Author Topic: my personal HAM plan  (Read 38661 times)

Offline Smurf Hunter

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my personal HAM plan
« on: April 23, 2014, 09:19:24 AM »
As a fan of some of the garden threads where the progress of home food production is recorded over time, I thought it might be fun do something similar with my journey into HAM.
Additionally, by posting my progress here (sort of publicly), I'll get some amount of peer pressure/motivation to study, pass the exams and ultimately start operating.

Here are my current motivations for getting a HAM license.

1) all the other 2-way radio solutions suck beyond a couple miles the hilly area I live
2) among the preppers I know, comms are a huge gap.  I know people with $10,000 in guns and ammo, but they have $50 blister pack radios from Walmart
3) my grandfather was a HAM starting in the late 1950s until he died at age 92, and there's some nostalgic aspect
4) I'm a professional computer geek and already know some technical stuff (getting about 60% on the practice tests with no prior study)

As of this post, here's my very basic plan of attack:

1) study for technician exam (1 week)
2) study for general exam (+1 week)
3) when I consistently get 10-15% better than the passing score, schedule an exam
4) take exam (ASAP after #3)
5) pass exam
6) using my newly acquired knowledge make an informed purchase decision for a mobile/hand held radio

For folks who are HAMS #1-5 are about as interesting as a teenager getting their driver's license.  I know we all want to talk hardware, but first things first.

There are 3 repeaters at high elevations within 20 miles of me, and several more at greater distances.  There's also strong participation in the local HAM community, so I'm not overly concerned about community resources once I get started.

Hopefully in a few weeks I'll know enough to trash talk people who bought Chi-com radios from Amazon.com  ;D

Offline doublehelix

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2014, 09:40:11 AM »

2) among the preppers I know, comms are a huge gap.  I know people with $10,000 in guns and ammo, but they have $50 blister pack radios from Walmart

You have NO idea how common that is and how much misinformation on survival/tactical communication is out there in the interwebs.

Ham radio is where both the old farts with battle-tested technology, and the cutting edge experimenters live.

But don't leave out commercial land mobile either.  Lots more options for encryption and equipment in that realm.





Offline Meldrew

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2014, 10:17:29 AM »
Consider getting yourself an analog trunking scanner and learn to program it while you're studying.  They're cheap ($100-ish) and you'll learn a lot about how different services work, CTCSS codes, and a lot more stuff.  It'll support your studying and leave you with a very important prep tool.  Have fun...

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2014, 10:52:11 AM »
Consider getting yourself an analog trunking scanner and learn to program it while you're studying.  They're cheap ($100-ish) and you'll learn a lot about how different services work, CTCSS codes, and a lot more stuff.  It'll support your studying and leave you with a very important prep tool.  Have fun...

I have a Uniden bearcat (http://rigreference.com/en/rig/4466-Uniden_Bearcat_BCT_8).   I know I can listen to the various HAM bands and some police agencies still using analog.  Will that fit the bill?

Offline Meldrew

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2014, 12:23:27 PM »
Yes, that ought to do it.  The point is to learn more about the FRS,GMRS,CB,Marine and MURS frequencies then move on to the ctcss(dcs) codes and know a bit about trunking.  Since you already know all that, the tech exam should be pretty easy.  Carry on...

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2014, 12:41:28 PM »
Yes, that ought to do it.  The point is to learn more about the FRS,GMRS,CB,Marine and MURS frequencies then move on to the ctcss(dcs) codes and know a bit about trunking.  Since you already know all that, the tech exam should be pretty easy.  Carry on...

I don't know it all, but I'm familiar with most of it.

I was in a rather boring 2 hour meeting this morning and scratched together this study sheet.  While the math isn't complex, I occassionally confuse units or symbols in formulas.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/10w8FdHKOxxJQeLPxY6T-A5KH0EuffYaCpJopolKv4WU/edit?usp=sharing

I've also printed off some reference material including local repeaters, and this ubiquitos ARRL chart:

Offline Meldrew

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2014, 01:49:03 PM »
I suspect that you'll be able to number yourself among the people that come out of the tech exam wondering why they studied so hard.  Don't push yourself to the level of discomfort but give some thought to looking over the general class material after you get good scores on the tech practice exams.  You may very well suprise yourself and walk out with both certs in one sitting.  I didn't but wish I had. 

Rock on my brother (or sister) ...

endurance

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2014, 01:50:52 PM »
I'm beginning to get more interested in it myself.  Already have a couple 2m radios and the tech and general study guides, just need to get serious and study up.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2014, 02:14:22 PM »
I'm beginning to get more interested in it myself.  Already have a couple 2m radios and the tech and general study guides, just need to get serious and study up.

This is the free app I've been using.  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tango11.hamstudy
When I'm on a bus, waiting in line I just run through a few questions. 

After 2 hours and I'm already getting around 60% on the technician questions.  I'll probably be around 90% by the end of this week.
Consider the small expense and effort required to get the HAM tickets, then consider the cost of something like a PDC or a defensive firearms course. 



endurance

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2014, 02:20:52 PM »
This is the free app I've been using.  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tango11.hamstudy
When I'm on a bus, waiting in line I just run through a few questions. 

After 2 hours and I'm already getting around 60% on the technician questions.  I'll probably be around 90% by the end of this week.
Consider the small expense and effort required to get the HAM tickets, then consider the cost of something like a PDC or a defensive firearms course.
Good call on that.  Thanks.  I'm an i-Guy, but found a similar app.


Offline Alan Georges

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2014, 05:21:24 PM »
Don't push yourself to the level of discomfort but give some thought to looking over the general class material after you get good scores on the tech practice exams.  You may very well suprise yourself and walk out with both certs in one sitting.
Meldrew is right.  Aim for a respectable passing score on Tech but don't worry about perfection, and use the rest of your time to knock out a passing score on General.

A series of books that really helped me are Dan Romanchik's "No Nonsense" study guides.  There's one book for each license level, and they're only $8 for the kindle versions.  (Unfortunately the paperback version seem to be gone.)  The format is simple: the question, the correct answer, and just enough background where you can understand the answer.

Smurf Hunter and Endurance, if you're going into this at 60% on Tech so soon then you absolutely should push on to General in the same test session.  It really opens up all the doors.

And Smurf Hunter, you're right, $15 is cheap compared to something like a PDC.

Offline cpf240

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2014, 10:00:26 PM »
I'm beginning to get more interested in it myself.  Already have a couple 2m radios and the tech and general study guides, just need to get serious and study up.

Might want to move up the timetable a bit, as the current Tech books will be out of date after June 30 of this year, as they will release a new question pool at that time. The General question pool will change next year, and Extra will in 2016.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2014, 07:51:48 AM »
Might want to move up the timetable a bit, as the current Tech books will be out of date after June 30 of this year, as they will release a new question pool at that time. The General question pool will change next year, and Extra will in 2016.

The android study app made mention of the 6/30/14 date, but I wasn't sure if that was app specific or an ARRL/FCC thing.

I'm tentatively shooting for a 5/13/14 exam down in Tacoma.

Thanks for the tip!

Offline austinrob

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2014, 01:57:09 PM »
some of the chicom radios aren't bad.  You just have to realize why you're buying them.  Having 4 HT's that cost me less than $40 each, is nice.  They work, their antennas suck when transmitting more than a mile or so (understand limitations of equipment), but they were cheap and if I drop one and it shatters into a hundred pieces, I'll just grab another (after I pick up the spare battery off the ground).

for HF, start with some 30 year old used gear.  It works just fine, and you'll learn more without having the bells and whistles to help you.  Then when you upgrade, you have a spare. 

Whether you're looking at handhelds, HF desktop gear, or a mobile rig, the antenna is the most important piece of equipment from a signal efficiency point of view.  You can get a 200W mobile HF rig, or just keep the 100W rig and spend some money on a better antenna, and you won't need the extra power.

the "chicom junk" as it's often referred to is all I use for 2m/70cm, and it works just fine.  I've invested in a nicer antenna for my baofeng HT, and a nice antenna for my anytone mobile in the truck. 

It's not a matter of knowing enough to trash talk the folks who buy chicom junk from amazon.  It's a matter of knowing why you think it's junk, and what you'd buy instead and why.   If it's the questionable warranty, then by all means, go ahead and buy that FT-60r (great $150 HT) and know that it'll be fixed if you have any problems (yaesu kit is known for being fixed well and quickly).  When one my 4 baofengs breaks (button not working on one already), I'll strip the battery and antenna, toss it in the junk box for parts, and grab another one.  (still a $150 HT solution)

I'm not saying they're not junk (look at their signal on an analyzer).  But they're "good enough".

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2014, 02:24:39 PM »
some of the chicom radios aren't bad.  You just have to realize why you're buying them.  Having 4 HT's that cost me less than $40 each, is nice.  They work, their antennas suck when transmitting more than a mile or so (understand limitations of equipment), but they were cheap and if I drop one and it shatters into a hundred pieces, I'll just grab another (after I pick up the spare battery off the ground).

for HF, start with some 30 year old used gear.  It works just fine, and you'll learn more without having the bells and whistles to help you.  Then when you upgrade, you have a spare. 

Whether you're looking at handhelds, HF desktop gear, or a mobile rig, the antenna is the most important piece of equipment from a signal efficiency point of view.  You can get a 200W mobile HF rig, or just keep the 100W rig and spend some money on a better antenna, and you won't need the extra power.

the "chicom junk" as it's often referred to is all I use for 2m/70cm, and it works just fine.  I've invested in a nicer antenna for my baofeng HT, and a nice antenna for my anytone mobile in the truck. 

It's not a matter of knowing enough to trash talk the folks who buy chicom junk from amazon.  It's a matter of knowing why you think it's junk, and what you'd buy instead and why.   If it's the questionable warranty, then by all means, go ahead and buy that FT-60r (great $150 HT) and know that it'll be fixed if you have any problems (yaesu kit is known for being fixed well and quickly).  When one my 4 baofengs breaks (button not working on one already), I'll strip the battery and antenna, toss it in the junk box for parts, and grab another one.  (still a $150 HT solution)

I'm not saying they're not junk (look at their signal on an analyzer).  But they're "good enough".

It seems you've taken me more seriously than I take myself.  My statement was largely in jest, though a few folks whom I trust have recommended against some of the chinese gear.  I personally do not yet have an opinion.  I'll do my best to taper off the snarky humor before I start operating/

After I'm established and have all of my essential gear, I think there's minimal risk in buying some cheap supplemental gear of questionable quality.  That said, if I only have a single H/T it's more important to have confidence in that radio.  Just if I only owned a single firearm, I probably wouldn't choose a hi-point.

Offline SCWolverine

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2014, 04:22:16 PM »
you have a good plan....and like the others I'll say study both and plan to pass them both in one sitting!

There's plenty of gear to suit all budgets now (a true blessing for the hobby in general).  Once you determine your individual needs it'll be easier to make a purchasing decision.  I have a few chi-com HT's...dang good bargains, and would like a few KW's as well!


Offline austinrob

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #16 on: April 25, 2014, 08:19:15 AM »
It seems you've taken me more seriously than I take myself.  My statement was largely in jest, though a few folks whom I trust have recommended against some of the chinese gear.  I personally do not yet have an opinion.  I'll do my best to taper off the snarky humor before I start operating/

Keep your snark on high.  It's more fun that way.  I was just in a mood yesterday.  That thing called work runined my day.

Quote
After I'm established and have all of my essential gear, I think there's minimal risk in buying some cheap supplemental gear of questionable quality.  That said, if I only have a single H/T it's more important to have confidence in that radio.  Just if I only owned a single firearm, I probably wouldn't choose a hi-point.

That's pretty much how I got into the chicom gear.  I bought a used yaesu HT as my first radio.  It was good until it was carelessly placed (by me) where it could fall 2 stories.  Shortly before that unfortunate accident, my first baofeng arrived as a spare.  I've been using the spare ever since.


The only thing out of that post that I'd like to reiterate is to know why they aren't as good.  Mostly their signal isn't as clean on transmit, they're not very sensitive on receive, their quality control isn't as consistent (though I've been lucky and not had a lemon) and their warranty is essentially non-existent.  (so I buy them from amazon who has a pretty painless return policy)


Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #17 on: April 25, 2014, 10:06:49 AM »
No worries.  I can get grumpy myself.

As of last night I am averaging 72% on the practice technician exams.  Once I'm at 90%, I'll start on the general study and see how that goes.
My exam target date is 5/13.

Also the 6/30/14 date for changing up the exam questions is a big motivating factor, as most of the current study material may become out dated.  While the concepts are likely unchanged, I understand there's a pool of 396 questions and many of these practice tests iterate over those.

endurance

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2014, 10:09:52 AM »
The funny thing is that now I'm thinking about not studying at all.  I have too many irons in the fire for the next few months to study for a test that I probably won't find the time to take.  Thanks for the heads up.  Now I can divert those resources to other projects until time allows.

Offline austinrob

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2014, 02:06:01 PM »
The funny thing is that now I'm thinking about not studying at all.  I have too many irons in the fire for the next few months to study for a test that I probably won't find the time to take.  Thanks for the heads up.  Now I can divert those resources to other projects until time allows.

start studying the new question pool.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #20 on: May 01, 2014, 10:45:40 AM »
On the practice technician exams, I'm consistently getting 33 or 34 out of 35 correct (26 needed to pass).
General class is progressing, but still in the low 60% range.

Technician was far easier, because once you learn some formulas, basic safety and a few fundamental rules, you can infer a lot of answers.

General takes this a bit further.  There may be a question like "which frequency on this band is off limits?".  I can deduct that two answers are within that band (using a formula), but then I must memorize the rule.  Hopefully repeated exposure to the question bank will burn into my brain.

Even if I only get technician, that's probably all I'd use for a while given my time, budget and interest.

Planning on exam date of 5/13/14.

Offline SCWolverine

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #21 on: May 01, 2014, 12:19:07 PM »
i would consider stopping on the tech material and focus on the general now.  seems you are gtg on the tech portion!

Offline Oldhomestead

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #22 on: May 01, 2014, 03:05:17 PM »
Apparently this thread has nothing to do with raising heritage hogsā€¦

Offline backwoods_engineer

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #23 on: May 09, 2014, 03:32:14 PM »
Applause, Smurf Hunter. 

If your ham operator grandfather has passed, you might consider getting his callsign through the vanity program.  You have to get your license with the "throw-away" callsign first, though.

You are exactly right about how many preppers do not understand how to even organize a simple directed voice net on the radio.  This is where the training available by participating in your local ham radio net(s) really shines.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #24 on: May 09, 2014, 04:56:58 PM »
Applause, Smurf Hunter. 

If your ham operator grandfather has passed, you might consider getting his callsign through the vanity program.  You have to get your license with the "throw-away" callsign first, though.

Thanks.  That's a really cool idea.  He passed away about 6 years ago (lived to almost 92).  I checked his callsign, and it's listed as "Expired".
Assuming I pass the exam, I understand in a week or so the FCC will mail me a callsign.  Can I pursue the vanity program any time there after?

I've had a heck of a work week, and would love to get in some outdoor recreation on the weekend, but am so close to passing general I need to get in some study time.

Offline armymars

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #25 on: May 09, 2014, 06:48:16 PM »
   Take the question and correct answer and make them into a compound sentence. Read that over and over or put it on tape and listen to it will driving to work. When you take the test the right answer will jump out at you.
   When they change the question pool, it use to be they only changed 33% of it. So you may still pass it.  73

Offline cpf240

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #26 on: May 09, 2014, 11:23:22 PM »
The guy that does the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast ( PARP ) has a series of audio files where he reads each question and all the possible answers, then repeats the question and gives the correct answer. The files are broken up the way they are in the ARRL books. He has Tech and General up. It took a bit of work to get them on my iPod, and I had to do it by using the RSS feed.

Sadly, I found my mind wandering while I was listening to them, but I'm sure they would be helpful for others!

Offline John Doe

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #27 on: May 10, 2014, 05:26:06 AM »
This is the free app I've been using.  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tango11.hamstudy
When I'm on a bus, waiting in line I just run through a few questions. 

After 2 hours and I'm already getting around 60% on the technician questions.  I'll probably be around 90% by the end of this week.
Consider the small expense and effort required to get the HAM tickets, then consider the cost of something like a PDC or a defensive firearms course.

THANK-You!  I am currently at about post 1 stage of this thread, following in your steps :)

Good luck!

Offline Carl

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #28 on: May 10, 2014, 09:50:45 AM »
Go for it,get your HAM license, you will gain KNOWLEDGE along the way. HAM radio is NOT really more capable than other radios,it is the knowledge of how to use it ...A MURS radio is only a VHF radio with slightly limited power and an FRS/GMRS radio is just a UHF radio with somewhat limited power and antenna.While standing or with the antenna on auto roof (about the same height) really are pretty much EQUALS .The limiting factor is they are LINE OF SIGHT. About 6 to 7 miles on average terrain and 25 miles if 200 feet above average terrain. HAM repeaters are the VHF-UHF equalizers , but few have EMERGENCY power and those that do will be quit busy (though a good place for information) RADIO POWER really does not greatly effect the range of UHF-VHF radio as the signals travel line of site and the earth (when you are over the horizon) beyond 7 miles is a very poor conductor of radio.

  HF or shortwave (HAM) radios bounce their signals off the ionosphere and are good for a short few miles LOCALLY with ground wave,but when the signal is bounced off the ionosphere...is useful as multi state and even INTERNATIONAL communications. But exactly how much HELP a man in FAR-OUT-ISTAN ( a made up region) can be is limited by his resourcefulness . You often can RELAY to someone out of state and he can pass the info back to your area due to propagation limits.

  During HAM communications  and rescue efforts after Katrina , I passed traffic (info) to other HAMs in Ohio and Florida for them to be able to pass the info into the New Orleans and coastal area. It was a bit too far for VHF-UHF and too CLOSE for HF communications to be reliable. So don't just get a license and equipment and put it away till you need it,use the equipment to gain the SKILL that is the true value of HAM radio.

Offline armymars

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Re: my personal HAM plan
« Reply #29 on: May 11, 2014, 06:27:17 PM »
  I run NVIS on HF radio four or five times a week. This gives me 25 to 250 mile coverage on a pretty solid basis. What NVIS does is shoot a signal all most straight up and down. The trick is picking the right frequency for a given day and time of day.
  60M works good from sunrise to 11 am. Then 6 pm to 10 pm most days. During hours of darkness 80 meters or 160  in the winter works better. When sunspots (SSN) are running 126 or better try 40 meters.
  FOF2 is a good indicator. I run a dipole at seven feet off the ground for my 60 meter antenna. 17 feet would be better.
  If you go to the Texas Army Mars web site, you will find some good information there. 73