Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ham Ham I Am

Geeze Louise, it was not easy getting my HAM license!  The second year we were on the water in Mexico I studied and studied and made it to a HAM exam in Puerto Vallarta where I passed the test and got my beginner license, technician level.  This enabled me to talk on a few channels on the Single Side Band radio.  The next level up is called a "General" license, and it allows me to talk on all the nets and, more importantly, sign up for Winlink, a free offshore email system.  With Winlink I can compose email messages on my laptop then upload them to the SSB radio and they will go bouncing off the ionosphere to a radio station that relays them to the internet.  I can also get weather reports and participate on all the marine HAM nets.  So it was really worth my while to get the General HAM license.  But boy it was a toughie!

I bought the HAM study book and scheduled Traveler to be in Puerto Vallarta on the last Sunday of the month so I could take the exam.  Then on the way north from Zihuatanejo I studied..... a little.   Once we got to La Cruz I found out the exam was cancelled because of a regatta.  There was a sigh of relief here because I knew that I'd not studied sufficiently to have any degree of confidence to pass the darn thing.

In Seattle for the summer, I looked for HAM exams but found none in the area.  Then we went south and worked the farm in California, nowhere near a HAM exam.  Then we went to Naida and Marco's place in Santa Monica and there was nothing nearby where I could test.  Eventually we arrived in Phoenix, just a half day from Mexico and our dear ship Traveler.  I found a place that was giving the test four days from then and knew that the time was right to take the exam.  So I started studying seriously and five hours into it I knew I was in trouble.  Damn this stuff is hard!

My brain was calcified.  My wits were dimmed.  My memorization synapses were weak.  My will was waning.

I read.  I tried to comprehend.  I wished I had a degree in electronics.  I'd break down and have a glass of wine then drive to Starbucks to get free internet and take sample HAM tests online.  I'd take them... and despair.

 What is the peak-inverse-voltage across the rectifier in a half-wave power supply?
A. One-half the normal peak output voltage of the power supply.
B. One-half the normal output voltage of the power supply.
C. Equal to the normal output voltage of the power supply.
D. Two times the normal peak output voltage of the power supply.

The HAM exam has 456 questions and all 456 are published on the internet, with answers. So you'd think it would be simple... just memorize the answers.  My problem was that I couldn't memorize that many technical answers. My brain only holds so much.  When you take the exam, you receive a somewhat random sample of 35 out of those 456 questions and must get 26 of them correct.  Sounds simple, eh?
Figure G7-1
My first practice test, I passed.  The second, I failed, as I did the third and the fourth.  Days went by as I did nothing but get intimate with the HAM study guide. Around me everyone was laughing, partying, playing music and having fun.  Me....I sat with my head in a book.  Some vacation, huh?

 Which symbol in figure G7-1 represents an NPN junction transistor?
A. Symbol 1.
B. Symbol 2.
C. Symbol 7.
D. Symbol 11.

On test day I crammed for six hours then jumped into the truck and drove across Phoenix to take the test. I sat at a table with my number 2 pencil and started in on my 35 questions.  Would I luck out and get an easy test or would it be a ball buster?  It turned out to be somewhere in between.  I sweated, I cursed, I took my time.  Four of the 35 questions I had not a clue as to the answer so I made educated guesses.  The rest seemed familiar.  I double checked my answers then turned in the test.

The first (person who grades test) made a few marks on the answer sheet then passed it to the second without a look in my direction.  He had a sour look on his face.  Equally serious the second checked my answers and made his mark on the page before passing it on to the third.  He triple checked the answer sheet, gave a big sigh and looked up at another man who finally looked at me and smiled.  I knew I'd got it! 

Now I don't understand why I have to know how to install every antennae in the world, and how every electronic part functions inside the radio.  I think we should have a special license, say the "Marine" HAM license for those folks like me who will only be picking up the mike and talking on one or two frequencies on occasion.  But little is it for me to question the wisdom of the HAM world.  Now I'm one of them... maybe I'll start a little revolution of my own and they will name a net after me.

We escaped the US late last week and made it down to Guaymas and the boat.  The weather is wonderful, the people are friendly, and living is inexpensive.   More soon about the trials and tribulations getting our new Beta engine connected and running.

 Which of the following frequencies is within the General Class portion of the 75 meter phone band?
A. 1875 kHz.
B. 3750 kHz.
C. 3900 kHz.
D. 4005 kHz.