Ham Radio Clubs Need After Action Reviews

Ham radio is a hobby, of course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others in making ham radio better. In this particular case, ham radio clubs have a series of activities they do with their members. Whether this activity is Field Day, providing public service communications to the community or providing storm spotting support, these activities show the ham radio hobby to others.

After the events, we talk about them, of course. Most clubs will spend a good deal of time talking about Field Day at their next club meeting, for example. Often, however, the information is anecdotal and not recorded. And our opportunity for improvement is lost. Why is it important to do an after action review?

Ham radio needs effective support to government agencies

Many clubs support Emergency Operations of their local governments. By providing an alternative communications channel, especially for health and welfare communications, ham radio provides a significant service. Yet, poorly run activities that never yield improvements hurt our perception and rightly so.

Ham radio needs effective public relations

When we go out in the community and provide communications support for parades, runs, walks and other public activities, we are placing the reputation of the hobby on the line. The people in these events are our neighbors — the very people we need supporting us for antenna placement, tower approvals and other support for our hobby. Doing a poor job in these activities hurts our reputation with the very people we need to help us.

Ham radio needs effective After Action Reviews

Let’s borrow an effective technique from the Army called the After Action Review. A formal process used after every patrol and mission, the After Action Review is used to improve what is done in the field and is a major reason for the effectiveness of the Army today. There are four questions to ask after the event. The answers are recorded and then the improvement suggestions are integrated into the next event. The questions are:

  1. What was expected to happen? We had goals for the event; a review of the goals.
  2. What actually occurred? We planned it one way and had certain goals; did the event go according to plan?
  3. What went well and why? We need to maximize what went well for the next time.
  4. What needs improvement and how? One can’t criticize alone; we need to explain how something can improve the next time and figure out how to build that into the plan for next time. Also note this is not “went wrong.” Wrong implies blame. But stuff always goes “wrong” in an event so the issue is focusing on improvement.

Using this more formal review technique after ham radio club events will go a long way to focusing the members on improvements without going the blame route. And building in the review and the improvements for next time help our cause with the people we need to support our hobby.

How has your club improved its activities through a review process?

Ham radio contesting on your terms

We’re coming to the end of the major contests this spring ham radio contesting season. Did you contest on your terms?

It is an important question because contesting is a diverse activity within the ham radio hobby. For example, this year we have the Triple Play Award offered up by the American Radio Relay League. Contesting on your terms could mean that you contest only to work and confirm new states for the Triple Play Award. You don’t worry about your score or winning your division or how well your station is working. Instead, you contest on your terms and search for stations that help you win the award.

Think a bit on how ham radio contesting on your terms can help focus your efforts in the hobby.

Ham radio contesting shows station performance

Contesting quickly tests anything you need to in the shack. Want to test that new 40-meter antenna? Enter a ham radio contest as a single band entry on 40-meters. Want to see how that 40-meter band works DX? Make sure you enter as a single band entry in a DX contest.

Ham radio contesting helps you learn software

Want to find out all the new features and roles of a software program that interacts with your radio? Enter a contest using the software (contesting or not) and you will soon find out how everything works. Or doesn’t work. When you are under the gun in a contest, learning happens quickly compared with the stoic pace of casual conversations.

Ham radio contesting helps you increase your Morse code speed

Work a CW contest and watch your code speed increase about 10-WPM. Nothing is better than trying to copy code in a crowded band with many stations running!

Contest on your terms

This is not to say that you shouldn’t go out and try to win a contest. There are many people who do just that. But contesting is a diverse activity and one that can help you focus on the hobby without going after the “win” for the contest. Instead, use contests as ways to learn, test and increase your operating ability to get you out of your comfort zone.

Have you been contesting on your terms? If not, you still have some time before the end of the spring contesting season.

Ham Radio has the UltraDX Web Site

Ultra DX is a web site for ham radio that offers a wide range of services to the DXer or Contester. Set up in 2008 (I think), the site is still evolving.

Here is a review of the major components of the site.

UltraDX Community

UltraDX, like most sites, wants to build a community around the site for traffic and common interests. The Community tab offers articles submitted by users of the site, blogs (although the last entry was from 2008), call sign search, chat rooms, classifieds, forums, links, news, opinion polls…and more.

The fun part of this is the range of services for the community offered. The big disadvantage is that there is a lack of focus for a community (a problem with many sites, including this one – what do you want the site to be when it grows up?).

UltraDX DX Info

The DX Info tab offers a link to the DX Cluster, but no web access to spots. Plus, the DX Rentals gives you a good selection of DX locations where the stations are set up for you ready to go. There is a listing of DXpeditions with links from NG3K, including the source for the information.

Finally, this tab offers a DX Prefix and Zone List that is current as of February, 2008. This is a listing of countries, continents, ITU and CQ zones for each DX entity, not a prefix to country list.

UltraDX Contesting

The Contesting tab offers a contesting calendar done in a traditional monthly view. The contest calendar “has a unique feature that permits amateurs to export events as a Desktop Event to programs such as Outlook or Outlok Express. This sets a reminder on your local computer so you won’t forget a contest.”

There is also a feed from the RadioSport.net site by Jamie Dupree, NS3T, which I have noted here on this site.

The Contest Rentals option that matches the DX rentals area from the previous tab.

UltraDX Services tab

The site offers to host your ham radio blog for free and, if a business site, for a significant discount to the published hosting plans from a specific company.

As well, a Voice over IP service will be offered to ham radio operators in the September, 2009, time frame. I’ll pass on commentary on this one until the service is available.

Finally, e-mail services are offered to members using a yourcall @ ultradx.com format.

Conclusions

UltraDX offers some good services for the ham community. As with most ham sites, there is a lot under construction as we do this work in our “spare” time.

Ham Radio and ARRL Legislative Objectives

Ham radio is a small service when it comes to legislative priorities. While we might like to think our legislation is as important as a stimulus package for the economy, the truth of the matter is that we don’t count for much in the legislative priority process in the states and Washington.

In other words, our legislative priorities need to adequately speak to the legislative needs of the hobby.

Just published in QST, the ARRL Board of Directors approved the following legislative and regulatory objectives. The first on the list:

  1. The ARRL seeks legislation to extend the requirement for “reasonable accommodation” of Amateur Radio station antennas to all forms of land use regulation.

I translate that one to CC&R restrictions in subdivisions. There are many threats to the long-term health of ham radio, but covenants rank up there as the highest one for me. Ham radio operators always have that additional requirement for where they live – can I put up an antenna? Or five? Without antennas, we can’t communicate. We can’t provide emergency communications, support weather spotting efforts, handle traffic – or have much fun.

Increasingly, we are forced to use extremely modest, poorly radiating antennas to communicate. And, paradoxically, these lower antennas increase the chance of RF interference to our neighbors because we can’t get the antenna high enough to move the signal out of the way of our surrounding houses.

So I think the ARRL nailed this one on the head. We need to have legislative relief from the CC&R contracts to reasonably accommodate our antennas.

Not an easy job to do, but one necessary for the preservation and growth of our hobby.

Ham Radio and iPhone – HamSat Satellite Tracking

I’ve been surprised that there have not been better ham radio applications for the iPhone. I’ve had some correspondence with a couple of software developers on how they have been working ham radio applications for the iPhone. This is the first one, called HamSat, is offered up by VosWorx.

From the iPhone application store write-up:

HamSat is a visualization/utility application that allows you to see the location of amateur radio satellites tracked by NORAD in real time over the Earth (up to two satellites may be tracked simultaneously).

You can see the Earth rendered either as a 3D globe or a 2D map using photo realistic texture maps for the Earth model. The orientation of the map is easily changed by a simple rotation of the device from portrait (3D) to landscape (2D). In either orientation you can zoom in and out as well as pan using the touch screen. Controls are given to allow you to select: the texture maps used, whether shading is performed, whether to draw political boundaries and if a latitude/longitude grid should be presented.

In addition, the application can calculate the rise/set times for a selected satellite, the Sun or the Moon given either the user entered or network retrieved location.

OK…this is cool. Self-contained – so you don’t need to be connected to a network on your iPhone while you are out camping and looking for satellites. Tracking two satellites…nice.

You think it might work on that small screen? Well, here is a two-dimensional view of satellites and their locations:

hamsatmain2d

Or the really cool 3-D view of the tracking:

HamSat 3-D Image

HamSat 3-D Image

Outside of the cool graphics, there is the mundane information we need to actually hit the satellite with our radio signals. Here is what the rise and set times are for a satellite along with Azimuth and Elevation calculations:

HamSat Satellite Sunrise Sunset Information

HamSat Satellite Sunrise Sunset Information

All of this, of course, uses the standard iPhone interface to set up the satellites you want to track, your location, and when particular satellites will do your personal flyover.

I have not done any satellite work, though I have considered it in some antenna unfriendly neighborhoods. I’d love to hear some reviews on this application as it looks well written and helpful for our ham radio hobby.

h/t Craig, W0VOS

Suitcase DXpedition to St. Martin and Saba

Can you do a ham radio DXpedition in one 50-pound suitcase? These enterprising hams did exactly that. DXing on the beach, on bikes and from mountaintops.

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h/t to N9PUZ and the SMC reflector