Nothin’ Ever Happens Here

Bet that’s what the residents of West Texas were saying just seconds before the local fertilizer plant blew up with such force that the explosion registered as a 2.1 magnitude quake!

So far, news reports suggest 15 people died and many were injured.Plant_Explosion_Texas_0ab1b-2103

Photos of the scene show fires still burning and an estimated 50 to 75 homes destroyed in the blast.

Bet the Texas ARES has been activated to provide communications for the American Red Cross.

In a disaster of this magnitude hundreds if not thousands of people are going to be temporary relocated and some of them are going to end up at Red Cross shelters.

Cell phone capacity will be compromised for sometime and at the very least here’s a tragic opportunity for Ham Radio operators to help their communities during a tough situation.

But you’ve got to organized and that’s where ARES comes in. If you’re not a member of your local ARES group sign up. Get some training. Show up at meetings.

After all, if nothing ever happens here joining ARES will give you something to do because we can never guess what’s going to happen next.

Hams Help In Boston

I can barely read the morning papers and I avert my eyes from some of the images that have emerged from the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

As Amateur Radio operators we are often in exposed and key positions at mass special events such as parades and runs and charity events.

Our American Ham Radio cousins were providing radio communications in Boston. We were there when it happened.

Now here in Canada I don’t expect we’ll see anything like what happened in Boston but that’s likely the same thing the Norwegians thought before a mad man with a firearm killed 92 people at a youth camp.

So what are we to learn?

First: we may find that our services are not wanted at least until officials figure out what changes they may or may not make to insure the safety of future events.

Two: we may find we have an enhanced role at coordinating information for officials during mass events.

I’m not saying we’re going to be elevated into some position of prominence but our ability to maintain communications during times of mass disturbance, which almost immediately takes out cellphone service, may prove desirable.

While official agencies deal with whatever issues may or may not arise, Amateur Radio operators stationed at key points can maintain a vital flow of communications among helping agencies and volunteer coordinators. This is what happened in Boston.

Now before anyone rolls their eyes back into the head let’s remember that wherever we live Amateur Radio operators are members of the greater community. No one wants to turn their communities over to “officials” who take over to “protect” us.

I’m not being paranoid here. What I am saying is if we turn our communities into fearful, armed camps patrolled by SWAT teams (which are necessary to restore order) then the terrorists, or whatever they are, win.

What we shouldn’t do is stay home. We should get out in our communities and enjoy our hobby and provide what service and small comfort we can.

We should encourage the best of us to volunteer to work within our ARES organization and the rest of us should join and be at least minimally active in the organization, training and service aspect of public service.

ARES IMHO isn’t perfect and has, on occasion, attracted the wrong kind of personalities to lead a volunteer service group but we can work on these minor irritants later. Right now we’ve got to do our best to work together and get involved.

And, BTW it wouldn’t hurt if everyone of us in public service (and really we all are) took a first-aid course or refresher and made sure the batteries in the handheld are charged.

The Terminator

A couple of discouraging and disturbing points have emerged from the February minutes of the board for Radio Amateurs of Canada.

Seems the board approved a motion (2012-05) which allows the president to terminate any executive member with an appeal process to the RAC Board.

It was moved by Mitch, VE6OH and seconded by VA2SH and I wonder if either gentleman is proud of being involved with this particular motion.

You see, it’s a matter of optics and timing.

The motion came early in the same meeting that our volunteer regulator affairs officer was “terminated” by unanimous vote. Now, thanks to this new motion, we don’t have to bother ourselves with going behind closed doors, discussing the matter and voting as the Board has now assigned the dirty work to the president who can terminate on his own.

Ugh. Now we have a President and Terminator in one.

Look I have no illusions that the volunteers who work on the executive team do so at the “pleasure of the president” but that doesn’t mean one guy should go around “terminating” other guys. Yes I know there’s an appeal process but that’s not the point.

Is this how we want our national organization to be run? I hope not.

Would you want to work with a bunch of fellow volunteers knowing that they’ve voted to let the president to terminate you at will? I sure wouldn’t.

There’s lots of shame to go around on this one IMHO.

Second if I read the minutes correctly the Foundation License is a dead duck. I’m of two minds here which may come as no surprise to some in RAC who may or may not have personal experience with this affliction.

We could have used a Foundation License to grow Amateur Radio in Canada and increase the RAC membership numbers which grow less by the day. But we’d need to do more than just create a Foundation License. We’d need to build in a mentoring or coaching program to promote, teach and grow the program. That’s a big job.

I liken the Foundation License to a stick we find on the ground. As a stick, it doesn’t do anything for us unless we pick it up, wield it over our head and bash the the brains out of the wolf who is attacking us. (Now that’s a termination.)

But if we just look at the stick. Or if we don’t pick it up. If we don’t move it around. If we don’t use it to bash out the wolf’s brains….it’s just a stick and does nothing for us.

So since the Foundation License appears to be a no-go where do we go from here?

Please, please tell me we’re not going to set up a sham dog and pony show where the executive says something like “now we’re going to ask the members what they want” and we enter into a lengthy period of national and regional discussions.

We’ve had a ton of discussions.

What we need to do is get around a table (whether in person or electronically) and come up with some action plans.

You guys know what we want. We want to be engaged. We want some leadership. How about a couple of bodacious goals?

We don’t want to sit back and join you twittering our thumbs any longer.


QSL Display

So what did you do on the weekend?

On Sunday I watched the Master’s Golf. I’m not a golfer and based on what I saw on Sunday I don’t want to ever take up the sport. It’s too stressful 🙂128-XL

But watching golf for five hours gave me time to scan 800 QSL cards onto a USB stick so now I have a photo frame on my operating desk that continuously cycles through my QSL collection.

If you’re interested the collection (not child safe) is available at Peter West Photography and the password is ve3hg.

BTW got this idea out of the last issue of The Canadian Amateur, the magazine published by Radio Amateurs of Canada.

How Bad Is It?

If 2200 hams responded to the Radio Amateurs of Canada survey in regards to questions about a proposed Foundation License, then just how many active Hams are there in Canada.

Ask yourself: Is you club repeater busier now than in past years?

How about you club? Are there more members now than say 10 or 20 years ago?

Are you on the air yourself more or less than a few years ago?

Does everyone look older…a lot older 🙂 Me too !

So if you’ve noticed a decline in activity, how many Hams do you think are really active in Canada?

Because Industry Canada gave up keeping track of license numbers and RAC either doesn’t know or won’t say we really don’t know our true strength.

If we believe the last rumoured membership numbers for RAC, then I’d guess there are maybe less than 4,000 RAC members (and falling) and if there are less than 4,000 RAC members then would it be a fair guess to suggest that the total number of active Hams in Canada is likely less, perhaps much less, than 8,000!

Sure you’re going to hear some people say we’ve got 40,000 licenses issued in Canada but that includes dual licensees and club calls. Since almost no XYL I know would bother to inform Industry Canada when the OM becomes an SK I bet we’ve got a ton of dead guys still holding licenses.

One of the ways we can determine activity is to look at the reports that are published following some of the largest contests like the ARRL DX and CQ WWs. Canadian participation is down around 250 out of 8,000 in the last CQ WW DX SSB test.

Contesters are some of the most active amateurs in Canada and we’re only seeing a relative handful showing up.

The plunging numbers of active licensed breathing Amateur Radio operators in Canada is due almost exclusively to neglect. We’ve neglected to recruit newcomers and young people to our ranks. We’ve neglected to create a national organization with any relevance to existing or potential members. We’ve neglected to care!

So RAC is proposing a quick cure: The Foundation License.

Instituting a Foundation License will only work if we put an extensive mentoring program to support it.

Since we can’t seem to create a national organization that can provide sufficient value to existing members to encourage them to renew in meaningful numbers, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll be capable of creating a mentoring program to serve newcomers who are interested in the Foundation License.

Doing What’s Needed To Be Done

As a former journalist and editor I am revealing in the writings of journalists and columnists over the death of Margaret Thatcher. What is it about the death of a titan that brings out such rousing rhetoric?

Part of the attraction no doubt is to the paucity of leadership that countries (North Korea comes to mind as does Syria) suffer or the same scarcity of vision that affects our political leaders and leaders of every stripe.

Writing in The New York Times, David Brooks says of Thatcher:

She witnessed a moral shift in those years, away from people who were competitive and toward toward people who were co-operative, away from the ambitious and toward those who were self-nurturing and self-exploring, away from the culture of rectitude and toward the culture of narcissism.

And George Jonas writing in The National Post said:

She did what others pay lip service to: selected what was hard and right over what was easy and wrong.

…she stood for the proposition that small truths honestly faced, small virtues consistently and faithfully applied, small sums consistently paid and collected when due, added up to good governance.

These are thoughts that some in our hobby might take to heart and in doing so step down so greater men and women can take their place and get on with the work that confronts us.

What Makes For Great Leadership

I’m reading the tributes written in the morning newspapers about Margaret Thatcher who died yesterday.

John O’Sullivan, editor-at-large of the National Review and a former special advisor to Mrs. Thatcher wrote the following (and I am quoting and paraphrasing here):

Mrs. Thatcher liked people who stood up to her.

As with all her actions she gritted away until she learned how to win.

Almost everyone who worked for her, loved her.

She kicked up and kissed down (and O’Sullivan used the example that when a serving person dropped a bowl of soup into the lap of the foreign secretary it was Thatcher who jumped up to comfort the girl.)

She felt that the higher you were, the greater your obligation to serve those around you.

She pushed her programs with tireless effort and as a result her ideas became reforms rather than press releases.

She recruited those who were the most intellectually capable and adventurous. She got ideas and advice from outside the “old boys” network.

Would that Amateur Radio in Canada could be so blessed with such leadership.

BTW remember the Falklands War? Here’s the Amateur Radio connection.


Foundation Freak-Out

There are going to be some who freak-out at what’s being proposed when it comes to the new Foundation Licence currently under consideration.

In Great Britain their foundation license offers successful candidates a special “M3” license with privileges on all bands (with the exception of 10 meters) and a 10-watt limit.

In Australia there’s a special VK#F___ designation and 10 watts on all bands except 20 meters.

Here in Canada, the proposal suggests all bands except 20, 15 and 10 with 100-watts output and a special VA#F____ license.

In the past we had two license classes with the first limiting ticket holders to 100 watts of CW with SSB privileges granted on 10 meters after six months of proven CW activity. The exam was somewhat strenuous especially for those of us not familiar with electronic theory and required a 10 wpm CW pass. The advanced license was more strenuous again and required a 15 wpm passing grade.

The USA has had novice licenses in the past which limited output to 75 watts on CW on selected portions of some HF bands. Currently the entry path is via a technicians license which limits activity to frequencies above 30 mHz and does allow some limited privileges on HF.

Now we could argue the current Canadian proposal through the next solar cycle and one guy’s ideas are as valid as the next guy’s but why ask questions in a survey if you’re going to ignore the answers.

For example the question about power limit restrictions saw only 29 per cent saying it  should be 100 watts. Half of the respondents said they’d prefer either a 10-watt or 25-watt limit.

So why does the RAC group recommend 100 watts?

The members’s intent is clear but again RAC just ignores the inconvenient members and arbitrarily sets a 100-watt recommendation. (Makes one wonder if their opinion had any value.)

If it were up to me I’d okay with a 10-watt limit on power and I’d be okay with privileges on all bands and modes as we’re not going to see thousands of new Hams come into the hobby just because there’s a new easy license option.

As for the examination I’d love to see a “harder” exam that focused on policy and procedures with a minor in technical issues. To get on CW I’d love to see a CW test be mandatory.

But that’s just me.

In the RAC survey well over 50 per cent of the respondents said that the current level of knowledge necessary to pass (70%) the current Basic Amateur Radio license examination is NOT PREVENTING people (young and old) from getting their Amateur Radio ticket!

And here’s the big one when it comes to attracting new Hams:

Before anyone gets their ticket, I think we should insist that they be supported by a mentor individual or club who would be responsible to ensure the new Ham has a resource to turn to during their first years or the length of the ticket (which I’d have the mentor sign).

Oh I can hear the whining from here but let’s face it, if Toastmasters can create a workable mentoring program we can too.

Look you can’t hang around meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous for long without someone asking you who your sponsor is and if you don’t have one you don’t get no peace until you find one.

If drunks can figure out how to help themselves, sober clear-thinking Hams should be able to accomplish the same feat. (And anyone who takes umbrage at the term “drunks” has never been to an AA meeting. Trust me on this as I’ve been blessed with a long family history.)

Creating a Foundation license, regardless of the level of privileges and the ease of the examination, isn’t going to work for us unless we actually take some real interest in helping out the newcomers to our hobby.

This is going to be a particularly hard stretch as the newcomers we’re trying to attract are under 40 ( and lot of them under 20) and the average age of the guys who filled out the RAC survey was 41-55 (36%), 56-70 (39%) and the over 70s made up 10 per cent.

But it can be done.

I remember when I was 13 or 14 and went with my Dad (VE3FWR) to the Skywide ARC meetings in Etobicoke. The highlight of my year was Field Day where if I was very lucky somebody would give me a pencil to fill out the check log in the 80-meter CW tent during the midnight shift.

We ran an HQ-170 receiver (my Dad’s) with its 17 glowing tubes and got 50 watts or so out of a converted military ARC-5 transmitter (which had 300 volts live on the key terminals) running  into a full-size 80-meter dipole at 60 feet. The generator was so big it was pulled by a car on its own trailer and you couldn’t hear yourself talk within 50 feet of “the Moose”.

I was the king of the world 🙂 …that was 50 years ago !!!



The Foundation Folly

Now let’s not be mistaken here:

I support the introduction of a Foundation license to encourage the growth of Amateur Radio in Canada….but…(read on)…

The condition of our hobby is so moribund that anything we do will have to be an improvement thanks in no small measure to how badly our current and previous national organizations have not served us or the needs of Amateur Radio in Canada.

So let’s go ahead with a Foundation license even though almost half of 2200 Canadian hams who filled out a RAC survey said that an entry-level license like the Foundation license would result in a “dumbing down” of the hobby with many saying they fear it would create a “CB-like” effect.

Let’s face it. Most of those who filled out the RAC survey thought a Foundation License would be detrimental to the hobby.

Well when it comes to dumbing down you can’t get much dumber than some of the guys currently transmitting on the high end of either 80 or 20 meters these days. So, no fear friends, we’re already there and a Foundation license isn’t likely to create much of change for the better or for the worse.

But here’s the rub: A Foundation License isn’t a magic wand.

The current licence exam is so watered down from what it used to be that even my wife, who has absolutely no interest in Amateur Radio passed her Basic with the Morse Code qualification with ease (and with almost no coaching from me as she took the excellent course offered by the Oakville ARC). Marion is active on the club’s UHF repeater and enjoys her conversations with the OM and her fellow club members.

One person who only sporadically attended the classes and had no technical knowledge of radio managed to guess his way to getting his license when he took the examination on a whim.

The great fear that the unskilled, uncouth and sometimes unwashed hordes from CB (GRS as it was known in Canada) will invade the airways shouting Breaker Breaker Good Buddy haven’t materialized (although the unwashed do show up to flea markets in the spring) and you’ll occasionally hear someone talk about using their antenna on the “flat side” when they refer to horizontal polarization which immediately means (a) they came from the ranks of CB and (b) they have zero technical education in radio communications).

So my point is next to including licenses in boxes of cereal, it’s already pretty easy to get your Amateur Radio ticket in Canada.

So what will a Foundation license actually do?


Why absolutely nothing? Because without a solid mentoring program in place to help train and welcome newcomers to Amateur Radio in Canada, the Foundation license concept is going to be met with massive indifference by young people and newcomers to our hobby.


Just about everyone agrees that in order to encourage young people to join our ranks more hams and ham radio clubs must get involved and volunteer as “Elmers”. Almost everyone said that clubs must undertake to work with teachers in schools and with Cub, Scout, Girl Guider and 4-H Club leaders to get young people interested in Ham Radio.

A majority said that a “high level” of mentoring would be needed to make the Foundation License workable. And roughly the same majority said they’d be willing to invest their personal time in one-on-one mentoring of entry-level trainees. Good for them!

So what we need is a mentoring program to help support and train mentors.

(This mentoring program concept is something that Toastmasters International has for years promoted at the club level. My club, First Oakville Toastmasters, which is one of the oldest, largest and most successful clubs in the world-wide Toastmaster organization has an active and successful mentoring program to help newcomers more fully integrate into our comprehensive educational program of public speaking and leadership. I have been a member of Toastmasters for almost 20 years now and I have been honoured to mentor scores of new members over the years.)

So what we don’t need is a Foundation License if that’s all we do.

A Foundation License will do Amateur Radio in Canada absolutely no good whatsoever unless we introduce a vigorous and effective mentoring program that includes training for the mentors and a plan of action leading not only to an Amateur Radio ticket for the mentee but ongoing recognition and training for the mentor.

So, if we decide to introduce a mentoring program who is going to create it?

The obvious answer is Radio Amateurs of Canada but you know what I think of RAC (A truly wonderful concept driven into irrelevancy and counter-productive when it comes to our hobby…and that’s me on a nice day.)

Can’t see that happening as RAC can’t grow a membership list and keep volunteers happy let alone actually create a mentoring program.

Look if what they’re doing to the ARES organization in Canada by introducing a quasi-military old-fashion style of top-down command-and-control leadership is any indication the mentoring program for the Foundation License doesn’t stand a chance.

We’ll have more to say about this survey and the Foundation License in future posts.


Ready For Nuclear War?

Lots of very highly placed people around the world are thinking the unthinkable today following word of North Korea’s movement of long range missiles to its east coast.

America has deployed missile batteries to Guam and the military of South Korea, Japan and I’m betting Russia and China are all approaching a war-like stance.

Now of course the premise that a nuclear showdown between nations accidentally sets off a regional nuclear war is the stuff of Hollywood movies…or is it?

Nobody would have thought anybody in their right mind would hijack three airliners and fly them at civilian targets would they? Yet we’ve had 911.

So what’s this got to do with Amateur Radio?Nuclear-Blast-Pictures-3D-Apple-Desktop317

Well it’s got me thinking: If our country or a region of our country was faced with a wide-spread disaster of any sort what would be the role of Amateur Radio?

Seems the American Radio Relay League (of which you should all be members!) is thinking ahead. The ARRL leadership group recently hosted a meeting with US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate (who just happens to be KK4INZ…bet he’s not a CW guy with that call sign!) to talk about the roll of Amateur Radio during times of disaster.

Fugate was so impressed he wrote a piece on his blog (Gee even the FEMA guys can figure out blogging a practice that seems to elude the brain trust at RAC) about meeting with the ARRL team.

Now here in Canada our ARES setup seems to be following the old command and control model so reminiscent of our current RAC leadership group. You’d think the ARES guys would see that RAC is quickly becoming irrelevant even superfluous to the majority of the Canadian Amateur Radio community. Numbers are dropping and nobody wants to be put their name forward to be on the executive especially after the unexplained firing of the last volunteer who was our regulatory affairs officer.

ARES always functioned best when team members focused on regional or community needs. In the past Amateur Radio operators joined their local ARES groups in droves in order to have the opportunity to use their radio equipment in service of their community during parades, walk-a-thons and other special events. As much as service was a key component so was good fellowship and having fun.

In the process some learning happened as well. Local ARES groups practiced their ability to communicate using formal and informal communications methods setting up stations and networks as needed.

The ARRL Field Day which comes June 21-22 is a 24-hour opportunity to have fun workingfd2_thumb stations around North America while at the same time learning what works and what doesn’t when it comes to emergency communications.

Last year our club learned a lot 🙂

The “contest” is open to everyone and it’s a weekend I always keep clear on my calendar.

But that isn’t the route that ARES is going in Canada. Top heavy and bureaucratic, the command and control mentality is driving away individuals and individual ARES groups.

This is a great shame as it doesn’t serve Amateur Radio or our individual communities.

I know there is a great deal of dissatisfaction within our Amateur Radio community and some regional thought-leaders are talking about change and how to bring that change about.

The change can’t come soon enough, especially if you think we should be prepared to assist locally when all else fails.