How To Get RAC’s Mojo Back

Amateur Radio isn’t one hobby, it’s scores of hobbies (building, testing, antennas, station design, contesting, casual operating, QRP, satellites, DX, SWL, QSLs, CW, SSB, digital, SDR, propagation, mobile, pedestrian HF mobile, D-Star, ARES and the list goes on and on).

It attracts a certain demographic and peculiar philosophical outlook on life. Our members include movie stars, country and western singers, members of government, astronauts, rocket scientists, admirals (one was on the US joint chiefs of staff), cab drivers, students, the unemployed, the unemployable, retirees and the list goes on and on.

There’s more than enough fun for everyone regardless of who they are.

So what should RAC do to get its mojo back?

Wouldn’t the simplest thing be to attract more Canadians to join our ranks and then to join our national association?

Shouldn’t that be job one?

Of course this would take some vision (Damn there’s that pesky word again.) and some planning but it would give our members a purpose for being a member because together we’re stronger.

Yes defence of our bands and privileges is a noble cause and should continue as should our representation with government (which currently is virtually non-existent) and international agencies (International Amateur Radio Union) which is mystery to most and may well be an expense we can’t afford.

What we don’t need is more of what we’ve been getting. (See previous posts for details.)

I’m not sure RAC can survive the current situation.

To quote Proverbs 28:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.”

What we need is visionary leadership. What we’ve got is ineffective management.

Is it any wonder RAC is not growing and instead is becoming less and less relevant and effective?


RAC – Problems Greater Than You Thought!

You’ve heard from me and others that RAC is broken but honestly folks until this weekend at RAC Day (which took place at the ever growing and wonderful RadioWorld located in the GTA) where I heard a bunch of speakers and talked to a lot of the guys I had no idea how bad things actually are for RAC and our ARES groups.RACDAY-1-40

So how bad is it?

In listening to Ian Snow, VA3QT, section manager for Ontario South*, I found out that the legitimacy of ARES itself in Canada (let alone in Ontario) is questionable at best.

Here’s why:

  1. There is no reporting structure in place from the level of the section manager to anyone else higher up in RAC (which is the sponsoring body for ARES in Canada);
  2. We don’t have a vp of field services right now and all ARES stuff ends up with the president of RAC. (I’ve been waiting for three months now to hear if I passed the Certified Emergency Coordinators Program. I can’t help but speculate why this is taking so long and none of my speculation is good.)
  3. There is no legitimacy in the way ARES groups are formed. Here’s the RAC’s FAQ page about forming an ARES group. Here in Oakville we’ve been waiting months now for approval of our application. I wonder what’s holding up the process? It shouldn’t be politics or who knows who? And you don’t even need to be a RAC member to join ARES (but you should) so I don’t don’t know what’s holding up our application.
  4. In the future we are going to have to require all ARES members in Ontario to get police checks! When members of church choirs need police checks as do boy scout leaders who interact with youth, police checks for ARES members is coming.
  5. It’s quite possible that the era of the little guy with his hand-held helping out at community events is over. (See my comment’s about Ian’s vision of the future below.)
  6. ARES maybe so encumbered by bureaucratic, political and legal issues that it will be come unable to function. (I am starting to think we’re half there now based on what I heard last weekend and the Oakville ARES experience.)

So none of this bodes well for the future of ARES but what about RAC itself?

Well I am left wondering who is paying for president Geoff Bawden’s junkets across Canada? At Radio Day last weekend he talked to a group of 30 old and ageing Amateur Radio ops. I bet half of them couldn’t hear Geoff over the sound of traffic a few feet away. I wonder what this cost based on a per head basis?RACDAY-1-46

Ontario South Director Rod Hardman, VE3RHF, was there and did a great job (ok Rod’s a friend) speaking to the small group. (That’s him in the photo blessing the crowd.)

I worry that in these times of economic restraint (Geoff likes to take credit for bring RAC back from bankruptcy. Easy to do if you stop spending money we don’t have.) that we should be focusing on membership and mentoring new hams which brings in money.

And worse when it comes to spending, is RAC not already paying one guy in Quebec for his work which should be done by a volunteer? Is this going to be the trend of the future?

I’d hate to see somebody thinking they could retire while drawing a salary from RAC as they worked part or even full time for the organization. Is this what’s coming? I hope not.

If you’re concerned about your national organization as I am (I showed up at RAC Day wearing my RAC golf shirt!), then you might want to ask your regional director for some answers.


*I have newly found and enormous respect for Ian Snow.

Surprised? Well you shouldn’t RACDAY-1-5be. First Ian has written a series of very detailed training manuals for anyone who wants to learn everything there is to learn about emergency communications and ham radio and he should be acknowledged for his work. A little over the top for the average guy IMHO but great stuff for the organizers.

Ian has also seen the future of ARES and Amateur Radio participation in the community and he is working towards making it a reality. (In photo BTW is Ian and his very impressive mobile MESH setup. I’ve got to get me one of these 🙂

Now having said that I don’t agree with Ian’s vision of the future (one where Amateur Radio provides infra structure support for community emergency services during times of need. Think MESH networks as opposed to the guy on the street with his hand held radio.) but it’s quite conceivable that Ian’s vision is correct and mine is not. 

Also Ian seems to see (and these are my words and not his) what’s wrong with the ARES / RAC reporting structure (which is broken). And then there’s my opinion that the actual legitimacy of the existence of ARES is in jeopardy if RAC continues to decline into a position of irrelevancy.

Pretty grim stuff if I do say so myself.

RAC Day at RadioWorld

Radio Amateurs of Canada had their own day on Saturday at RadioWorld under bright blue skies and warm weather.RACDAY-1-56

After the really brutally cold winter this was one of the first decent days to sit outside and meet and greet.

RAC president Geoff Bawden was there (third left) as was Ontario South director Rod Hardman (second left) and several senior ARES coordinators. In the photo Geoff and Rod are joined by RadioWorld’s Angelo Meiffe on left and Jack Summers on right.)

I’ll have more to say about RAC and especially ARES in a future post but for now a BIG thank you to RadioWorld for their hospitality in supplying hot dogs, coffee and water as well as setting up a training room for the forums which went all day.

Here’s a link to my own online photo gallery of images from the day.

How To Win The CQ WW WPX CW*

You may not be a big gun running in the single-operator, high-power category with big antennas and the ability to run CW for 48 hours without sleep but you can still win the CQ WW WPX CW.Simplex_Pro-1

And what I am suggesting is you can win a *category.

Some categories are pretty easy to win and some are much more competitive but submitting your log in just one category gives you a much better chance at winning some wallpaper.

For example, this weekend, I’m going to be running five-watts QRP and I’ll start working guys on all bands. I’m pretty competitive for a QRP station on 40 through 10 but I just don’t have competitive quality antennas for 80 or 160 meters.

I’ll be using Writelog as my logging program. I want to get used to N1MM which has seen a substantial revamp which was demonstrated at Dayton during the contest forum but this would offend my don’t change anything 48-hours before a contest rule.

At the end of the contest I’ll have a look at my scores and then and only then will I create my Cabrillo log file and pick my category.DSCF2059

This is a welcome feature in the WPX contests. Depending on conditions I might go all band or single band but I can wait until the end to make this decision.

For example, unlikely as it maybe, if 10 meters opened up and I did a mere 62 contacts I’d beat last year’s top 10 meter score. To take top all band score for Canada I’d need to work at least 500 Qs and 1100 to take the top category. Fifteen is pretty open but 20 single band is very competitive.

As I’ve said before, working QRP during a CW contest doing search and pounce operation isn’t any handicap when compared to running 100 watts in decent conditions. In awful conditions (of which we’ve had a lot of) it’s nice to have the 100-watt rig to fall back on and I’d cheerfully run a KW in some contests (especially on phone).IMG_0169

Now if I was really brave I’d fire up the new NorCal 20 and work QRP single band 20 without benefit of a keyer. Now that would be a hoot. Maybe next year 🙂

Dayton Video

Here’s a great little 3-minute video about the Dayton Hamvention experience.

Shot by Jeffrey Swiger on his GoPro video camera, Jeffrey captures the magic that’s Dayton. The only thing missing from this video is the crowds which didn’t show up because of the rainy cold weather. Some years those flea market isles are jammed.


Where Is D-Star Going?

D-Star was front and centre at Dayton this year.

On Friday morning, there was an D-Star workshop put on by the Georgia D-STAR group which went over the basics of how D-Star works and was well worth the time. Video from the workshop is coming online soon.

D-Star is a digital format that can be used simplex (radio to radio) or can involve a repeater (radio to repeater to other radios) and can also link repeaters and devices called reflectors (which can host lots of people on one channel).

I think I’ve got this right even though technically it might not be right on.

I also attended the Friday afternoon D-Star Forum at the Hara Centre which was on advances in D-Star technology.

To say I understood everything would be an overstatement but here’s what it comes down to: some of the guys in D-Star development want to introduce more human connection into this automated digital world.

So what does that mean?DH_FV-1-masked

I’m thinking we’re going to see a lot more integration of other technology like BlueTooth and smart phones and the D-Star network. We’re likely going to see multiple format platforms running that can accept any digital signal coming at it.

One really exciting development was a commercial product called the DHAP by Hardened Power Systems. Checkout the video on this site.

One issue that D-Star has made worse rather than better is now repeater trolls can be heard on 30 machines at the same time as opposed to one.

You may have heard a repeater troll. They live on the local machine and anytime you sign on they either offer a comment (usually without identifying) or they engage you in the same conversation you had yesterday and the day before with them. Sort of like Ham Radio’s version of Groundhog Day.

With D-Star, the repeater troll is now heard all across the system. When I was down in Dayton I was scanning the local D-Star repeaters and sure enough on two machines was the same repeater troll I hear at home.

Of course this is more of a social issue than a technological one but it the reason some people dropped the D-Star system in favour of other formats like Motorola’s DMR.

With more equipment being built for all the digital formats and with prices coming down we’re going to see a lot more activity everywhere. Remember these are early days.


The Real Ham Radio

Here it is! My newest rig from Dayton!IMG_0169

No it’s not a Flex 6300 but that’s on the list; It’s a NorCal 20 putting out a staggering 5 watts and  I just worked Z35G with 579 (I’m sure he was being nice.) and 5nn from me (which is all I can send after years of contesting).

I bought the NorCal 20 for $35 and it works just fine with built-in keyer and frequency announcements in CW.

I got it to compare as I build my own brand new NorCal 20 I bought years ago and never had the nerve to build. In the photo, the NorCal 20 is the white box with the three knobs (volume, RIT and tuning), It tunes about 70 kHz of the 20 meter CW band and the receiver is sensitive and very quiet. Highly recommend this little rig.

And somebody tell Z35G thanks for me as my sending needs work 🙂

If We Get The Environment Right…

You all know my friend, John, HK3C, who was my predecessor on the executive of Radio Amateurs of Canada.

Both of us left the executive in frustration but we never gave up on the organization which is supposed to protect and grow our wonderful hobby of Amateur Radio.

So what was wrong with RAC and what could we do about it?

John sent me this link. It’s a TED Talk about leadership. It’s about trusting your leaders.

It’s worth your time to watch it. And remember we get the leadership we deserve.


SDR Wars

The flames are raging on the Apache Labs email reflector over the Anan SDR booth’s poor showing at Dayton.

One guy is saying that “anyone” lambasting the Apache Labs display is being “vicious”!img57

In my work as a group facilitator whenever we heard the words “anyone”, “always”, “never” and other such language we assumed the speaker had reverted to a childhood state where those were the words used when children feel hurt.

So we can conclude some of the fanboys are pretty upset and well they should be.

The Apache Labs booth was a disaster at best. Poorly located (maybe not their fault) and equally poorly signed (the banner didn’t do much) and staffed by one sad looking guy (seems one of the other guys called in sick and didn’t come) who I am assuming was an engineer (okay I’m going by look) who spent all the time I had in front of the booth talking in a foreign language (foreign to me) on a cellphone while ignoring the few of us standing at the booth.

That’s so dumb. Heck I could of sold more radios just by showing a little enthusiasm. Very poor showing by Apache Labs and did nothing to encourage me to consider their product as much next buy. Heck if they’re not excited about their product why should I be?

Guys arrive a couple of days earlier to allow you to overcome jet lag. Send or hire a couple of local sales guys and have something to handout to potential customers and smile, smile and smile as you talk, talk and talk. Don’t sit there on a cellphone.

Then we had FlexRadio.6300iso

Big big booth with all hands on deck talking SDR. Big crowds of eager buyers and lots of guys with tons of questions. All the radios were working and were connected to real antennas. You could actually work the radios.

Flex has introduced the FlexRadio 6300 at $2500 (+ an accessory ATU) which is a lot less than their other 6000-series super radios and a major price point for a lot of us.

The software is going to be sold on a subscription basis and a lot of the old sparkies can’t get it through their heads that this is the way of the future.bf8bb_ORIG-1760793_homer_upset_shocked_face_super_1_

I bought a subscription with Adobe for my Photoshop ($800) and my Lightroom 5 ($99) that costs $10 a month and gives me unlimited access to the newest versions. Anytime I want to bail out I can and I can keep running the software using my last purchased software.

The FlexRadio subscription will be similar and I’m all for it.

But, and this is a big but, I’m not sure yet whether the Flex 6300 is for me. My Flex 1500 and to a lesser degree, my Flex 3000 (which still has a noticeable lag when using the FlexKnob and while this might not be much of an issue for casual operators it’s a big problem for contesters who need better accuracy. I’ve changed cables, FireWire cables and messed with my port assignment to no effect on the issue) are great radios which IMHO run circles around big box radios especially the ones from Japan.

When Harry, VA3EC, who lives 360 meters north of me, fires up his big box radios his signal is all over the band. When he fires up his 3000 I can’t tell he’s there unless I’m close enough to see him on my panoramic display.

The FlexRadios are so good that in the last CW contest I worked a guy inside of Harry’s transmission envelop. And yes I had attenuation dialled in and I was running ring-free 25 Hz filtering but the contact was pretty easy to pull off.

It’s going to take a few more weeks for the brain trust to figure out which SDR is the better designed. Comparisons of the Flex 5000 and the Anan-100 are pretty interesting.

SDR isn’t for everyone. It’s new. Sort of like SSB was back in the AM days and you should have heard the comments back then on 80 meters. Vicious would have been putting it mildly but somehow we managed to make the change.