Category Archives: Uncategorized


Question: Let’s say that tomorrow we had a tornado outbreak in our area and Jefferson County and some surrounding counties were under a tornado warning. Who would be at the NWS office from ALERT? Who would call the active weather net? Who would if that person wasn’t available? What repeater would he or she be on? Who would be the alternate net control station? I’d argue that the more vague and “it depends” the answers are to these questions, the less prepared we are.

All good technical writers go to heaven

I’m a reasonably technology-savvy guy. I’ve owned computers pretty much since it was possible to do so. I have an embarrassingly large collection of gadgets. But since getting into ham radio a bit, I’ve developed some ideas about technical documentation, manuals, and so on. I’m writing this, of course, after spending hours trying to work my way through a  digital scanner manual which is massive, detailed, and about 97% worthless. I’ll probably try it over and over again. However, right now, the manual is in the bottom of my kitchen trashcan under a layer of moldy scalloped potatoes. I’ll fish it out at some point.  Then I’ll take it out, put it on my driveway and run over it several times. Then I’ll burn it and dance in circles around the little paper fire. Not that I am frustrated or anything.

First, let’s get this digital scanner issue out of the way. The darn thing clearly will do everything except clean your refrigerator.  (By the way, I looked–your fridge needs cleaning.) So, it would absolutely be a challenge to write documentation for such a product. Remember the inverse relationship between user-friendliness and the number and complexity of functions. The more stuff a piece of technology will do the less user-friendly it is.  That said, why jam a zillion obscure capabilities in a product if those functions are so hard to use that they limit the customer to the geekiest of the technogeeks?  Also, three words: Quick Start Guide.

Then you have the problem of translation from Chinese and Japanese. This is no small matter. Like most ham radio operators, I have an interest in Asian poetry. I have a particular book of haiku that shows the original poem in Japanese. Then it has a very literal translation into English which almost never makes any sense at all. Then this book shows multiple translations of the same Japanese into English–and it can be stunning how different they are. That is because the translators have to interpret, not just transliterate.  Now, I know a radio manual isn’t talking about the morning dew on an evergreen branch, but good translation, particularly from Asian languages, is a highly complex (and expensive-to-hire) skill. However, in fairness, I’ve got piles of useless manuals written in English by guys from places like, you know, Wisconsin.

There ought to be a law. One law there ought to be is that TV shows should not be allowed to have any doorbell sounds in them because when a doorbell rings on TV I think it’s my damn doorbell and I get up and answer the door and there’s nobody there.

Another law is that the engineers who design a piece of technology should not be allowed to write the documentation. 

Now, there is an obvious argument for engineers writing the manuals for products they developed. They know them more than anyone. No wait, they are the ONLY people who know their products. But the problem with engineers communicating clearly is that (a) they are engineers, (b) they are too close and too familiar with their own product. When they are writing documentation, much of what they are writing about is so second-nature to them, they can’t take on the perspective of a new reader who is unfamiliar with the product.

(I mentioned that engineers writing their own product documentation ought to be illegal. This requires penalties. And, yes, you’ve already thought of the best penalty. Engineers caught writing their own manuals have to spend a few months reading other engineers’ manuals.)

Ideally, engineers should sit down with technical writers with no knowledge of the product. If they can’t find a technical writer, a high-school English teacher will do. That forces them to keep going over these complex details until the writer gets them and can communicate them as only good writers can. Alternately, if they can get my 8-year-old granddaughter to understand that you can

Press Func to display Site QK in Scan mode (easier to find Department if you Hold on System first). D# is first digit of Site QK. Blinking number on the right is second digit of Site QK

she can write an Asia-form Chinese poem about it and illustrate it with crayons. And that would be better than the typical documentation.

This is why I’m quitting my job, learning Chinese and Japanese, getting a degree in electrical engineering, another in software design, and becoming a technical writer. The money will just come rolling in. I also want to be a cowboy.


Trader’s Net discontinued

Shelby County ARC decided in their last meeting to discontinue Trader’s Net. I think this is the right call. With so many places online available for sale & trade of ham equipment, we have found in the last couple of years that listings on the net were somewhat infrequent and also seemed to lead to few actual transactions. The .32 repeater is a really good one, and perhaps in the future the club might decide to do a different kind of net on the repeater. 

If you have a central Alabama ham-related website, or manage a net, or have any other duties along those lines, please delete Trader’s Net from any of your listings. 

I want to thank all the folks that were regulars on the net for their support. Also, big shout out to Suzanne, KK4KIR, who called the Trader’s Net for a long time and made it a pleasure.

BirmingHAMfest 2019

From BARC:

The 2019 BirmingHAMfest will be held at the Trussville Civic Center, Trussville AL. The times and dates are expected to be 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM March 1 (Friday) and 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM March 2 (Saturday). There are still many details to be resolved, but information about the new site can be seen at Roz Fazel, KD4ZGO, will return as the 2019 Hamfest Chairman.



Cullman Hamfest on July 21st

Don’t Forget the Cullman ARC Hamfest on July 21st, Saturday.

New Venue: Tom Drake Coliseum at Wallace State Community College in Hansville, AL.July 21, 2018
Doors Open At 8:00 AM
Wallace State Community College – Tom Drake Coliseum
801 Main Street NW
Hanceville, AL 35077
Talk-In: 145.310(-) PL 100
Contact: Steve Murphree , WTØK
240 North Montcrest Cullman, AL 35057
Phone: 256-338-2243
Email: [email protected]

B’ham Metro Area Emergency Practice Nets Are in Trouble

I’ve learned from hard experience that when you are new to a group, it’s not a good idea to come sweeping in with suggestions and concerns, especially concerns which can be interpreted as criticism. The best thing to do is to work as a volunteer, make contributions, and wait until people get that you’re not a troublemaker. I’ve been licensed now for 4 years and my primary volunteer activity in ham radio (if you don’t count spending a very hot weekend as the food captain at a Field Day) has been to call nets. I like calling nets. Currently, I’m managing two nets and calling four regularly. None of that is to self-congratulate–it’s just a statement that I hope I have established the right to express a concern.

The VHF (and one UHF) net scene in the Birmingham metro area is in trouble. Not all the nets, but a lot of them are in trouble.  When I got licensed, the Shelby County net was impressive. Ran like a machine. Things happened and one day it wasn’t there. Then a fine guy–a ham operator in Jefferson County we all know and love–stepped up and calls it weekly, in spite of devoting an ENTIRE evening EVERY week to another net.

The fine guy who was net manager for Sylvan Springs had to step down because of work. That happens and is to be respected.  But no one was willing or able to step up and that one sputtered for a few weeks and then died.

David Hanna, W4NCS, who had worked hard at the local nets, went suddenly silent key and left a wife, young child, and an empty chair at some of the local nets.  David had managed BARC’s net. Not to get into the details of all that, but the club didn’t address that promptly and by the time someone stepped up to temporarily manage it, he found there was no schedule and no remaining net control operators.

ALERT is doing okay but, as of next week, it will be down to 2 net control operators. HCARC’s nets are reliable, and manned by two operators, but the numbers are usually somewhat low. It’s a specialized club, so that makes sense.

And so on. The following statement will undoubtedly aggravate some people, but that doesn’t make it any less valid of an opinion.  One of the most baffling things to me is that, as a general rule (meaning there are exceptions), the officers of some of the local ARC nets DO NOT CHECK IN TO THEIR OWN NETS. How would that be interpreted as anything other than a lack of support or investment in their nets? I don’t see how nets can be maintained without the interest and the support of its leadership. Please.  Go ahead. Argue with me.

Who cares about all this? Good question. I just keep thinking about how often the ham radio community speaks proudly about how ham radio is a critical part of the response to an emergency.  We often say that’s why we have practice nets. But I wonder if it’s crazy for me to ask if we have enough trained and experienced net control stations to really be of help the next time we have a major tornado outbreak. Maybe we will have enough. I don’t know.

Ham radio operators are volunteers. ARC officers are volunteers. Net managers are. Net control stations are. Here’s the thing about volunteerism. People are busy. I am jealous of my own free time and, accordingly, don’t give enough of it away.  I also don’t show up to the every-other-week ARC club meetings. Bad on me.

But here’s an ugly truth. Any organization that does not support its volunteers will soon find it has no volunteers. It’s not that volunteers need to be patted on the back and acknowledged to continue to be a volunteer. They need to be recognized and acknowledged to continue to be a volunteer for the organization they volunteer for. If they don’t get that support, they will volunteer elsewhere. There’s no shortage of places to volunteer. If someone wants to be a volunteer to help people in the wake of a natural disaster, there are plenty of ways to do that. This is how someone who MIGHT have been a net control operator at the scene of a disaster, ends up dipping up soup and bringing in water and blankets. Because that’s a way to be helpful.