Contest Club Ontario Winter Lunch

I spent Saturday afternoon with another group of Hams, this time the Contest Club Ontario at their Winter Lunch. 

Beyond a great lunch (and a great value!), the event featured three top notch speakers:

Nick Lekic VE3EY led off the talks describing his recent trip to Trinidad & Tobago's north coast to participate in a contest, "Field Day Style".  Packing up an entire station "within baggage limits", constructing an antenna farm on the beach and operating for 48 hours (with a minor sleep mishap) - all within a weekend - is pretty impressive!

Mike Walker VA3MW went on to describe his remote station at the family cottage. Mike combined smart, detailed and entertaining to produce a terrific primer on how to make operating a remote station a reality, including power, control and software considerations.  I learned that a Christmas tree timer can be an important component of a highly available network...

John Sluymer VE3EJ spoke about configuring his station for Multi Op 2, illustrating the complexity of making things simpler on what I can only describe as an Amateur Radio Campus. While John has the most impressive station many of us will ever visit, I continue to be impressed by the humble and thoughtful manner in which he shares his knowledge and experience. 

Many thanks to the organizers at Contest Club Ontario for another terrific event. I'm really looking forward to the Summer BBQ.

Niagara Peninsula Hamfest (St. Catherines)

I spent the morning working the RAC booth at the Niagara Peninsula ARC Hamfest. These guys run a good show. Many thanks to the organizers for a great job done.

These events are a terrific opportunity to have open and lively conversations with my Bosses (meaning Amateur Radio Enthusiasts like you, RAC members or not), to hear concerns and brainstorm.  

The conversations range from:

"Could we have a level of RAC membership that has Magazine, or services,  but just allows the ham to contribute to the organization?" (Meaning cheaper, Hmmm... Why not... )

"We need to help industry Canada clean up the database of licenced hams... Or I'm never going to get a two letter call..." (I hear you my friend)

"How much for your iPad?" (That I'm running newsletter registrations on... Then again, anything's for sale at the right price....) 

 "We should award extra points on Field Day for contacts on the new 60 metre band" (I'm actually kinda jazzed about this last idea. We need to speak to the ARRL about this as a chance to "work out" our new band!)

Every conversation was light hearted, engaged and respectful. I had a blast chatting with my constituency. That said, not all are pleased. Many are still confused about insurance and other benefits, and about our direction in general. One comment I keep hearing is about the diminishing "relevance" of RAC.

We still have much to do. 

Yet I'm still impressed with my Bosses...they love this Hobby as much as I do, and together, If I listen really hard, I think we can find the right path.


Two "Moon Shots"

John F Kennedy got it right when on May 25, 1961, he set out a national goal:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.”  

Now I’m no Kennedy and I certainly don’t have an additional 9 billion dollars of funding, but I do know the value of a goal – what has since become known in common language as a “Moon Shot” - to unite a group. I believe we need our own Moon shot here in Ontario to: 

Moonshot I: Build an Education Engine

    To support Growing the Hobby I propose that Ontario leads in the construction and delivery of a centralized education engine, built on popular “cloud" systems to deliver the Basic Qualification including: 

  • A live, online webinar engine (Like Citrix GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, GoToTraining)
  • A supporting website build on a content management system that be easily edited by mortals (Like
  • A simple registration and notification system to get the word out and organize the courses (Like
  • A feedback system to ensure quality and capture student (and instructor) needs ( )
  • A Student / Elmer management system to pair new Hams with existing clubs / Elmers

The infrastructure could be built out with corporate initial sponsorships from radio suppliers, manufacturers and other sources. While initial investments would be required, it should be self funding. Financial risk is minimized as all resources are rented by the month.  We would need to attract and maintain the BEST instructors and curriculum. Curriculum and infrastructure could be developed in parallel.

This will provide a sustainable infrastructure that could easily be extended to provide additional courses (Like the Advanced Certificate, ARES courseware or Specialized topics like D-STAR or Contesting), giving the engine a better return on investment.

Moon Shot II: Support the PanAm Games Bicycle events with APRS technology

    To support Serve the Community I propose we build and deliver and APRS infrastructure that will support Bicycle events in Southern Ontario 

    (George Duffield SM for GTA deserves the credit for this idea)

  • APRS Devices built by individual Amateurs, in small club builds

  • Serves a need (as cell based tracking systems have failed at other events – there simply too many smart phones)

  • A Common “Kit”?

  • Press / event / awareness created

This ties in nicely with the “Maker” community and has multiple cross promotion options

These may or may not be appropriate “Moonshots” for our community. The point is that we need to unite folks with a common purpose. I think these are good options, but I would love to hear your thoughts

(UPDATE May2014: after chatting with Ontario South Amateurs, I decided to focus on just the Education Moonshot. I would love to pursue the APRS capability, but ya gotta focus!) 

Three Priorities for Southern Ontario (RAC)

As a first step, I’m beginning with what I believe.  I’ve compiled three basic principles that I think should be critical steering points for RAC the next two years:

  1. Grow the Hobby

  2. Protect The Resources

  3. Serve the Community

Each of these is from the perspective of serving ALL amateurs interests, not just paid RAC members. 

I’ll speak to each of these below – the sub points are not complete – but as examples :

1. Grow the Hobby

  • What’s good for the hobby in Canada is good for RAC. Grow the hobby, strengthen RAC.

  • This is about supporting the Clubs with helpful info & coordination

  • It’s about education for new Hams and more education for existing Hams.

  • It’s not limited to existing RAC members. Create value and Amateurs will join (I’m an optimist – Build It and they will  come.) 

2. Protect The Resources

  • National Frequencies and Band rights 

  • Regional / Provincial privileges (like Mobile operating)

  • Local Tower / Antenna rights (And tools to help local Clubs influence Local Government)

  • Inbound and Outbound QSL Bureaus (time and attention to ensure we support these)

3. Serve the Community

  • Clearly ARES is a component of this goal. It’s an important to realistically build out a capability that can act locally and yet draw from the strengths / best practices of others
  • Serve the community is also a daily act, and again this means club support (road races, cycling events, commonwealth games)
  • Extent Amateur Radio’s reach to encompass other constituencies (senior programs, community colleges, military, elementary & secondary education thru technical and “Hour of Code” type programs)
  • Be “PR aware” promoting our wins and heroes to gain public support (and therefore government support), at all levels.

Thoughts on ARES engagements

Last evening I had a chance to sit with the GTA Section leadership, along with the ECs of the various ARES teams in the GTA. As the new Director, Ontario South I shared my initial thoughts on a set of Three Priorities, Two Possible "Moonshots" and a May event upcoming in the region in partnership with our good friends at Radioworld. (More on all of this soon)

I'm happy to report that this initial thinking was well received by the team and even built on in the following discussions. It seems the idea of a few simple priorities is resonating well in a Section that has had good reason to be cynical in recent years. It feels like we are turning a corner, for the better, in the GTA.

The meeting also announced Hal Buller taking on a new leadership / liaison role with the Provincial EOC. I'm a big fan of Hal's - He's a retired Canadian Forces Officer, formerly the Deputy Commanding Officer with the 32 Signals Regiment here in Toronto, an experienced organizer, a strong technologist and enthusiastic Amateur. Hal is going to be a major unifying force here in Ontario and I look forward to working with him.

 We went on to discuss the recent ice storm activations and the wealth of information that came out of that experience.

I'm always impressed with Radio Amateur's willingness to help out - with other Hams, with local events in the community and in times of need, with disasters. 

We have all considered the "what if?" when we charge our HTs, pack our bags and program our radios, but I think we need to think carefully about where and how we could be employed. In impacted areas, it is unrealistic to expect ARES volunteers to immediately "bug out" in the first hour of an activation - they are naturally going to ensure their family is safe and settled - THEN 12-18 hours later, they will be available. As a result mutual aid agreements between ARES units (and even sections) are critical to providing aid to our served agencies in a timely fashion.

We also have to consider what form that help is going to take. Radio Amateurs will never be employed as first responders, no matter how well kitted out they may be.  That's OK - even more honorable as we don't seek the hero's spot light - It's simple work for the common good.

I always think of the volunteers that seem to annually provide critical labour on the banks of the Red River in Manitoba. Led by a handful of professional (and often military) engineers, a civil army fills and places sandbags to keep the waters at bay.

We will face similar structures if called upon to assist civil power. When all else fails, our biggest hurdle will not be 12 volt or SWR problems, but the very human challenge of leading an army of converging volunteers - competent hams who may have little or no emergency experience -  led by a small Cadre of ARES organizers. 

I'm not that worried about the volunteers; they are smart, generous, well meaning and skilled. Increasingly, I am seeing the Cadre thinking about how to lead and serve these volunteers to provide the best services to our client agencies. It's very encouraging.

As I have said many times before, this is not about Command and Control, it's about leadership.