Captain of the Concordia

I’m sure our RAC president must be feeling a lot like the captain of the Italian luxury cruise liner The Concordia.

Having struck a rock a few meters off the coastline some months ago, the ship listed and sank with a large loss of life never to sail again. The captain was tried and found guilty of abandoning ship.

Poor Geoff Bawden must be asking himself when would be a good time to swim for shore when it comes to the good ship Radio Amateurs of Canada.

And I’ll be honest here, it’s not all (or even mostly) Geoff’s fault. I can remember the very early days when he assumed the helm. We had a long telephone conversation with me on my cellphone pulled off the highway and him in Manitoba.

I was already really really pissed with RAC and the hijinks of some of the people I found myself working with on the board and national executive. Somehow after talking with Geoff I managed to convince myself to stay on and see if I could help change the toxic working environment but I wasn’t able to hang in there and I quit.

And I am very glad now that I did quit.

A short scan of either RAC’s crumbling old website or the partially built, incomplete new site show vacant position after position in the RAC and ARES lists of volunteers.

Look there is a need for a national organization when it comes to dealing with Industry Canada (which rumours suggest are heavily invested in only dealing with one organization when it comes to Amateur Radio issues in Canada) and international interests like the International Amateur Radio Union and several other international governing and consultive bodies.

It’s time to build a new boat.

I used to work for the Ontario Electrical League and at one time I ran the headquarters office while the president was off on sick leave. We represented the interests of all the provincial electrical players. We were loosely affiliated with the Canadian Electrical Association which represented the big manufacturers and other big industrial interests.

Maybe that’s RAC’s future. Represent ALL Canadian Amateur Radio Operators to our national government and international partners. RAC could throw an annual conference leaving the day-to-day work to provincial associations. And ARES, which always has been a ground-up run organization might just survive and even thrive.

It wouldn’t be perfect but it would beat lying here on the bottom of the ocean waiting for rescue that never comes.

Oakville ARES Report

We’re approaching our second season of reorganizing and revitalizing our ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) here in Oakville and the future is looking bright.

ARES groups are formed at the local level and most often sponsored by individual clubs which can provide insurance protection for members. While there is some organization to ARES, almost all of the initiative and energy comes from the bottom and flows upwards.

This means at the local level your ARES group is open to any licensed Amateur Radio operator and clubs can make a decision about whether to insist that all members of their ARES group are also club members.

Here’s a link to a PDF from the Grey County ARES group that can provide some useful insight into ARES.

Normally it’s considered good practice to join the local club especially if you’re a regular user of the club’s assets such as the repeater system.

Here in Oakville we run a VHF and UHF repeater plus a new D-Star repeater. All this costs the club money in materials and insurance and we’re always appreciative of users who have enough self-awareness to chip in. Some do not and that’s unfortunate and costly to the club.

Whoever is representing the ARES group, called the Emergency Coordinator needs to be someone with sufficient communication skills to work with people.

It’s especially nice if they’re presentable and mentally stable. That’s not always been the case. (RAC has been having a fairly major breakdown of its ARES organizational structure with many key people leaving in frustration with the lack of leadership and vision within the organization and the anti-social behaviour of some of the participants.)

When it comes to your local EC it’s great if they’ve got some current business experience so they can make a good impression on municipal officials and fit into the municipal government environment as there’s going to be meetings. 🙂

What you want to avoid in your EC is someone who is impressed with the own title and but doesn’t get around to doing any of the work or providing any leadership. This has happened in the past and nothing gets done.

Being an EC isn’t real hard and most of us learned by doing as it isn’t rocket science and can actually be a lot of fun.

And it doesn’t take much to make an ARES group work either. A call-out tree of names and telephone numbers combined with attendance at a few community events and you’ve got more training than most.

The really eager beavers might even build their own quick response box (called a Go Box) so they can be ready at a moment’s notice if they get a call and take some first-aid training.

Here in  Oakville we’re proceeding with the installation of our MESH network which will help us expand our ability to provide communication services across the entire municipality.

The Burlington group is considering doing the same and there is some activity in the Mississauga and Peel clubs.

If you’re a licensed Radio Amateur or you want to become one and you live in or near Oakville, Ontario consider joining the Oakville Amateur Radio Club.

We meet on the second Tuesday of the month (no meeting in December as its our annual festive Christmas dinner) at Abbey Park Secondary School 1455 Glen Abbey Gate or join us every Saturday morning at 6:30 for breakfast at Cora’s restaurant on Dorval Drive north of the QEW.


Contest-Ready WetWare Neural Processor

Still not sure about those expensive SDR rigs for contesting especially contesting under noisy conditions?

Well Sparky I can sympathize remembering how long some of you held onto your 80-meter AM mobile rigs back in the 50s.20130625_201013

Now via our friend Mike, VA3MW, comes this information from Stu, K6TU, who posted a media release on the FlexRadio Systems online group about his cognitive processor bus interface for the FlexRadio 6700.

Read all about it here and get ready to see a big influx of contesters switching to Flex in the very near future.

This changes everything!

Three Watts Heard Everywhere

Just for fun I fired up my CRK-10a  3-watt xtal-controlled pocket-sized transceiver and had the Reverse Beacon Network listen for VE3HG sending CQ.crk10a_front

This is what three watts can do into a loaded dipole at 16 meters. Not bad, now to fire up the one-watt NorCal 40 🙂

The Oakville ARC is doing a group build of the tiny rig in the New Year so listen for more VE3s on 7030.

VE3HG-Screen Shot

HSMM MESH Link Established

(This post originally appeared today on the blog of the Oakville Amateur Radio Club.)

At last night’s excellent meeting of the Oakville Amateur Radio Club, Brian, VA3BCO gave a very-well received presentation on HSMM MESH Networking.

Here’s a link to his slides.

And we’re not talking theory here. Thanks to John, VA3BL our technical director and his team the Oakville Club’s MESH link went on the air earlier this week.

So what is HSMM MESH (and forgive me if I get this wrong)?IMG_0109

HSMM stands for high-speed multi-media. Found on the Amateur micro-wave frequencies that parallel commercial WiFi channels, it allows licensed Amateur Radio operators to create their own private, high power (we’re talking milliwatts to maybe a Watt or two), flexible, resilient, ad hoc Internet.

So when we say high-speed what are we talking about?

PSK/RTTY/HF Packet run 300 – 300 bps. Pactor III or IV go 3 to 10 kbps. D-Star which supports high-speed data hits 128 kbps. HSMM goes up to 54 mbps+.

This means HSMM can handle things like streaming video.

MESH technology would allow for file sharing, IRC chat applications, IP cameras (think the Santa Claus parade), VOIP phone connection even web browsing.  complete-overview-of-mesh-for-amateur-radio-updated-nov-2014-12-638complete-overview-of-mesh-for-amateur-radio-updated-nov-2014-23-638complete-overview-of-mesh-for-amateur-radio-updated-nov-2014-71-638complete-overview-of-mesh-for-amateur-radio-updated-nov-2014-74-638-2

The equipment is cheap as some old Linksys routers can be flashed to work on the Amateur frequencies and easily available commercial units from Ubiquiti which put the microwave transceiver at the antenna need only power (from a modified standard ethernet cable or a battery perhaps with a solar cell.

These units sell for as little as $56 to $100.

Software and directions how to flash the units are readily available on the Internet.

Practical applications for ARES work are endless. For the rest of us, joining an HSMM MESH network would neighbouring contest stations to share logging programs in real time allowing for M2 class operation. Control of a remote Amateur Radio station from your laptop would be easy and secure.

HSMM MESH offers Amateur Radio a super cheap, super reliant and tons of fun new way to communicate.

The biggest issue is you must be able to have line-of-sight view of another HSMM MESH station.

The easiest way around not having someone you can see is the club could setup remote, solar-powered MESH nodes on cooperative apartment buildings or police and fire stations thus extending the network across the town.

Again thanks to Brian who gave us the presentation last night.

We’re planning a second slightly more advanced presentation sometime in the new year that will focus on how to add applications such as IP cameras to our MESH network.

Stay tuned 🙂

Key People Keep Leaving RAC

At this morning’s 6:30 am weekly breakfast meeting of the Oakville Amateur Radio Club, Rod Hardman, VE3RHF, announced his decision to withdraw from his position of Ontario South Director for Radio Amateurs of Canada.

I won’t share here what Rod and I discussed but to say it sounds like Rod’s experience was very similar to my own which prompted my leaving the post of VP of Public Relations some years ago.

I took over from John Bartlett, who is now HK3C, who has become a great friend over the years despite the physical distance between us (which of course evaporates to nothing when we’re talking on 20 meter SSB).

John is the creator of CQ Canada which is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of Amateur Radio in Canada.

I also believe that new PR guy for RAC who was out of Quebec has resigned before I really got to know him. I can’t think of his name right now (I think it was Sheldon Werner, VA2SH/VA6SH) (I did get the wrong guy. It was Vincent Charron.) and he was turning around RAC’s social media efforts. (The RAC Facebook page is filled with great content which I believe was Sheldon’s work.)

The ancient, broken and ugly old RAC website was being migrated over to a new WordPress based-site what at least looked modern but alas I fear all this will fall to the wayside again. It’s back to the spark days for RAC.

So now what for RAC?

Since it appears that the few remaining directors aren’t going to do anything of substance to correct the ongoing issues (starting with acknowledging that there are fatal issues that need addressing by them) and there being no wholesale effort by the shrinking general membership to impeach anyone within our national organization, I think it’s over.

Rumour has it that RAC is going to drop the national ARES program like a hot potato as internecine squabbling within ARES is so bad that most of the good people have quit leaving nobody of substance and authority in charge.

Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of something like The Radio Society of Ontario? RSO was formed in April 1962 with amalgamation of the Ontario Amateur Radio Association and the Ontario Amateur Radio Federation.

We could vote in a new board of directors and install a new president and executive team from right here in Ontario. Negotiations with our national organization might follow if the Ontario membership saw any advantage in doing so.

If this happened, I’d volunteer to be its social media maven.

How to Promote Amateur Radio

Gary Pearce, KN4AQ, produces the online HAMRADIO.NOW which you can find streaming on the website Blip.TV, or YouTube. He’s produced a detailed “how to” video on how to organize a 10-day Ham Radio demonstration at the North Carolina state fair which is worth the hour of time to watch.

Gary obviously understands video production as the two-camera video and wireless hand mics makes for a very professional looking production with very amateur-level equipment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Why I am bringing this to your attention is this is something that we could be doing here in Canada. We should be promoting Ham Radio on the Internet!

Now RAC would seem to be the obvious place to do this but we don’t have to wait for RAC. We can do this ourselves.

I bet if we looked around within our own club structure we could find some former (or current) members with broadcast or public relations experience to run the camera.

You don’t need a two camera setup (although it’s sure nice and Gary’s second camera is an inexpensive camcorder) and you don’t need wireless mics (although this is the way I’d go but you can use two lapel mics clipped on shirt collars. Not ideal but super cheap. What you don’t want to do is use the internal mic in the camera as the audio always sucks due to the AVC action of the audio preamps and the distance from camera to subject makes for poor audio an lots of wind noise).

Okay so you’ve got some equipment now what?Products63424-1300x1300-491831

Any presentation at a club meeting can be video recorded, lightly edited in Movie Maker (free for PCs) or IMovie (free on Mac) and posted to YouTube. Same for any special event participation or how about Field Day operations?

I video record and edit lightly the three speakers and the evaluators at my weekly Toastmaster meeting. It takes no effort to record the speeches (the camcorder is setup on a cheap tripod) and editing takes five minutes. While I get on with my day the rendered movies are then posted to a private DropBox folder for our members.

We could be doing this folks.

Once you’ve got some video with decent audio, you can use it to promote Amateur Radio or ARES at special events or online just like the video done at the North Carolina state fair.

Gary has got over 100 episodes on this website. Go have a visit. There’s a ton of great information online for your viewing pleasure.

Former Oakville Ham Big News In Bermuda

Former Oakville amateur John Stevens has been featured in a top-notch article on Amateur Radio use during Hurricane Gonzalo in Burmuda’s The Royal Gazette.rglogo1.gif&LogoXPos=0&LogoYPos=290&maxw=630&maxh=350

John, who drops by the regular Saturday morning Oakville Amateur Radio Club 6:30am  breakfast at Cora’s on Dorval (guests welcome) once or twice a year, is credited with reporting vital weather information to the hurricane centre during the storm which hit Bermuda hard a few weeks ago.

Well done John.