Monthly Archive for July, 2009

Ontario proceeding with cellphone ban

Ontario Transport Minister Jim Bradley has said to The Canadian Press and quoted in The Hamilton Spectator that the ban on the use of cellphones, BlackBerrys and other hand-held devices by drivers will take effect this October.

Radio Amateurs of Canada in cooperation with several interested amateur radio groups in Ontario has been in discussion with ministry officials and negotiations continue to secure an exemption for amateur radio in moving vehicles.

Banning cellphone won’t work says Vancouver Sun

With governments across Canada considering banning cellphones and other electronic devices Ian Tootill, cofounder of SENSE, (Safety by Education Not Speed Enforcement) writing in today’s Vancouver Sun claims that banning cellphones won’t make our streets and highways safer.

Tootill says that banning cellphones will likely have unforeseen consequences such as an increase in rear-end crashes resulting from drivers stopping or putting over unexpectedly to take important calls.

Here’s a link to the article.

RAC along with interested individuals and amateur radio clubs and groups have been keeping in close contact with provincial legislators who are currently considering legislation that might ban the use of cellphones in moving vehicles. Such legislation could have a negative impact on the legal use of federally licensed amateur radio equipment in moving vehicles.

Nanaimo ARC taking to the waves (literally)

This from the Nanaimo Bulletin and thanks to a tip from the ARRL:

The Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association will be participating in the July 26 Great International World Championship Bathtub Race and thanks to an online portal at the association’s website the public can nara_logo_ddddddwatch the race progress in real time. Two of the bathtubs are going to be outfitted with AGPS units which will relay information to an interactive map. The Nanaimo hams will also be operating a special event station during the event.

Here’s the link: www.ve7na.ca/tubtrack

New Ontario NTS blog

Bob Sharp, VA3QV/VA3RCS, the net manager for the Ontario Phone Net has setup a new blog at http://ontariophonenet.wordpress.com/

Bob has setup an excellent blog. There’s lots of information about nets and other topics of interest to traffic handlers that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else.untitled

If you’re new to ham radio and you don’t know about the national traffic system and how it works, head on over to the new Ontario Phone Net blog. This is a really a first-class effort and Bob deserves a big pat on the back.

CARESS demo in B.C.

This post thanks to Neil King, VA7DX.

Saturday July 18, 2009 the CARESS (Coquitlam Amateur Radio and Emergency Services Society) satellite emergency communications trailer was successfully demonstrated to members of the Cross Border Communication Group at Green Timbers, the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) South West Region Headquarters. The CBCG is an informal group of volunteers from both sides of the border representing various amateur radio clubs, ARES, RACES and various other organizations such as BCWARN (BC Wireless Amateur Radio Network) and the Blaine and Ferndale Police Departments. Sat Demo 1 July 18 2009

The demo consisted of establishing a high speed digital communications link to the Internet via the Intelsat Galaxy 18 commercial satellite Ku Band transponder and to demonstrate email and data access, web browsing, VOIP telephone service and streaming video. A wireless bubble was extended from the Sat trailer to provide these digital services to the PEP building and surrounding area.

In addition, UHF/VHF voice and data packet services were in operation as was HF Pactor3 Winlink email on 80m connecting via the VE7SCC EMCOMM PMBO. Use of a 30’ telescopic mast to support the UHF/VHF/1.2 antenna and 40/80 meter dipoles ensured excellent coverage on all of these bands. Testing included accessing various VHF and UHF repeaters in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Washington State.

This prototype vehicle was developed to demonstrate the ability to provide a suite of complimentary communication VOIP phone services, data access and other Internet accessible resources when conventional communications infrastructure is destroyed or non-functional due to a major disaster such as a major earthquake. In a disaster, the ability to communicate quickly and effectively is essential as is the ability to operate for extended periods of time on self generated power. Saturday’s demonstration was performed using a 1KW generator and no other source of power. Sat Demo 2 July 18 2009

Additional capabilities will be added to the trailer over the coming weeks including a portable EMCOMM PMBO providing Winlink email services, a UHF repeater system, IRLP, an Asterisk VOIP telephone switchboard and auto-patch capabilities to interconnect UHF radio and the VOIP telephone services over the satellite link.

The vehicle will be demonstrated to other municipalities and interested groups on both side of the border as an affordable example of providing a basic suite of communications capabilities to incident command sites, remote sites and between stricken communities and the outside world in the event of significant disaster affecting traditional forms of communications.

The development of this prototype communications vehicle was possible due to the tremendous support of the City of Coquitlam who provided a grant to fund the trailer and satellite equipment, and to Russ Montgomery, president and owner of DishPro services, who has provided tremendous technical direction and guidance and is graciously providing the funding to operate the satellite access links for demonstration purposes and testing. Without the support and partnership of both organizations this project would not have been possible.Sat Demo 3 July 18 2009

Many people from CARESS and BCWARN have been involved in the development and construction of this vehicle over the past year.

In the days leading up to this demonstration an incredible amount of work was expended in a short period of time to bring the vehicle to operational status. Special thanks is extended to Ian Procyk VE7HHS, David Sinclair VA7DRS, Ryan Stelting VE7STK, Duncan Meakins VE7NEO, Wayne Galaugher VE7ZNU,  Russ Montgomery of DishPro Services and the folks from General Dynamics who selflessly burned the midnight oil more than a few times over the past couple of weeks to make this demonstration possible!

Why did the Americans go to the moon?

With the sad announcement of the death of Walter Cronkite, KB2GSD, on July 17th there seems to be some added poignancy to the news that right now two Canadian astronauts Julie Payette1807011 and Robert Thirsk are making history by being onboard the International Space Station at the same time. 

Cronkite was a keen advocate and space enthusiast. With his passing we see the end of an era of space exploration which culminated 40 years today ago with the landing of Eagle and the flight of Apollo Eleven.

We can read the insider’s account of those early days thanks to a link sent by Tom Clark, K3IO, and forwarded to us by Allen Pitts, W1AGP, the ARRL’s media and PR manager. Thanks to Tom and Allen.

This link takes us to the online story prepared yesterday by EE Times. Enjoy.

Not in my backyard

I’m going to apologize for the length of this posting but I believe this information could prove useful for those amateurs contemplating the erection of an antenna and antenna supporting structure.

Every so often I get asked what we amateurs should do when a neighbour writes a letter to the editor complaining about the erection of an antenna supporting structure in their neighbourhood.

There is a natural tendency to want to write a letter in response but coming from a public relations point of view I’d caution against doing so without a closer examination of the situation.

I come to this conclusion from my own experience as a long-time newspaper editor, public relations practitioner and also from my personal experience erecting my antenna structure here at VE3HG.

As federally licensed amateur radio operators we have a right to erect antennas and supporting structures on our privately owned property. (See Tim Ellam, VE6SH’s suggestions about erecting towers on the RAC website.  This information has been somewhat superseded by newly approved federal government guidelines that now offer that if the antenna structure does not exceed 15 meters above ground it may be exempt from the public consultation process. See Industry Canada’s document CPC-2-0-03 Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Antenna Systems. Especially note section six.)

Don Hudson, VE7SOX, has written an excellent article on his issues with successfully erecting his antenna in the July/August 2009 issue of The Canadian Amateur. My own situation here at VE3HG in Oakville was featured in TCA back in 2003 or 2004 when I faced strong opposition from two neighbours who opposed my erection of my antenna structure. (One neighbour moved and the other was warned by police at my request about his harassing behaviour.)

So what to do if someone writes a letter to the editor of the local newspaper?

I’d suggest that after the letter is published if there are no further letters or articles written by the newspaper then it might be most prudent to take no further action.

Often these letters to the editor are more emotional than factual. Any attempt to correct the errors by sending a letter in reply is likely to just keep the issue in the public eye and to further inflame the original writer.

If the complainant has involved local politicians and they are speaking out in public it might be useful to send them a letter or go and visit them in person.

In a respectfully worded letter I’d suggest pointing out that the antenna support structure you propose is being erected on private property and complies with all aspects of Industry Canada’s document CPC-2-0-03. It would be useful to contact the local engineering department and determine if there is a local “policy” about TV, satellite or amateur radio structures and, if so, include that in the documentation.

(Here in Oakville, I was informed by the town engineer during a very friendly one-on-one meeting that so long as my antenna structure was within 16.6 meters in height then the town of Oakville would have no issue. He also told me unofficially that if I applied for exemption, there was no way in heck I’d get it passed by council has there had been an unfortunate incident some months before when another amateur erected a 48’ tower on a townhouse-sized lot without availing himself of the benefit of the consultation process. In my situation, after numerous attempts by one neighbour to involve town council, a letter was hand-delivered to him written by town staff telling him that my structure met town policy and that was the end of their involvement.)

If the situation has become a public issue and local politicians are involved I’d recommend creating a document that does address the misconceptions. For example, in a recent case, the letter writer made several erroneous statements that should be addressed.

For example, the writer claimed that her neighbour was erecting a “radio broadcasting tower”. The term “broadcasting” should be explained. Broadcasting implies the continuous transmitting of a “high powered” radio signal. This is not how an amateur radio station works. We all know that but local politicians would benefit from understanding that most amateur radio transmissions are brief, intermittent and absolutely safe.

In this case the writer went on say that the top of the tower would be “over 25-feet across”. Of course this description is incorrect and leaves the wrong impression. The top of the tower ends in mast which holds the antenna which (in the case of a standard three-element beam) has a turning radius of around15 feet. I’d compare the installation to looking like a standard television structure with a slightly larger antenna affixed on the top.

The letter states that the antenna will hang over the neighbour’s roof. I’d hope that this wasn’t true and if it was I’d reconsider my installation as this could be an issue with future neighbours and would likely draw unwanted attention from local politicians.

The writer says that “It will be capable of sending radio signals around the world.” I’d want to point out that millions of amateur radio operators around the world communicate with other hams using simple, safe equipment that often uses less than five watts of energy (less than a light bulb) and this is not an issue of concern.

Here we get more to the point when the writer states that “this tower is an eyesore”. This of course is a matter of opinion and should not be commented upon. In my own situation I did what I could to move the installation to the rear of my property. A similar installation to mine just a few blocks away was erected right behind the house and is much more visible from the street and yet solicited no adverse comments from neighbours there.

The next statement that “it will devalue our homes” can be contradicted. There has yet to be a case where this statement was proven true. When my neighbour claimed this to be true I asked her to supply me with the supporting information signed by her authority (which I discovered was a real estate agent friend of hers). No documentation was ever produced and the claim went away.

The writer goes on to say “of much more concern to me, is that there is still unknowns about the health effects of radio frequency fields.” This statement allows us to reiterate the overall safety of our low-powered intermittent radio transmissions and to include information about how raising an antenna above ground is such a good and safe practice.

In the letter the writer says that “the transmitter has been compared to a cell phone in its power output, but you wouldn’t put your kids to bed with a cell phone turned on under their pillow?”

Well! Lots of kids do keep their cell phones close to their heads and I would allow my kids to do that. Again statements like the one above give us an opportunity to clarify how the transmitter doesn’t radiate the signal but the antenna does and how radio wave energy falls off so quickly over short distances.

The writer continues by saying “this antenna it will be broadcasting only 60 feet away from my 10-month old’s bedroom.” Again here’s an opportunity to talk about how the intermittent strength of an amateur radio signal decreases so quickly over short distances and that like radio signals from AM, FM and TV transmissions which are present everywhere amateur radio signals are totally harmless.

The writer again goes on to claim that the amateur radio transmitter will be transmitting 24/7 which of course is nonsense.

The writer claims that the amateur transmitter will emit more electrical radiation (a word I would stay away from in talking with the public as non technical people don’t
understand the concepts of frequency, power and distance. If they did they’d understand that their microwave produces “radiation” too and I bet most of them would be appalled to learn this fact.) than a new 3G cell tower. I’d love to know her expert for this statement. She goes on to say it will have at least five times the output. Again our writer is obviously unfamiliar with power/frequency issues and so is the public. I’d not debate her directly but I would point out the errors, if necessary, to local politicians. You might want to quote your own local authority on this erroneous statement.

If this issue became part of a larger public debate, I’d book a visit with the local news editor and explain these errors that were contained in the letter and how they are not factual. Newspaper editors absolutely hate to have published information that isn’t true and constitutes what is essentially propaganda. The only caveat is they might write a news article which again would just inflame the opponents however, if there is an ongoing public debate, now would not be the time to stay silent.

So we come to the heart of the writer’s issue when she states that “this tower may be within our bylaws. These bylaws must be changed – they are inadequate and do not protect us from anyone erecting a large, tall and powerful source of electro-magnetic radiation within our close, residential areas.”

It is entirely likely that the tower does fall within municipal “policy”. (Because the erection of tower support structures falls within federal jurisdiction local municipalities are limited to passing “policies” which do not have the force of law — and might be subject to legal challenge). Such policies are a way for local politicians to find a way to accommodate the federal guidelines on antenna structures while at the same time appearing responsive to constituents’ concerns.

The writer concludes her letter by a call to action for readers to contact a local councillor (who she names) and tell her that “XXXX is a wonderful community to raise a family. Don’t let someone’s hobby change that.”

I would consider going to see the named councillor and ask if the letter is an issue. If so, I’d produce a point by point rebuttal of the letter much as I have here in this posting. I’d be reassuring the councillor that I wanted to do everything I could to ease the concerns of my neighbour but as those concerns are so unfounded in fact and so emotional in content that I am trying to do what I can to address these issues in a reasonable and factual way.

After all was discussed and a fact sheet shared, I’d point out that just like everyone else in the community I have a right to my hobby. If amateur radio was disallowed what would be next: TV antennas and satellite dishes on private property? Or gardening if someone objected to my plants? Or pets? And the list goes on….

From my own experience I found Industry Canada (Burlington office) did not want to become directly involved in my situation but they certainly were aware of it.

Prior the installation of my tower I supplied them and the Town of Oakville with complete documentation of my installation. The Town of Oakville (engineering department) made it perfectly clear that if I stayed within town “policy” then they too would have no issue with my antenna support structure and they stayed true to their word.

Due to the guidelines of the day I did notify twelve neighbours (which exceeded the recommendations) and heard back from just the two who complained. (BTW I kept all of the written responses and replied to all including a note that I kept a copy for my own files as I was anticipating a possible legal challenge from one neighbour.)

If my situation had reached the level of public discussion I would have done what was needed to provide my local politicians and the editor of my local newspaper with sufficient factual and quotable material as necessary to raise the discussion from one of emotional nimbisim (not in my backyard) to reasonable discussion and accommodation for all interests.

July/August TCA

The newest issue of The Canadian Amateur is hot off the presses. If you’re an active Canadian amateur radio operator you owe it to yourself to join RAC and get your own copy of TCA.

There’s lots of information from everything between operating in space to operating at frequencies below the AM broadcast band once home to the original radio amateurs and active long before the days that the “short waves” were discovered (again by hams).

The cover story, thanks to writer Michel Bordeau, VE3EMB is all about the Enigma machine.

Ham radio by remote control

As the Baby Boomers start to retire in mass numbers many are selling the family home and moving to smaller quarters. When the retiree is a ham radio operator this can mean curtailing some of the best aspects of the hobby like setting up antennas.

But thanks to technology, you can have your antenna-restricted condo and still operate a contest-quality ham radio station.

Mike Walker, VA3MW, a ham since he was 15, has been_DSC9830sm experimenting  with remotely  controlling his amateur radio station over the Internet.

Mike describes exactly how he set up his station on his blogsite at www.walkerphoto.blogspot.com.

You might have guessed by the Internet address that Mike is also a first-class professional photographer and many of his excellent photos can be found on his site.

Thanks to Mike for sharing this information with us.

New RAC VP of Field Services

This post from RAC Bulletin 2009-022E – 2009-06-30

Effective July 1, 2009, Doug Mercer, VO1DTM, has assumed the post of Radio Amateurs of Canada Vice President for Field Services (VPFS). Doug replaces Sue Cooke VE3SUH, who was appointed by the RAC Board of Directors to temporarily fill the position when former VPFS Bob Cooke, VE3BDB, resigned to accept appointment as RAC president on February 24, 2009. Doug’s appointment as VPFS will continue until December 31, 2009, which is the end of the current executive term. He may be contacted by email at vo1dtm @ hotmail.com. RAC greatly appreciates Sue’s efforts and is grateful to her and to Doug for ensuring that this important RAC position remains filled.