Ham Radio

Luddites spreading F.U.D.

A man in Nova Scotia has determined that radiation coming from the proposed nearby high-speed internet tower will mutate his organic garlic crops. Wow. I guess he heard that they were using microwave technology and decided to shut them down. Microwaves are the most deadly kind of radiation, right? 'Cause we use them in our kitchens to cook things. Oooh! I had better instill the proper amount of F.U.D. in all my neighbors so this tower will get shut down before it starts.

Being an engineer, I like to look at things skeptically. There are numbers and calculations to support everything. Do the numbers work out? Do the equations make sense? Is this man a fool? This is one of the beauties of learning more about amateur radio; I got to learn a lot more about electro-magnetic radiation than I ever did before. More specifically, what are the limits of what might hurt people. Now there are still debates going on about whether or not cell phones cause brain cancer and the like, but once again, it all comes down to simple physics. This is the same question as Lenny's garlic: will the radiation cause a "change [in] the DNA of the garlic because it shakes up the molecules" or not?

Oooh, shiny new toys

After much debate, research and saving of greenbacks, I finally went out and bought my first ham radio. I chose the Icom 92AD. It didn't take me much to see that the Icom handheld radios were a lot higher quality than the Yaesu radios. They also cost a bit more. The one I chose was one of the more expensive ones (surprise, surprise), but it should do all the things I want it to do. It is a dual-band radio that also has a digital voice/D-STAR capability built in. I am not sure how much I will use the digital voice part, but D-STAR also allows for data to be transmitted along with the digital voice packets. I think that KK7DS's D-RATS stuff is really a great idea. Plus, Dan's a bit of a Linux geek like myself, so I feel good supporting him.

The radio as a handheld doesn't really have a long range, but it will be great for the ARES and CERT activities that I would like to participate in. There is also a local LDS net that I can participate in as well. So it is a great start to get my radio feet wet.

How vain are you?

Like I mentioned in my last ham post, I was not entirely happy with my call sign. I applied for a 'vanity' call sign, NV2M, and my request was granted six days ago. I think it is really nice that the FCC allows you to choose your call sign. They did periodically through amateur radio history, but now it is even easier than ever. You log into the FCC website, list your top 25 choices in order of preference, pay them thirteen dollars and wait for 21 days. There are several websites that maintain lists of call signs that are available so you can find one that suits you. Thirteen dollars is not very vain, especially for a ten-year license.

Now take a look at vanity license plates. Fifty-five dollars for a vanity license plate is vain. And you have to pay that each time you renew your registration. But here in Oregon, they have special amateur radio plates you can get for your car that display your call sign. The best part about this is that they are only five dollars. This is the kind of vanity that I can afford.

So it all comes down to the dollar. How vain are you? And Me? About five bucks. I think I am too practical and too much of a tightwad to be really vain.

Ham it up

I have been meaning to get my ham operators license for some time now. I never really knew what was involved in the process so I always let it slip out of my mind after a very short time. I knew that there was a "test" of some sort involved. And that you had to pay to take the test. Not wanting to pay for a test I might fail and not knowing where to turn to pass, I gave up. Until about 3 weeks ago. Then I heard about a ham class that was being offered locally. I actually heard about it through two channels: my church has been pushing to get people to have ham licenses for emergency preparedness, as has Beaverton CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). So when I heard about it this time, I signed up. The flier for the class had a link to Ham Elmer where you could download a PDF that told you the basics about getting a license.

After reading this booklet and absorbing the info like a sponge, I felt pretty confident. I started to read about ham stuff in my spare time. I learned about HF/VHF/UHF propagation and about RF safety. I found some practice tests online and started to take them. I found that I could ace the Technician test nearly every time. So I think to myself, this was pretty easy, maybe I should shoot for General. See, by now, I realized that there are three levels of licenses, each with increased privileges. I already had my sights set on Amateur Extra, but was not sure how long it would take me to get there. A few years, perhaps.

The first time I took the online General level test, I only failed by one question. It was a 35 question test, like the Technician test, only the questions were a little harder. That really got my hopes up. So I studied up some more on the questions I missed so I could understand what they were talking about. At this time, I recognized a lot of the words and phrases, but was still dredging the depths of my brain to pull of any shred of knowledge about radios and electronics I learned in college. As I read about radio wave propagation, FCC part 97, and the ham culture in general, I began to get slightly better scores. I think on the fourth try, I finally started passing the General tests regularly. I still had a week until the ham course. I was notified that they would be testing all levels and that if you pass one level, they automatically offer you the next level. Hmmmm....

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