What Good is a Ham License? Plenty.

A ham radio license is more than a ticket to operate on the amateur radio bands. A couple of years ago, I was at a local chamber of commerce meeting and struck up a conversation with a guy who was in charge of engineering for a local high tech startup company. When he heard I was an amateur radio operator, he said, “I love to hire those guys because they really know how to do things.”

Also, as the contact person for our amateur radio club, I frequently get e-mails or phone calls from people looking for people with experience in RF or electronics. I have sometimes been able to connect them to members with the knowledge and skills they are looking for.

Here’s a similar story from Jim, AA2QA via the Ham Radio Help Group mailing list:

Hello gang,

I had to share some good news from here and also answer about ham radio. Many ask why the tests. We argue (not here, I hope LOL) as to how technical the exams are. Might I share some good news?

The purpose isn’t to prove you’re a phd in electronics or physics, obviously. It should be an entrance to provide encouragement in radio and experimenting. Hopefully, some youngsters may end up studying electronics or physics in college.

Myself, I did have some college. I also served an apprenticeship and was fat and happy for 25 years at one employer and achieved the highest technician rating available in a few areas. However, said employer shipped many divisions to China (mine included) and sold off
other divisions.

I did try and apply for work elsewhere, but in skilled trades, I found (at age 57) that I was competing with far younger folks and ones that were currently (or recently) in those fields. I’ve had a tough 4 years taking low-end jobs which, along with my pension, at
least allowed me to survive.

I was depressed and sought help. Fortunatly, as a veteran (Vietnam – 11 months of combat pay), the VA did help. They originally sent me for vocational rehabilitation.

When the guy at vocational rehab looked at my resume (and background, which included amateur extra, 1st class radiotelephone, and commercial telegraph ticket with radar endorsement), he asked if I had considered a local company. I hadn’t.

He referred me to an agency. I filled out an application and, attached to the application, was a test. Fill in the blank. They had simple schematic symbols and all you had to do was write in what they represented. There were chassis and earth grounds, crystal, caps, and many others. The “tough” ones (for folks that didn’t keep reading and studying) were the various insulated gate field-effect transistors. Depletion mode, enhancement mode, and n-channel and p-
channel types.

The guy called me back in and stated he hadn’t seen anyone score like I had. Most only got 5 or 6 correct answers. They forwarded the information to my current employer for an interview to see if I might obtain a contract position.

I interviewed with 4 different folks. At each interview, a schematic was produced and I answered several questions.

To make a long story short, I didn’t get hired contract; I was hired permanently as a direct employee! At more than twice what I have been making over the past 4 years.

For me, amateur radio has been an interesting hobby. A way to make friends (and I’m in contact with hams from the service), and an enjoyable way to learn.

No degree, yet amateur radio was the lifeline for me that will enable me to save more for retirement, get a bigger social security check, and *have a great time* all at the same time! I’ve been working for a week and it is *fun*!

So, if anyone wants to know why study or what good the ticket is, remember my story.

Think Amateur Radio Has an Image Problem?

Understand the Frequency Domain

When teaching my General Class license class, I find that one of the concepts that students have the hardest time understanding is the frequency domain. Even so, as we move to software-defined radios, it’s an important concept for radio amateurs to understand. Now, DSPDesignLine, a website for electronics engineers working with digital signal processing, is publishing a series of articles labelled a “frequency domain tutorial.” Here are the articles that are online so far:

  • Part 1 discusses the ambiguities of discrete signals.
  • Part 2 introduces quadrature (complex) signals, and explains the nature, and notation, of the spectral diagrams used in DSP.

Add 17m to the Hustler Vertical

Add 17m to HustlerThe Hustler 4BTV, 5BTV, and 6BTV trap vertical antennas have been sold for as long as I’ve  been a ham (37 years now!). I’m sure they’ve sold thousands of them.  They are inexpensive, rugged, and when used with a good number of radials, great antennas.

The one problem is that they were designed before we got the WARC bands, and Newtronics has not updated the design to add these bands. Well, here’s an ingenious way to add 17m to the Hustler antennas.

Basically, all you do is add a quarter-wave of wire (about 13 feet) in parallel with the rest of the antenna. You connect one end to the base of the antenna, and then suspend the top from the capacitance hat, as shown in the figure at the right. Apparently, if you space it out at least six inches from the main element, the antenna will tune up just fine on 17m and not affect the tuning on the other bands very much.

You should be able to add a 12m element to the antenna in exactly the same way.

Can Ham Radio Save America?

An article published on eSchool News, “Summit: Save STEM or watch America fail” reports that the United States is falling behind in math and science education, and that this is endangering America’s competitiveness in the global economy. Recently, education leaders, lawmakers, and cabinet members met for a national summit in Washington, D.C., to discuss what progress–if any–has been made in closing the gap. Their verdict: The U.S. needs to make a greater investment in critical math, science, and research programs for these efforts to succeed.

Now, being educated as an engineer and having worked as an engineer, I don’t know that I’d encourage anyone to actually to take up engineering as a profession, but I think that technical literacy will be nearly as important as the ability to read if we are all to make rational choices about our future. That being the case, educating kids in the basics of math and science are certainly important.

How does ham radio fit into all this? Well, learning about ham radio gives kids an incentive to learn about the math and science behind the phenomena. It also helps those who take up the hobby as adults. Even if they never get deeply into the technology, most people who get ham licenses at least come to some appreciation of it.

So, there you go. Ham radio will save America.

Ready for Field Day??

If not, this video should get you pumped up:

For a list of Field Day locations near you, go to the ARRL FD Locator.

Thanks to W1AGP, the ARRL’s PR Guy for the link, and to stormspotterkwp—whoever you are—for producing the video.

Brainstorming at the Museum

One of the fun things about operating at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is enjoying the company of other hams and sharing ideas. Two weeks ago, a bunch of us were joking about how to make CW more fun and get more kids into it. Well, someone noted that since CW is a rhythm kind of thing, maybe someone could make a dancing game out of it. I don’t know how hard or easy it would be to hack one of the dance mat games, but if you could get the thing to generate dits when you step on some of the pads and dahs when you step on the others, that might be kind of fun.

Yesterday, we were talking about the experiences that a couple in the group had talking to Cub Scouts about ham radio. They quickly came to the conclusion that you can’t just talk at them, you have to get them actually doing something. I think that’s one reason kids love to bang on the code practice oscillator at the museum.

Along those lines, they said that one of the more successful activities they had the Scouts do was to design their own QSL card. I think this is a really great idea, and I plan to use this idea when I go talk to kids about ham radio.

Call CQ Properly and Get More Replies

Mike, K8XF, is an on-the-air friend of mine and one heck of an operator. Here’s something that was recently published in Issue #3 of the Fists CW Club newsletter:

Calling CQ
Mike Zbrozek, K8XF
Fists #6773, Radio Electronics Officer 1980-1996

I have noticed in the past two years the art of calling CQ has changed. Too many ops seem to call CQ  and never receive an answer. The reason for this is that these ops are not calling CQ properly.

Here are some ways NOT to call CQ:

  • Send CQ 12 times and then your call twice,
  • send CQ five times and your call once,
  • send CQ twice followed by your call sloppily once without a K at the end.

I could go on and on regarding the strange CQs that I’ve heard.

I have been a ham almost 38 years, and here is the way to do it CQ CQ CQ de K8XF K8XF. This sequence sent three times, or CQ CQ CQ de K8XF K8XF K8XF sent three times, followed by PSE K, will make it much more likely that someone will reply to your call.

Also, never use KN at the end of the CQ sequence. KN means “do not break me.” That being the case, sending KN makes no sense.

What does make sense is to use good operating practice when it comes to calling CQ. Let’s all get on the same page here.

Rotary and Ham Radio

ROAR FlagI spent most of the last week at the Rotary International (RI) 2008 convention. Rotary International is a service organization with over 1.2 million members who belong to more than 33,000 clubs in more than 200 countries around the world. I am very proud of of being a part of this group.

The parallels between Rotary and amateur radio are pretty clear. Just as men and women around the world are amateur radio operators, so too are they Rotarians. Another parallel is the emphasis on promoting international good will. Both promote a respect for people who come from cultures other than one’s own and who live in countries other than one’s own.

Rotary has a group of “mini clubs” called International Fellowships (IFs). IFs are formed around a particular interest, such as bird watching or motorcycling. There is, of course, an IF for amateur radio. It’s called IF-ROAR, short for International Fellowship for Rotarians on Amateur Radio. IF-ROAR has more than 500 members, all of whom are Rotary Club members.

At the RI convention, ROAR conducted their annual meeting, which I had the good fortune to attend. This is how I acquired the ROAR-Japan flag pictured above. The Japanese contingent brought a flag for each of the attendees. Exchanging banners such as these is a time-honored Rotary tradition, and I would like to that the ROAR-Japan members for being so thoughtful.

Rotary also has a tradition of clubs in different countries partnering on international projects. I’m thinking that I might be able to work through IF-ROAR to get my brother clubs idea off the ground. Stay tuned.

Unit Conversions Made Simple

From the 6/10/08 issue of NIST Tech Beat, the e-newlsetter of the National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Relax, even scientists can sometimes use help when making conversions and measurements with the modern metric system, the International System of Units (known as SI from the French “Le Systeme International d’Unites”.) The good news is that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has just released a guide for researchers, available to all, on correct SI usage and unit conversion.

NIST Special Publication (SP) 811, Guide for the Use of the International System of Units, complements the recently released U.S. version of the English language SI Brochure, SP 330, the eighth version of international standard reference guide to the modern metric system. (See “NIST Offers U.S. Interpretations of Recent SI (Metric) Changes”.)

SP 811 offers an extensive conversion factor appendix useful for measurement unit conversions and appropriate rounding strategies for data. It also provides an editorial checklist for reviewing manuscripts’ conformity with the SI and the basic principles of physical quantities and units. A color chart has been added that illustrates the utilization of the SI base units in defining the 22 derived units with special names and symbols.

NIST SP 811 and NIST SP 330 are available online . Printed copies can be requested with an email to TheSI@nist.gov.