Monday, April 30, 2012

It's About Time

Thought for the day:  All good things must come to an end.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Yep, it's the end of the road, partner. But let's not get caught up in any long good-byes, okay? Gonna keep it short and sweet.

ZULU TIME. Ever hear of that before?

Notice anything unusual about this clock? This 1443 piece, Paolo Uccelo's Face with Four Prophets, appears in the Florence Cathedral, and it represents a full twenty-four hours. Sure we all know there ARE twenty-four hours in a day, but twelve of them on a clock should suffice, right?

Not necessarily.

Suppose you need an accurate expression of time, but the people involved live in separate parts of the world? Just as one example, Europe can be anywhere from four to eleven hours ahead of U.S. time, so using local time certainly wouldn't work as a common point of reference. It could be morning in one place, and evening in the other. Heck, it can even be two different calendar dates.

That's where ZULU TIME comes in. You may have heard it called by another name: Greenwich Mean Time. (GMT) It's also referred to as Universal or Coordinated Universal Time. (UTC) The time at zero degrees longitude, the Prime Meridian, which runs through the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England is universally accepted as the absolute time reference.

Venice tower clock

And to express that time, we always base it on a twenty-four hour  clock (i.e. 2300Z), so no matter where anyone is in the world, no matter what time zone they're in, we're all talking the same language when it comes to time. This is the accepted standard for conducting all international affairs, and that includes ... amateur radio.

And ya know what time it is NOW? Time to say adieu to this year's A-Z challenge. It's been fun. But now ... woo HOO!... it's done. Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why Not?

Thought for the day:  Bodies in motion remain in motion, and bodies at rest stay in bed until their mothers make them get up. [an unidentified third grader]

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Oooh, boy, we've almost made it to the end of the road, huh? Just two more to go.

Ever notice? The letter Y kinda looks like a fork in the road, doesn't it? Well,  I'm gonna cheat a little, and take both forks. Two words for the same letter.

First word? YOUTH.

Not just Scouts, but ALL youth. You might guess that today's young people are too sophisticated to have any interest in something like amateur radio.

But for many, many young people ... your guess would be wrong.

Students I've worked with are fascinated with Morse code. (Just because we don't get tested on it anymore doesn't mean none of us use it.)

Young people are also particularly enthusiastic about talking to astronauts aboard the space station and satellite communications, about fox hunting and the multitude of modes that work in tandem with a computer, and with contesting and  the simple act of talking one-on-one to another young person on the other side of the world. Licensed young people learn about many subjects which aid them in their schoolwork, provide impetus toward technology-related careers, and instill self-confidence. It also provides them with a host of public service opportunities. What's not to love, right? One young lady we know, who is graduating from GA Tech in May, found her path largely through her involvement with amateur radio. As a teen, she won numerous young ham awards, one of which included a week's stay at Huntsville, Alabama's Space Camp. She loved the experience so much, she went back the following year on her own dime. Her GA Tech degree? It's in aeronautical engineering. Oh, and she got that degree through a FULL scholarship from the ARRL. So amateur radio can have an incredible impact on the lives of young people. And more and more, young people are having an incredible impact on amateur radio.

                                                             The other word? YOU.

                                  Have YOU ever considered getting an amateur radio license?

It doesn't matter where you live in the world, or how old or young you are. You don't have to be a mathematics or physics whiz kid or make your living in the engineering field. All you need is the desire to learn, and an interest in expanding your horizons. Didja know? Amateur radio is the only hobby in the world that is actually protected by international treaty. Interested in joining the fold? Here, I'll move over. See? There's lots of room.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Classy Operators

Thought for the day:  The class of the license isn't nearly as important as the class of the operator.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

The letter X, huh?

This isn't gonna be easy.

Matter of fact, it's gonna be XTRA hard.

X-ray? Nah. 

Xylophone? Nah.

Although, come to think of it, amateurs wouldn't mind testing out a xylophone as an antenna. Hams are XTRA innovative when it comes to antennas. After all, just about anything can be used as an antenna; some things simply aren't as efficient as others ...

Hmmm, I think I may need some XTRA time to come up with something here. 

Then again, how about the word ... XTRA??? (And yes, I know that isn't how ya spell it; gimme a break, okay?)

There are multiple license classes in amateur radio. In the United States, the highest class, and the one with the most operating privileges, is the EXTRA class, which is what my license happens to be. To become an extra class operator, I had to pass multiple written tests and Morse code proficiency tests up to 20 wpm, but the whole process has since been simplified and streamlined. There are now only three classes for new hams in the U.S.  to achieve, and there is no longer a requirement to learn any Morse code at all. (Classes and requirements vary in other countries.) In the U.S., the three classes are
  • TECHNICIAN: The entry-level class, which now even offers some limited HF privileges. Many technicians have traditionally used their VHF and UHF capabilities to provide vital manpower in support of public service and localized emergency communications. To attain a technician class license requires passing a 35-question multiple choice test.
  • GENERAL: HF privileges are greatly expanded in this class, which also requires passing a 35-question test.
  • XTRA: Privileges here cover the entire gamut of amateur radio spectrum, and enable us to jump buildings in a single bound. (just kidding) At fifty questions, the test is longer, and allegedly more difficult. 
                                                                  So, there ya have it. 

                                                           (HE'S an x-cellent conductor!)

No trees were killed in the sending of this message. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Making Happy Waves

Thought for the day:  Excitement has no age limit.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

I was honored to serve four terms as the ARRL Section Manager for the state of Georgia. In essence, I was our state's elected volunteer (how's that for an oxymoron?) and representative with  the American Radio Relay League, our national organization for amateur radio. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, it was a ton of work, but also a ton of fun.

One of the things I did was travel the state to give speeches to various organizations, and do presentations at numerous amateur radio club meetings. My favorite presentation, I called Amateur Radio and the WOW FACTOR.

                                                         So, what's that mean? Stuff like this:
  • The world's amazement over the first successful trans-Atlantic wireless communication.
  • The sense of pride and excitement experienced by early amateurs when they built their own equipment and made that first contact.
  • Excitement over the remarkable innovations and technological advancements within the radio art.
  • It's the feeling that, even after more than forty years as an amateur, had my husband ya-hoo-ing through the house the day he made his first slow-scan TV contact.
  • It's the feeling that drove an 80+ year old man to get an amateur radio license, something he'd always wanted to do.
  • It's what drove a long-limbed ballerina teenager to leap through the air and into my husband's arms after she passed her first amateur radio test. (She later became a communications expert in the Marine Corps.)
  • It's the sense of community and brotherhood that, much like the barn-raisings of pioneer days, still brings amateurs together to help each other with antenna and tower-raising activities.
  • It's the never-ending sense of connection that kept a Texas ham on the air daily until he passed away at the age of 105.
  • And on, and on, and on.
Like this:

This is a picture of my hubby and me working inside the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) communications vehicle during the G-8 summit. A truly, truly, truly exciting week of working with some amazing people from all over the country.

Say, who is that fellow?

It sure looks like ....

By George, it IS! It's W!
Yes, indeedy, we actually met the president of the United States while we were serving during the G-8. Shook his hand. And ... he told ME thank you! Definitely a WOW moment. If you'd like to see a little more about the experience, here ya go: meeting the president

And for every amateur radio operator, no matter how young or how old, how long or short he's been licensed, the hobby/service can ... and does ... provide a whole lifetime of WOW.

Talk about appropriate. Guess what the call sign was for the amateur radio station at Atlanta's Sci Trek Museum? W4WOW! I kid you not! And trust me, it was really FUN to get on the air with that call sign, too.

It was really hard picking this topic for W. Not that I don't think it's a good one, but because I have such a totally cool picture for  WAVES.  

                                                           Oh well. Maybe next time, huh?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And Away We Glow ...

Thought for the day:  Entropy ain't what it used to be.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Anybody remember the days of going to the drug store to test the tubes from your ol' television set? Once you found out which ones were bad, you could pick out the proper tubes from the cabinet beneath the tester, buy 'em, and be on your way.

Yep, that was back in the days when VACUUM TUBES were king.

This is just a small representation of vacuum tubes. They actually range in size (and shape) from quite small to very large. For most applications, they've been replaced by solid state components, but many amateur radio operators still have, use, and love their old tube rigs. Vacuum tubes are also still used in some of today's high-quality amplifiers

There's something exciting, and even a little romantic, about the glow of vacuum tubes in an old radio ... and you know what? They can keep ya warm on a cold winter's night, too.

I know some of you are blog-hopping, and don't want to spend long on any one post, but for those of you who have time to linger awhile, here are two videos you might enjoy. It shows the amazing process a Frenchman still uses to build vacuum tubes ... by hand!

                                                                REMARKABLE, eh?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where Did He Go?

Thought for the day:  The more we learn about the people around the world, the smaller and friendlier the world becomes.

[THEME: Amateur radio]


Can't say that I knew much about it before I got into amateur radio, but my experiences on the air have taught me more about world geography than I ever learned in school.

But my reasons for liking Uzbekistan in particular?

 Story time.

My husband and I often operated on the air at the same time. Not that big a deal, really. He'd be on one side of the room,  I'd be on the other, and we simply didn't operate on the same part of the radio spectrum at the same time.

But we DID use antennas that were mounted on the same tower.

HIS tower. Matter of fact, HIS antennas, too.

So, one day, I was at my station operating 20 meters, (great for worldwide contacts) and my hubby was on the other side of the room at his station operating 6 meters. (AKA "the magic band" because of its unpredictable behavior) I was chatting with a gentleman in Uzbekistan, and copying down his information, when all of a sudden, the signal disappeared. Just, BOOM! Now ya hear him, now ya don't.

You see, even though we were using two different antennas, they were both controlled by a single rotator. Which my husband happened to rotate. So, he was able to tune in the station he was chasing, but I lost mine.

But it was HIS tower. HIS antennas. HIS rotator.

So I was outta luck. Not happy about it, but I couldn't very well complain. (Did I mention it was HIS tower?)


This is MY tower, and MY antennas, which my sweet husband put up soon after that incident.

                                  So, yes ...  I'm rather fond of good ol' Uzbekistan.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lighting an Educational Fire

Thought for the day:  Enthusiasm is even more contagious than influenza.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Have you ever had an instructor who was so good ... so bubbling with enthusiasm about the subject matter ... that you enjoyed that course and learned far more than you ever expected? Maybe so much so that the class actually influenced what you ended up pursuing as a career?

If you're a teacher ...  have you ever been so enthusiastic about a subject you were teaching that your enthusiasm spilled over and infected your students? Inspired them to want to learn more?

The TEACHERS INSTITUTE is designed to instill just that kind of enthusiasm, both in teachers and their students. Specifically, it is about teaching wireless technology, and about providing teachers from elementary to university level with the tools they need to excite students about things like basic electronics, radio, space technology, satellite communications, weather sciences, microprocessors, and basic robotics.

This intense four-day seminar is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, our national association for amateur radio, and thanks to grants, most participant expenses are covered ... transportation, hotel, and a modest per diem for food ... PLUS teachers take home a wealth of materials and books.

Think this program might benefit you or a teacher you know? This year's seminars will be held in California and Connecticut, and the deadline for application is May 15. Go to the ARRL's website and if you do a website search on teachers institute 2012, you'll find all the nitty gritty details.

Here's a short video showing the robots teachers put together during one of these seminars:

Sounds to me like those teachers were having FUN!

[I've been having a blast with our friends since last Friday, and will be back to the ol' grindstone computer tomorrow. And depending on how far behind I am on responding to comments, I may catch up by 2013. But hey! Don't let that stop you! I LOVE your comments, and will get back to you asap.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Well, Isn't That Special?

Thought for the day: Absolute zero is really cool.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

There are lots of cool things about amateur radio. Today, we're gonna talk about one that encompasses a wide range of possibilities: SPECIAL EVENT STATIONS.

By now, it should be no secret that we amateur radio operators enjoy making on-the-air contacts with other amateurs. We also enjoy running or making contacts with specifically designated special event stations, which operate for a limited period of time in conjunction with a particular event, location, person, historical happening, anniversary, or a whole slew of other things. Like the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the World Series. Groups wishing to put one of these stations on the air can apply for a special callsign, too, which is issued for use during  a designated period of no more than two weeks at a clip.

What kinds of excuses reasons do we use to support a special event? All kinds of stuff. The only thing that limits us is our imagination. Some of the certificates I have for working special event stations include things like
  • operations from numerous museum ships
  • various anniversaries of military battles and disasters
  • to mark the first flight of the F-22
  • from Kennedy Space Center in conjunction with a launch
  • from Calaveras County in honor of the famous jumping frog
  • Nude Awareness Celebrations (Now, they were some funny conversations!)
  • operations from numerous lighthouses
Matter of fact, my husband and I joined a group of other Atlanta hams to operate a special event station multiple times from one of South Georgia's lighthouses.
Yup, that's me with the mike. Not sure who the fella is NOT operating. Probably one of the locals. It took us crazy Atlanta folks to get the Tybee Island lighthouse on the air for the first time. The locals know August is too bloody hot for outdoors operations, so mostly some of them stopped in for an early morning visit before retreating to the air conditioning. We went down there for several years, though, and had a blast.

And that's the QSL card we used one year. We issued both cards and certificates. See?


Interested in reading more about one of my all-time favorite Special Event Stations? WW2LST was the call sign used by am amazing team of grizzly veterans who went to Greece, worked their buns off to make an old WWII LST seaworthy, and then brought her back to the U.S. Those guys are REALLY special.

[My hubby and I are catching up with old friends this weekend, so as you're reading this, I'm nowhere near my computer. (Thank goodness for auto-posting!) So I won't be visiting your blogs for a while. Sorry. But I always love the super duper comments you guys and gals always leave here, and promise I'll respond to every one of them asap. Happy weekend, y'all!]

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Thought for the day:  There once was a lady named Wright who could travel much faster than light. She departed one day in a relative way and returned on the previous night.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Nope, I'm not gonna talk about relativity. I just like that little ditty. Gonna talk about something else.

Most amateur radio operators use UHF and VHF  FM  to chat with other hams in their own community. These frequencies aren't intended for long-distance communications, but are quite effective, and fun, for localized nets and chatting. One downside? It's line-of-sight communications.

That means, if there's stuff ... be it buildings, a forest, a mountain, etc ... between us, I can't talk to you.

Not radio to radio, anyway. That's simplex operation.

But we can extend communications considerably with a REPEATER. 
A repeater receives signals on one frequency,  and retransmits them on another frequency. The higher the repeater is located, the more it extends communications capabilities for amateurs in the area. You and I could be on opposite sides of a mountain, but with a repeater on top of that mountain, we wouldn't have any trouble at all chatting on the radio.

[I'm gonna be hanging out with friends from Friday until Monday, so instead of vegging in front of the computer, I'll be sipping wine, swapping lies, laughing myself silly, and playing games for the next four days. (Thank goodness for auto-posting!) Sorry I won't be visiting any of your blogs, but I always appreciate the great comments you guys and gals leave here, and will respond to them asap. Seeya next week!]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Long and the Short of It

Thought for the day: We once had a beautiful Persian cat whose hoity-toity papers said his name was something like Lion Paw of North Hampshire. But we always called him Smokey.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Did you happen to see the Tonight Show episode from a few years back in which a couple young gun telephone text messengers competed against a couple veteran amateur radio operators using Morse code? They both sent the same message, and guess what? The old-timers and their 100+ year-old Morse code technology  won.

I'd love to share that video with you, but NBC has a strict copyright on it. That doesn't mean you can't find the video online. But it DOES mean you won't find it here. (sigh)

Anyway, the fact is, some CW operators can copy and send at 50 WPM and higher. Most of us can't, but even for the lightning quick operators, shortcuts make a Morse code conversation much more relaxed and efficient. Much like texters, Morse code operators use a lot of abbreviations, too, and they also use something called Q SIGNALS. 

In the course of a contact, some questions and responses are fairly standard, so why take the time to send the same sentence in its entirety over and over again? Instead, we can send a three-letter group. For example:

  • QSL?       Do you acknowledge receipt, or did you copy that?
  • QSL         I acknowledge receipt, or I copied that.
  • QTH?      What is your location?
  • QTH         My location is _______
  • QRZ?       Who is calling me?
  • QRZ         You are being called by _______
  • QRL?       Is the frequency in use?
  • QRL         The frequency is in use.
And so on. There are many others, and even a few silly ones, like QLF? for Are you sending with your left foot? which, trust me,  is not exactly a compliment.

In addition to a host of common abbreviations and Q signals, we also have a few numbered shortcuts, too. Like 73 means best regards and 88 means hugs and kisses. My favorite, though, is 33, which expresses the special bond between females who enjoy, and thrive in, this historically male-heavy domain.

                                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

EH? What Did You Say?

Thought for the day:  "Windy," said one man. "No, Thursday," said the other. "Yeah, I am too," said the first. "Let's go get a drink."

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Years ago, when I told my parents a co-worker's 13-year-old daughter had V.D., my father harumphed and said, "I'll bet she smokes, too."

Trust me, he wasn't at all amused by how hard my mother and I laughed at the absurdity of his response.

See, he thought I said T.B.

Too bad we didn't use the PHONETIC ALPHABET.

Because many letters sound so similar, usage of a standard phonetic alphabet alleviates misconceptions and clarifies communications. Radio conditions aren't always ideal, and the accuracy of messages, especially following a disaster, can be of vital importance. The international phonetic alphabet used by amateur radio operators follows:

  • ECHO
  • GULF
  • KILO
  • LIMA
  • MIKE
  • PAPA
  • XRAY
  • ZULU

                                 (So, that young girl had victor delta, NOT tango bravo.)

No trees were killed in the sending of this message. However, a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Electrifying, My Dear

Thought for the day: If it weren't for electricity, we'd all be watching television by candlelight. [George Gobel]

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Amateur radio operators are expected to learn some fundamentals of basic electronics, and one of the things we learn about is OHM'S LAW, which expresses the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance.

Voltage (E) refers to the amount of electromotive force (EMF) applied to a circuit, and can be compared to water pressure going through a pipe. The more voltage, (or pressure) the more electrons (or water) flowing. Voltage is measured in volts.

Current (I) measures the number of electrons flowing. No, you can't count them as they flow past any more than you can count the individual drops of water in a waterfall, but just as water is measured in quantities such as gallons, the electron flow is measured in amperes. One ampere is equal to 6.24 x 10 to the eighteenth power. (That'd be a LOT of counting!)

Resistance (R) is just what it sounds like. If you put a blob of hair or sponge into a water pipe, it'll block the flow. In the same way, resistors resist the flow of electrons, and limit the amount of current flowing through a circuit. Resistance is measured in ohms.

Here's a bunch of different resistors. See those color bands on them? Each color represents a different number, and in simplest terms, the numbers express the resistor's value.

So what does Ohm's Law tell us? That within a circuit, voltage equals current times resistance. E=IR.

                                                               So, there ya have it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Connections for the Common Good

Thought for the day:  Know how the Vikings communicated? Norse code.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

Fish and butterflies are rarely happy to find themselves in a NET, but amateur radio operators enter them quite willingly.

In amateur radio parlance, a net is an organized group of operators working together on one or more specific frequencies so they can serve a common purpose.

It's people working together. Strength in numbers!

There are many different reasons to hold a net. Some of them are:
  • To provide emergency communications following a disaster. Many amateurs worldwide consider this to be our most important role, and routinely volunteer their services to aid their communities, states, and nations following such things as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, etc.
  • To provide communications as a public service for activities from parades and sporting events to helping locate a downed airplane or lost child.
  • As a support system for travelers. The assistance provided to travelers during emergencies has rescued many people and saved countless lives.
  • Medical nets provide an outlet for sharing medical information, which is particularly valuable for doctors working in remote parts of the world.
  • Missionary nets- Talking about remote areas, for some missionaries around the world, amateur radio provides the only means of communication.
  • Practice nets- In order to be better prepared to serve in times of emergencies, amateurs practice, practice, practice.
  • Traffic nets are specifically designed to hone skills in sending, receiving, and delivering messages.
  • Others- There are countless other reasons for amateurs to meet in a net: to enable them to make contact with other countries, states, or counties; to discuss and share a common interest, rig, or mode of operation; and to socialize and chase the clouds of loneliness. 

                                                       So, to us ... nets are a good thing.

                                                      It's friends connecting with friends. 

Talking about friends connecting with friends, the lovely Skippy had some questions after the last post on mobile operations. She wanted to know what the set-up looks like inside my car. So, here are some pictures, just for her. (Y'all can look, too ...)

This is my dual-band VHF/UHF radio, and it's mounted under the dashboard just below the commercial radio. This radio is for local communications, and we have many frequencies programmed into both bands. As a special bonus, you can also see some of Georgia's infamous pollen.

Moving upward from the UHF/VHF rig, you'll see the HF radio right in front of the air vents, and between the two microphones. This radio is for long-distance communications.

This is a shot of the HF radio from the topside. See how thin it is? That's because it isn't the entire radio. It's just the faceplate, containing all of the controls.

The REST of the HF radio is underneath the seat.

This control box sits atop the console between the seats. It controls the HF antenna. By using the up-down switch, we can raise or lower the screwdriver antenna to reach the optimum resonance for the frequency we want to work.

And finally, this is the speaker, mounted between the seats.

All in all, it's a fairly compact, efficient set-up. Not as fancy as some, but it serves us well.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. Especially you, Skippy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Have License, Will Travel

Thought for the day: According to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the probability of in-laws coming to visit is directly proportional to how much you feel like being left alone.

[THEME: Amateur radio]

One of the cool things about amateur radio is its versatility, not only in the many facets of the hobby, but in the many places you can enjoy it.

Like MOBILE operations. As in, from our moving vehicles. Could be from our cars and trucks, from a boat, from an airplane, or even from a bicycle. (My husband once cracked everybody up by checking into a net maritime mobile ... from our hot tub.)

This is my station at the house.

And this little red car is my mobile station. (The truck is my hubby's.) Amateur radio operators have a lot of reasons for wanting mobile communications. For one thing, hams support the National Weather Service, and during bad weather, some actually drive around, both during and in the aftermath of the storms, to provide NWS with accurate reports of on-the-ground conditions.

I'm not inclined to chase a tornado, but I do like the security of having radios in the car. It means I am NEVER alone, even if I'm the only person in the car. As a somewhat directionally impaired person, it's comforting to know there's always a ham out there willing to help me find my way if I happen to make a wrong turn. (Or maybe I should say when I make a wrong turn?) When we had car trouble in an unfamiliar area, one call on the radio connected us with local hams who were only too happy to assist. And there are whole networks of operators who assist travelers. One morning, I checked into a net from Maryland and told the net control we were heading back home to Georgia. That evening, another net control called me on the radio to check on us. It was kinda nice to know, from the time we left Maryland until we rolled into our driveway, a whole network of operators had our backs.

                                              Who could ask for anything more?