First It Was CW – Now It’s The Question Pool

I heard that KL4NGN recently submitted a petition to the FCC requesting that the number of questions in the question pool be increased by a factor of 50. The reason behind the requested increase is due to the claim that the knowledge held by the operator does not match the license class.

The author of the article I read (k3ng) states that he admits using an online question pool to pass his Extra class license around 10 years ago. But he also states that most of his knowledge came from electronics knowledge, professional training and interaction with other cAmateur Radio Licenselub members over his years in the hobby.

Reducing the questions in the pool is now called the “Dumbing Down” of Amateur Radio. Remember when CW was the ultimate deterrent and how that battle about removing that requirement raged on for years? When I read this article I began to think,  here we go again!

k3ng finds “dumbing down” to be an insulting term. The 100% hard core CW ops might say, if you haven’t passed  a code test you have dumbed down the hobby. Dxers think it may be those operators who can’t figure out how to work “split” are dumbing it. Others may think of dumbers (is this really a word?) as those who rag chew in the middle of a contest! For some reason the term “LID” comes to mind. Isn’t that what it used to be called?1950's Vintage TV

Back in the 50’s,  the general public thought of Amateur Radio as a “service” and those who were licensed were available to provide nationwide emergency communications. Back then, the hobby was also viewed as a place where technological growth took place.  Being a Ham back in those days held a certain prestige. Today it’s  viewed as another hobbyist having fun.

Technology has surely passed Amateur Radio by. We are no longer living in the 1940’s, a time when people were getting introduced to television. Today the technical advances of this world are both astounding and rather frightening.

For example, I recently watched a presentation by Apple about the 3.0 version of the iPhone O/S. Here is a prime example of astounding technology. In just over a year since the iPhone (and iPod Touch) was introduced,  Apple has sold over 12 million units in 80 countries. The iPhone (and iPod Touch) have over 2,500 applications available by download via iTunes (many are free and others range from .99 to about 4.99) and those apps have been downloaded over 800 million times. The new 3.0 release will allow hundreds of new API’s to produce untold types of software designs.iPhone 3G

I know I am getting sidetracked here but just have to say that there were too many  enhancements to even begin to mention. One of the engineering presentations within the 1.2 hour long presentation depicts how medical devices may now be coupled to the iPhone via Bluetooth technology.

By this summer the iPhone will be ready to track diabetic glucose results, chart that information and based on many factors including specifics about the iPhone’s owner, the software will define the dosage of insulin needed before a meal is taken.

The presentation went on to talk about a 15 year old girl who must test her blood glucose level 6 times a day. Before the availability of this diabetic management tool, the young lady would have to calculate her dosage of her insulin shot with pen and paper. There was no electronic medium to store her daily levels or the long term trending of her information. Now, this young lady can manage her healthcare with a device which fits into her lifestyle. Forwarding charts and other historical information to the healthcare professional is as easy as sending a message over the 3G network.

Getting back to a less exciting but important topic, k3ng goes on to talk about how the FCC rejected the argument in it’s “matter-of-fact” style stating that the ‘dumbing down” argument is merely a way of determining if the applicant is qualified to run a station. Other than allowable frequencies for example, does an Extra class and a Tech class operator differ in the way they operate a station? Is more technical knowledge required to operate on the first 25kc’s of 40 meters? No exam will provide that difference or other factors of station operation.

k3ng goes on to state: “If we look at some of the biggest jerks and idiots on the air and in the amateur radio world on the Internet, some of them have outstanding technical qualifications. I can think of one infamous amateur (who I won’t name here) who has his PhD in Physics and holds several patents. The guy is the lowest life form on the planet when on Internet forums and as far as I am concerned is a useless to amateur radio. But he can pass any technical test you can throw at him”.

I’d have to agree that the above paragraph provides a proof to the absurdity of the “dumbing down” claim by some hams.  If you reflect back for a second to my iPhone nformation it is evident that the bright young minds of today’s world are not focusing on radio communications at frequencies below 30 MHz. As an old time Ham friend of mine said to me many years ago, “you guys today… are really nothing more than appliance operators”.  And sadly, there is much truth in that statement.

Spark Gap Transmitter

You don’t have to build anything today to operate a station. There are no spark gap transmitters in my shack and I don’t “load up” the switched off power line between the house and the cow barn as my antenna! ( I actually received a QSL card from a Ham many years ago [then in his 80’s] who had done just that as a child). Having specific knowledge or college degrees cannot in itself make a better station operator.

I am wondering if this incident is  going to be a revival of the code argument that raged on for years. I’d have to agree with k3ng that the term “dumbing down” is inflammatory. Those hung up on the suggested change to testing criteria simply appear to have a strong desire to re-create the “class system” around the alleged skills of station operators.

What is your opinion?

Kit Fun and the Thrill Of A1A

SCRC Rag Chew NetThe Weekly “Rag Chew'” Net:

My radio club has a weekly 2 meter “Rag Chew” Net where we BS about anything and everything related to Ham Radio and Emergency Communication. During the past few Wednesday nights, two topics have come up in conversation which are of particular interest to me.

Through The Years:

Over the years as a true Ham (whatever that means), among other Hamming adventures, I have messed around building antennas, ran a TCP/IP (over ax25) packet node and had a blast working CW/QRP/M. There’s another article somewhere on my blog which goes into a bit more detail about the CW/QRP/M adventures.

A1A – Know What It Is?

Working CW (A1A) has always been special to me. I just find it to be an amazing way to communicate using very simple gear. Build or buy an inexpensive 40 meter radio, roll up some wire, grab a straight key, virtually throw the wire out of the window or drive to a quiet spot, connect the radio up to the cigarette lighter, throw the wire into a tree and presto! You are on the air.

Soldering For Fun:

Another aspect of the hobby which is close to my heart is kit building. Unfortunately, I just missed the days when getting a complete “mail order” radio kit (Heathkit) was possible. It must have been a fun challenge to learn radio fundamentals (a home science lab of sorts) while in the construction phase. Finally you end up with the finished product and something that you could proudly use each time you tuned it up and called CQ. There aren’t too many hobbies where you can build your own equipment and then use it to communicate with people that you will most likely never meet.

The Thrill Of Victory:

When it comes to kits, I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination (either yours or mine) but have built a few low cost QRP kits and receivers. Winding toroids by hand and learning how to solder parts together without causing a meltdown was a bit challenging at first. I do have to admit, the end result really justifies the means (what?). Think about it for a second, you take a bunch of parts that someone came up with, remove them from their plastic bags and carefully put them into some “logical order”. Then comes the moment of truth! Time to fire it up (a big 9 volt battery whoa!) and hammer away on the straight key calling CQ, I don’t know about you but when that other station comes back with a 5X9… WOW! Readability 5 and tone 9 (who cares what the signal value is) hey, at that moment  it  really all comes together.

Surfing For Great Ideas:

While surfing this morning, I ran across a very interesting transmitter kit.  No I have not built it. Why is it interesting and different? Because there are no toroids to wind. This guy built them into the PC board. That’s especially good for those who may be squeamish about winding toroids during the construction of  their first kit.

The NS-40 QRP Transmitter

The article goes on to talk about how that is unique to an HF design. Visit the Web page for more information about the amazing NS-40.

General Description

“The NS-40 Transmitter is an upgraded version of the overall winner in the FDIM 2008 Homebrew Contest. It is a truly unique QRP transmitter design. NS stands for No Simpler, so this is the No Simpler 40 Meter Transmitter. Why is it called the No Simpler? Because there are only 14 electronic components, and NO TOROIDS or COILS of any kind to wind – NONE! All inductors are incorporated directly on the PC board as etched spirals. This is an ideal first kit for budding homebrewers and will also appeal to the seasoned QRP’r due to it’s innovative design.”

More QRP Stuff:

Wilderness SST, NorCal-40, Sierra and EleCraft K2 “Stack”

Wilderness SST - Norcal 40 - Sierra - Elecraft K2

The Famous NORCAL Kits:

Wantit all? Build an Elecraft Kit:

Ten Tec 1254 Kit Receiver Video:

MFJ 9040 (not in kit form)

Comments Questions Criticisms:

I always ask for feedback but rarely get any but here goes.

Which kits have you built?

What was your experience?

Why not write a review and have it posted here?