REFLECTIONS

14 May

As another page in my life turns over and I enter my seventieth year on this mortal coil, I look back at my life as a ham operator and other things.

I first got interested in amateur radio at a very young age, as a Cub Scout. One of the badges earned was for proficiency in Morse Code. Of course at that age, you did not have to achieve any great speed, but simply had to be able to copy simple text sent at about 5 wpm. I discovered early on that I had a natural affinity for those unique sounds. I remember listening to short wave broadcasts on our old Philco floor model radio, and occasionally I would tune up or down from the broadcasts and hear sounds that resembled short breaths of different lengths. When I asked our instructor at Cubs what they were he replied that they were likely hams sending Morse Code over the air.

He went into detail describing what ham radio was and told me that he was in fact, a ham himself. His name escapes me now, but I remember like it was yesterday, being down in the basement of our church amidst the pipes and furnace ducts and listening to the sounds as sent on a Code practice buzzer.

I asked him how I could make the old Philco produce the sounds as well. He asked if we had a second radio in the house, to which I replied, “Yes”. He told me to put the second one on top of the other one and see if I could hear the local oscillator signal from it. He explained what to listen for. I tried it one night and, lo and behold, all of a sudden the whooshing sounds became real Morse Code, sent much faster than I could copy.

When I became a teenager, I realized that I was different from most of the kids my age. While they were off chasing girls, I was spending my time tinkering with radios. My brother Gary and I even figured out how to modulate the local oscillator in our BCB radio with a record player and were able to broadcast on the top end of the AM broadcast band. Our signal was heard as far as 3 or 4 hundred yards away. Needless to say that venture didn’t last long.

My brother went off to university, became a teacher at the local High School, became a ham (VE1AQF now SK), married and had two lovely daughters. I went off to the RCAF, was assigned to Communications school, got booted for a transgression which has hounded me ever since, and returned home.

In January of 1966 I left my place of employment, in Moncton NB, one afternoon and sauntered off to the local examiners office. I had decided to become a ham, like my brother. I had been studying the schematics and the literature, and had already received my 40 wpm from the RCAF. The test was aced and the Morse was a non issue. In fact I was asked by the examiner to please slow down so he could copy.

I chose the callsign VE1IJ as it was easy to send on CW. In December of 1966 I came to Ontario to see if I could make my fortune. Life was a struggle for the first couple of years but somehow I managed. In 1969 I met the young woman who would later become my XYL and the mother of my children. My ham life took a back seat, but was never out of the picture. I continued to get on the air primarily as a rag chewer on 40 and 20 meter CW.

After a few relocations for one reason or another, we found ourselves on a two acre property near the hamlet of Maxwell, Ontario. For many years I had been using an old DX40 along with a Kenwood/Trio communications receiver. In February of 2000 my brother Gary passed away from cancer. In his will he left me his 2 meter radio, a KDK, with 25 watts and no tone board. I quickly discovered the local guys on 2 meters and found myself one night on a traffic net. I thought to myself – this is it!!! This is fun!!! I became involved with the local ARES group and assisted them with communications for parades and the like.

One day I happened to be at the local IGA and met another local ham Walter Stoyko VE3FFN. We got to chatting and he mentioned that he had a Yaesu transceiver which he was selling and would I be interested in it? Duhhh. Interested? I bought it and now I had HF as well. I forgot to mention that in the year 2000, Industry Canada decided to do away with renewing ham licenses and instead made them all permanent. In addition it was decided that all hams who had never upgraded to Advanced status would be automatically given the higher status. This came into effect on April 1, 2000. So now I could operate voice on HF.

My FT101E came with some issues such as always transmitting on a different frequency than it was receiving. New radios offer split operation, but I had it when I didn’t want it. I learned how to compensate for this by using the RIT. I was asked one day if I would be the liaison from the ARES net to the Ontario Phone Net, to which I replied, certainly. At the tender age of 56 I was entering a whole new phase of my ham life. I was becoming a traffic handler.

In 2005 we once again uprooted ourselves and relocated to a quiet property on the Skootamatta River near the village of Tweed. By this time I was firmly involved with traffic handling. I was liaising from local nets to section nets, from section nets to region nets and even on to area nets. I became an occasional NCS on EAN Cycle 2. on February 22, 2007, according to my log, I checked into the Hit and Bounce Net for the first time and received three messages. The NCS that day was W2EAG. Not long afterwards I found myself on the slow version of this net, the HBSN. On June 23 of the same year I took my first stint as NCS on HBSN.

Later I became the manager of the slow net but relinquished that role a year or so later.

Now to the present.

I have been involved, in one role or another, with HBN and HBSN for over eight years now. In all that time I have never heard a better, classier or better behaved group of operators. These guys (and gals) are the creme de la creme, IMHO. Many of them are also involved with the official NTS nets as well but I have found the Hit and Bounce Nets to be the most fun. Sure, once in a while I will get my wrist slapped by the manager W2EAG, but always there is a reason.

Of course now I am also involved with the Transcontinental Corps or TCC of NTS on CW. I spend some time on voice nets as well. I have been NCS on EAN Cycle 2. I regularly check into that net to pass traffic, but I always seem to gravitate to my roots as a CW operator. I have never really been comfortable being involved with spoken conversations with others, obviously as a result of my childhood spent alone much of the time. But put me in front of a Morse key and I am happy.

Now, as I enter my seventh decade I look back and can only wonder – what if? If it is true that our life is preprogrammed into our brains from birth then I guess I had it pretty good. Sure there was the unfortunate incident when I was 18 but it has not severely affected my life to any great extent. I have my lovely wife of 43 years, Barbara; our daughter Laurie-Ann; our two wonderful granddaughters, Jennifer and Danielle and of course our babies, the German Shepherds Jasmine and Kobe. We are in the process of selling our current home and have already purchased another lot nearby on which to build our next, and hopefully last, one.

I am finally going to get a proper tower. I have obtained a total of 64 feet of DMX tower along with a 4-el Cushcraft beam, Hygain rotator and all the cables. There is just enough room on the new property for a full size 160 meter dipole, so of course I will have it up there along with the remainder of my skywires.

I think I can safely say that my remaining years as a ham will be at the very least, interesting.

73

Glenn

A Week Has Gone By

21 Apr

It has been almost a full 168 hours since our beloved Shadow passed over the “Rainbow Bridge”. Things around the Killam household are gradually returning to normal, at least as normal as they can be without our faithful pet.

One thing is decidedly different however. Our other two dogs, Kobe and Jasmine, have changed seemingly overnight. Granted, they still share our bedroom with us each night, but they do not make any attempts to join us on the bed as they used to do. Jasmine simply retires to the corner beside the night table on my side. She has not once ventured onto the bed, even during the daylight hours as she did before. Whenever one of us had an afternoon nap, she could be counted on to occupy the other pillow or lie down on the bed beside us. No more. It is as if her programming changed the day that Shadow went away.

I don’t know if this situation will gradually change. I hope so. After all she has been doing it for six years. Even Kobe, the huge hairy cuddle meister is different. He still likes a friendly ruffle of the hair on the back of his neck and loves to have his tummy rubbed, but it seems as though the twinkle in his eyes has disappeared. He goes through the motions because he knows that it is beneficial for his humans, but he doesn’t seem to get the same pleasure out of it as he once did.

When they are outside they are not as boisterous as they were before either. It seems as though they are pining for their leader. Shadow was that, for sure. He had quickly ingrained upon their minds that he was the Alpha male if only because of his advanced years. He was the leader of the pack. Whatever he did, they followed. If he wanted to search the rock pile for an elusive chipmunk, they did also. If he started to answer a far-off bark, they joined in. Lately, even before he died, the old spark was missing. It was if the other two knew that their old friend and house buddy was not the same.

Now that he is gone they have lost their rudder, so to speak. It will undoubtedly take some time for the reality to set in, that he is not coming home, at least not in body. His ashes have been spread around the property, but now the rain has washed away any remaining scent so the grieving starts all over for the remaining two.

Glenn

A Long Life Comes to An End

14 Apr

The death of any family member is a stressful and saddening occurrence, regardless whether is an actual family member or a beloved pet.

In this case it is our wonderful Border Collie cross, Shadow, who must face the end of his life with us.

We obtained him in early 2004 from an acquaintance of ours whose Border Collie bitch had an altercation with a neighbour’s Australian Shepherd. The resulting puppies, to a one, were created in the image of their mom. The only exception in Shadow’s case was a slightly bulkier frame and the absence of a tail.

As far as Shadow was concerned he had a tail. It was just invisible. He was forever wagging his rear end as if the appendage was still there. I remember the note the vet placed on the invoice for his first set of needles. “Very Cute”. And he was that’s for sure.

As a teething puppy he was also very destructive, destroying the interior of our old Aerostar van. He chewed the corner of the box in which was our new illuminated deer Christmas ornament, the result of which was a deer with non-illuminated antlers. But we forgave him just the same.

Shadow was always a very active little fellow, even later in life when most dogs tend to slow down. Ingrained in him was the herding instinct. He was always searching out new creatures to herd. Sometimes we roared with laughter watching him. When he was young we also has another pet, an older Australian Blue Heeler cross, who we had acquired under somewhat unusual circumstances.

These two were inseparable. They shared their food, their water, their bed, everything. They chased each other around the yard. They went for long walks with me in the bush across from our house. In the winter they both ventured out onto the ice in search of playthings.

When Buddy passed away Shadow was saddened and in mourning. He eventually got over the loss and became even more attached to us. When we acquired our first German Shepherd, Jewel in the summer of 2008 he was in heaven. He had a playmate again. Unfortunately her tenure was short-lived. One day in January of 2009, she escaped the yard and was struck and killed by a passing truck.

My wife wanted another dog right away. So we went back to the same people we had gotten Jewel from to see if they had another litter. Sure enough they did.

My wife selected a roly-poly little ball of black fur and we put down a deposit. When we went back to claim the pup, there was also a female pup that had been returned. We were offered both for the same price as one. Good deal, eh?

Nope. The gal was the alpha and she let everyone know it too. Despite being the runt of the litter, she was the boss. Anyhow that is another story.

Back to Shadow. We had noticed lately that Shadow wasn’t eating as he normally did. He was losing weight at an alarming rate. His hind legs were giving him all sorts of problems. He no longer could negotiate the steps to get into the house and needed to be lifted into our van for going out. Never once did we hear a whimper out of him, but we both knew he was suffering.

This morning we finally decided that it would be best for him to be euthanized. He had an accident in the basement last night as he could not get up the stairs to let us know he wanted to go out. We were asleep at the time, but Shadow could usually get one of us up by simply applying a big pink tongue to any exposed skin.

This morning I went down to the basement to carry him upstairs so he could go out and that is when I discovered the mess. I could not lay any blame on him. I lay down on the carpet beside him, and he looked at me with his beautiful brown eyes, and proceeded to lick away my tears. I think he was saying, “Daddy it’s OK. I don’t blame you. Besides I will get to see Buddy again”

We will certainly miss him. He was always finding some exposed skin to lick. Whether it was my psoriasis or a cut on my leg. He was there with a wet tongue. When he dried out, over to the water bowl he would go and then return with a freshly wetted tongue. He always slept in the same corner of our bedroom, except for the past week or so. I guess that is another way we knew it was his time.

Shadow turned eleven a few weeks ago. He is by no means senile. He is essentially blind in one eye, the result of a cataract. His bark, always so robust, is reduced to a squeak. He doesn’t lie down so much as to simply collapse, despite only weighing about 35 pounds. His legs have given up.

It is time. I will bring his ashes home with me to be spread around the property he so loved to explore. The other two won’t get to say goodbye, but I am sure they will know and understand. They will likely be looking for their brother for a while, as Shadow did when Jewel was killed. Dogs just know. They are so much smarter than we are in so many ways.

Glenn

A Few Words on the National Traffic System

26 Mar

The link below will take you to the April QNI the NTS Newsletter, published each month by James Wades WB8SIW. In it you will find several articles on the National Traffic System and its involvement with ARES and the public service. NTS has been declared a “white elephant” by many because of its slowness compared to modern technology. If this is so then why do you find so many capable operators each day manning the microphones, the Morse keys and their keyboards to ensure that message traffic is passed seamlessly across the country and now even to Europe.

Most new hams have no idea what NTS means or what its purpose is. Several hams across the country, this station included, spend an hour or two every other day generating welcome messages to new hams as well as to recent upgrades. For most, this is their first radiogram, and for some it won’t be the last. It is to these young hands that we, the older generation, hope to pass the torch one day.

Glenn Killam

QNI April 2015_Final

Something A Little Annoying

27 Dec

This is definitely not radio-related but it nonetheless irritates me to no end.

Last night, around 3:00 am, while at my part-time job at the Canadian Tire gas bar, I had occasion to assist a customer change the headlight bulbs in his vehicle.

OK, you say, we all do that at one time or another. Well that may be true, but this instance bears mentioning.

Let’s say, for sake of simplicity, that my assistance consisted mainly of holding my little LED flashlight so he could do the actual changing.

The vehicle in question was a 2002 Honda Pilot. The instructions were quite simple.

1. Disconnect the 3-pin connector from the base of the bulb.

2. Remove the rubber seal from around the housing.

3. Release a wire clip holding the bulb in place and carefully remove the bulb.

4. Reverse all procedures to install new bulb.

Quite simple EH?

By comparison I drive a 2006 Pontiac Montana. Now changing the headlight bulb is a lesson in futility.

1. Remove screw holding housing to frame.

2. Turn 90 deg metal post 1/4 turn clockwise. This will allow removal of the entire housing. Entire housing you say? Yup. This is not the easiest chore in the world, especially if said housing snags as mine did recently. I had to force it to release and was afraid I was going to break it. Luckily it came out, b ut then was difficult to return to its place.

3. Turn bulb and socket 1/8 turn clockwise.

4. Disconnect wiring harness.

5. Remove bulb.

6. Reverse all steps to install new bulb.

Not so easy is it?

Now my third example is my former vehicle, a 1996 Ford Crown Victoria. A model of simplicity.

1. Open hood.

2. Remove 1 screw, thus allowing removal of protector.

3. Disconnect wiring harness from bulb. Turn bulb 1/8 turn counter clockwise and remove.

4. Reverse all steps to install new bulb.

My point is this. If Japanese engineers can design such a simplified way of doing things, and Ford engineers used to do it, then why not GM? For that matter, why not all car manufacturers? Changing a bulb should not require the use of any tools beyond those which God equipped us with, namely our hands.

Don’t even get me started on getting the doughnut spare out from underneath the van. Why is there not provision either under the rear seats in a minivan or pickup truck, or on a bracket on the lift gate, as most SUV’s have? Nope, you have to use the jack handle to turn a sprocket arrangement which is supposed (?) to lower the spare from under the vehicle. I say supposed, because after a few years of being constantly sprayed with water, road salt and debris, this sucker ain’t gonna move. Nothing like crawling under a van at 2:00 am in the pouring rain to get the damn thing. One reason I have CAA. Let someone better equipped do the crawling. I can work a jack fine, and removing a wheel is no biggie either, but getting that damn doughnut out from under is a pain in the you-know-what. Now I carry the spare inside the vehicle directly behind my wife’s seat. We have a pet barricade in it, and the spare is sandwiched between the seat and the barricade.

Glenn

3.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

25 Sep

There are some new things on the horizon for my XYL and I. We have purchased a 1/2 acre building lot on the outskirts of a small village nearby and plan on building a new abode next summer. That is, providing our current house is sold. The new house will be slightly smaller than the current one and will also have a 1-1/2 car garage. Personally I can’t figure out where the term one and a half car comes from. I certainly have never seen 1/2 a car. What good would it be? Would it have two wheels? Which half of the engine would you get? To me that almost hints on being a motorcycle.

Anyhow that is the plan. MY previous plan of selling out and moving to the east coast has been shelved, primarily because my XYL firmly stated that she would rather become a nun  than move “down there”. After all the dampness bothers her here. What would it be like for her near the ocean where the dampness is always prevalent? I doubt she would be conducive to waking up many mornings to see heavy fog until noon.

In the garage would be my shack and shop. Directly behind the garage I plan on planting my 64 foot steel tree. Finally, after over 50 years as a ham I am finally going to get my own steel tree aka tower. With a real beam atop it no less. Will wonders never cease? I may even get myself an amplifier so I can send even more RF into the atmosphere!!! The idea is almost mind boggling. I get to spend the remaining years of my life running TCC skeds on 20 meters, and maybe even some serious DX’ing.

As always, time will tell. Convincing my wife that I really need this amp will be no easy thing. I had a difficult enough time convincing her to let me buy my second rig. And despite it being my own hard earned money by way of a tax refund too!! Imagine using a shred of the proceeds from the house sale for another “radio”? Sacrilege I say – sacrilege.

73

Glenn

The Morse Telegraph Club – A Brief History of How Morse Evolved

31 Aug
The Morse Telegraph Club
By James Wades, WB8SIW
Few today realize that the telegraph was still used in commercial service in North America well into the mid 1980s. While many of the last users were railroads, the telegraph was also used in a wide variety of business applications by organizations such as stock brokerages, commodities exchanges, pipeline companies, news wire services (Associated Press, United Press, etc.) and the like. For example, the Chicago Board of Trade utilized telegraphy until 1972 and some stock brokerages were still using telegraphy as late as the early 1980s! Even the Telephone Company maintained an extensive telegraph infrastructure for decades because telegraph circuits could be composited (superimposed) on long – distance voice circuits allowing the latter to remain in revenue service while
internal company business and leased private wire services operated in the background using telegraphy!
 
Before the advent of Microwave Carrier Systems and new telephone technologies in the 1960s, many sporting events were recreated at the local broadcast station. The play – by – play was transmitted by telegraph and then  translated into live action by a radio announcer at home. For example, “S1C” became “Strike One Called ” or “NBF” became “now batting for.” Few today realize that one can often telegraph baseball play – by – play faster than one can “speak it!” Contrary to popular belief, and in contrast to many poorly written historical accounts, telegraphy
was not replaced by the telephone. Rather, the modern – day Internet is largely a natural evolution from telegraph technology. For the first one hundred years of telephony, telegraphy offered many advantages over the telephone. One important advantage was more efficient use of infrastructure. Over time, the telegraph evolved from one circuit on a single wire (simplex) to two circuits on a single wire (duplex), then four circuits on a wire (quadruplex)
. With the emergence of stable vacuum tube oscillators during the 1920s, carrier systems  were developed, which allowed multiple telegraph circuits to be conveyed on a single pair . This led to concentrator systems (“varioplex”), automatic switching centers and then….packet switching. In reality, no one person “invented ” the Internet.
Rather, the Internet was an important, but nonetheless incremental improvement in the field of telegraphy. For much of this period of evolution a small army of men and women employed by companies such as AT&T, Postal Telegraph, Western Union, Canadian National Telegraphs, Canadian Pacific Telegraphs and the like kept this complex , world-wide network functioning smoothly , and for a significant number of these men and women, knowledge of the American Morse Code was a requirement for their job.
 Many of the men and women who worked in the telegraph industry or related fields are now members of the Morse Telegraph Club (MTC). The MTC is an association of retired railroad and commercial telegraph operators, former telegraph industry employees, historians, maritime radio operators, radio amateurs and others who share an interest in the history of telegraphy and the telegraph industry. In addition to “members at large,” MTC has numerous Chapters throughout the United States and Canada. MTC publishes a Quarterly Journal entitled “Dots and Dashes,
containing club news and various historical articles. Members present talks on the history of telegraphy and
telecommunications for clubs, historical associations, engineering societies and the like. Our Chapters actively demonstrate telegraphy at steam train excursions, Civil War re-enactments, and  similar historical events. MTC also designs and builds historically correct telegraph exhibits for  public museums throughout North America. Many of the instruments for these museum projects  are provided by MTC. One need not be a former telegrapher to join MTC. All that is required to join 
is a sincere interest in the history of the telegraph and the telegraph industry. It is also important to know that MTC is
not just another ham radio “CW” organization. There are many fine groups that already promote CW and it makes no sense to add another. Rather, MTC concentrates on the Telegraph and the American Morse Code. The American Morse Code is the original code developed by Morse and Vail. It contains a number of spaced characters, such as “C,” “O,” “R,” “Y,” and “Z.” The letters “T,” “L,” and the numeral zero are each a single dash, but of differing length! Furthermore, some of the letters have alternate dot – dash combinations, such as “F” and “J.” When the first  undersea cables were deployed, telegraph engineers quickly learned that signal distortions made it impractical to use on-off keying. A new method for undersea telegraphy was required, which used a shift in polarity to differentiate between “dots” and “dashes.” As a result, it became necessary to replace the spaced characters and three different “dash” lengths in the original American Morse Code. Therefore, a Committee met in Europe, which adopted a new code called the “Continental Code.” Today, this code is commonly referred to as “International Morse.” It is this code
which is used by radio amateurs.
 The Continental Code was quickly adopted as the world – wide standard for telegraphy. However, in the United States and Canada, the older American Morse Code was already well established. It was not practical to retrain the tens of thousands of operators already employed in the telegraph industry. Furthermore, the American Morse Code is approximately 20 to 30 – percent faster than the Continental Code, thereby offering some economic advantages. The result was an interesting dichotomy in the field of telegraphy. In North America, commercial and railroad  telegraphy continued to use the American Morse Code. However, when Wireless Telegraphy became standardized, the International Code was adopted 
 Of course, the history of “Morse Code” is quite nuanced. At different times, there have been up to four different “Morse Codes” used in North America including the “Bain Code” and the short – lived “Navy Code” used briefly during the early wireless era. Adding confusion to the historical record is the fact that Great Lakes shipping used the American Morse Code for a bit over a decade before International standards were adopted in 1912. The result was, of course, cross – pollination between commercial telegraphy and wireless telegraphy. Consider these examples:
 The prosign “AR” (“di-dah-di-dah-dit”) is really the abbreviation “FN” (“finished”) in the American Morse Code.The
prosign “SK” (“di-di-di-dah-di-dah”) is really “30” in the American Morse Code, “30” meaning “close of work” in
Western Union and Press Telegraph Shorthand. and still used in a number of textual publications including Solid Copy! (Note: Solid Copy is the monthly publication of the CWOPS club of which this blogger is a life member.The  “ES” (“dit di – di – dit”) heard on the ham bands is the “&” (ampersand) in American Morse Code….and so forth.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.