Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Eavesdropper Extraordinaire

In a previous post I mentioned that I recently passed the test and got my ham radio license. Having been assigned my callsign, the FCC now lets me use certain frequencies to talk to people. Neat. In order to pass the test, I needed to know how to use a ham radio, so I should be fine and having conversations with people all over the world, right? Right?

I finally decided to buy a ham radio. A nice thing about them is that you can get ham radios that do different things and cost different amounts of money. So if you want the best of the best, you can spend your $6000 or whatever, and get yourself a station that is really good. And you can transmit on lots of different frequencies and your signal is clear so people can hear you, and all that.

Or, back in the day, people used to make their own radios. Really, it's all just electronics, so if you know what you're doing, you can. And that works too. I just listened to a conversation about guys who used to make their own 160m antennas out of stacked beer cans. (You just drink the beer, stack the cans, and solder them together...) They said the reception wasn't excellent, but hey, it worked.

And then, if you're like me and just getting started, you can get a little handheld thing that looks like an intense walkie-talkie, and still talk to people but mostly nearby-ish. And not have to solder anything. Or pay thousands.

I had my eye on the IC-T90A, which has 3 bands for transmitting instead of just 1 or 2, and still looks supercute. Well, cute for a radio.

I'd been watching them online, and knew about what they were going for (about $200 on eBay), and was ready to buy one. I was watching the auction near closing and at 7 minutes before, I decided it was time to bid. I decided my first bid would be $185, and typed that in while I was talking to a customer on the phone for work. And I confirmed my bid, only to notice that I had absent-mindedly bid up to $785 for it. Because I had entered the 7 because of the 7 minutes left. I think my heart about stopped beating when I realized what I'd entered. If anyone tried to outbid me at all, I would automatically outbid them. I was buying the radio at ANY cost. The seven minutes ticked away, and someone made a wild bid to beat me. The price jumped about $100, but I definitely thwarted the guy's efforts to steal my auction during the last 6 seconds. I'm sure the other guy was surprised to lose. In the end, I got an average to not-excellent deal, and I was very thankful to not be paying $785.

So I won my radio.

And they shipped it quickly, and now I have my radio. And at first I couldn't find anything to listen to, except the Provo Airport and some TV stations.

Buuut I figured it out. Now, a few times a day, I scan the 2 meter band and listen to random people's conversations. The thing is, having never seen anyone else ever use a ham radio, I'm sort of afraid of messing up. Even though I have my license, I feel kind of like someone had handed me a book, Surgery for Dummies, and then after I'd shown reasonable proficiency they handed me a white coat and scalpel and pointed me to the emergency room. Obviously this radio stuff isn't a matter of life and death, but I'm just not quite sure about the practical application of everything.

So for now, I'm listening. I think that after I hear someone actually initiate a conversation then I'll try. So far I've just found middles and ends of conversations.

And with ham radio, everyone knows that people are listening. There are rules about what you can say on the radio because everyone knows that people are listening. (Like, you can't say someone's medical condition, even in an emergency, etc.) Also, I sometimes hear conversations where partway through someone else joins in, and they're like "I'm here listening too" and their friends are happy about it. So eavesdropping is normal with this stuff.

Here are some things that I've heard people talking about:
- Issues with wood from forests.
- Issues with routers. (Actually, this was funny. It was two old guys, and one was like, "We bought my wife a laptop to use for writing. And she hasn't touched it in six months. So I started using it and she said "I was going to use that." And I said "Well! Use it!" She hadn't touched it in six months and then when I pull it out that's when she wants to use it...")
- Discussion about third degree burns.
- An interesting club officer meeting where they talked about trips they were thinking of doing and fundraising activities, among other things.
- Several conversations about weather or driving conditions.
- Many morse code transmissions, which I definitely don't understand.

But my favorite thing I've listened to so far, absolutely was something I found Sunday evening. It was called "This week in Amateur Radio" and it was a 1 hour news program with different reports and stories and stuff. It was awesome. I felt like I was back in the 1940s or whenever, sitting in front of the radio, listening to the program.

Anyway, The End. (I'll share exciting stories of people that I talk to when I actually start talking to people.)


Thirdmango said...

Ham radio stuff has been one of my dreams since I was a kid, seeing that it's possible like this I may end up doing it when I get a job. :)

L'Afro said...

My heart almost stopped for you. $785 could buy a messload of candy bars.