Thursday, November 18, 2010

Virtual Online Learning

This blog is all about ham radio. But since many of you shop on eBay and other sites looking for ham radio equipment and perhaps sometimes sell some of your excess or old equipment and gear online, I'd like to point out a great resource for learning more about selling online. It's called Virtual Online Learning.

You may notice on this and the previous 5 blog posts that there is small graphic and the bottom of each post called the Virtual Online Learning Blog Challenge. This is just one of the regular activities of this group. So, if you would like to know more about them, just follow the link above or click on the graphic below any of my recent blog posts.


Amateur Radio in Space

I've mentioned a few times that one of the exciting things that ham radio operators can do that no one else can do, is to talk to space travelers via ham radio! While that often means talking to American Astronauts aboard the United States Space Shuttles, there is also a regular schedule with the International Space Station (ISS) as it circles the Earth. These astronauts aboard the Shuttles or the ISS must have amateur radio licenses in order to use the ham bands.

The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program schedules ham radio contacts with schools all over the world on a regular basis. This is a big deal for students in those schools as they usually prepare a list of questions in advance and then the students themselves get to key the microphone and speak to the astronauts in person. You can find out much more about ARISS, including how to get your child's school on the program, by visiting the ARRL's pages about the program: ARISS1 and ARISS2. These webpages have many additional website addresses that you can research also.

The fifth private space traveler, Dr. Charles Simonyi, has several school contacts scheduled on his upcoming visit to the ISS. His visit is presently scheduled for launch on April 7, 2007. You can read about his travel to space and his use of ham radio at the below website:

"Space Traveler to Talk with Students ... Directly from Space. Dr. Charles Simonyi to Use Ham Radio and Share Recordings of Conversations on
— In his continued effort to inspire youth in the science of space travel, Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., the fifth private space traveler, will speak with high school students in three events across the United States through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program." Click the above link to read the entire article.

In addition to the ARISS program, everyday hams like you and I can call the space station as it passes overhead and make contacts with the astronauts. Of course that is easier said than done and to tell you what is involveded had better be left for another time. However, crew members do make contacts with earth-bound hams as the ISS travels. The contacts are made during their breaks, pre-sleep time, and before and after meal-time.

Until next time...

'73 OM

This is a repost of a previous post.

Virtual Online Learning Blog Challenge Five

Is Amateur Radio Green?

Is our hobby of ham radio green? By 'green', of course, I mean is it friendly to the environment? Is it hindering or helping push us toward 'global warming'? Is it contributing to unwanted 'greenhouse gases' in the environment? 'Green' seems to be a hot topic these days and whether you agree with the predictions or not, it doesn't hurt to sit back and think, "should we just keep on our merry way or should we take a look at how each of our lives are affecting our environment?".

Obviously the big culprit in ham radio is electricity usage. Much of our electricity is created by burning fossil fuels, which give off gases that harm our environment. So, are we doing anything right? Yes! Amateur radio operators who are involved in planning for emergencies often have drills where they set up stations that use batteries for power. One such drill is the annual 'Field Day' exercise sponsored by the American Radio Relay League the last weekend in June. Participants receive extra credit for operating their stations during the drill without using power from the grid.

Many hams shun the big power eating amplifiers popular with some hams and operate their stations QRP. QRP simply means "I am transmitting on low power." Today, QRP operation usually assumes 5 watts or less. Hams that are into QRP operation often use battery power. Whether battery or commercial power, at 5 watts they are using a lot less power. For most QRP operators it is the thrill of the chase. They compete for certificates for "Worked all States QRP" or "DX 100 QRP", etc. They often compensate for their low power by having very efficient high gain antennas.

Other hams operate mostly or totally mobile or portable. When mobile, whether they are operating on HF or VHF they are using vehicle battery power. Much of this mobile operation is on the daily commute or on a trip somewhere. If we make the assumption that the alternator is going to charge the car battery whether they are operating or not, the additional fuel used is negligible. Likewise, portable operation using a handheld radio (an HT) also is using battery power. Instead of everyone operating at a high power to reach 50 or 100 miles or more, we have shared repeaters that allow us to use minimal power output from our HTs, such as 1 or 2 watts.

So, where do we get the electricity to recharge those batteries, you say? Many hams love to experiment with solar panels. I have seen some hams at hamfests using miniature solar panels attached to their hats to keep the batteries in their HT at full power. Others have gone the larger route and installed solar panels on the roof of their house to power their equipment or even the whole house.
Other hams do the same thing using windmills. Today they are commonly called wind turbines. At one Field Day not long ago, one of our members even experimented with a water turbine, using a nearby stream, to generate enough electric power to keep a battery charged.

If you're a ham radio operator that uses battery power, including solar, wind, or water power to keep them charged, pat yourself on the back. If you're not, here's a challenge. Find some way to 'go green' with your hobby. I encourage anyone with other examples of how ham radio can be 'greener', please leave a comment by clicking the link below.

Until next time...

'73 OM

This was a repost of a previous post.

Virtual Online Learning Blog Challenge Four

World War II Amateur Radio Use

In the last post I talked about the use of Ham Radio for emergency communications in today's world. In the previous post to that I talked about how my ham radio interest helped my in the Army and how the Army helped my ham radio hobby.

But that was in the early 1960's. Last Thursday was Veterans Day. I attended the ceremonies in our local elementary school and had fun telling the children about my service and how ham radio fit into that time. I was surprised how many of them had never heard of "The Iron Curtain". Veterans Day reminds me of World War II and of my father and uncles who served in the Army, the Army-Air Force, and the Navy during that war. My Uncle Erv was also a licensed ham radio operator as well.

Did you know that at the start of World War II in 1939, ham radio was banned by 121 countries including the Canada and the UK. When the U.S. entered the war in 1941, the hams in the U.S. showed their patriotism by following the same ban to the letter. Soon after, the ARRL petitioned the FCC to create the War Emergency Radio Service (W.E.R.S.). These licenses were issued to communities, not individuals. Hams were asked to participate in WERS activities when the community government asked them to help. This was probably the first example of a similar system that is in place today with FEMA and it's subsidiaries all the way down to the community level with RACES calling out amateur radio operators to help with their radios during emergencies.

You can read the full story on A6CV's History Website. Scroll halfway down the page to the read The War Years" by KH6O. Our thanks to them both for preserving this history.


Virtual Online Learning Blog Challenge Three

What Are Appropriate Uses of Ham Radio for Public Events?

Ham radio operators are often asked to help with communications at local events. Often, hams who are active in emergency communications and radio clubs are the ones contacted with these requests.

As a ham radio operator I have been involved with emergency communications for years. I've been involved with R.A.C.E.S (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) for many years and still am. I am also active with the local Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.). I have also taken and passed the Emergency Communications course offered by the American Radio Relay League (A.R.R.L.)

So the topic for this post is, when is it okay to use amateur radio equipment for purposes such as helping non-licensed amateurs. These activities often include walks, runs, bike rides, tri-athalons, and similar activities where large numbers of people are often spread out over a large area. This is a topic with many ins and outs and some gray areas. However, FCC rules, Part 97.113 says:

"(a) No amateur station shall transmit: (2) Communications for hire or for material compensation, direct or indirect, paid or promised, except as otherwise provided in these rules; (3) Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer...."

Hams often use their radios to help non-profit organizations raise funds for their worthy cause. Why? Well, besides being part of something that is helping people, it is a good way to hone their skills and to keep in practice. Most hams that are involved in emergency communications have a bag or kit in which they carry radios, spare batteries, bottled water, and anything they might need in a real emergency. Many call it a "Ready Bag."

Sometimes organizations don't give much of what they collect to the ones who need it. In that case, I would not personally participate. How do you know what percentage they are giving vs. keeping? Unfortunately, it can take a little work on your part. Basically you need to ask them what percentage will go to fund the program. Sometimes you can find information on their website or other places on the web. For instance, many groups can be found online at the EFCA or similar non-profit watchdog websites. For me, I want to see over 70% going to the cause for which the event is run.

The other area to watch is when a groups' event is partly for profit, where they are only giving a small percentage to the charity. In any event, do your homework. In this case, I believe the FCC's Part 97 is very clear that any event that is for profit is unacceptable for use of amateur radio participation.


Virtual Online Learning Blog Challenge One