oakville to support our emergency and public service communications.

BTW this bold new move by the Oakville club was the result of initiatives undertaken by the Barrie ARC and the York Region group both of whom have publicly taken on new vitality and vision something which has been sorely lacking on the Canadian scene.

D-Star repeaters might be the way to go for emergency communications in Canada but it’s only one idea of many.

What we need first is interest and leadership and right now I’m not sure we’ve got much of either. What we don’t need is more of the old fashion command and control thinking that has been so evident of late in our organizations. This just alienates people and they walk.

We have an opportunity here born of tragedy and fraught with possibility. Can we get together and do something positive?

What Happened In Elliot Lake?

There’s a lesson for all of us involved in public service work that comes out of the tragedy at Elliot Lake.

The Toronto-based Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) team sent to the mall collapse was pulled out when expert opinion came to the conclusion that the site was too dangerous to risk further lives.

And so HUSAR stood down.

Even that standing down wasn’t the problem that will haunt Elliot Lake for generations to come. What will emerge was the greater issue overshadowing even the tragic loss of life is the decision to have HUSAR leave town.

Yes this is a public relations issue but my experience over the years in PR tells me that this will be the issue that will be discussed in heated terms long after Elliot Lake buries its dead and the mall is demolished.

Whenever any of us are involved in a public service event, whether it be as tragic as Elliot Lake, as devastating as the Barrie Tornado or something as local as a search for a lost child or senior, everything these days happens in real time.

When we’re out helping in our community it’s important not only to be doing something worthwhile but to actually be seen doing something worthwhile.

The HUSAR team likely didn’t do anything technicality wrong but when they got on the busses to return to Toronto they took what little hope the anguished citizens of Elliot Lake had left and crushed it as flat as the mall.

While we are never likely to be in such a high-profile situation as Elliot Lake, Amateur Radio emergency teams do serve their communities and when we’re out in the public view it’s important to remember what we do and how we do it may have some greater significance to the people we try to help.

RAC’s AGM Fair And Open?

So RAC is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Montreal this August September or October but is it really a legally enacted annual general meeting or is there a fundamental problem with it?

If I am reading the Presidential Message in the recently posted RAC Report correctly then I think we members (and non-members too) have several reasons to be very concerned.

(BTW is the RAC Report only available to members? If so, this would seem awfully shortsighted on our part.)

First concern with the AGM is it appears that the RAC AGM is only open to members. This is very troubling as (a) it suggests we have something to hide and (b) it is a very unfriendly and hostile to potential new members who are being expressly excluded.

Now of course non-members are ineligible to vote at an AGM and may not participate in the meeting without the expressed permission of the members present but rarely, if ever, have I heard of an AGM that excludes the public. (We do seem to be going out of our way to avoid encouraging non-members to join RAC.)

What’s even stranger about this AGM is it appears that there will be no minutes read from the previous AGM and no vote to accept the minutes as read or as corrected.

Then it seems that there is no vote or confirmation of acclamations of officers of the organization by members present.

I also don’t see any opportunity to discuss issues arising from the minutes or an opportunity  to introduce new business by members.

These are fundamental activities associated with all legal AGMs.

In fact, it appears that the only activity will be a report from the president followed by a members-only question and answer period.

To my understanding of an AGM this activity does not reach the requirements necessary to constitute an official and recognized AGM.

RAC, like all non-profit organizations, is required by law to hold a public AGM where the members are given opportunity to participate in a meaningful manner.

(This usually means an agreement by all to use Robert’s Rules of Order which sets out procedures to ensure fairness and openness when conducting the business of the association or group.)

Unless I am missing something here I don’t see this happening in Montreal.

What do you think of RAC’s AGM in Montreal? Is this a fair and open process?

Proverbs 29:18

Where there is no vision, the people perish – King James version.

The Barrie Amateur Radio Club is one of the few clubs that I know of that is experimenting with creating a five year plan of acton based on a vision the members articulated to create a better future for the club.

It is a very ambitious action plan and one which likely scares the heck out of people with little understanding of the power of vision and self determination. They behave like some emerging societies (China comes to mind) where social tranquility is more highly valued than personal freedom and creative choice.

People who fear change are easily identified as they will be the most negative and intransigent. For them everything will be drawn out in negative and individualistic terms often culminating in personal attacks on those they see threatening the old established ways of doing things. This is both understandable and inevitable and additionally very sad.

I bet the Barrie club has one or more people who are feeling very threatened right now by the bold steps being implemented around them.  A wise and caring club executive will do all they can to support these people and help to quell their fears and keep them engaged in the process.

Other Canadian clubs and club presidents might look at the Barrie ARC’s website to see what is happening with this very progressive club. It really is quite a great leap forward and best of all, it is being implemented and supported by the baseline membership and isn’t the result of some grand plan drawn up by some “special advisor” who is responsible to no one but themselves.

Change can’t be dictated. It can’t be imposed. It must rise from the grassroots in order to thrive. Left in the hands of experts, it becomes distorted and even counterproductive. I’ve seen some grand schemes drawn up by experts that look like they should work on paper but to the amazement of the authors are never picked up by the rank and file.

The experts will whine about the members not accepting their responsibility to act but it’s not that at all. What it comes down to is the rank and file never were consulted in the first place and nobody bothered to ask them for their input so when it came time to implement nothing happened.

Change must include everyone. There is a great difference between spokespeople saying something to the effect that our national organization represents every ham in Canada and taking actions that actually do represent every ham in Canada.

This is a problem we have right now in Canada. RAC represents a dwindling number of ageing Amateur Radio operators. It is doing little to grow the hobby among young people and nothing of significance to bridging old slights of the past and reaching out the vast number of hams in Quebec. Our relations with Industry Canada and all levels of government are virtually non-existent (as evidenced in Ontario by Bill 118) and need immediate attention.

I know all this may seem overly vague but what it comes down to is this: The Barrie club really has something positive to offer the entire Canadian Amateur Radio community.  Our national organization should sit-up and take note and any attempts to derail or defeat this process should be actively resisted.

Our national organization should follow the Barrie example and engage the power of the overall membership and stop appointing special advisors of dubious qualifications and purpose.

We should be setting goals to grow the Amateur Radio population in Canada. We should be actively engaging Industry Canada and government in matters that directly affect our future to operate our Amateur Radio equipment. We should find people who aren’t threatened by new ideas and ways of doing things and embrace and enfold them in a cooperative vision and plan for every current  and future ham radio operator in Canada.

BTW contrary to some delusional propaganda spouted by some who clearly don’t have the best interest of Amateur Radio at heart, all comments to this blog are posted whether they agree with my statements or not.

What I don’t post are comments which are libellous, defamatory or unnecessarily abusive or divisive. (I also don’t post comments about Viagra, who to send money to in Nigeria and offers to meet pretty girls from the Ukraine.)

And I don’t have to post anything. This is my blog. If you don’t agree with my comments start your own blog. It’s about “manning up” (or womaning up but somehow that doesn’t sound right even if it’s appropriate in your case) and coming forward and speaking your mind in public.

Anything else done behind the scenes is just so Grade 3 IMHO.

Oakville ARC Field Day

Field Day this year for the Oakville, Ontario club was held at Bronte Provincial Park which borders the QEW as it cross Oakville. Roughly we had about 20 hams attend as we ran 3A Ontario with transmitters  on CW, SSB and digital modes.

It was if anything a learning excercise 🙂

So what did we learn?

Multi-band fan type dipoles aren’t the best for Field Day as they twist on the way up.

Also we use U.S. Army surplus interlocking poles for antenna supports. Erecting these camoflauge poles with two guys lifting and four people on the guys can be troublesome as everbody has an opinion on what consistutes  straight. Having three guys yelling pull on your rope makes for three other guys wondering what rope which way.

The new full-size 80-meter Windom played really well at 60′  on all bands.

The generators worked fine but could easily be replaced by batteries making for a silent site.

Having the club’s annual general meeting during Field Day might bear new thinking.

When introducing new software and rig on the digital station requires testing ahead of time 🙂

Two of my antennas needed tuning before they came to Field Day.

We likely did pretty well and added lots of extra bonus points for activities like the educational section (where I learned how to properly crimp power connectors).

All iin all a worthwile activty.

Give RAC A Break!

Why can’t you give RAC a break?

Good question. Desires a good answer. 

Here’s where I’m at with RAC.  I’m all for it! 

In fact I am one (of many) of the best friends RAC ever had. I’ll be proudly wearing my RAC golf shirt tomorrow as I captain the Oakville ARC’s digital station. 

But what I won’t be doing is handing out blank membership forms this year. Why? Because I can’t support the way we are currently running RAC. It’s that simple. 

When we start doing some of the things suggested in the previous blog and less of some of the things we’re currently doing I’ll be more supportive. 

Right now with its membership base plummeting to unsustainable levels and few willing to volunteer to serve it’s only now a matter of time until we can either reorganize or replace our national organization. 

How do I know this to be true?

Yesterday in the mail I got a letter from RAC that was trying to sell me auto, home and travel insurance. I can get great rates and Air Miles too. How could anyone say no?

There was also a card promoting the “Maple Leaf Operator Membership” where for a messily  $100 you can help keep RAC afloat for another couple of months.  We’ll you do get a signed letter the RAC president of the hour. 

Maybe best of all is you’ll get honorable mention in TCA. I doubt I’ll be getting honorable mention in TCA. Nor will some of RAC’s other best friends. 

A New National Association?

Well there might be some interest swirling around about starting a new ham radio association in Canada.


Well here’s a couple of thoughts if we are to avoid the systemic faults that have crippled current and past attempts.

First we need leaders who understand they are there to serve and not govern. This means we need to discover the desires of the membership and then labour hard to fulfill them. This means no guessing. It requires entering into conversations with all Amateur Radio operators in Canada – friends and even more important critics – members and again even more importantly non- members. (This seems to be a new concept for some.)

Second there must be a full measure of accountability. We must take responsibility to do what we say we’re going to do and then allow ourselves to be held to account for the results both good and bad.

Right now there is no accountability. (Part of the problem is there isn’t sufficient rotation of leadership and inadequate separation between board and executive members.)

And third there has to be a mechanism that enshrines a right of appeal.

Currently there is no process.

There’s more…lots more but this would be a start and a good start at that. These are basic concepts that we’re currently missing.