Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Interest

As we often do, Dad and I were discussing various things at random a few months ago, and I brought up "ham" radio. Amateur radio has always held a vague interest for me, and apparently it has for him as well. After mulling it over for a while, we decided that it would be something fun for us to do together. That was the end of the conversation, and I thought that some time in the next couple of years we would figure it out.

Apparently Dad, was VERY interested. Within the month he got his license, bought and installed a mobile 2m/70cm transceiver in his truck, and purchased a neat-as-hell handheld model. He has gone nuts on it, and is expecting me to do the same. So, while I was visiting in San Antonio this weekend, much of my time was occupied with trying to help him figure out some things. One interesting aspect that he had me figure out is something called EchoLink. This is a piece of software that uses VoIP to act as a tunnel basically for radio communication. It is a very neat concept. Our eventual plan is to use it to create a tunnel between our base stations at our homes. We should be able to talk to each other around town that way on our mobiles, since I live in Fort Worth, and he is in San Antonio. You basically hook up your base to the computer, and it acts as a link between your mobile radio, and whoever is on the other end of the VoIP link. There is quite a bit of delay, so they advise keying your mic and waiting a few seconds before broadcasting.

The technician class license allows only certain frequencies to be used. These bands are not good for long distance communication, like some of the other bands that are available to higher licensed operators. We have decided to stick to these for a while, before pursuing anything else. I am studying right now for my technician exam and hope to take it within the month. A mobile unit will probably be my first purchase as well. Hopefully we can just talk to each other on EchoLink for now, even though there will be no actual radios involved at first.

I have no idea how deep this hobby will go. Part of me thinks not very, as I have several interests that already occupy my free time. The other part can see a future of talking to exotic places and constructing homebrewed radios and antennas. We shall see were it leads. The biggest motivation is doing something with the old man. He is only in his 50s, but as I get older I become all to familiar with the concept that he will not be around forever. The most interesting thing so far, is the sheer depth of activities that are available through amateur radio. There are data networks, TV, old school Morse code stuff, bouncing signals off the moon, satellites, atmosphere, and meteor trails even. There is a whole world of stuff going on in amateur radio that I never knew existed.