Tag Archives: Amateur Radio

Upcoming San Francisco Ham Radio Exams

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and are interested in getting your amateur radio license, there are a couple testing sessions coming up in 2010 that may be of interest:


The Bay Area Educational Amateur Radio Society (BAERS) is hosting a Ham Cram on Saturday, January 9th from 8AM-5PM at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco.  The cost is $30 including the VEC fee.

A “Ham Cram” is a one day workshop where you can get your ham radio license (usually the Technician level) without studying in advance.  I’m not sure I completely agree with their methods of blind memorization over actually understanding the rules, but apparently this method works and most people pass on their first attempt.  If you’re short on time and want to get your license in a hurry, this is one option.

Thanks to Robert for the heads-up on the January session.


AERO is another SF-based group that regularly posts flyers advertising their own ham cram sessions.  Their most recent poster is outdated, but the site mentions there will likely be an upcoming session in February 2010.  I just took the General license exam at their November session and was really impressed by how many people were there and how professionally run the event was.

Update: Their next session is on February 7th, 2010 at 8:45AM.  Details here.

Studying the old fashioned way:

If you don’t like the “cram” method, you can always pick up a study guide (Technician, General, Extra Class) and spend a few weeks studying for the test like I did for both my Technician and General license exams.  There are even a couple online practice tests to help you study.  When you feel comfortable with the material, you can take the exam at the sessions above for a $14 VEC fee without doing the cram.  I know AERO allows this, but it would probably be a good idea to check and make sure BAERS permits this as well.  In either case, I recommend that you RSVP to ensure you get a seat and get notification about changes to the venue, etc.  Contact info for each group is on their respective websites.

Good luck and 73 from KF6PBP!

APRS Tracker

APRS Tracker

This week, my brother is relocating from the San Francico Bay Area to Texarkana, Texas.  I’m helping him move, so for the next two weeks we’ll be on a road trip through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and maybe a little bit of Oklahoma.  We’re planning to see the Very Large Array, visit Truth or Consequences, and check out The Black Hole in Los Alamos.  That is, if the trailer stays connected and we don’t break down too many times on the way.

I though this would be a good opportunity to dust off my APRS tracker so friends and family can watch our progress.

What is APRS?

APRS, short for Automatic Packet Reporting System, is a radio network that uses amateur radio frequencies to relay short messages.  Think of it as a precursor to twitter, developed 20+ years ago by Bob Bruinga, WB4APR.  The messages usually contain GPS coordinates, and they are relayed via radio to internet connected stations that send the data to the APRS-IS network.  Database servers, such as findU, cache the packets so that client software can access them without needing a radio or realtime access to the network.

The coolest client I have seen so far is aprs.fi, a clever mashup of APRS and Google Maps:

APRS map of San Francisco
APRS map of San Francisco

The hardware:

I made this APRS tracking box a couple years ago, so I’m a little fuzzy on the construction details, but it consists of the following parts:

  • A Trimble ACE III GPS module, originally used in a police car, $5 on eBay.
  • An external mag-mount powered antenna for the GPS that I found at HSC, also $5.
  • A Tinytrak3+ microcontroller-based APRS encoder and modem, $30
  • My old Kenwood TH-79A handheld 2 meter/144-148 MHz ham radio
  • A mag mount whip antenna for the HT, found at the electronics flea market.
  • An aluminum box, probably the most expensive part.
  • Some cables to glue all the pieces together, mostly salvaged from my junk box.

The APRS tracker acquires a GPS fix and the current GPS time.  Every so often (fully configurable), it transmits my position over the radio, where it is received by other APRS relay stations in the area.  Speed, direction, and altitude are also included with the position packet.  I connected a piezo buzzer to the TX signal so I hear a beep when the position is transmitted.  Within a few minutes, a point corresponding to the position shows up on the map at aprs.fi or in the findu database.

It’s really neat to play with, especially on long trips.  On a trip to Moab two years ago, my position was received by the APRS network even in areas with no cell coverage, which included most of Utah!

Note that to use the APRS system, you need to have an amateur radio license.  If you’ve ever been interested in amateur radio, this is a really good reason to get your license and start experimenting!

Chuck Houghton – WB6IGP

Chuck WB6IGP operating his lasercom system
Chuck WB6IGP operating his lasercom system

Ed. note: This is a guest post by a good friend of mine, Tony Long, KC6QHP.  Hopefully Tony will be contributing more to the blog in the future and we’ll get to see some of the interesting things he’s working on in his lab in SoCal.  Let’s all welcome Tony to the blog! – Jeff

By 1995 I had been a licensed ‘ham’ for 4 years.  I was in the 11th grade and interested in a putting together a far-out science fair project.  Over the next two years I worked with two hams, mentors, and friends to get the project done.  One of them was Chuck Houghton, WB6IGP.  He and Kerry Banke N6IZW started the San Diego Microwave Group back in the 1980’s.  What they started was an informal group that still meets in the garage at Kerry’s house in La Mesa once a month to talk about and work on microwave ham radio projects.  This group has been highly influential in the interests and careers of myself and Jeff.  We both went to college in San Diego and attended these meetings and just as importantly, had a great source of parts and articles from Chuck.

Chuck, who was 68, passed away peacefully in his home on April 29th.

Chuck and Kerry started out on the microwave bands by using surplus microwave burglar alarm systems and modifying them for amateur radio use.  Chuck was in some ways an early version of many DIY electronics bloggers of today.  He not only did experiments, and built interesting projects, he wrote about them, told others how to do it, and supplied printed circuit boards, kits of parts, and so on.  He wrote a monthly column in 73 magazine and later in CQ-VHF detailing his experiments.   His reach was worldwide, and no doubt has enabled the microwave amaetur radio hobby to flourish.

So, to Chuck I bid a farewell and 73.  You will be missed but you will be remembered well!

-Tony KC6QHP

Electronics Flea Market @ DeAnza College

Air variable caps.

Kylie and I decided to check out the Electronics Flea Market at DeAnza College this past weekend.  I took a bunch of pictures and put them up on flickr.

We met a trio of Evil Mad Scientists there and had a great time.  I stocked up on tweezers and tiny solder braid, along with some mystery items I’ll feature in an upcoming post.

The last Electronics Flea Market of the year is next month, on Saturday October 11th. Don’t miss it!

By the way, the big news this weekend was that HSC electronics is NOT moving as was rumored earlier in the year.  Speaking of HSC, this coming weekend is the annual HSC sidewalk sale.  (This year they’re calling it a warehouse clearance sale due to downsizing at their present location.)