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What is the point of ham radio
radio : by Tommy - October 16, 2017, 09:14AM
radio
I hear this question quite a bit. "What's the point of ham radio?" usually tied in with "You know you can just pick up a phone and call someone right?" or "The internet lets you chat across the globe too, you know?"
Yes, I know it's possible to accomplish a task in a seemingly more efficient way, but that's not what makes ham radio interesting. Whatís the point of sailing, fishing, rock climbing, hiking, gaming, hunting, knitting, auto racing...? There are more efficient methods of travel, attaining food, clothing, etc. So what's the point of any hobby, really? Those who enjoy the hobby will say "it's fun", but that's not a very clear answer because what is fun to one person is boring to another.

With ham radio, like any other hobby, it's a pastime - one that happens to have a lot of electronic underpinnings.

In fact, I liken it to catch-and-release fishing more than chatting or phone calls. Yes, you talk to people, but the majority of hams donít care about the content of the conversation as much as where the other party is.
In my fishing analogy, I say casting out your lure is like calling out on the radio. "Will I get a bite?" = "Will someone hear me?"

Someone probably will hear you and answer your call. So you respond and find out how well they're able to hear you, where they're from, and perhaps some other information about them. That's like reeling in a fish to measure and weigh them. "Wow! This guy's in the mountains of Nepal!"/"Wow, what a big fish!"
Sometimes the "fish" isnít very big, the radio contact may be relatively close distance to you, so you say so-long and "cast" again - hoping for bigger fish.
Or maybe a rare fish...
Or a hard-to-catch fish...
Or a relatively famous fish...
Or maybe you want to try fishing with different equipment (bigger, smaller, new technology, relay through a satellite, etc) and see if that helps or hurts what you "reel in".

Continue reading...

tags: ham radio diy

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Things to See and Do in Galveston
galveston : by Tommy - March 11, 2017, 6:12PM
galveston
With the summer season upon us, a lot of folks will be heading to the beach. If you're headed to Galveston, Texas, there's quite a bit to see and do. Whether it's for a day trip, Spring Break or family vacation, I hope the following list of items helps you plan your trip to the Texas Gulf Coast.

First up, ride the "TxDOT cruise" (Bolivar ferry). Walk on, don't drive it. (Unless you're going to explore Fort Travis Park on the Bolivar side.) To walk on, park your car at the ferry building (1000 Ferry Rd.) then follow the crosswalks to the loading ramp. The guy/gal loading cars will tell you when to walk on. Go up top for some great views. (Feed seagulls from the back of the boat on the lower deck only.) Watch for dolphins and enjoy the views of passing ships, harbor scenery and keep an eye out for the USS Selma off Pelican Island. [I tell folks to walk on because driving is a pain to turn around and come back - it'll just cost you time sitting and waiting in a line. A problem made worse during peak tourist season!] I suggest riding the ferry when you can because nothing lets you know you're on the coast like taking in all the scenery, hearing the seagulls and ship's horns.

Once you're back, head down to The Strand district for plenty of tourist trap stores. Personally, I like Eighteen Seventy One, Nautical Antiques, and The Admiralty.
Be sure to explore along the harbor. There's a dolphin-spotting cruise around the harbor or it's fun to just sit and watch the water, birds, and a few boats in the harbor. (The Ocean Star oil rig museum is also there in the area.)

Also stop by to check out candy being made at La Kings Confectionery on The Strand.

Continue reading...

tags: galveston

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Amateur Radio Starter Kit
radio : by Tommy - September 26th 2016, 07:16PM
radio
I recently posted on Facebook for some friends about an incredibly cheap radio out of China. It's the Baofeng UV-5R.
The little dual-band radio has been the source of much consternation among the old guard of amateur radio because of it's cheap construction, low quality display, and some technical problems with the radio (some which make it technically illegal to operate on some frequencies). However, it is 100% legal to operate on the 2m amateur band (144-148MHz). The price of this radio is what makes all shortcomings able to be overlooked. It costs $25 on Amazon with free shipping for Prime customers!

Now, the radio is not a super great radio, but it's a phenomenal starter radio. (Or, as I call the one I keep in my car, a "burner" radio. I can drop it, lose it, or have it stolen and I simply would not care.) If one were to purchase this little capable radio for the mere $25 price tag, one should also get a couple of pieces of kit that should be standard: a better after-market antenna (Option 1 or Option 2) and a USB programming cable in order to program all the frequencies of nearby repeaters using software like CHiRP. All in, the whole kit still comes in around $40 which is still a fraction of the cost of a dual band radio from one of the major amateur radio manufacturers like Icom, Kenwood, or Yaesu.

Study, study
Anyone interested in amateur radio should consider studying for their license before dropping any money on a radio. While the radio is cheap, it's still money wasted if you can't use it because you don't have a license. The student guide's I most often recommend are the Technician study guide by Gordon West, WB6NOA, or the Technician study guide by the ARRL.

Continue reading...

tags: ham_radio license radio

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CW Works
radio : by Tommy - February 16th 2016, 04:32PM
radio
I posted earlier about my new MountainTopper Radio. They're only being made and sold in small batches so I was never able to get my hands on one until January 2016. When I visited the site and saw they were for sale, I jumped at the opportunity to secure one of the little radios and it arrived a couple of weeks later. I had a business trip to go on so I wasn't able to fully get to know the radio until I got home. After I got home, the following Monday I got on the radio with the manual open on my computer. I got a feel for all the features packed into the limited number of buttons. After a while I really got the hang of it.
The next night (Tuesday) was a NAQCC Weeknight Sprint (a mini 2-hr radio contest) and it was also a night when class was cancelled. The 40m band was in pretty decent condition that night and I easily nabbed 5 different states. At the conclusion of the contest I made a couple more contacts and decided I loved the little radio. I've been using it nightly for the past week, making at least one QRP CW contact each day ...and that's where I've learned something.

It's something I heard guys say over and over again and, like you reading this, I've seen others write about: CW Works.

It's not just some old geezer claiming his tastes/choice mode is superior. What I mean to say is when the bands are great or incredibly noisy, CW still gets through. To modify the slogan "When all else fails... CW". Sure, digital modes get through when conditions are equally rough. (I first learned that late at night during Field Day one year using PSK31.

Continue reading...

tags: ham radio cw

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MountainTopper Radio
radio : by Tommy - February 16th 2016, 10:25AM
radio
It's been quite a while since I last made a post but this is one I have to mark the occassion for. For the better part of the past 6 months I've had my eye on the MountainTopper Radio. It's a small QRP CW radio designed by Steve Weber, KD1JV, and sold by LNR Precision. The model I got is the 3-band version. (At the time of this writing there are rumors stirring about an upcoming 5-band version. Since I'm really only active on 40m and 20m, I'll pass on the 5 band model.)

The radio is very small - about the size of a deck of cards. There's no internal antenna tuner or battery. The volume, RF gain, and filter settings are fixed so there's no need for adjustment knobs. Nor is there a tuning knob. Tuning is done by two push buttons (UP and DOWN) that nudge the VFO up or down 50Hz. Holding down the button will change the frequency in 100Hz steps at a rate of 10 steps per second.
The elimination of knobs on the face of the radio allows the radio to pack very small. It's so small in fact, I was moved to get a Micro key from KK5PY. It has to be the smallest paddles I've ever used. To match the small size, the MTR can be powered by a 9V battery or a small 12V LiPo battery pack. Pack in some earbuds, a wire antenna, and a paper logbook and the whole kit fits into a small padded, zippered case ready to go. It's a radio meant for travel! I can't wait to take it on the road with me.
I've been using it to make QRP CW contacts each day for the past week and I'm going to try to get QRP Worked All States on 40m CW.

Continue reading...

tags: ham radio qrp cw

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