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20060211 2006 February 11

Posted by kc2ped in Uncategorized.
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We started class at least 30 minutes late today, finished 90 minutes early, and covered one topic that was scheduled for tomorrow.

I don’t feel Ike I am really learning anything.

They told us on Thursday that if we fail the test we’ll have the opportunity of paying another $14.00 and taking it again on the spot. If, on the other hand, we pass it we will be given the opportunity of taking the General exam without paying any more money. So Thursday night I took the General exam to see How well l would do. My scores weren’t far below passing. Last night I took a General right after each technician, and tonight I alternated a few times then switched over to all General exams. I am always passing the Technician and usually in the 9Os, on the General sometimes I do great and sometimes not. I will take it tomorrow and hope I get lucky in what questions I get.

It was starting to snow as the class was ending and they are still predicting blizzard conditions tonight through tomorrow morning. But they say the exam will be given no matter what the weather is like. That suits me fine. I would have taken it today if it was up to me.

Last night I did some research on the Web about the radio I am thinking of buying. It seem it does not have a very good reputation for finish. People say you need to buy the case because the plastic radio is completely painted and scratches easily. As well the display window. But the case is not supposed to be well made. There are reports the speaker holes are not over the speaker and the stitching tears out within a couple of weeks. All of this is cosmetic. A larger concern is a reported design flaw that Kenwood is not willing to make which causes the radio to stop transmitting the PL tone if it is jarred during a transmission which causes you to loose contact with the repeater. This only happens in the 70-cm band,but it appears that that is where most of the repeaters and the best audio quality are. I need to email tech support and see what they say and ask the dealer if I can test the radio before I buy it.

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20060209 2006 February 9

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Tonight is the start of my class. I am heading downtown shortly to stop off at the only place I know of in the City that sells ham equipment to see what they have and how much a rig is going to set me back.

Then I will probably go to several of the Wi-Fi hotspots in the financial district and see which ones, if any, I can hit with the laptop. Dinner then down to the Battery for class.

I am way behind on my reading. It doesn’t look like I have any chance of making it thorough the book given my reading speed and the fact that tomorrow is the only day I have left to do it. I am still not to worried about it. Last night I took the practice exam online and scored 100%. This morning I took another one and passed with only one correct answer to spare.

###

I spent the afternoon at Barry Electronics talking with the owner and a ham operator who happened to be there. Based on my stated goal of operating packet radio in the VHF/UHF bands the recommendation was for the Kenwood TH-D7A(G), which is the only radio with a built-in TNC. It is $400, which is more than I wanted to spend, but then I don’t have to buy a TNC for $100-$150. I asked about the radio at class and was told that the instructor knows several people who have it and are happy with it, but that it is not practical to do packet on the radio’s phone-style little keypad. You need to hook it up to a computer, but the TNC uses the KSS protocol so you need to get special software for the computer to do that. This is going to be another some-assembly-required hobby, but I already knew that and was prepared for it. He also pointed out that I would be putting all of my eggs in one basket. If the 2-meter section or the 70-cm section or the TNC goes out it all has to go to the shop and I am off the air for a month. That would also be the case if I just bought a dual band radio and a separate TNC and anything in the radio failed. Just getting into this I can see an advantage to buying the basket. I won’t have to grade a lot of eggs to see which ones go together. It should be faster getting into operation.

I also learned that I should not need an external antenna to hit a repeater on either band in either the Bronx or Manhattan.

The class was fairly lightweight. Either the book is mostly fluff or we aren’t being told enough.

20060204 2006 February 4

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I was downtown today and stopped off at Home Depot to do some recon for antenna supplies.

I found bronze brazing rod but no brass welding rod. The tubes they have, which contain 4 or 5 rods about a yard long, don’t give any information about the composition of the rod itself but the sales person said they usually are coated with another kind of metal and chemicals kind of like a flux. I can probably use them for an antenna but am not going to buy them until I get more information on the substitution of bronze for brass. They are only $5.00/tube so are not going to break the bank, but I don’t need them hanging around here if I can’t use them for their intended purpose.

Ladder Line is a different story. They didn’t even know what twin-lead wire was but when I explained it they said its use has been phased out and they don’t have it. I will have to get that from a TV or radio store.

I also picked up a copy of All About Ham Radio at the library. The copyright is 1992 so it isn’t going to be any good to me as far as rules and regulations go, but I am hoping reading a different explanation of some of the electronics components will help me.

20060202 2006 February 3

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I was at RadioShack today stocking up on some batteries and went browsing through the components drawers more to see what was there than to buy anything. One thing lead to another and I am now on the way to building a 1/4-wave ground plane antenna for the radio that I don’t own yet.

I saw in the study guide and on the net plans for building a simple antenna where the radiator and director are made of brass welding rod and are soldered onto a chassis-mount UHF SO-239 coax connector. End of story. It is simple to build and should be fairly cheap. So when I came across a SO-239 connector in the drawer I had to get it. Then I got a pair of solderless PL-259 UHF-Tupe connectors to use with it. Now I am searching for the welding rod.

On the Home Depot web site I found bronze brazing rod from Bernzomatic, but no brass welding rod. So I Goggled the stuff and got a hit for an airplane building/repairing/restoring supplier. But when you get to the PDF it is bronze brazing rod again. So now I need to find out what the difference is between brass and bronze so I can see if I can use them interchangeably.

I found on anvilfire FAQs that brass and bronze really aren’t all that different.

“Forging Brass”
UNS C37700
“Architectural Bronze”
UNS C38500
Copper 59.5% 57%
Lead 2% 3%
Zinc 38% 40%
Unaccounted
For
0.5%  

But that difference is probably enough to give them a different resistance which might require a different element length or other adjustment. So I need to find an antenna Elmer who can set me straight. A question to ask at class.

I have been listening to my short wave radio a bit lately and have actually heard a good bit on it, although not WWV. A lot of what I do hear is religious programming coming out of FL. But I have noticed that sometimes the static level will drop markedly like someone had turned off the static switch. It turns out I have done it in a matter of speaking. I noticed quite by chance that my computer monitor went to sleep one time at exactly the same time when the static stopped. So I woke the monitor up again and the static returned and when I powered it off the static stopped. At least on that frequency. So while I was rummaging around in the drawers I came across a blister pack containing two ferrite cores that hadn’t been opened yet so I bought that thinking I could run some of the wires on the back of the computer through each one and hopefully cut out some of the RF interference. It turns out that these things need to have multiple turns of wire wrapped around them so they won’t work for more than one wire. I need to get a bunch of the long cylindrical ones that snap around the wire. I did wrap my radio power cord around one of them but it didn’t seem to change anything. I suppose I could wrap the antenna wire around one but blocking the RF in the antenna wire defeats the purpose of using the wire in the first place. I also need to get the metal cover back on this machine.

I am getting bogged down in the chapter of the study guide on electronics. And I may get bogged down some more. CompUSA called and said my laptop is back from the shop so if they have actually fixed it this time I am going to have to spend the next couple of days doing Windows Updates then a couple more downloading and installing software. I am not terribly worried though. I have been taking a practice test every day at QRZ and am coming in in the high 80s-high 90s so will have to get unlucky in what questions they ask or sloppy in the way I answer them to fail the test.

20060129 2006 January 29

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I am just starting to read the chapter in the study guide where they talk briefly about station logs.

In chapter 1 of the guide we learned that you have to be able to present your original station license any time required by the FCC or other government officials.

In chapter 4, in the section on Station Records, the guide says

What kind of station records should you keep? The FCC does not require you to keep any particular information about the operation of your station

So it sounds like the only thing you really need to have is your station license. And given that you are not required to keep any records you are probably better off if you don’t keep any. Then there isn’t a record you have made that they can use to hang you for something you did and didn’t know you did.

Reading on another couple of paragraphs I come to the subsection on FCC Inspections where I learn that

The FCC can conduct an inspection of your amateur station at any time. You must make booth your station and any station records available for inspection upon request by an FCC representative.

Now, if the FCC doesn’t require that I keep any particular information about my station other than the license, just what kind of records are they expecting me to produce if they show up for an inspection.

Anyway, based on the example of a log book they show in the study guide I have developed the following table for used in this space. I will probably use it to log at least my first QSO.

Date & Time: Local UTC
20060129.1830-1835 EST 20060129.2330-2335 UTC
Frequency: #####.## MHz
Mode: phone
Repeater:
Station Worked: CALL SIGN
QTH: City, State
RST: Tx Rx
1 2 3 7 8 9
QSL: Sent Rec’d
N/A No
Comments text text text and lots more text

20060127 2006 January 27

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The ARRL study guide, Now You’re Talking, arrived at the library Wednesday and I picked it up on the way to my Wi-Fi user group meeting and have been reading it.

I also downloaded the test question pool from the ARRL site and had been reading through it identifying areas where I need to concentrate my study. Mostly that is areas dealing with frequency and emission privileges and some of the electronics dealing with formulas. Although I have taken the exam 50-100 times online at QRZ.com I am finding questions I have never seen before in each subelement of the test question pool.

I wish it was 12Feb06 already. I know enough to pass the test and would just like to get it over with.

###

I found a news article about the ISS going to dump an old Russian space suit overboard with a radio in it that would transmit temperature and radio battery strength telemetry back to earth in the clear and had thought that I might try to receive some of it. But it turns out that I would need to find an old scanner or buy a handheld radio and build a high gain antenna before 3Feb06 when the event is tentatively scheduled to take place. And the battery for the radio is only anticipated to last 2-4 days. So it isn’t worth me trying to do it at this point.

20060123 2006 January 23

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A while ago I got an email from the amateur radio operator who coordinates the local SkyWarn net and is also involved in the Coast Guard Auxiliary notifying me of an upcoming amateur radio technician’s licensing class and examination. I had sat for my license back in the 80s when you still had to pass a Morse code test which I didn’t pass although I did pass the written test and was prepared to pass the general theory test. So I am going to give it another try.

I know that I will need to keep some level of records once I get my license and the Google Blogger computers have proved to be more reliable than my own so I plan to keep my station log in a blind blog, the way I do my astronomy observations.

My ultimate goal is to be able to use a hand-held radio and palmtop computer to send text messages. Since I am into astronomy I am also intrigued by using tiny radios to bounce signals off the moon (EME). Of less interest is communication with the ISS and utilizing amateur space stations.

The study program I am undertaking is primarily a learn by yourself approach. The Thursday before the exam there will be a thee-hour class that will probably be devoted primarily to administrivia. That Saturday there will be a class from 0900 to 1700 EST and the next day, Sunday, there will be a class from 0900 to 1500 followed by the exam. With a schedule like this it is clear to me that they will only be covering the high points and answering questions in the class and we will have to learn most of the theory from reading the study guide before attending the class.

I found that the NYPL has copies of the study guide and have one en route to me. I expect it to arrive at my branch some time this week. In the meantime I have been taking practice exams on the internet. The first time I took the exam I failed it by one question but since then have been able to pass by one question all the way up to a perfect score based on what I remember from my last attempt some 20 years ago. I find that unless they are asking about specific frequencies I know enough to rule out several answers on most questions, and then to reason the correct choice from the remaining ones. It is still strange to me that the regulating body would allow the actual test questions to be published so that people can just memorize the correct answers. As of now, unless I am very unlucky in the questions they put on my exam, I will pass the exam without a problem.