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Posts Tagged ‘Testament’

CQ, CQ, CQ…Hopewell?

August 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Tonight, for the first time in months, I got on the ham radio, calling CQ on the 40-meter band.

My second contact was “Bob.”

In a flash, my buddy Milton (sitting with me) looked up Bob’s call sign on his computer, and started laughing hysterically.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “This guy’s in Hopewell!”

My oh my.

How is it that I can transmit a 100-watt signal through a magnificent antenna strung up high in the trees; a signal with the capacity to bounce off the ionosphere and travel all the way around the world, and I end up to talking to Hopewell?

Fortunately, Bob from Hopewell was a very pleasant fellow and we had a lovely chat.

He asked me if I was familiar with the many older homes in Hopewell. I told him that I was! And I suggested he check out my website.

Oh MY!

To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To visit the website for the Norfolk Ham Club, click here.

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Henry

One of my very favorite movies is "Testament," which tells the story of a small town outside San Francisco, after San Francisco takes a direct hit from a nuclear bomb. In "Testament," Henry Abhart is the hero, because he's able to talk with the outside world when all other lines of communication have been lost. I highly recommend this movie. It's a tribute to the fact that, Ham Radio will always be reliable when other communications systems have failed.

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best

The best of both worlds: A fine-looking antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Illinois.

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Sears Avondale as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To read about Hopewell, click here.

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It’s Official! I’m Now a Ham! (Part VII)

March 23rd, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

It was September 2012 when I took the second ham radio text (General) and passed, missing only one question. With my General license, I gained access to High Frequency bands (which are the bands that enable you to communicate around the world).

And then most recently, I sat for my Extra exam (the third and top level), and passed, missing only four questions out of 50 (from a question pool of 738 questions).

Having now passed all three tests, I’d have to say that - in my opinion as a professional writer -  the questions on the “Extra” test are, by design, unnecessarily complicated, difficult and confusing.

Worst of all, the questions on these tests are relics from the 1950s.

Most of the horrifically technical information contained on the Extra test (such as the subtle differences between Zener, Varactor, Schottky and Tunnel diodes), is useful only to those people who may be interested in building their own radios. If you’re not planning on building a radio, this is information you’ll never want, need or use.

So why are the great majority of these questions so miserably difficult?

I’d really, really like to know.

The demographic of Ham Radio operators is overwhelmingly older men (age 60+). According to Wikipedia, “fewer than 15%” of Ham Radio operators are women. And I would love to know how many of those women have their Extra license?  Overall, a mere 17% of licensed hams have their Extra license. I’d expect that among women, that number is much, much lower.

I’m blessed with a good memory (which has been a huge help in my career as a Sears House hunter), and years ago, I took two years of Automotive Technology at a vocational school. This background, together with about 45 hours of devoted study, enabled me to pass today’s test.

But it wasn’t easy.

If Ham Radio is to survive the next few decades, it’s essential that it move out of the 1950s and into the 21st Century, and a big part of that is revamping the current testing program, and make it more apropos to our modern times. Perhaps the tests should focus on the real-world practical issues of safety, proper grounding techniques, antenna design and installation, etiquette and band plans.

After all, how many Americans would have cell phones if every user had to pass a test demonstrating competency in building their own phone from a Heath Kit?

Not too many.

To read Part One of this blog, click here.

Want to read the other blogs on ham radio? Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Click here for Parts Four, Five and Six.

Ham

My interest in Ham Radio was piqued after seeing "Testament" with Jane Alexander and William Devane. After a nuclear detonation in a nearby town, the hero of the story is Ham Radio operator Henry Abhart, who was single-handedly responsible for keeping the community in touch with the rest of the world.

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ham ham ham

Teddy the Dog is very interested in ham.

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ham ham ham

My "ham shack" is pretty well contained on this old oak table on my sunporch. In my experience with this Yaesu 450d HF radio, I've never needed to know anything about diodes, annodes, powdered iron toroids, modulators, oscillators, TTL integrated circuits, leading voltage, lagging voltage, reactance, resistance or resonance.

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teddy milton

My buddy Milton has an older rig (mid-1980s) and this radio also does not require a comprehensive knowledge of diodes, annodes, powdered iron toroids, modulators, oscillators, TTL integrated circuits, leading voltage, lagging voltage, reactance, resistance or resonance.

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Test questions

A typical question found on the Extra exam. I struggled to memorize the answers to the 738 questions on the Extra test. Answers such as this, where the four responses were so painfully close, were especially difficult for me. Answers such as this comprise a large portion of the test.

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ham ham

The question (and the four potential answers) was particularly vexing. In the end, the way I remembered the right answer was simply, "There is no modulating in baseband."

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ham ham

What is the practical application of this knowledge? I wish I knew. I really do.

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In conclusion, I found this website to be the most useful in studying for this test. https://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/

The software pays attention to your strengths and weaknesses (as you answer the questions), and forces you to revisit the questions that you got wrong (again and again). It’s under $35 per test and worth every penny.

And perhaps one day, we can make it simpler for folks to participate in the many joys of Ham Radio by removing the barrier created by these difficult tests.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part III)

September 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

This weekend (September 15/16) there was a big Ham Fest (for Ham Radio enthusiasts) at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. This morning, I was one of about 40 people who gathered in an upper room sitting for a Ham Radio licensing test.

The majority of those 40 people were taking a test for the Technician License, which is the first of the three licenses in Ham Radio. (The three levels are, “Tech, General and Extra.”)

In March 2011, I obtained my Technician’s License.

Today, I successfully passed a 35-question test and I’m now the proud owner of my “General License.”

And better yet, of the 35 questions on the test, I got 34 right!!   :)

It’s been a happy day.

With this new license, I’m now legally empowered to fiddle around on HF frequencies, which opens up a whole new world.

VHF and UHF frequencies are principally line of sight, but on HF, short radio waves can skip thousands of miles, reflecting (and bouncing) between the mirror-like ionosphere and the earth’s surface. Radios producing as little as five watts (which is very, very low power) take advantage of this “propagation” (as it’s called) and can send signals from Norfolk to London (and beyond!).

Now, with my Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) in hand, I’m free to cruise the radio bands of HF. There’s just one last little obstacle:  Lucre.

After the test today, I descended to the main hall of the Convention Center and attended the Ham Fest, which is a massive display of vendors of radio equipment. Based on what I’ve learned, I’ll need to gather up several hundred dollars to buy a new radio that complements my new radio privileges.

Until then, I’m still having a lot of fun playing around on what’s known as the “2-meter band” (VHF). Thanks to my beautiful eight-foot Diamond X-200A, a dual-band vertical antenna (standing at about 30′ high outside my brick ranch), I’ve successfully tuned in stations up to 158 miles from my home in Norfolk.

Who knew Ham Radio could be so much fun?

:)

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series.

Click here to take a look at the General Test. As someone with no background in electrical components, I found it a bit challenging!

My ham radio station is pretty modest.

My ham radio station is pretty modest. That's a hand-held five-watt, dual band Wouxun on the table, sitting next to a Radio Shack 10/45-watt HTX-212. A J-pole antenna hangs from the ceiling. This device (hand-crafted by Mike Neal) is a little marvel. Using only this antenna, I can pick up a strong signal in Kilmarnock, about 75 miles from my house.

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The first Radio Shack two-meter radio I used was loaned to me by the RASON Ham Radio group here in Norfolk. I was so enamored of its many charms, that I went looking on eBay for one of my very own.

The first Radio Shack two-meter radio I used was generously loaned to me by the RASON Ham Radio group here in Norfolk. I was so enamored of its countless charms and ease of use, that I went looking on eBay for one of my very own. The one I found is an HTX-242, which is (as far as I can tell) identical to the 212, but maybe a little tiny bit newer. The HTX-242 is sitting atop an MFJ 28-amp power supply. A list showing the two-meter repeaters in the Hampton Roads area sits to the right.

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Ebay - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The first lesson to learn about Ham Radio is it can be an expensive habit! Thanks to eBay, I found an HTX-242 new in box (which is pretty cool, considering how old this radio probably is).

Ebay - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The first thing I learned about Ham Radio is it can be an expensive habit! Thanks to eBay, I found an affordably priced HTX-242 "new in box" (which is pretty cool, considering how old this radio probably is). It is a dandy! I'm guessing it's about 15 years old, but I don't really know. It's a throwback to the days when Radio Shack sold stuff that had to do with radios. Imagine!

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My friends at RASON tell me that part of the reason my signal is so good here is proximity to the water. We live on a finger of Lake Whitehurst.

My friends at RASON tell me that part of the reason my signal is so good here is proximity to the water. We live on a finger of Lake Whitehurst.

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And this helps with the good reception, too!

And this helps with the good reception, too! Since this photo was taken, we've raised the antenna another four feet!

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Now I ask you, did you ever see a prettier antenna?  :)

Now I ask you, did you ever see a prettier antenna? :)

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To learn about RASON, click here.

To read Part I of this blog, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

To learn about the many pretty Sears Homes here in Norfolk, click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now A Ham!

February 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In the mid-1980s, I saw the movie Testament, starring Jane Alexander and William Devane. The story is set in a fictitious town of Hamlin (near San Francisco), and tells the story of an average American family in a Norman Rockwell town. One moment, the kids are watching an afternoon show, waiting for Dad to get home so they can eat dinner. In the next moment, Mom and the kids see an emergency message pop up on the TV, warning of incoming ICBMs and a nuclear attack. There’s a flash of blinding light, and then the electricity and phone go dead.

“Testament” is a remarkable movie because there are no fireballs and no mushroom clouds in Hamlin. Neither people nor houses are damaged by the blast. Terrified neighbors pour out of their stately homes and into the street, trying to figure out what has just happened.  The people of Hamlin are cut off from the world, knowing nothing, except that a nuclear device has exploded - somewhere far away.

Before the sun sets on that first awful, post-nuclear day, the real hero of the story emerges. It’s the old man down the street, Henry Abhart, who has both a Ham radio and a small generator. In the gloaming, neighbors in the upper-middle class burg gather at his house. As they walk up the steps to his magnificent bungalow, we hear Henry in the background.

“CQ, CQ, CQ,” he says with in a voice that’s steady but urgent. “This is Whiskey Six Delta November calling. No, there’s no damage here, except all our transformers are knocked out.”

After a little more time at his Ham radio, Henry reports back to his anxious neighbors now cloistered in his living room.

Looking pensive, he reports, “Well, folks, so far I can’t raise Seattle, Portland, Sacramento or Southern California. San Francisco is silent. The entire Bay Area. North of us, now, they’re okay.”

“What about Chicago?” someone asks.

With great solemnity in his voice he replies, “So far, I can’t raise anything east of Keokuk, lowa.”

After a few more comments he adds, “We may be crippled, but we’re not cut off and we’re not dead.”

I’ve always remembered that scene. Thanks to an old man ensconced in a homemade Ham Shack in the corner of a California bungalow, people are not cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a powerful image.

The take-away message I gleaned from this powerful scene is this: Ham Radio Operators are the helpers. They’re the ones that have both the skills and the tools to keep us going when all the more modern and more complex (and more delicate) systems have failed. I believe that - in my lifetime - our country won’t suffer a nuclear event, but we may face natural disasters and severe storms and other communications-interrupting events. And when we do, the ability to communicate (which has the same root as the word “community”) will be an urgent need.

Saturday, February 26th, I sat for my “Technician’s” Ham Radio license, and to my delight (and incredulity), I passed the test, getting 33 out of 35 answers right.

It feels good to accomplish a long-cherished dream. It feels wonderful to learn a new skill. I look forward to learning how to “play” with a new-fangled, 21st Century Ham Radio. But it also feels mighty good to know that if there ever were an urgent need in my neck of the woods, I’m equipped and empowered to be “one of the helpers.”

To learn more about Ham Radio, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

Updated!  To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series.

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In the movie, Testament, the old Ham Radio operator Henry Abhart is the real hero of the show. I highly recommend this movie. Its now available on Amazon.

In the movie, "Testament," the old Ham Radio operator Henry Abhart is the real hero of the show. I highly recommend this movie. It's now available on Amazon.

The best of both worlds: Large antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois

The best of both worlds: Ham radio antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois. Nice house, too.

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

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