When All Else Fails

The devastating earthquake in Nepal is being met by an international relief effort led by Indian, China, Pakistan and the United States. Secondary powers like Canada are doing what they can but it’s always going to be too little too late for too many.APTOPIX Nepal Earthquake

This is the nature of wide-scale disaster relief and it’s not new. We saw all this before in Haiti in 2010 when over 200,000 people perished.

The first thing to fail is the communication’s infrastructure.

Power is cutoff within seconds and sometimes remains off for days and weeks even in urban centres. Cell towers fall and existing surviving equipment is immediately overloaded and fails. )Texting may still work and is the easiest communications to re-establish.)

Old buildings built of brick, mud or other natural materials collapse killing the occupants without mercy.150425204114-21-nepal-quake-0425---restricted-super-169

Governments in these third world countries are less than well organized at the best of times and massive disasters are not the best of times.

Within hours of the initial tragedy aid agencies implement their rapid reaction disaster relief teams. Military teams from many other countries began to assess what they can do. Money gets pledged. People get worked up.

And then the airports in the affected area are crippled by the number of incoming flights and close down until the backlog can be sorted out by controllers who have their own personal problems to deal with after work. This takes days to do.

Meetings between helping agencies, foreign militaries and local governments often are acrimonious at best and poisonous at the worst. I witnessed what happened at the Hagarsville Tire Fire meetings that involved at least three layers of government plus a whole whack of special interest folks.Hagersville-battle-from-the-air

It got sorted but there was some arm wrestling that went on during the weeks it took to put the fire out. There was a danger than poisonous chemicals were leaking out of the fire scene and being washed into the watershed by all the water being poured onto the blaze could cause a widespread evacuation of everyone from Hagersville to Lake Ontario. That’s a lot of people and a lot of civic disruption. The army would have been called in.

Same thing happened in the 2003 Toronto with the SARS outbreak. When early information was suppressed, rumour and panic in the media began to make matters much much worse than they really were (and they weren’t good to begin with).

It wasn’t until the intervention of Dr. Sheela Basrur then Ontario’s Chief Officer of Health whose calm and informative manner reassured an uneasy public and coordinated the official communications that saved the day. She was informally called a hero by many and a grateful province named its new headquarters for the province’s new health agency the Sheela Basrur Centre.

So during big disasters in far away places, foreigners and tourists travelling in these remote areas of the world (and even more remote back country) are on their own for at least 48 hours and even longer.

This is the nature of large scale disasters.TnO1G.So.7

It takes days, even weeks for aid agencies to coordinate the necessary help and cobble together some infrastructure.

That’s the way it is people.

There’s a lot of criticism of the response from Canada and on the ground in Nepal that’s from people who are panicked and uninformed. It is to be expected.

So what has this got to do with Amateur Radio?zillah-radio-al-hershberger-on-ham-radio

These days, not much. In the old days of the 1964 Alaskan earthquake Ham Radio was for some the only form of communications within Alaska and out to the rest of the world.

Oh we still have a role to play. Once organizations such as the Red Cross get established they need communications and Amateur Radio is perfect for communicating across town, across the country or out to the rest of the world. The 1985 Barrie Tornado is a good example where Red Cross shelters kept in touch via Amateur Radio.ontario_twister_sparks_memories_of_1985tornado

Like the military and unlike every other communications group, Amateur Radio can function in the complete absence of infrastructure. We don’t need electricity as our rigs can run on batteries or generators. We don’t need towers or central switching like cell systems.

All we need are volunteers with a smattering of training willing to sit in a relief shelter and pass information as directed by officials on the ground. That’s it.

Now there is a move towards creating MESH networks that can instantly create communications infrastructures based on emergency power and portable antennas to create what is essentially a private Internet and I highly support this effort.

It’s too bad nobody in Amateur Radio in Canada is doing anything about this on a national basis…but I’ve spoken on this lack of foresight and intelligence before.

The Audio Revolution Tour

Back when I was a boy we had vinyl and we didn’t know how good we had it.  While I had a Technica or maybe it was a Teac a buddy of mine had a Thorens turntable which he could tilt while playing The Doors and the record wouldn’t skip a beat. Cost a fortune.teaser-td295mk4

Then we went into the dark years of cassettes and 8-Tracks (we thought we were so cool) and then CDs and then digital lossy music on IPhones and IPods and grappy earbuds.

We were so lost but, to quote Blue Rodeo, “we were lost together“.

And then out of the East (I’m talking Japan and Korea and now China) there came a wave of new digital audio players (DAPs) which could play music at CD quality and above. Our ears had never heard such sounds. Better than vinyl records? Ah, well that’s a different topic for a different day, but better than what we had been listening to for over 40 years.

Now I’m not forgetting Sony’s Walkmans which came in all kinds of shapes, sizes and formats but really amazing music didn’t show up in digital form until quite recently.

And what a revolution it has been.astellnkern-ak100II

A few months back I bought a – brace yourself – $900 Astell and Kern AK-100 II DAP.

This is the old IRiver company out of South Korea and they set the audio world on fire with their AK-240 unit at $2K for a DAP!!!! But oh the sound…if you had the ears to hear (and not everybody does).

The music out of AK-100 II into my supersensitive Shure 535 in-ear headphones is the best sound I’ve ever heard next to my Audeze LCD-X headphones out of my Fostex HP-a8c DAC which are not portable units. (I can’t use the 535s with most other units of lesser quality as they can hear the slight hiss of amplifier.)shure-se535-ipod

Okay so where am I going with all this audio stuff?

Well I’m on an audio tour for the Fiio X3 New Generation DAP.

Here’s how an audio tour works: If you’re on the chat forums for audio equipment you get to hear about manufacturers who will send you a unit for evaluation if you agree to return it and give it a fair evaluation. Each person on the tour pays for the shipping to the next person and within a few weeks there are a bunch of evaluations and comments populating the chat groups.x3_2

This is really cheap and highly effective marketing. Wish I had thought of it.

Anyway I’m typing this post with music coming out of my Shures from the Fiio X3 Next Generation pre-production DAP and I am loving what I am hearing. I am going to post the full evaluation here as well as on the audio group chat forums but I can tell you right now it’s going to be positive.

Why am I so sure it’s going to be positive. For one thing the selling price is likely going to be $199!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay you say but I can listen to my music out of my IPhone using ITunes. Yup you can Sparky and it will sound pretty good…but not this good 🙂 and the X3 stores its music on mico SD cards so you can carry a virtual unlimited library of music in lossless formats that the smartphones can’t handle.

Oh do I regret the $900 AK-100 II purchase? Nope. Not for a second. It does a lot more a lot better than the X3 (including stream music from Tidal…soon) but let me offer this illustration:

I drive a 12-year-old Toyota Celica with 137,000 kms on it. I love that car. It’s always great fun to drive. Would I like a Ferrari? Of course I’d like a Ferrari but I don’t have $200K and I couldn’t afford the insurance. Best of all, if I don’t drive one I won’t ever know the difference!Toyota_Celica_front_20071228

Look for the Fiio X3 Second Generation (BTW I own a bunch of Fiio headphone amps and DACs and you can’t beat any of them for the money) coming in the next few weeks.

I buy most of my stuff from Charles at HeadFoneShop on Yonge Street in Toronto. Highly recommended. He’s sold me stuff I didn’t know I needed until I started to read the audio forums and realized what great decisions he’d made on my behalf.

Insight Into Contesting

The Scandinavian Activity Contest is one of my favourites (especially when there’s propagation which hasn’t been the case on the bands for the last few months).

To work the SAC from North America you do need a beam for 20-15-10 and a reasonably good 40 meter antenna (full size dipole at least 33 feet up in the clear with the broadside oriented towards the north-north east).CCO-1-37

The Russian DX Contest is very much the same and these medium-sized contests offer great opportunities for new contesters to get their feet wet in time-limited, fairly friendly competitive environments.

Best of all this year the SAC committee has put out a rather nice PDF summary of contest results along with stories from participants. There’s a story from a guy in Japan who runs the 50-watt Japanese mobile power limit (Bet you didn’t know that there was a power limit on mobile operation. I sure didn’t.). And another story was about a guy who ran QRP completely exceeding his expectations and then there are stories from guys who ran serious contest stations.

This rather wonderful report is an insight into contesting in all its forms. With contesting season wrapping up in the next few weeks it’s time to use the nice weather to fix antennas and add radials to the vertical and checking he grounding connections.

I’ve already started my list for small parts from my annual trip to Dayton (two runs of coax, some inside station connectors, more crimp-on connectors, maybe another QRP rig….)

Oh The Things You’ll Learn

Here’s a link to one of the most wonderful commercials that features Amateur Radio. Never mind the creative touch. See the message and know the wonder 🙂

Sam From Earth _DSC0002

Speaking of building a radio…here’s a link from the QRPer blogsite that might get the creative juices going. With warmer weather here in Ontario it’s time for a young man’s (or young woman’s) fancy turn to QRP outdoors. (BTW the rig in the photo is a five-watt 20 meter rig capable of working the world and costing around $50 used.

What are you going to do to celebrate World Amateur Radio Day on April 18?

Contesting Talk At York Region ARC

Tonight I’m giving a talk on contesting at the York Region ARC.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Contesting copy.key

There are lots of reasons to get into contesting. (That’s Harry in photo, VA3EC working CW at the Oakville ARC’s Field Day.)

With the Ontario QSO Party coming up April 18 from 1800Z to 0500Z and April 19 from 1200Z to 1800Z.

This is an easy contest as there are a ton of categories and modes plus you’re the station that everyone else wants to work.

Another fun contest is Field Day which is taking place all around North America the weekend of June 27-28. You can work as a club or do the contest on your own. It’s great if you can setup a station outside (after all this is also an emergency preparedness exercise) but you can work from home too.

Most of all, have a good time.

CANWARN Spring Training

Thanks to Geoff Coulson, CANWARN Preparedness Meterologist with Environment Canada, the spring training schedule for CANWARN training has been published. (See below.)

I took the CANWARN training and it is most worthwhile. First the training by Geoff is very entertaining as well as educational. At the end of the evening you’ll be issued with your official CANWARN reporting number and you’ll know what do to if severe weather comes into your community.

Highly recommended!
April 21 – 9 AM – Windsor – Windsor-Essex Health Unit 1005 Ouellette, Windsor, Room 1A Boardroom, registration through https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/storm-spotter-training-registration-15848853347
April 21 – 1 PM – Windsor – Windsor-Essex Health Unit 1005 Ouellette, Windsor, Room 1A Boardroom, registration through https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/storm-spotter-training-registration-15848853347
April 21 – 7 PM – Tilbury – Knights of Columbus Hall 20 Dupuis St, Tilbury
April 22 – 7 PM – Sarnia – Sarnia Yacht Club 1220 Fort St, RSVP to bhoad@xcelco.on.ca
April 23 – 7 PM – London – Fanshawe College Room T1003, Building T, 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd, free parking in any metered spot after 6 PM
April 29 – 1 PM – Central Huron/Blyth – Emergency Services Training Centre 40193 Blyth Road
April 29 – 7 PM – Goderich – Town of Goderich Council Chambers, 57 West St
May 2 – 9 AM – Toronto – Environment Canada Headquarters 4905 Dufferin St
May 4 – 6 PM – Kingston – City Library 935 Gardiners Road
May 6 – 6:30 PM – Ottawa – Greenboro Community Centre 363 Lorry Greenberg Drive
May 7 – 7 PM – Waterloo – Adult Recreation Centre 185 King St South
May 9 – 9 AM – Hamilton – Nash Auditorium, Wilcox Building, Chedoke Hospital, Sanatorium Road in Hamilton, free parking across from Wilcox building
May 9 – 9 AM – Frontenac County – Frontenac County Building Frontenac Room 2069 Battersea Road, Glenburnie
May 12 – 7 PM – Toronto – Environment Canada Headquarters 4905 Dufferin St
May 12 – 6:15 PM – Cornwall – Cornwall Public Library 45 Second St E
May 13 – 7 PM – Dufferin County – Dufferin County Museum 936029 Airport Rd in Mulmur (Highway 89 and Airport Road)
May 16 – 9:30 AM – Belleville – Belleville Public Library 254 Pinnacle Street
May 20 – 7 PM – Thornhill – Thornhill Community Centre 7755 Bayview Ave
May 20 – 6:30 PM – Renfrew – Best Western 760 Gibbons Road
May 21 – 7 PM – Peterborough – Peterborough Public Library 345 Aylmer St. North
May 23 – 9 AM – Orillia/Rama – Rama Fire Hall 7454 Williams Road just north of Casinorama
May 23 – 9 AM – Greater Sudbury – Lionel E. Lalonde Centre 239 Montee Principale Azilda
May 24 – 1 PM – Espanola – Pinewood Inn – 378 Centre St
May 25 – 6:30 PM – Sault Ste. Marie – Essar Centre Angelo Bumbaco Room 269 Queen St E
May 26 – 6:30 PM – Timmins – Timmins Fire Hall 133 Cedar St South
May 27 – 6:30 PM – New Liskeard – New Liskeard Marina Floating Dock (bad weather alternate location Temfund Boardroom 74C Scott St)
May 28 – 6:30 PM – North Bay – OPP Regional Headquarters Cathy Burns Training Room 911A Gormanville Road