To Serve Not Govern

When will the directors of Radio Amateurs of Canada wake up when it comes to Amateur Radio Emergency Service?

I can speak only to the Ontario experience where the organization has completely collapsed into internecine back-room fighting that has resulted into a split-off group forming and ill-will all around.

The blame falls upon our directors and the fault that caused this catastrophe lies with some individuals inability to understand that as elected officials, selected “special advisors” and appointed managers, they do not govern but serve not just the paid-up members but all Amateurs in Canada. (This is how you attract new members but the concept continually eludes RAC.)

For example, I’ve hear someone in RAC has now decreed that anyone who joined the breakaway Emergency Communications Ontario Association can’t hold a service position in ARES.

What! Is this true?

Who made this decision? How was this decision made? Why weren’t we told? What are our RAC directors going to do about this mess?

What! Are some members more equal than others now?AF cover 4

We have a newly acclaimed (as seemingly always) Ontario South Director in Rod Hardman, VE3RHF. Rod is a friend of mine and someone who I believe comes to RAC full of good intentions.

Funny thing was a few years ago I came to RAC full of good intentions and overtime I personally witnessed the reasons why RAC isn’t functioning and does not serve the membership (such as it is and shrinking rapidly) so I quit the position and I’m glad I did.

I refuse to be a member of a “leadership” group who do not understand that they are elected to serve and not govern. It’s a big distinction that is obviously lost on RAC and ARES officials.

It also shows a complete misunderstanding about how Amateur Radio works in emergencies. From the beginning of time, Ham Radio operators have provided public service to their communities in times of need.

The Amateur Radio operators who provide these services are volunteers in the finest sense of the word and not trained emergency responders (despite the silly hard hats and reflective vests). We will never be part of the official governmental infrastructure when it comes to disaster relief not should we try to get ourselves into the tent.

We are volunteers. When all else fails, we show up. It’s that simple and that effective.Colonel_Blimp_cartoon

Yes it’s good to be organized. It’s great to have leaders. A plan is always welcome. But it is delusional in the extreme to think a bunch of old men (and a handful of ageing women) are going to join a para-military organization lead by some appointed Colonel Blimp.

With the end of the presidential tenure fast approaching it’s going to be up to Ontario South Director Rod Hardman and his fellow directors to first find someone capable of fulfilling the role of president. The first step of that new president should be to retire all of the unelected special advisors and other RAC hangers-on.

A truth and reconciliation committee wouldn’t be out of the question either. Why not e-mail your director and ask him what is he doing to fix this mess?

CQ WW DX SSB Weirdness

Conditions for the CQ WW DX SSB contest were the best in years, maybe even decades, as 10 especially was open from just after sunrise into dusk with all zones active.

Really it was exhausting to keep working so much exotic DX on 10.

And then comes the local station weirdness.

I use the word weirdness to describe stuff that goes wrong which makes no sense.

For example I now have an SWR meter which will only read PEP when the meter’s light is on. This is strange!

My telnet program on Writelog failed (after a mysterious Windows upgrade at 3:30pm) and would not restart despite reinstalling software and restarting the computer…often. And this morning (Monday) it works fine. Grrr.

My voice keyer seems to have developed a bad connection to the rig and will need looking into before I use it again.

My new FlexRadio 3000 worked it’s PA off at 100 watts and overall I’m thrilled with it. It does work better than the 1500 when it comes to shaping software filtering and microphone modelling but the FlexKnob has a noticeable lag when tuning which is not present using it with the 1500. Strange.

The 1500 is still a viable QRP contest-quality rig (at $600) as it runs the same software as the 3000 and with the exception of no VOX, which I don’t use in contests as I say too many bad words, no 100-watts and no ATU, it’s much the same experience on air as its big brother especially on CW where it gives up very little to any rig.

Now the FlexRadio concept with active windows for SDR and then another for your logging program (and don’t get me started with the complexities of RTTY with its windows) can create some interesting moments when you think you’re logging in the Writelog window but actually the mouse or knob is still active on the SDR window. So as you start typing the SDR window changes frequency often going to another band or universe!

This is one of the major issues with any SDR system and can be quite disconcerting at 2 am.

But, for under $2000 with the Flex 3000 you’ve got a competition-class rig that will run circles around all but a few of the top contest rigs ever made. Plus you get a full-screen panoramic display built-in which can cost hundreds of dollars as add-ons in other systems. And, strange as it may seem the rig itself can be sitting on the floor as there are no active controls you need to reach on the box itself.

The big advantage of the Flex SDR is it the quality of the receive signal in your earphones. It’s melodic and unlike my old big box radio not harsh at all. By the end of the 48-hour contest I don’t have a headache anymore. Super. Plus the filtering is a whole new generation of excellent.

Let’s face it contesting is tough on both the equipment and the operator. As a contester your number one desire is to build a station that can take the punishment and keep on ticking.

As for the operator, I’m working on it as I’m still going to hot yoga four times a week.


What The Senate Scandal Can Teach Us

I am so struck by the similarities between today’s headlines about the scandal that’s sweeping through the Canadian Senate and the issues we’ve had with Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC).

It would seem, if one agrees with the assessment by The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente (and I do), that when it comes to Senator Mike Duffy and claims he misspent on expenses a deal between Duffy and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) fell through and Duffy, being a former journalist, declined to take one for the team and go quietly.

Despite the difference in scale, issues within RAC are similar.

Over the years we’ve had a series of volunteers who either quit in frustration, were dismissed allegedly for cause or who weren’t voted back in by the national directors.

Like Duffy, some of these unfortunates, didn’t go quietly and so we come to the shocking manner in which we recently changed our constitution to allow for the president to be the sole authority (Oh sure the recipient of the president’s actions can appeal to the national directors but really where do you think an appeal would go?) on who stays and who goes when it comes to our national volunteer executive committee.

The fact that a handful of the RAC members (I think it was less than 40 folks voted with one in opposition and that one a director-elect which bodes well for a possible alternative future for our national organization.) retroactively voted to change the constitution after the deed was done (I’m referring to the questionable dismissal of our former regulatory affairs officer earlier this year.) brings me back to the scandal in the Canadian Senate.

Prime Minister Harper is going to face some dark personal hours and the Federal Conservative Party may well feel the furious brunt of voter dissatisfaction in the next election. Duffy, Pamela Wallins and others will just be roadkill and history will forget them. They are but the canaries in the mine.

Here in RAC we must find a better way of treating each other and supporting our beloved hobby. As it is now, IMHO, Radio Amateurs of Canada (of which I am a member) is doing more harm to our hobby than good.

What is happening right now is the apathy of the Canadian Amateur Radio operators has brought us to this place where decisions made in back rooms are ratified after the fact by party faithful in a manner that doesn’t serve the organization or the hobby.

I end with a quote from American anthropologist Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


I’m Big In Japan

To misquote a Tom Waits’ song I was big in Japan tonight.

After talking to Harry, VA3EC, at the weekly 6:30 am Saturday breakfast meeting, who had the same lag issue with the FlexKnob on his Flex 3000 (which goes away when the spur control is initiated. Weird!) I got my FlexKnob working this morning.

So if the FlexKnob was working maybe my issues weren’t with the ports or latency in the FireWire setup after all.

Based on that I reinvestigated with new enthusiasm my RTTY setup which with Writelog running MMTTY as the coding/decoding engine connected to the SDR software through virtual port pairs and a virtual audio cable is a nightmare to figure out.

Guess what? I got it running (and promptly wrote down the setup for future reference) just in time to join the fun in the JARTS (Japanese Amateur Radio Teleprinter Society) Contest. This is a very popular 48-hour RTTY contest with tons of Japanese stations (even heard a station out of South Korea) coming in a dusk on 15 meters.

Here’s the proof:


Why Buy The Cow?

So this line is from the last annual report we’re likely to read coming from outgoing president Geoff Bawden in his report to the RAC membership.

Geoff says it was it a good year. Was it?

Well if you’ve been reading this blog, and lots of Canadian Hams are, then you know I have my opinion. And based on the emails I get, lots of you have your opinions as well and we don’t all agree with Geoff.

For example, we don’t like the secret way decisions are made which affect us. We don’t like the manner in which some of our volunteers have been treated in the past. We’re not happy about the way money gets moved around. We’re not happy to be bossed around by some appointed or proclaimed “officials” who think it’s okay to exclude some and invite others to the party.

That’s not so say RAC hasn’t done anything last year. We just don’t like the process.

Now if indeed this is Geoff’s last crack at the presidential can, then I’m not surprised that his report is so glowing. Give the man his due. Lesser mortals would have quit. I did and so have many others.

I’m debating about doing a point for point rebuttal on the report but I don’t think I want to. (I might change my mind but really I’m starting not to care that much.)

But Geoff and the bunch at RAC still don’t get it.

Here’s an example where Geoff concludes his report with 34 points of discussion.

In specific, number 33 reads: “RAC advocates for Amateur Radio and thus for all Amateurs but provides services to members only (why buy the cow when the milk is free?)

Why buy the cow when the milk is free!

Oh dear, this is such an out-of-touch response. I’m surprised that anyone still thinks this way at our national association.

Radio Amateurs of Canada is our national association that represents all Canadian amateurs and not just Geoff’s friends and while he gives lip-service to the concept of representing all, it’s not what has been happening.

Of course services specific to members are the privileges that members get for their financial support and they should continue to get those services (like TCA) but whether Geoff and some of the other directors get it or not they are obligated to represent all Canadian Amateurs whether paying members or not and to do so as fully as possible.

The Conservative Party of Canada represents all Canadians when it comes to governing the country. They don’t just represent Conservatives. It’s the same for the Liberals or the New Democratic Party.

If RAC merely represents only the partisan interests of a minority of Canadian Amateurs we’ll end up with an association that governs and does not serve. A place where secret deals are the way of the world and some members are in and some are out.

Already we hear rumours of such happening in ARES where it seems some Canadian Hams are more welcome that others.

You remember these lines from George Orwell’s Animal Farm don’t you?

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Or how about:

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

You know maybe Geoff isn’t so off with the cow reference after all.

FlexRadio 1500 and 3000 Shootout

I don’t know what we should say about the folks at FlexRadio!

Imagine charging $1700 for a FlexRadio 3000 when for a mere $600 or so you can get a FlexRadio 1500!

Okay sure the 3000 has a 100-Watt PA and a built-in ATU (which works pretty well in comparison to my other autotuners) and VOX (boy I missed VOX on the 1500) but when I compare the two receivers (and I can run them simultaneously on my 8-core I7 PC with 8 gigs of RAM) there’s very little difference between them.

Yes the 3000 will allow for more aggressive shaping on the filtering but filters with this much shaping can sound a little aggressive (even harsh) when compared to how they sound when opened up. Having said that I can’t wait until the CQ WW DX SSB contest to run aggressive filter settings and 100 watts. Woo Hoo!

But and it’s a big but, the FlexRadio 1500 at 5 watts is an exception rig and not just an exceptional QRP rig but an exceptional rig on its own. And when compared to other rigs on Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Data page, it’s a clear winner.

Good heavens there must be some guys really PO’d to have paid $3500 to $10,000 to own a radio with a receiver that doesn’t rate as high as the FlexRadio 1500.

So I keeping both rigs. The 3000 for contesting at 100 watts (low power category) or to drive a smallish amp (600 to 800 watts would do it) and the 1500 for contesting in the QRP categories especially on CW where I can work everyone I can hear.

So should you buy a FlexRadio?

Let’s be honest here.

If you’re not somewhat familiar with how to run your PC (You’re going to need to setup virtual ports and a virtual audio cable.which is pretty simple if you’re familiar with computers and a bit of a challenge if this is new.) you might want to consider a big box radio.

An Elecraft K3 comes to mind. Don’t overlook the Ten Tec line as everyone of their radios is one of Sherwood’s top picks including the $1,000 Argonaut 6 QRP rig.

Right now I’ve got a weird issue with the FlexKnob which works fine with the 1500 but lags when tuning the 3000. Thought it was a port issues but changing ports didn’t help. A mouse works fine on either rig. Considering it might be a FireWire issue. We’re working on it 🙂

If you take the plunge with Flex you’re likely going to have similar issues but here’s the secret. With Flex you get a box which is continuously upgraded with newer software every few months.

Pretty slick to buy a radio that gets better over time!

Going To The Dark Side

Yes it’s true. If you look closely at the photo there’s no FlexRadio 1500 anymore. Well it’sIMG_0325 still here but it’s now in a box (for safekeeping) while I try out my new FlexRadio 3000!

That’s the 3000 in the left-hand shelf below the desk top.

On top is now the rotor control box (The rotor died two weeks ago. All the bolts between the upper and lower sections fell out!  It is being replaced by a refurbished unit thanks to Doug, VE3MV and Harry, VA3EC, who is doing the climbing) and the remote antenna switch and the voice keyer.

To the right of the screen is the memory keyer and the Drake 2B.IMG_00000107

The installation of the 3000 was flawless as the 1500 had paved the way and all the software installs and switches and other connections were perfect.

Now to the differences between the 1500 and 3000. On both rigs in software you can tailor how aggressive you want your filtering. As soon as I plugged in the 3000 I could hear a substantial difference.IMG_0328

On the 1500 with all the horsepower dialled into the filtering signals sound melodious and interference even a few Hertz away is non-existent. In the 3000 with everything dialled in signals are harsher to listen to but interference even a few cycles away is inaudible and there’s no AGC pumping that happens with older technology.

What you’re seeing on the photo above is a CW signal with a big fat SSB signal and a noise peak 2 KHz to the right. I’ve got the 100 Hz DSP filtering running and I can’t hear the SSB signal or the random noise.

Of course you can change how the filters act by backing off the settings and then the 3000 sounds like the 1500 but I can’t wait for the next contest when the adding filtering will come into play not to mention the 100-watt PA, the built-in autotuner and VOX.

So why the FlexRadio 3000?

Aside from the obvious it’s one of the cheapest ways to get on the air with a radio that Sherwood Engineering puts in it’s top 12 list of radios with contest-quality front ends.

The Flex 1500 is number 13 and the 3000 is number 11 putting it ahead of some of the big guns including the Kenwood TS-990 and everything that Icom makes (I used to have an IC-756 with dual 500Hz filters in the I.F.s and I loved it but the audio noise gave me a headache.)

So why not a K3?k3_big_v4

A couple of reasons both having to do with money. To get into a K3 you’re into $2500 right away and to finish your K3 properly you’re nudging up to $5K. Then if you want to add the amp and the 500-watt autotuner (which I would) it’s another $2K.

Now would I recommend the FlexRadio 3000 to everyone?flex-3000

Absolutely not! It’s not a turn-it-on and get-talking type of radio. It takes some time and some horsepower from your computer to run properly. My I7 no-name from Tiger Direct which cost about $900 runs at well under 5% CPU and is way more computer than is needed.

Installing the software is easy and getting the 3000 up and running isn’t rocket science but the installation of virtual audio cables can be a challenge but it’s the way of the future and is so much more R.F. immune and stable than the old audio plugs-in stuff. Plus some radios need an external interface.

RTTY on the Flex 1500 (as is CW) is a joy running Writelog with MMTTY doing the heavy lifting. SSB will be much easier at 100 watts with the 3000 than 5 watts with the 1500 but I’m not putting away the voice keyer anytime soon nor am I retiring the 1500 as there are some QRP categories in the big contests that are worth pursuing. AL-811

Now if I had just a few more bucks for a small 600-watt amp…no never mind.


I’ve been wondering why I didn’t go to the Hamilton flea market today and attend the annual general meeting of Radio Amateurs of Canada and engage in a debate with RAC president Geoff Bawden as he suggested.

And then I watched a movie called MoneyBall that starred Brad Pitt and I had my reluctance explained to me.MV5BMjAxOTU3Mzc1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzk1ODUzNg@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_

There is no need to debate what we all know to be true. There is no explaining what we believe in our hearts to those whose hearts are not open. There is no necessity to attempt to change perceptions and open minds when there is no willingness to go down that path.

Why any fool indeed can see that RAC is no longer working and perhaps never worked from day one. This is no one person’s fault but a fault that lies within the system we created.

What should be an association that celebrates the joys of our simple, honest hobby has degenerated and dissolved (There’s a better word here but it’s too late for me to conjure it up.) itself down to the lowest and basest levels of internecine savage conflict where it seems reasonable to pass constitutional changes that concern themselves with how to throw volunteers under the bus.

Where is the joy in that? Where is the happiness we should be having?

This is an association where some expend energy and take delight in the downfall of others and produce realms of paperwork justifying what has been done. It is dark place where management pretends itself to be leadership and fails miserably at both.

It’s where honest disagreement with process and purpose is seen as an excuse to throw someone out of the boat or award others with favours denied to the rest.

No I will not debate what I know to be true nor will I rest until we have turned the corner and realized the error of our ways and made amends to those we’ve harmed and those we’ve failed to serve.

I believe the old ways not only do not serve us but have never served us and I have never been so clear in my understanding.

And all this from a movie about baseball. Go figure. And that’s why I didn’t go and stayed home and watched a show.


A Plan Or A Dream?

Earlier this week I received an email from Geoff Bawden, the president of Radio Amateurs of Canada, inviting me to come to RAC’s AGM in Hamilton on the weekend to participate in a debate.

While I sincerely appreciate Geoff’s reaching out like this I emailed him to decline his invitation.

This is the text of that email. I think it speaks for itself:

Hi Geoff,

Thanks for sending this email.
I won’t be attending the AGM for several reasons as I don’t think participating in a debate would be productive or helpful.
I’m not sure quite how to put this and I’ve been waiting for some clarity, which hasn’t come to me, but I’d like to offer you some thoughts:
I understand how organizations work. I’m not overly stupid nor am I overly committed to being a nitpicker or a quibbler.
This might prove helpful. Some time ago I ran the Ontario Electrical League for some months in the absence of the ailing president.
I’ve worked with a very difficult board composed of very wealthy men who thought they knew everything and occasionally behaved abysmally. I learned how to provide a level of leadership while herding cats.
What I helped this board and executive to do was be much more open and transparent when it came to communicating with the membership (again made up of very wealthy men who thought they knew everything). I suggested to them that we keep our friends close and our critics closer (a concept RAC has totally failed to grasp).
By creating a more open and transparent association, it seemed to me our members and our board and executive group and, yes even our critics, worked so much more closely together. Problems weren’t swept under rug and there was no fear of speaking about issues that were affecting our industry or our association. Yes personnel matters were handle in private but they were never handled in secret and issues that arose were well know publicly. 
Overall, it was as if we were all rowing together for the first time toward an agreed upon destination.
Radio Amateurs of Canada however has not been run in an open and transparent manner for many years, if ever. The men and the occasional woman who volunteer aren’t evil people. I’m sure they believe that what they are doing is for the best of the association. Their behaviour is no different than the behaviour of previous boards and executives. That doesn’t make their behaviour right or acceptable but it does make it consistent and avoids having to actually provide real leadership.
And that’s been the great challenge facing RAC and our great failure. We have yet to find or develop leaders capable of actually leading.
What we have attracted over the years are some people who can manage and people who can bully and people of dubious mental stability but we have yet to develop leadership at the most minimal level. We’ve also attracted a lot of very willing and good people over the years but their efforts are lost in the chaos caused by the others we’ve allowed to run amuck.
You know our arguments. We have called upon the RAC leadership to create a vision for what Amateur Radio could be in Canada and instead we get more bureaucratic development of operational plans (I’m thinking here of ARES and how much we have failed to grow this aspect of our association) which has driven people away instead of uniting them in a national vision.
We have called for absolute transparency when it comes to membership numbers and financial disclosure and the awarding of contracts. 
But none of that has happened. And why is that? It is because we have elected and appointed people who misunderstand that governing is not leading. They do not understand how to enlist the support of the members. They do not understand how to celebrate the fun aspects of our hobby and to increase our pleasure through the development of a national organization that represents every Amateur Radio operator in Canada and not just the very few who pay dues.
Martin Luther King did not say “I have a plan!” He said “I have a dream” and people around the world took his dream into their own hearts and minds and the world was forever changed for the better.
So what is the dream for Radio Amateurs of Canada?
It seems we have no dreams. It seems we’re good at making plans. It appears we like to get rid of people who disagree with us. 
Where is the joy in that? Where is the vision for the members? Where is leadership?
Hope the annual general meeting goes well and that some who are more articulate and passionate than I do come to Hamilton and enter into a debate with you. 
Best regards,
Peter – VE3HG

RAC And The Court of The Star Chamber

The Court of The Star Chamber was an English court of law that sat around 1600. It was supposed to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against prominent people and those so powerful that ordinary courts would never convict them of their crimes.

Sessions were held in secret with no indictments and no witnesses. Over time, the court evolved into a political weapon and became a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power.

And now we have our own Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) which is holding its annual general meeting at the Hamilton Amateur Radio Club’s Hamfest in Ancaster, Ontario at 1 p.m. in Merritt Hall on the Ancaster Fair Grounds.

RAC’s annual general meeting is different from what you maybe used to when you think of a company’s or an association’s annual general meeting. Normally at any annual general meeting that I’ve attended the executive and the board of directors are present as are all interested members of the organization.

The meeting is called to order and the minutes of the previous meeting are read. Any errors or omissions are corrected and the minutes are accepted as read or corrected. Then if there is any business arising from the minutes its dealt with. Next comes executive committee members’ reports and finally new business.

New business can be moved by any executive, board or ordinary member. If seconded it is debated by those present and eventually voted upon.

Depending on the constitution of the organization there maybe a requirement to have a certain percentage of the members present (a quorum) to pass ordinary business (usually a simple majority) or a higher number to make constitutional changes (usually 2/3 in favour).

During the entire meeting any decision made by the chair person can be challenged by any member rising without being recognized by the chair and making an appeal of the chair’s decision.

An appeal of the chair’s decision does require a seconder but it is not debatable and the chair takes an immediate vote phrasing the question in the positive (All in favour of sustaining the decision of the chair say Aye.) and the sergeant-at-arms tallies the vote and the secretary records the result.

That’s the way AGMs are held all across the free world based on English Common Law. Unfortunately it’s not the way AGMs are held by Radio Amateurs of Canada.

For example, at our AGM there’s a constitutional change (Section 8. Officers Article 10) that reads as follows:

“That the RAC President can terminate any Executive member with an appeal process to the RAC Board. The appeal by the impacted party must be filed with the Board by no later than the second next scheduled Board Meeting. b) Any Executive officer may be removed from office at any time by a simple majority vote of the Board, which may then appoint a successor to fill the unexpired term.”

According to a letter recently sent to RAC members by one of the regional directors the logic behind this change is to grant the president the authority to terminate an executive member who acts in a manner deemed detrimental to RAC.

On the face of it, this looks like a pretty sound change that we should make to our constitution. But is it? Perhaps we should look a little deeper.

You see unfortunately RAC had already terminated an executive member without the authority of the members as granted in a constitutional change. (They kicked out a former president but that’s another unfortunate matter.)

Claiming a need for secrecy due to the matter concerning personnel, RAC officials have refused to elaborate on the circumstances surround the termination of our last RAC Regulatory Affairs Officer. (Read what Bill Gade had to say about his termination here.)

Based on what I read it would seem that contrary to acting in a manner detrimental to RAC, Bill Gade was acting in a manner supportive of our association.

Now I don’t know Bill personally but I do know our current president. It would seem that based on what Bill has said, he and our current president had a difference of opinion which resulted in Bill being shown the door by El Supremo.

So rather than entering into a discussion about Bill’s concerns, we get silence and now a change at the AGM.

We are being asked to come to Hamilton to approve a constitutional amendment, after the fact, to make this all …well constitutional.

I won’t do it.

I won’t go to the AGM in Hamilton.

I won’t go because the AGM is a sham.

I won’t go because I can’t be effective in a meeting where there is no right of appeal and protection of the rights of the minority to be heard.

I won’t go because going won’t make a difference.

What I will do is ask all of you to drop your memberships or at least not renew. We need a better system of managing our national affairs and we’re not getting it.

And yes I will keep my membership up to date so I can continue to blog about the awful things that are happening and once RAC collapses from financial failure I want to be the last paid member out the door.

The sooner, the better. I’ve had enough of the Court of The Star Chamber.