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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

“How Cool is That?” - Step 2

BY RICH MOSESON,* W2VU

*e-mail: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Update on CQ WW RTTY DX Contest Results

The following update is from CQ WW RTTY DX Contest Director Ed Muns, W0YK: We regret that the 2014 CQ WW RTTY DX Contest results are still being finalized and not yet ready to publish. The delay has been due to restructuring the complex log checking software for CQ contests, to make it easier to enhance and maintain. Every year, improvements are made in our log-checking capability, efficiency and integrity. We want to enjoy these benefits across all CQ contests, so maximizing the common code is important. Fortunately, the CQ WW SSB and CW DX contests survived the changes. We're still resolving a few issues that pertain to certain unique characteristics of the CQ WW RTTY DX Contest.

We hope to have these issues fully resolved in time to publish the results in the May issue. But we want to be sure we've got it right before we do. Our apologies for the delays. -- W2VU

Contributing Editor Jeff Reinhardt, AA6JR, titled his January/February "Magic in the Sky" column, How Cool Is That?" In case you've forgotten the details, Jeff focused on things that we do as hams - such as a successful building project or an unlikely contact - that prompt us to smile and say, you guessed it, How cool is that?" I'd like to take that one step further.

Recently, a new acquaintance asked me what I did for a living, and when I told him, he responded with the predictable question, "Ham radio? Do they still make those?" I replied, "Yes. In fact, there are more licensedhams in the United States today than ever before." Is everything tied in with computers nowadays?" he asked. Sensing he was probably more of an analog sort of guy, I replied, "Quite a bit. A lot of radios have computers built into them, and most hams use computers in their stations. But one thing that's really popular today is building little analog radios that use only Morse code, and operating them away from home. I've built a couple and for the last two summers, my wife and I have gone hiking in Vermont. I took along one of these radios and a battery, tossed a wire up in a tree and talked to people." His response (cue Jeff): "How cool is that?"

Here's a shocker for some of you: Ham radio is cool! We do cool stuff with cool radios that don't need to be tied to the internet or the power grid. We can communicate using nothing more than dots and dashes sent over the airwaves. We send balloons to the edge of space, track them and watch live video of what we'd see if we were with them. We build, orbit and communicate through our own fleet of satellites. We are the world's only private citizens who can communicate with the International Space Station without going through a government space agency. We bounce signals off the moon and tune in satellites on their way to Mars. And as my son likes to remind me, we get to play with meteors.

Yet, if you read most news coverage of hams and ham radio, you get the impression that our hobby - and our hobbyists -- are old-fashioned relics of the past that for some reason, just won't go away like we're supposed to. Don't blame the reporters for creating this impression of ham radio. They are only reporting what they are told and what they are shown. And all too often, they are told about and shown a hobby that is focused on the past, and on preserving old-fashioned ways of communicating. The image that far too many of us convey far too often is not one that would prompt a response of "How cool is that?"

So I have a three-part challenge for you this month:

1) Convince yourself and your fellow hams that our hobby is, indeed, very cool, and that by extension, as its practitioners, we are very cool as well (despite what the jocks and cheerleaders told you in high school). Get your club active in doing cool things - building stuff, launching balloons, foxhunting, mini-DXpeditions, onthe-fly computer networks - whatever piques your members' interests. And don't just talk about this stuff. Get out there and do it.

2) Once you've convinced "the choir" that ham radio is cool and growing (which it is), rather than mired in the past and dying (which it is not), then members of the choir (us) need to start spreading that same message to their friends, neighbors and local reporters. You’ll find some basic guidance in this issue, courtesy of retired ARRL Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP ("The Dreaded Question," p. 42). Try to get a sense of what aspect of the hobby may appeal to your listener, but as Allen points out, you are almost always safe talking about what interests you, since your enthusiasm will shine through. Just be careful not to exceed your listener's TQ (Techspeak Quotient); if you're not sure, play it safe and stick to plain English. Communicate your enthusiasm and excitement more than your engineering acumen (unless you're talking to engineers). And keep an eye on CQ for examples to backup whatever aspect of ham radio you're focusing on.

3) Don't just talk the talk, walk the walk. Along with doing cool ham radio stuff at your club meetings, get out and share some of these cool activities with your community. Help your local makers' group with how-to-solder lessons; bring home-built ham gear to maker fairs and other technology demonstrations and put it on the air. Volunteer to help in your local schools' STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs. Get involved with a youth group like the scouts or the Boys and Girls Club. Lead kids on foxhunts; launch and track a balloon; tune in the space station, build stuff. There should be no end to fun, and cool, things you can do to introduce your community to what ham radio is all about, and to get people saying, How cool is that?"

We can get you started this month with articles about foxhunting and balloon tracking, using tiny Raspberry Pi computers as the basis for building a software defined radio (and using it with a software defined antenna!), and an introduction to the ionosphere and how it helps us communicate over vast distances. And speaking of vast distances, and incredibly cool things that hams do, stay tuned for an article we're working on now about a group of hams tuning in satellite signals from over a million miles out in space! How cool is that?

73, W2VU

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