Finally…the GPS Solution

The Olympic men’s cycling road race was “plagued” with technical issues as the commercial GPS network failed due to the system being overloaded by tweets and cellphone traffic.

So when all else fails…?

What an Olympic opportunity for Ham Radio! And what a public relations opportunity for ARES and Radio Amateurs of Canada as the Pan Am Games come to Toronto in 2015 and yes they have cycling!

Somebody ring the bell and wake up the guys at RAC General Headquarters and let’s get the ARES guys out from behind their desks writing how-to manuals that nobody is going to read.

Think about it: We could actually deploy ARES at an international event.

This would take work! (This is likely a novel thought for some.) It will take planning. (That’s going to mean getting a committee together and not pissing the committee members off on the first day with infighting, empire building and mental instability – which would immediately rule me out.) We’ve got the time. (But we’d have to get moving right now.)

Someone would have to find a clean shirt and iron their suspenders and go call on the Pan Am folks but it could be done.

(We could offer to setup a redundant GPS system at the cycling road race and there might be other opportunities as well.)

Of course if RAC isn’t able or willing maybe the new Emergency Communications Ontario group might step in?

I tell you this would present Canadian Amateur Radio operators as the well-spoken, clean-shaven, technically adapt, community-oriented, well-organized, youthful, diverse group that we know and love on a world stage.

But are we up to the job?

We Get Comments…

And despite what some people think we publish them all with the exceptions of the white supremacist, racist, homophobic, illiterate, stupid, libellous or repetitive stuff that all sites attract.

BTW if you haven’t seen your comments here check the list above.

Anyway want to bring to your attention the comments received to posts including Peter Gamble’s posted this morning and Dave Hayes, Diane Bruce and Dave Hayes again in reply to Diane. John Bartlett also offered us a guest post on July 17. Thanks to everyone for their wisdom and for sharing them with us.

Here’s a few of my thoughts in brief:

  • I absolutely disagree that money is a deterrent to membership. Dinner out for two with your sweetie costs more than a year’s membership in RAC. (This precludes dinner at Harvey’s but you wouldn’t take your best girl or guy out to a hamburger joint would you?)
  • My membership in Toastmasters International (which I’ve held for 17 years or so) costs three times my RAC membership. But of course I get way more value from Toastmasters and there’s the point. RAC’s value argument is hard to justify.
  • I and a lot of members of my contest club (Contest Club Ontario) put out way more money in draw tickets at the annual BBQ than I pay in RAC dues. Same principle applies: I get way more value from CCO than RAC right now. Sad.
  • I’m buying 200′ of LMR400 which in retail terms could have paid for my RAC membership for five years. I’ll get more use of the cable!
  • ARES people seem to be under the delusion that we can create some sort of universally accepted credentials that will have police waving us through roadblocks.
  • I was a newspaper journalist/photographer and trust me during the early hours of anything when everybody knows nothing then nobody is going anywhere regardless of what card you’re waving around.
  • Even if we could get national or provincial agreement all of the members would have to go through police and security checks. Many won’t submit and some couldn’t pass. That’s just the way it is.
  • Amateur Radio will be called days after the “big” event when ordinary movement of civilians has been re-established and help is needed for the recovery period. We aren’t first responders although we have been the first on the scene (Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 was one our last moments of glory.).
  • What happened at 9/11 when untrained eager volunteers were turned away happened already at Elliot Lake when a self-appointed, self-trained “rescue” squad showed up and were promptly sent packing by the authorities who had to worry about little things like the law, litigation, chains of command, let alone the actual safety of the structure, possible loss of life and the viability of the rescue.
  • Few Amateur Radio operators have the time or inclination to take more than a smattering of formal training. It’s not why they’re in Ham Radio.
  • The Oakville ARES list is a good example. I’m looking at the call list and of the 41 names on the list a third I don’t know, a third are too old and infirm to be of much help (I count myself here) and a third might be capable of creating a half decent radio network at least on two meters. Sorry if this seems harsh but it is what it is and it ain’t pretty.
  • I really like what Peter Gamble says about the state of repair of most club repeaters. Here’s right on here but hand-talkies with home-made antennas up 20′ can provide sufficient coverage locally. 80 meters covers a region. Simplicity is key, complexity cripples.
  • Peter is also right on when it comes to Amateur Radio needs to be seen as a team player. That’s the role of the ARES leadership to establish these connections with the national, provincial, regional and local players.
  • I have my doubts on how well we’re being served here and that’s a big problem and I’m not alone in thinking this way.

Fend For Yourself

That’s the title of an excellent article in Wednesday’s National Post (July 18) to which I cannot find a link so I can’t share it.

What reporter Matt Gurney says is power and communication systems have become too complex for governments to fully protect and self-reliance will be the watchword of the future.

Matt uses the example of a cold war scare when the Strategic Air Command (SAC) lost communications with the HQ of the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD). 

Such an unheard of situation suggested a surprised attack on North America by the Soviets. General Thomas Power ordered the nuclear equipped B-52s to alert.

However the good general wasn’t made a general for nothing. Before starting World War III, Power ordered an aircraft already on patrol to checkout the nearest NORAD base which it reported back everything was fine.

What had happened was a small fire in a small telephone sub-station in Colorado where all the communications lines converged had gone down.

So what’s this got to do with Amateur Radio?

Easy without joining the lunatic fringe (like the father and son in Barrie whose explosive-laden house has closed down a neighbourhood) there’s no need to build a bomb shelter (don’t think I’d want to be the only one around if we drop the big one) or horde food and stockpile rifles and ammunition (Although there are few people I could see getting shot. Just kidding. Really.)

But there will come a day, when as the ARRL says “all else fails” and there will still be Ham Radio. And before you roll your eyes up into your head and hurt your brain here’s how it will go down.

Government, military and local authorities will be overwhelmed dealing with whatever it is they’re dealing with.

Locally branches of the Red Cross and Salvation Army will deploy as part of their plans. The Amateur Radio operators in the affected area will be asked to help out with communications for these helping agencies and maybe a few others as well.

After the initial shock is over and our families are safe we, the members of the Amateur Radio community, will turn out in large numbers. Simple VHF and HF communications nets will be established. Messages will get passed. It may not be pretty but it will work. (It always has.)

You won’t need to be a member of any special group or have any formal training whatsoever. We’ll train you in the field. It’s not hard. You won’t need any special pass and or badge or a gun or a flashing light on your hard hat.

Volunteers will come and go. Some will wear funny fluorescent vests. We’ll have our ball caps with our call signs on them. Some of us will have remembered to bring a lunch and water with us. Most won’t. It’s okay. We’ll work it out.

We might even get asked to setup nets for city officials and network hospitals, ambulance, police even fire stations and other municipal services. We can do this with handhelds in most cases.

In a few weeks, life will return to normal and we’ll take down the communications networks and go home.

What we will need is lots of Indians (sorry to be politically incorrect but screw it the allusion works) and very very few Chiefs if any.

Right now we’ve got way too many chiefs and way too few Indians.

Count me in with the Indians. There are the guys who actually get the work done.

Not To Brag But…

As most readers know I got bit by the QRP bug real bad when I bought my FlexRadio 1500.

In fact, I liked the QRP results so much that I sold my ageing IC-756 and all the various interfaces and cables and stuff.

Over the last few years I’ve been tweaking the antennas and resoldering the coax fittings and adding things like QRP auto tuners and dedicated QRP watt meters.

At Dayton this year I bought a Rig Expert AA54 antenna meter and I’ve been busy tuning antennas ever since. (I even bought two more PAR end-fed antennas for field work and a full-size Carolina Windom for 80 which won’t properly fit on the property but sure came in handy this field day.

QRP contesting is challenging but not all that hard. That is if conditions support working around the world on 5 watts of power.

Those sort of conditions call for active bands or very quiet bands. What really screws up QRP contest is conditions which have a lot of fading. You can seriously upset contesters from around the world and frustrate yourself no end if there is QSB on the bands.

Now if there is no QSB and if you’re operating CW and if you pretend you’re QRO instead of QRP and you’re using a resonant antenna at height then you’ll be amazed at how well you can do.

In the July issue of CQ magazine there was a visual comparison of what a one-watt SSB signal on 20 meters would cover compared to a one-watt CW signal at the same time and all else being the same.

The SSB signal had virtually no reach while the CW signal easily covered all of North and most of South America.

The article showed that it would take a 100-watt SSB signal to cover the same area as the one-watt CW signal.

A 100-watt CW signal in comparison covered all of North and South America and most of Africa and Europe.

So when critics of QRP claim that it’s the quality of the operator at the receiving end that’s critical to the success of the QRP contester that’s not quite right. A one-watt CW contester has the same reach as a 100-watt contester all things being equal.

So if one-watt is so great, imagine what you can do with the QRP gallon of five watts!

And that’s what I did 🙂

While reading my just arrived August 2012 QST I was floored to see my call in the highlighted box for W/VE Regional Leaders by Category where, if I read this right, I led Ontario Section in the 2012 ARRL International DX Contest – CW with a QRP score of 229,917.

This score in comparison to other W/VE Region Leaders is a medium, middling score but it’s a huge improvement in comparison to my past efforts. When compared to DX QRP leaders I would have been included in the top submissions.

Now let me be absolutely clear about running QRP. If I had a 100-watt station or an external amp I’d be too tempted to use it and would have to change my category where I’d need one-milion points just to anti-in to play with the top operators in the country. 😦

So for me, QRP is a much less competitive but more winnable category and it’s more challenging to boot.

I find on CW when conditions are good to excellent I can work everyone I can hear (and the Flex 1500 has one of the best receivers at any price accordion to Sherwood Engineering) and the percentage of requests for repeats is no greater than at higher power levels.

It’s also possible to contest on SSB but conditions do have to be at least very good to excellent, It’s possible to break big pileups into the Caribbean but it takes some pretty aggressive calling and some audio tweaking to do this on a regular basis.

One the other hand the Russian station I worked last winter on 40 meters around dusk was amazed to hear I was QRP SSB after he’d given me an S9 report and he was the same, if not better, at this end.

Now the next hurtle is to improve my CW. You get big scores by calling CQ and letting the boys come to you. You can call CQ only when your CW is up to the job.

Regardless, for today, I’m basking in old glory and looking forward to the fall contesting season.

Telstar’s 50th Anniversary

Let’s take a break from  the sorry state that RAC has fallen into as I’ve likely got more readers to this blog than they have active members.

(For those new to this discussion I’d invite you to go to CQ Canada, John VE1OZ, HK3C’s amazingly well-written and thought-out site and especially read the parts about “where’s Waldo”.

It took me a while to figure out what John was saying when he referred to the missing Waldo but eventually, slow as I am, I got it.

John had pieced to the heart of the problems affecting our national organization and that was, and remains, an almost total lack of member involvement in the day-to-day activities of what should be our shining achievement as Amateur Radio operators in Canada.)

But enough about our national failure, let’s talk about something amazing.

In today’s National Post there’s a great article by Scott Van Wynsberge called “Satellite of Love” which is all about Telstar 1 which was launched 50 years ago today.

The 170-pound sphere received signals, according to the article, at 6,390 megacycles (sic) and re-transmitted them at 4,170 megacycles (sic) and within hours, the impossible of sending TV signals across the Atlantic, was accomplished.

The End of Bill 118?

Ontario’s distracted driving law Bill 118 just got a big kick towards the curb thanks to a decision by a provincial court judge in the case of a woman who police had charged with “holding” her cellphone while stopped at a red light.

Now I don’t know whether this woman was just holding or talking or texting but the judge decided that she was just holding the cellphone and that holding a cellphone didn’t contravene Bill 118.

The really good news here is according to The Toronto Star is the ruling is binding on Ontario justices of the peace who hear similar Highway Traffic Act cases.

The even better news is you can bet everyone caught with a cellphone in their hands will be claiming that they were only holding it.

It comes down to the police officer’s word against the motorist’s and there is no inherent presumption that a cop’s word is more truthful than the ordinary citizen’s ( …as proved in a recent case where Toronto detectives were convicted of falsifying their notes in some cases).

Now I have long held that just holding a microphone and talking into it does not constitute a danger to myself or my fellow motorists. I have never seen someone talking into a microphone while driving swerve while driving or sit a traffic light that’s turned green or loose situational awareness.

On the other hand I’ve seen cellphone users do all of the above…often.

Texting while driving is dangerous. Talking isn’t IMHO. Bill 118 is likely going to become unenforceable because it was poorly thought-out legislation in the first place and now with this court decision it is effectively dead.

As I grow older I’m more afraid of age-impairment being a greater danger to all of us on our roadways as I and my fellow Baby Boomers roar into our sixties and seventies.

BTW did this thought ever P.O. some old sparks the last time I suggested it. Sorry guys but you aren’t getting better just older.

It’s a sad fact but we may not have too many solar cycles left to enjoy. Better go out and buy that electric scooter while you still can swing a leg over the seat.