CQ CQ Metafilter Hams? May 12, 2023 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I know of at least one Mefite ham out there - are there any others? After a lifetime of watching my dad sit at his rig, and one go at a Novice license about twenty years ago (I got reasonably good at CW and then somehow never tested), I am now a brand new Technician and learning to play around on a Yaesu handheld. I am still in the "nod and smile" phase of listening to other hams talk, but I'm gearing up to take the general at some point. I'd love to see how many other Metafilter hams there are...
posted by PussKillian to MetaFilter-Related at 2:05 PM (36 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Once again, I am disappointed that a reference to ham aficionados is not about people who enjoy jamón serrano or prosciutto.

The other kind of ham does look super cool though and I have often wondered about it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:11 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

Technician here. I got mine for multicopter FPV (to be legal with the analog video systems, you need a ham license), and I have a couple of handhelds. The local repeaters are not really my jam, though, and I haven't been motivated to get the gear for any of the more interesting digital modes/etc.
posted by Alterscape at 2:43 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I'm a ham radio operator, like my father before me. He's got an Extra-class license. I've been stuck at Technician since the '80s for various reasons.

The "nod and smile" phase is crucial. I was fortunate enough to grow up around hams, so I kind of inherited best practices on-air. Listen and learn everything you can. If you've got a local club that does Field Day or Parks on the Air, join in. You'll get lots of great experience that way.
posted by bryon at 3:15 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

My dad was an extra as well. He passed away pretty recently and getting my license turned out to be part of my grieving process. The local club is great and offer free lessons to pass the tests. My problem with the general is that we’re moving too fast for me to absorb everything. (There may have been some stifled sobs when logarithms were brought up.) So, I may not be able to take the test before the batch of questions turns over at the end of June, but talking to people overseas is my biggest goal so I need to get it done.
posted by PussKillian at 3:46 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

After they lifted the CW requirement some years ago, I got a Technician class license but am not currently active in the hobby. I never had any burning desire to be a ham, but my childhood electronics mentor is a ham and I felt that it would be a nice gesture to finally get licensed, which I did a decade ago. I'm on the introverted side and prefer communicating with weirdos on the internet via ASCII vs RF over the air, so it never really "stuck" for me. For people looking to make connections and BS about a range of topics, community service oriented folks, etc. ham radio can be great and hams are generally good people.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 3:54 PM on May 12

I always thought it would be cool, but haven't tried for a license. I don't know any hams myself, so I don't have any exposure to the culture.

How hard are the tests, anyway?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:21 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I'm in a passive interest group locally to work towards my license but I'm bogged down with work projects. I'd be happy to have some accountability with others like me.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:34 PM on May 12

Some years back I borrowed a test prep book from the library and ended up with a General license. I bought a Yaesu handheld, listened to folks on a local repeater, and made a couple of contacts, but interacting that way didn’t stick for me.

I do carry a handheld (lately, an expendably cheap one) as part of my essential safety gear when I’m out hiking or exploring a National park, and that’s come in handy on a few occasions (listening to park crew chatter during a snow storm, checking the NOAA weather broadcasts in general).

What I’ve been wanting recently is some kind of a refresher study guide to help me get back on top of things like the important frequencies, broadcast protocol, etc. — preferably something lighter than the full exam prep.
posted by Songdog at 7:18 PM on May 12

Fairly new ham here, hi! Got my Technician license in January.

Controversially, I studied for my license via a "ham cram"--an all-day "study" session where you basically memorize the answers with short breaks (and a room full of people doing the same thing for light accountability), and then immediately take the test in the afternoon. It was a perfect option for me, because I learn much better by doing, but until I had my license, it would have been illegal to do the learning I would have needed to do...

I'm still figuring a lot of things out, but participating in the local radio club's weekly net has helped me feel a lot more comfortable -- as has learning from the radio operators in my city's emergency response team, which I volunteer with and is part of why I got my license in the first place.

(DirtyOldTown, I am also an appreciator of pork products, and a pretty dramatically terrible actress. Triple-ham.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:37 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

Not an operator myself, but boyfriend used to be and we tune in the ham bands on the shortwave and he translates the Morse code for me. I like listening to the contests best.
posted by JanetLand at 4:37 AM on May 13

Could operator call signs be added to profiles like social media?
posted by terrapin at 4:39 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

General class ham, here, who hasn't been on the air in years but is working on changing that soon.

I would be totally up for adding callsigns to profiles, but definitely for fellow-members-only profile viewing. Listing my callsign is literally giving people a globally unique identifier for me that (in the US) usually has my legal name and typically has a home address associated.

73 de Nxxxx
posted by rmd1023 at 7:42 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]

I'd prefer not to share my callsign with even logged-in members, for the same reasons rmd1023 lists -- it's one search from there to one's full name and home address. That's not to say don't do it, just stating that I wouldn't use it if it existed (memail me if you have a reason to want to know, I guess, and we'll figure it out from there).
posted by Alterscape at 10:32 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]

I honestly think I’d have done better with a “ham cram” because the classes are good but are set within a school semester timeline. It’s held at a college that does international rescue work training so they wanted to get students out there with their general. So it was a lot of stuff thrown out too fast for me to truly take in, and too slow for me to memorize all at once and test quickly. There is a good app called Ham Study, plus lots of books and online videos. My problem is that the test question pool is about to turn over so memorizing stuff now is useless unless I get it all in and test by the end of June.

The technician class is pretty easy, as someone who started with nothing more than the faint memory of building a crystal radio when I was 12, and some terminology from my husband mixing music. You end up using Ohm’s Law and memorizing some stuff about the ionosphere. If you’re interested it wouldn’t necessarily be a big time investment and it doesn’t cost much. People tend to start with inexpensive Bao Feng radios if they don’t want to put a lot of money down. My “fancier” radio was $100 (and a gift from my sister, so hey, good price.)

I need to sign up for the state games and get my first experience doing some volunteering. Lots of people here also interested in storm spotting/weather stuff.
posted by PussKillian at 11:42 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Hey wow!! (hey puss Killian your post made it!!)

I had no idea there'd be even one other ham on mefi. I got my extra in 2019. I'm fairly active (I have a small kit for parks on the air - POTA - that I take on business trips) and belong to my local club which is nearly 100 years old!

I highly recommend buck ki4a ham radio the easy way books (included on Amazon kindle unlimited, and from his website... Good guy. He'll give you free books or heavily discounted for club events and giveaways, we bought a bunch to give to new hams and new club members and he threw in like 15 extra...) and would be happy to help if anyone has any questions.

Wonder how we can use this info and community without self doxing? An IRL on a frequency? Maybe just a profile icon to indicate we ARE amateur radio operators but no call sign???

Also I love the hidden reference in OPs user name. Between that and ham radio.... New internet friend!!
posted by chasles at 7:26 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

My problem is that the test question pool is about to turn over so memorizing stuff now is useless unless I get it all in and test by the end of June.

Both question pools are out there as are difference lists. I want to say there's only like 6 questions different or something... Some are just like 2 words different!! Don't lose hope.
posted by chasles at 7:28 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

Here is the general question pool changes, as you can see it's very minor...

arrl link
posted by chasles at 5:33 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Is this the finally getting our ham license accountability post? I’m the only one in my family who hasn’t gotten my license; it would be neat to knock that off the bucket list. I don’t think anyone in my family been active much lately, but I have some fond memories from childhood of various ham radio club activities. Also lots of really boring conversations, but one doesn’t have to listen all the time. Listening in that time one of the astronauts was a ham radio operator and talking to people from space was pretty cool though.
posted by eviemath at 6:35 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Do it!!
My dad set up his rig at my school once and we chatted with a shuttle astronaut, which was pretty great. I think it was the shuttle, and not the ISS, anyway.
posted by PussKillian at 6:51 PM on May 14

My experience definitely pre-dated the 1998 launch of the first ISS components (though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first ham in space, which a little internet digging indicates was in 1983).
posted by eviemath at 7:36 PM on May 14

Hrm, at a guess this would have been around 1985 so shuttle, probably Anthony England.
posted by PussKillian at 8:13 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Extra class here, but not active anymore. It is an interesting hobby, though. Congrats!
posted by SillyShepherd at 6:44 AM on May 15

I was KC5ZGH, but let it expire about 10 years ago. Maybe I'll renew now that the little import HTs are ridiculously cheap.
posted by tayknight at 6:50 AM on May 15

The trivial doxxing for call signs is an obnoxious obstacle for accessibility to radio for people who are not of the once dominant social group, and the grunting reticence to have that changed an intentional barrier to keeping it an old boy's club. It's sad, really, because the equipment is cheap and the possible benefits to being able to communicate with others outside of corporate owned means are large. Gatekeeping is b a d.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:26 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]

Technician here, I'd like to upgrade to general. Done a bit on the local repeaters but am not very active.
posted by lharmon at 3:58 PM on May 16

The trivial doxxing for call signs is an obnoxious obstacle for accessibility to radio for people who are not of the once dominant social group, and the grunting reticence to have that changed an intentional barrier to keeping it an old boy's club.

I struggle with this. I've taken it as self governance of a public utility. Cb radio is a cesspool and I think a big part of that is the ability to obscure yourself completely. It's basically the argument of the comments section having anonymous posters... I did change my mailing addresses to a po box which makes me a feel a LOT better.
posted by chasles at 6:43 PM on May 17

There are a few hams here; QRZ is one of the social thingies you can add to your Metafilter profile. I've had a lifelong interest in radio-related stuff (shortware, scanners, SDRs recently, etc), and got a ham ticket a few years ago as a bucket-list item. I didn't stay a Tech very long and got General, then Extra, and only because I couldn't stand the idea of there being another test out there to take. I don't have a hell of a lot of time for ham stuff these days but still regularly linger in a couple of irc channels with other hams because amateur radio is such a tremendous nerd-nexus of bizarre hobbies.

For those wondering - the tests are not terribly difficult. As mentioned above, the question pools are public and the tests are multiple choice. I used the ARRL books (make sure you get current editions) and the flashcards/practice exams at hamstudy.org. Passed all three exams on the first try, and all you need to do is pass.

73 de AA4JQ
posted by jquinby at 8:12 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]

Ugh. Lack of anonymity is not proof against assholes, just look at Facebook. Whereas anonymity provides safety for people who are at risk. I get that everyone who's gone through the process to be a ham thinks the licensing and tests and the doxxing are the Best Thing Ever but y'all are just waving your privilege around. I know it's futile to ask you to stop, but I'll ask again anyway. Please stop.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:19 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of stuff hams seem to be doing using digital modes, so if you're interested, you can combine both.
posted by PussKillian at 2:24 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Ham radio probably isn't the medium for folks who require anonymity. Transmitters can be geolocated pretty quickly, and privacy-enhancing measures like encryption are illegal on the amateur band anyway. Digital modes will obscure a conversation long enough for someone to fire up their own copy of the software to decode/render whatever's going by.

I'm surprised the FCC hasn't moved quicker (or at all) on suppressing the public availability of callsign information, given the climate around privacy these days. They need a place to send official notices and whatnot; fine. There's zero need to make that information available to the general public on a website.

The days of amateur radio as a vital public service tool in case of emergency are probably over*, so what's left is the other mission, which is advancing the state-of-the-art and experimentation on a bit of dedicated, non-commercial real estate. For that, the more, the merrier and hopefully that's enough to keep the bands from getting auctioned off.

Technician here, I'd like to upgrade to general. Done a bit on the local repeaters but am not very active.

I had zero interest in the local repeaters. As a tech I messed around with APRS and tried to get into the FM satellites. The biggest bang for the buck in terms of operating privileges is Tech -> General. If you're not chasing DX or contesting, Extra gets you access to shorter calls, the ability to act as a VEC for all license exam levels, and that's about it.

* - conventionally speaking, anyway. The ham radio subs and chat rooms get a fairly constant stream of questions from preppers and prepper-adjacent folks looking to GET THEIR COMMS UP in case of collapse. Because that's exactly when you'll have time to learn morse code, the ins-and-outs of the gear, and all the idiosyncrasies of HF communication. The standard response is usually: you should practice a lot with all of these things, and to do so legally, you'll need a license, and by the way, it's not like the movies...and then interest drops precipitously.
posted by jquinby at 7:06 AM on May 19

OneGearIsEnough: Is this really a thing? Is the concern that a call sign is linked to a specific address, and that someone can find out where you live if they know your call sign? I assume most people who have that level of concern about people finding out where they live already use a P.O. Box as their address anyway.

I noted privacy concerns earlier in the thread with regard to having display of it only shown to logged-in users. The threat scenario I'm thinking of is that I make a (hypothetical) comment on MeFi about some controversial subject like "trans people should be able to exist in public", and it is both insightful and hilariously funny and so it goes viral and some chan-dwelling fool looks at the Mefi page with the comment, looks at my public user info, and proceeds to look up my home address info in order to order pizzas delivered to my house or perhaps to try and get me killed via SWAT'ing.

Yes, someone could get the same info by paying to join the site, but it puts enough of a speed bump in between "rmd1023" and "WB1*** with legal name R** M. D*** whose permanent transmitting station is located at 93 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA, 02143" that it heavily reduces the threat. If I've managed to piss off people willing to pay $$ to join the site, they are probably going to be willing enough to put in the time and effort to doxx me even without the FCC's help by just looking at my posting data and doing some OSINT searches.

Privacy of the FCC data and the balance between what info should be public vs people's privacy is a whole thing unto itself - I'm just worried about that info being tightly linked to my MeFi user page.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:01 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Six or seven years ago a bunch of co-workers were all talking about getting licensed, so I signed up for the test too. jquinby is exactly right: with the ARRL books and hamstudy.org, it's not hard to pass all three at one go. I already mostly knew CW (had learned it as a kid for no particular reason) so was weirdly disappointed it wasn't required.

I got myself a cheap handheld and inherited a co-worker's old HF, neither of which I've touched since that first year. Might be fun to pick it up again sometime.

Vaguely considering trying to work in a pun about "bad actors" too, but I will paraliptically restrain myself.
posted by tangerine at 5:41 PM on May 19

Technician here. I don’t do much with it.
posted by pheide at 6:04 PM on May 20

Ugh. Lack of anonymity is not proof against assholes

posted by chasles at 11:18 AM on May 22

I'm a General class license holder.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:23 PM on May 26 [1 favorite]

UK full licence here, with much thanks to an excellent trainer at my local radio club. I'm mostly interested in radio listening, though.
posted by offog at 11:17 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]

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