Repost: Tech Test Gets More Technical

This is the column I sent to more than 240 ham radio club newsletter editors. If you’d like to get this column for your club newsletter (free of charge, of course), all you have to do is fill out a form………Dan

Tech Test Gets a Little More Technical

By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

Ever since the FCC dropped the code requirement and the Novice license exam, the Technician Class license has really been misnamed. Being the first license that most hams obtain, it really should have been called the Novice license. The question pool was arguably at the appropriate level for newcomers to amateur radio, being heavy on rules and operating practices, and perhaps a little light on technical topics.

That’s about to change. On July 1, 2010, the question pool for the Tech test changes, and this version has noticeably more technical questions than the previous test. You could say that the Tech test is getting, errrr, a little more technical.

For example, the new question pool contains more questions about electronics components and their functions. In addition to that, examinees must also be able to identify the symbols for these components on a schematic diagram. This is a big change from the previous test, which had no diagrams at all. There are also more detailed questions about transistors and how they work.

There are also questions on how to make basic measurements with a multimeter how to troubleshoot basic problems that Technicians are likely to encounter. One question asks, “What two measurements are commonly made using a multimeter”? Answer: voltage and resistance. A follow up question asks, “What is the correct way to connect a voltmeter to a circuit”? Answer: in parallel with the circuit.

To make room for these questions, the committee dropped questions on operating practices and rules and regulations. In general, these are not big losses, but two questions that I was sorry to see go are the questions on the “basis and purpose” of amateur radio. I think these are very important for new amateurs to learn and keep in mind. (If you don’t recall them, go to http://www.arrl.org/part-97-amateur-radio and review them.)

By the time you read this–or shortly thereafter–the new version of my No-Nonsense, Technician Class License Study Guide should be available. You can download it free of charge from my website, www.kb6nu.com. Look for the link in the right-hand column. It’s currently in the hands of more than two dozen reviewers, who are proofreading it right now.

While it may not be in the initial release, I plan to include a section that contains links to websites that cover topics included in the study guide. That way, students can find more information on a topic, if they choose to do so. If you have any favorite websites that discuss making measurements with voltmeters or how to read schematic diagrams, I’d love to hear from you.

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When not updating his No-Nonsense amateur radio license study guides, you’ll find him on 40m, 30m, 20m, and if we ever get any sunspots to stick around, 15m and 10m pounding brass. You may even hear him trying to get the hang of using the bug he bought at Dayton this year. You’ll find his blog at www.kb6nu.com, and you can e-mail website suggestions to cwgeek@kb6nu.com

Ham Radio a “Critical Link”

In the May 2010 issue, Emergency Management has published an article on amateur radio. Titled “A Critical Link: Amateur radio operators fill communication gaps and provide situational awareness to emergency managers during and after disasters,” it’s very complimentary to amateur radio. The article is not on the website, per se, but rather it’s part of the digital edition of the magazine (page 58).

The article covers material that most hams already know, but it may be beneficial to pass it on to the emergency managers that you’re currently working with. This is especially true if they’re not completely sold on the advantages of amateur radio. It covers three or four situations where amateur radio was truly “a critical link.”

For example, the article describes how amateurs supported emergence efforts during the “Great Coastal Gale of 2007″ in Oregon:

In Oregon, about 1,800 RACES volunteers are authorized to work in state and county EOCs facilitating communication during disasters. For example, during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007 that knocked out communications to the state’s Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties, ham radio operators used a radio frequency messag- ing system called Winlink to transmit the counties’ requests for assistance to the state’s Office of Emergency Management. “Monday morning the governor came in and we were briefing and later on called amateur radio operators ‘angels’ because that was the only source of communication we had to the coast,” said Marshall McKillip, the Emergency Management Office’s communications officer.

Following the storm, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski funded improvements to the state’s amateur radio infrastructure with a $250,000 grant for Winlink systems in each of the state’s 36 county-level EOCs. “We bought the appropriate equipment and then organized the delivery, the set up, the training and everything with amateur radio resources,” McKillip said. “It was quite a task for the amateurs to take on, but they did a great job.”

Test Your Hearing Online

Hearing is very important for ham radio operators. Knowing how well you hear—and taking the appropriate steps to correct any deficiencies—could help you become a better operator.

Personally, I used to have really great hearing when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older, I can tell that my hearing has dropped off. Thankfully, this decline hasn’t been dramatic, but it is noticeable.

In his latest column, Rich Pell, of Audio DesignLine, lists four websites that can help you evaluate your hearing. They include:

  • a high-frequency response and hearing test,
  • a test to measure the relative sensitivity of your ears to different frequencies,
  • a test to measure your ability to hear int he presence of noise, and
  • a test for tone deafness.

He notes, “The best results will only be obtained using a decent pair of headphones under quiet conditions.”

FCC releases RF spectrum online tool

According to Martin Rowe of Test&Measurement World magazine:

The FCC has released a beta version of its Spectrum Dashboard, an online tool for locating who is using the RF spectrum. You can search by location, by frequency, by name, or by license category. The Spectrum dashboard cover the frequency band from 225 MHz to 3700 MHz, which means the commercial, AM and FM broadcast bands are not included. Also excluded are VHF broadcast frequencies from 184 MHz to 216 MHz. This frequency band was formerly used for analog VHF channels 7 through 13. It’s still used for digital broadcast TV, although the channel numbers don’t necessarily correspond to the analog-era TV channels. For example, a DTV channel 7 might operate on what was the 6-MHz band that was formerly used for analog channel 9, but the station may still call itself channel 7.The Spectrum Dashboard can be a useful tool for finding who is broadcasting in year area. That can help with RF testing or EMC emissions tests where you need to identify sources of ambient emissions.

FCC Proposes Additions, Changes to Amateur 5 MHz Allocation

From the 5/13/10 issue of the ARRL Letter:

Acting on a 2006 Petition for Rulemaking filed by the ARRL, the FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), ET Docket No 10-98 to modify the rules that govern amateurs’ secondary use of five channels in the 5 MHz frequency range known as 60 meters. The proposed changes would substitute a new channel for one that is seldom available because of occupancy by the fixed service, which is primary in this range. Also proposed is an increase in power from 50 to 100 W effective radiated power (ERP) and the addition of CW, PSK31 and PACTOR-III modes with provisions to ensure that such operations would be compatible with the primary service. The proposed changes can be found beginning on page 8 of the NPRM.

Read the complete article.

Another LORAN-C Bites the Dust

The demise of LORAN-C is one of the factors that the 160m band has become more popular. With that in mind, take a look at this video of the demolition of the 1,350-ft. Port Clarence LORAN-C tower, forwarded to me by Ralph, AA8RK.

Some of the commenters on YouTube suggest that it’s not good idea to demolish these towers and ditch LORAN completely. One of the commenters mentioned a recent GPS satellite failure, although I wasn’t able to find any mention of it.

What do you think? Should we continue to maintain LORAN as a backup to GPS?

Friday at Dayton Was Forum Day

  • Friday at Dayton was “forum day.” By that I mean that I attended a slew of forums and could have attended several more. That left little time to actually scour the flea market or visit vendor booths.

    I started out in the TAPR forum, but only spent a couple of minutes there. I quickly switched over to the ARRL Public Relations forum. There I got to meet Diana Eng (see previous post). I also:

  • learned about the PR resources on the new ARRL website,
  • received a “Talk on a Disk” CD that includes materials to help you prepare a presentation on ham radio for non-technical groups, and
  • received free materials from Gordon West, including an instructor’s guide for both Tech and General classes, and CD-ROMS with a number audio clips on a variety of topics.
  • En route to the Teacher’s Forum, I passed by the Antenna Forum, which looked to be very popular. There were guys standing out in the hallway trying to hear the presentation.

    The Teacher’s Forum has been moderated by Carole Perry, WB2MGP, for as long as I can remember. She always has good speakers. This year, the lineup included Gordon West and Bob Heil.

    One idea that I picked up is to use a flashing light or LED to demonstrate the idea of duty cycle. By hooking it up to a variable duty cycle oscillator, you could vary the amount of on time versus the amount of off time, and this would make a very good visual demonstration.

    This year’s presenters mostly talked about teaching kids. This fall, I plan to teach a class for seniors. If it goes well, I’m thinking that I could talk about that class at next year’s teacher forum.

    In the afternoon, I attended the Software-Defined Radio Forum. This forum was also packed. We first heard about the new FlexRadio 1500, which is a $650 SDR. Its output is only 5W, but this looks like a real bargain.

    Next up was Lyle, KK7P, from Elecraft. He gave us the Elecraft perspective on what an SDR is and what it’s not. It was interesting, but not very technical.

    After Lyle, the TAPR VP (whose name and call I forget) talked about developments with the SDR projects at TAPR. My initial impression is that while all of these developments are well-done, it’s still much less expensive to simply buy a Flex 1500. I haven’t checked the specs, though, to see if they are comparable.

    Finally, there was a talk on MacHPSDR, a native Mac implementation of a receiver for OpenHPSDR hardware. I wish that I’d been able to stay, as I am a Mac person, but I had to leave. Despite the availability of this software, you really do need to have a PC to run a software-defined radio. I don’t expect this to change in the near future.

    Well, that was certainly enough for one day. On Saturday, there were some equally interesting forums, including forums on RTTY, SSTV, antenna-modeling software, and the AMSAT forum. Despite this, I decided to not attend a single one and walk the fleamarket and visit vendor booths. More about that in the next post.

    Dayton’s About People and Ideas

    When most hams think about Dayton, they think about the good deal they got in the fleamarket or the new products introduced by manufacturers. Not me. What I enjoy most are the people I meet and the ideas they bring to Dayton.

    One of the people I ran into today was Janet, who was in my Tech class three weeks ago. I found her working a booth taking orders. I wanted to make sure that she was proudly wearing a nametag with her new call sign.

    I also got to meet Diana, KC2UHB, of Make: Magazine fame. She attended the ARRL PR forum.

    Ideas Abound
    The PR forum was the first session of the morning, and there were plenty of good ideas shared.

    Perhaps the best was offering my column to AnnArbor.Com. I won’t be getting any money for it, but it should raise the awareness of ham radio in our community.

    More ideas later. Now, it’s time for dinner.

    Dayton?? Really??

    Yesterday, I tried to explain to someone why Dayton was so special to ham radio operators. After I got through the story, she said, “OK, but Dayton? Really?”

    Yes, Jennie. Really.

    There’s something special about this event. Why else would I get up at 4 am, get into my car at 4:30, and drive 3 hours to attend talks on QRP contesting, QRSS, and homemade radios? It’s already been a lot of fun, and I’ve only been here for about four hours.

    The highlight of the morning was the stuffed pig that Perry, WA8THK, brought to the seminar. Now, there’s a pig who knows how to enjoy Dayton!

    I’ll be blogging throughout the event. So stay tuned.

    Touch Keyer Really Works

    A couple of months ago, I realized that I hadn’t really built anything in a while. About that time, there was yet another discussion about whether to use a straight key or a paddle. The difference this time was that someone mentioned the Touch Paddle. These are devices that sense when someone touches a metal pad and electronically switches an output. There are two outputs, one for the dit and one for the dah.

    The company that makes these devices, CW Touch Keyer, have a whole range of different products. Some have a built-in keyer. Some are just the paddles that you then have to connect to a keyer.

    They even have a kit, the P3, which is what I opted to buy. At $20, it seemed a little steep, but what the heck. If it worked, it would be worth it.

    What I received is different from the kit shown on their website. Mine uses surface-mount caps and resistors that were already soldered to the board. Assembly was really easy as I only had to solder in the two, eight-pin ICs; two transistors, a diode, an electrolytic cap, and a voltage regulator.

    The hard part was figuring out how to make the dit and dah contacts. As shown in the photo above, I cut out a hunk of PC board material, and used a Dremel tool to file off some copper down the middle, creating two contacts. I hooked up 9 V from my bench power supply, and I had a working touch paddle.

    Sort of, anyway. The problem with the setup as it is is that the touch pads are just floating. To work really well, I’m going to have to figure out some way to mount them somewhere, so that they don’t move around.

    One funky thing about this kit is that the company has painted over the markings on the ICs. I guess he figured that since the circuit is so simple that someone would steal the design. I tried scraping the black paint off one of the ICs, but didn’t have any success with that.

    A little Googling did the trick. I found the article, Touch Paddle Keyer, published in the March 2007 QST. The circuit shown in this article is almost identical to the circuit of my P3. The chip used in the article is the Atmel QT113-G, and while that part is no longer manufactured, DigiKey carries various types of the QT110, which would also work, if you wanted to roll your own.

    I plan to figure out a good way to mount the paddles and then use this for the CW demo at the upcoming Mini-Maker Faire here in Ann Arbor. Kids should have fun playing with it.