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Do You Still Find Amateur Radio Interesting? 205

Marcos Eliziario asks: "Soon, I'll be taking the exams for a Brazilian, Class-D, Ham Radio license (Equivalent to an American Technician License) and, as I was reading about the subject, I wondered what today's geek thinks about amateur radio. In the past, Ham Radio was very popular among nerds, however with the Internet boom it seems that interest on radio, among the younger generations, is becoming dimmer each day. A lot of cool things can be done with radio, like building your own equipment, digital modes (btw, few people know that Packet Radio was born on the amateur's rank), and long distance contacts. The gear is cool, there's a lot of things to be learned about propagation, and today's Hams even use satellites to talk. Do you think that we could see a renaissance of Ham Radio among 21st century techies?"
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Do You Still Find Amateur Radio Interesting?

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  • Yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lothos (10657) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:31PM (#15398803) Homepage
    I'm studying for my amateur licence. It still has its uses in this day and age of the internet.
    • when you get it, head on over to hamsexy.com [hamsexy.com]. where all the cool hams hang out :)

      73s de VE3HYP
    • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Phreakiture (547094) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @08:56AM (#15400660) Homepage

      The way I see it, there are five classes of individuals who have historically been interested in ham radio. These four classes are not mutually exclusive, and I am in all five of them.

      First, there are folks who want to meet people and chat. These folks now have the internet, and have gradually withdrawn from ham radio.

      Second, there are folks who want to be able to make phone calls away from a landline. Traditionally, this has been done via a phone patch. Cell phones are now dirt cheap, so these folks have gradually withdrawn from ham radio. As a result, there are also fewer phone patches than there used to be.

      Third, there are folks who want some form of intra-family communications. These folks would get their entire household licenced historically. Now these folks either get cell phones, or FRS or GMRS radios, or in some rare cases, MURS or CB radios, and so these folks have (need I say it?) gradually withdrawn from ham radio.

      Fourth, there are folks who generally love radio. These folks will never leave ham radio because playing with radios is fun (which is the real answer to your question).

      Fifth and finally, there are the ever-prepared crowd. These folks will do whatever they feel they need to in order to make themselves stable and useful in the event that social order breaks down for some reason or other.

      • Personally, my main problem with Ham radio has been the "no commerce" and "no encryption" rules.

        Even if you had the license and radio to make a call throught the "phone patch", you couldn't order a pizza, it would be technically illegal, along with anything that could be considered "commerce". And "no encryption" meant not being able to use "packet radio" for something as simple as personal email without literally broadcasting it publicly. No thanks.

        If a few channels of Amateur bandwidth were liber
        • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @05:24PM (#15405268) Journal
          Even if you had the license and radio to make a call throught the "phone patch", you couldn't order a pizza, it would be technically illegal, along with anything that could be considered "commerce". And "no encryption" meant not being able to use "packet radio" for something as simple as personal email without literally broadcasting it publicly. No thanks.

          Since you can do both of those using a commercial cell-phone and SMS, why would you want to take away amateur radio bandwith to duplicate what you can already do using a cell-phone?

      • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by no_opinion (148098)
        I live in Socal, where someone joked our seasons are fire, riot, flood, and earthquake. The recent Katrina disaster prompted me to get a license (I'm in category 5) and I picked up a hand-held radio, but in reality I haven't spoken to a single person. Why? I feel like I need someone to show me the ropes, but I haven't really found anyone I can relate to (e.g. in my age group). I looked into some clubs, but they're mostly older people (like 50+) or they seem to be on hiatus.

        Just looking at the pictures i
        • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Phreakiture (547094)

          Just looking at the pictures in the ham radio books demonstrates that this hobby's high point passed back in the 70s. Read some QST magazines: yawn. So until I stumble upon someone local who's roughly my age (30s), I'm unlikely to actively participate. Back in the day the geeks were into radios, but now they're into the internet, so I predict ham radio will continue it's slow decline.

          Well, I'm in my mid-30s and I don't let the age difference get in my way. There are at least two hams under 20 that I kn

  • by Soong (7225) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:31PM (#15398808) Homepage Journal
    Once upon a time I learned morse and passed the novice, tech and tech plus tests. Then I got into computers and the internet and a zillion other things. It probably would have been easy for me to renew my license to as good or better status given the easing of the tests, but I never got around to it. I still have my radios but the batteries are dead and probably won't even hold a charge anymore. Radio is still a curiosity, but not something I've chosen to spend time on.
  • Depends... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Opusnbill7 (442087) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:34PM (#15398810)
    Depends.... Some of us might find that stuff interesting, but don't know who to turn to to "try it out". That, and the cost of entry is so high (equipment, putting up an antenna [which you can't even do if you have an apt. probably]) that it really is hard to "get started". As unfortunate as it may be, Ham radio may be in a bit of a downward spiral unless it can figure out a way to make it accessible and seem relevant to the younger generation.
    • Re:Depends... (Score:5, Informative)

      by nincehelser (935936) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:56PM (#15398920)
      It's neither hard nor expensive to get started. Just get your license and go on the air with a handy-talky. I bought my first one for less than $200. No big antennas or investmens are necessary.

      This assumes you live close enough to a population center with folks to talk to, but that isn't a big deal in most areas. From there you can decide if you want to branch out into longer-distance communications.

      • t's neither hard nor expensive to get started. Just get your license and go on the air with a handy-talky. I bought my first one for less than $200. No big antennas or investmens are necessary.

        I see licensing requirements have radically changed since 1990, esp. in Canada. Before it was such a pain in the ass. Learn to send & receive morse code (which isn't trivial, but not super hard either), study like hell for the tests, pay the test fee and hope you pass the first time, then get to spend your f

  • by ve3id (601924) <.gro.eeei. .ta. .nosnhoj.wn.> on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:41PM (#15398842)
    Yes I certainly do! It is still a sandbox for trying things out that will become either part of the common practice or a failed experiment to add to your experience! Right now hams are experimenting wioth new ways to communicate, satellites, digital modes, rig control, repeater stations and VoIP. there is lots of room for experimentation and in the upper levels of qualification you don;t have to buy type-approved equipment. You can experiment on the air without going through a commercial approval process, which can cost tens of thousands for a commefcial piece opf equipment. Amateur radio is the original open-source community, with a tradition of sharing techniques and technology dating back a century. With wireless becoming more important to the computer community, there is lots of room for people whpo pass the exams to do real and beneficial experimentation on the air, and maybe even invent something worthwile for humanity without a million-dollafr lab! Right now in Toronto we are working on a new generation of VHF/UHF repeater controller (search for TorontoRepeaterController on yahoo groups) which will be all open-source, hardware and software. It not only will congtrol repeaters, but link into VoIP nets, remote control rigs, and provide a gateway for analog radio users into the new digital voice modes. Even buying commercial off-the-shelf mobiles help the cause, because what is the use of developing stuff without intelligent users to test it! The next few years will see an multifold improvement in progagation as we reahc the peak of the sunspot cycle for those who just like to communicate. Two cycles ago I had no problem working Europe with ten watts from the mobile on 30MHz! Amateur radio is alive and well - but don;t tell too many people. We like to keep its wonders to ourselves! 73, Nigel, VE3ID and G4AJQ
    • Exactly! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LinuxGeek (6139) *
      I have been around Hams for twenty years and the tech has usually stayed interesting. During the late 80's packet radio was starting out. When most people were calling bbs's using modems, hams were sending wireless data. Check out Phil Karn's [ka9q.net] site. He has a lot of wireless experience as both ham and engineer responsible for much of the CDMA standard.

      Want to start with some small radios and learn more about electronics at the same time? There are many [qrpkits.com] interesting [fix.net] kits [elecraft.com] around [ac6v.com] if you look [qrpradio.com]. You certainly
  • "Do You Still Find Amateur Radio Interesting?"

    No. Most Slashdotters are under fifty, I think.

    Next week's topic: Are Star Wars references still cool?

    • No. Most Slashdotters are under fifty, I think.

      LoL But not all of us. Personally I think most technology is cool. EM theory is fun, and the buzzword coefficient is pretty high (how many of you know what a directional discontinuity ring radiator is? How many of you know it's too big to be a sex toy?) and antenna theory is monstorously cool. But I thought that the Intel 4004 was cool too, because you could express a hex digit all at once. Spacecraft are cool. Varactors are cool. Longwires are definite

      • Varactors are cool.

        I have to disagree with you on this one. They are far too high noise for interesting receiving circuits (unless I've missed newer low noise ones). Give me a nice big set of plates any day. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the semiconductor theory behind them is cool and the ability to make VCF's and other circuits out of them is pretty neat - but as a serious device? Unless you're going for miniturization, they suck.

      • by MattGWU (86623) *
        Did you call him Mel, because that was his name?

    • I only wish I could honestly claim that was a myth and that amateur radio was full of vibrant young geeks. But I'm 34 and I'm the youngest guy in the local radio club by a good 10 years, easily. That's OK, though - I still love everything about amateur radio. The FCC is poised to drop the Morse code requirement altogether, yet I still want to achieve proficiency in code just because it's fun. And while it's not strictly amateur radio, I still like listening to the nutjobs on the shortwave broadcast stations
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ditdit / dida dada / ditdadadit dadada ditditdit da ditdit dadit dadadit / da ditditditdit ditdit ditditdit / ditdada ditdit da ditditditdit / dada dadada ditdadit ditditdit dit / daditdadit dadada daditdit dit / ditditdadaditdit / NO CARRIER
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:44PM (#15398859)
    Yes, amateur radio is still relevant. Where else do you get to play with satellites? Amateur radio is one of the few places (outside of NASA) where you can experiment with radio links through real satellites in orbit around the Earth. That's not something you can do over the Internet. The upcoming Phase 5A (P5A) launch will be a mission to Mars. You can't do *THAT* over the Internet. See http://www.go-mars.org/ [go-mars.org] (It's German. Use the fish!). More info on amateur radio and satellites is available at AMSAT's web site at http://www.amsat.org./ [www.amsat.org]
  • by wildzontor (976984) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:45PM (#15398861)
    My friends and I use ham radio because our cell phones drop all the time. As long as we're a hundred miles or so from our local repeater we're good. The entry price wasn't too much for me. $180 for a 2-meter mobile and $170 for a dual-band ht.
    • by SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @07:39AM (#15400359) Journal
      My friends and I use ham radio because our cell phones drop all the time.

      Yep, I ragchew all the time to/from work. I have a 45 minute commute. The time on the road (and time in traffic jams) generally breezes by. The topics vary, but it's always interesting conversation.

      For those who say: "I can do the same thing on my cell phone", let me ask you this? How much does your 1800 minute per month plan cost? Mine costs $0. Plus, I'm usually chatting (rountable style) with more than three people. I never heard of Four or Five Way Calling on a cell phone plan.

      73 and I'm QRT
  • No. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sharkb8 (723587) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:48PM (#15398878)
    There are far more geeky things to do. Wny bother talikning to someone on the other side of the world via ham when I can just use my cellphone? Is it the random encounters with people you don't know?

    It's more fun to frag someone in Quake then drop some smack in context.

    My uncle had all his ham licenses when I was a kid. I was 9 and didn't see why it was fun then either. Looking back, it kind of seems like lame social networking for geeks.
    • My uncle had all his ham licenses when I was a kid. I was 9 and didn't see why it was fun then either. Looking back, it kind of seems like lame social networking for geeks.

      Keywords: "geeks", "lame social networking"...there's another kind? Something non-lame like myspace or IRC or texting or FPS taunting post-frag or masquerading as a female in a chat room or...?

      ;-)

    • Re:No. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NateTech (50881)
      Nah, like any good hobby, it's about the people you meet.

      If it weren't for Amateur Radio, I would have never met Bdale Garbee, prior to his becoming the Debian Project Leader, or any of the other great folks who are Hams.
  • no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:51PM (#15398899) Homepage
    I hate to say it, but no. When I got my license as a teenager around 1979, it was a cool way to talk for free to my father, who was divorced from my mother. In that era, long-distance phone calls were really expensive, and e-mail and the internet didn't exist. I could talk to people in other countries, like Japan, ... and Japan, and ... Japan. But seriously, that was very cool in an era when a long-distance call to Japan would have been an obscene amount of money.

    Things are totally different now. Not only is the internet a free way to communicate (free as in zero dollars per minute), but you can actually communicate with people on the internet about -- get this -- anything you like! In other words, you're not just having these stilted, stylized conversations about what your rig is.

    --KB6ZD

    • by NateTech (50881)
      Conversations on Ham Radio are only what you make of them. If all you did was talk about your rigs, then that's all the imagination you had. Tough to admit, but true.

      Conversations around here run the gamut from Politics, to computers, to spaceflight, to yeah... rigs.

      You're right, many hams do only talk about boring things -- just like in a crowded Christmas party, you're bound to find some people talking about boring things, and if you're like me -- you'll gravitate away to a more interesting discussion.
  • Yes! (Score:2, Funny)

    by SaDan (81097)
    I still find amatuer... Oh, wait. RADIO. Not pr0n.
  • Probably not (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @10:53PM (#15398908)
    One thing to keep in mind about geeks is that you can't pigeonhole them. Some like games and never bathe. Others like to program and stay up days consuming only Taco Bell and Mountain Dew. Others like to plug computers together and twiddle their fingers waiting for their kernels to finish compiling. Even others like to jack off to Sailor Moon and other Japanese cartoons.

    On the outskirts of geekdom, you have people like yourself who are interested in ham radios or model trains or paper airplanes. These will pretty much always be niche geek markets because they just don't have the glamour that and visibility that the mainstream geek lifestyle provides.

    Which is not to say that there aren't merits to these peripheral geek lifestyles. Ham radios, in particular, are very useful in times of crisis and crises rely on people with a sense of responsibility and social acuity. Typical geeks, if that is who you are trying to interest, are the exact opposite type of people to bring into the ham radio flock.

    But be sure that what you are interested in is non-mainstream geekery. Just because something requires technical ability, it does not follow that it requires a geek to manage it. Somethings are just technically difficult and not geeky at all.

    Ham radio is definitely geeky, though.
    • the GLAMOUR of geekdom? Geez this is something new to me :)
    • glamour that and visibility that the mainstream geek lifestyle provides

      There is no such thing as a mainstream geek lifestyle until Ikea comes up with a furniture collection to match it. I'll keep a lookout for the Gïk line of products. The instructions for these are probably written in Klingon.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Mike: Hi, folks. Mike Nelson here. Crow and Servo are about to help me with the annual Satellite of Love safety check. You guys ready?
    Crow: Roger.
    Servo: Ramjet.
    Mike: All right, fire extinguishers?
    Servo: Empty.
    Crow: Shot them off in your face. Next.
    Mike: Okay. Flare gun?
    Servo: Ibid.
    Crow: Shot them off in your face. Next.
    Mike: Right. First aid kit?
    Servo: Used it to treat your flare burns.
    Mike: Right. Parachute?
    Crow: Gym class.
    Mike: Okay, life vest?
    Servo: Falsies.
    Mike: HAM radio?
    Crow: Mistook it for an actual
  • I've been a ham for 35 years now. (Damn, I'm an old fart.) I'm still active, and am looking seriously at the Icom D-Star networked digital radio technology as the next big thing.

    Get the ticket. There's a lot out there. ...de K5ZC
  • Someday... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slack-fu (940017) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:01PM (#15398947) Homepage
    I wish i had the bankroll to get into HAM. I live in the woods and another way to communicate would be nice. Plus I predict that after the US government is done raping and pillaging the internet, IP over HAM might take off among those who know how, and want to keep a free internet.
    • HAM might take off among those who know how, and want to keep a free internet.

      lol man, people will rather use PGP encryption with 2048 bit keys for everything they do rather than use ham radio. ham radio users are like Atari 2600 players, there will always be some but there will never be more.

  • My Story (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:02PM (#15398953) Homepage
    I have a Technician's license. My call sign is KC0QBP. I have a HT that I've used on and off to listen to the local repeater and such. I kind of lost interest in that part. After all, 2m and such mostly lets you talk to local hams.

    That said, I've been learning morse code since Christmas and I intend to take the code test next month (the next time my local club offers the test). I'm going to order an Elecraft K2 and I'm quite excited. CW is so much more interesting than FM Voice. It takes skill, it has a challenge, and you I can hear letters and words in the series of beeps. Plus you can use it to talk to people all over the world. I'm especially excited because the K2 is a big electronics kit. The fact is once you get past a few blinking LED kits and such there are just no electronic kits to build that take any skill.

    I find it kind of interesting, but I can see why some people don't think it's terribly interesting. Many of the things that used to make ham radio so interesting (being able to talk to people across the country or the world for free) are no longer unique (thanks to the internet and basically free long-distance calling).

    It's too bad eHam has been down for 2 days (at least). I've wanted to post on their message board but I can't (since... it's down). I don't suppose anyone knows why?

    • Re:My Story (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:06PM (#15398970) Homepage
      I should note... I just thought of an experience that kind of shows why I'm excited.

      If you look up last Sunday's Fox Trot comic strip, you'll see Jason tap dancing. In the last panel he is telling his friend Marcus that he didn't get into the talent show because one of the judges knew morse code. It was so cool for me to be able to figure out what the message was ("Some day I will rule you all") without having to go to a translator program on the internet.

      Lots of people know Spanish, or French, or other such things. Morse code is a true geek language.

  • by Yonder Way (603108) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:05PM (#15398963)
    I got my license this year and I think there is quite a lot in amateur radio to hold interest.

    I've learned more in the last 6 months about RF theory than I did in my previous 33 years of life combined. And looking ahead I see I still have quite a lot to learn.

    Once I've broken in my soldering iron learning to make a few different kinds of antennas for my radio, I'm looking forward to buidling a couple of APRS rigs. One for my car, the other for my All Terrain Vehicle. I might even put one in my backpack for when I'm out backpacking in the mountains and my family is worried about me being alone in the wilderness. They will be able to follow my progress.

    I find out about severe weather conditions before the mass media can report it. Indeed, it is radio amateurs that provide the weather service with early warnings of approaching dangerous weather patterns. Living in the hurricane belt, and an area not unknown for springtime tornadoes, this is valuable to me.

    Of course when the storms hit, and the public infrastructure goes down (including internet, cell phones, land lines) I can still communicate with people in and out of my immediate area.

    As our world becomes more and more dependent on technological infrastructure, I think it is that much more important to preserve and grow the amateur radio service to be there as a fallback for when all of those other communications mediums fail (and they do, frighteningly often). During 9/11 attacks it was radio amateurs providing communications capabilities to the first responders in Manhatten. During the major power blackout in the northeastern US a few years back, it was radio amateurs that passed emergency communications reliably. During the rescue efforts following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it was radio amateurs coordinating emergency communications between all of the different rescue groups involved. Despite all of this newfangled technology we enjoy today, it only works when things are going well. When things aren't going well, we still need radio.
  • Not particularly. (Score:3, Informative)

    by scumdamn (82357) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:12PM (#15398997)
    KC5UVV. I have no idea when it lapses. It's just not useful for anything anymore and I don't even have equipment.
    • GLOVER, ANDERSON B, KC5UVV (Technician)
      (address removed by me for privacy reasons)
      Issue Date: Jun 05, 1996
      Expire Date: Jun 05, 2006
      Date of last Change: Jun 05, 1996

      Nothing like the fun of public databases! Looks like you have less than 2 weeks before your license runs out.

    • Do not take a short view on things. Download the form and renew [arrl.org] your license. It will only take a moment.

      You spent the effort to take the tests and get the license. You should respect the work you did in the past. While you may have found that your interest in ham radio has waned, there is no telling what the future may bring where it might be useful or interesting to you again.

      I have been a ham for 25 years. The technical knowledge I have gleaned has stayed with me and opened a few unexpected doors for me.
    • If this is you:
      KC5UVV 2006-06-05 ANDERSON B GLOVER, WACO, TX
      then it expires next month on the 5th.

      To renew you just have to complete a form and maybe pay a bit of cash... it's been a couple years since I renewed and I don't recall if there was a charge but I doubt they would do anything for free so most likely there is.

  • I think that it is still relevant but the interest has dwindled a little. The value and importance of it is larger now than I think ever before because of many different new areas that are developing. Specifically the data possibilities. And having been involved in emergency work their value there is beyond anything I can describe. They have so much capabilities and the resources.

    The challenge is that people dont have the time or interest for the learning curve necessary.
  • My experience, and I've had a technician's license for about 15 years, is that nowdays most amateur radio operators just want to talk. There's very little interest in electronics, building your own rigs and antennas and any sort of technical stuff. Most amateurs either want to talk or contest, things which aren't particularly interesting to most hardcore geeks.
    • My experience, and I've had a technician's license for about 15 years, is that nowdays most amateur radio operators just want to talk. There's very little interest in electronics, building your own rigs and antennas and any sort of technical stuff.

      Not necessarily true. There's a lot of interest, but it's widely-dispersed. You may not hear people talking about designing a homemade spectrum analyzer on your local 2M repeater, but that doesn't mean they're not out there [yahoo.com].

      And somebody must be building all tho
  • gnuradio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thule (9041) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:45PM (#15399115) Homepage
    I hoping that gnuradio [gnu.org] gets some more momentum. Think of all the possibilities! I think things could get very interesting with experimental digital modulation. I haven't played around much with gnuradio since I don't have a USRP. It seems to me that the software is a little hard to use. I keep my eye on the project hoping that things will continue to move along and get easier to use.

    Once things move along it would be nice to have a portable gnuradio hardware that could interface to a PDA for HT uses.
  • Mu [everything2.com]
  • by finkployd (12902) on Wednesday May 24, 2006 @11:49PM (#15399128) Homepage
    As far as a serious hobby with real applicability? Probably not unless you are into emergency communication type stuff. I used to command a sheriff's office search and rescue team and got into ham radio then. Since I don't do that anymore (since moving, I'm probably going to get into it again some day), I do not really use ham radio for anything real other than just messing around. The Internet is a much better day to day long distance communication medium.

    Having said that, what keeps me involved is building my own gear. While you can spend thousands of dollars on stuff to get on the air, it is much more fun for me to grab the old soldering iron and make my own low power transmitters and receivers. Great way to keep up with electronics, radio theory, and all that fun stuff. There is even some neat work going on with software defined radios (mixing DIY radio building with Linux and programming :)

    I find your average slashdotter tends to dislike ham radio as too old school and REALLY does not like the thought that ham radio is holding back BPL (along with a lot less vocal but more influential opponents like police, coast guard, FAA, etc). But hey, they also bought hook line and sinker into the hype that BPL is actually a viable broadband contender and not a snake-oil product.

    Really though, if you get into it, and avoid (1) the elitist pricks who got their license back in the day and hate everyone newer then themselves, (2) the mindless cliques that form on most local repeaters (Pittsburgh being a nice exception), and (3) the losers who live on eham and qrz and attack basically everyone, you will enjoy it. I tend to stick with the build it yourself qrp stuff and the more interesting microwave band projects out there. There is a ton of non-obvious and not all that publicized things you can get into with ham radio that does not involve just trying to work all 50 states or 100 countries for no particular reason.
  • by mikers (137971)
    I am a Ham, but I've been out of hamming for a few years.

    Let me answer some questions that weren't specifically in the title article, but that I went through in the same process (as I was getting ready to get rid of radio gear I hadn't used in years).

    Practical use?
    - Commmunications when commercial options are non-existent, suck or unavailable, such as major storms, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, the boonies. These darn radios will work fine during nasty storms, over hundreds of miles no problem. You'd be
  • The "you can talk to random people far away" thing isn't as exciting as it used to be. You have to be a really good electronic engineer to build anything half as good as off-the-shelf gear.

    There are a small number of hams doing interesting stuff, like working on optimal modulation strategies for data over HF, but there aren't many. And the ones that do that typically are designing cell phones as their day job.

  • by John Miles (108215) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:00AM (#15399165) Homepage Journal
    As a lot of people have mentioned (some more politely than others), ham radio's appeal as a general-purpose communications service is pretty limited these days due to the sheer number of alternatives. It's still unbeatable in emergencies, but if emergency support isn't your thing, you may be left wondering what the point is.

    That's a shame, because there is still some really-interesting stuff happening on the fringes. For the technically inclined, eBay has made it possible to obtain equipment and components for Amateur "homebrewing" that major military/commercial labs were damned lucky to have in the 70s and 80s. It is hard to overemphasize how cool that is. Even most hams don't realize that they can own better RF equipment and components than NASA had when they launched Voyager and Pioneer.

    Ham radio gives you a great framework for engagement with every technology from software-defined radio to microwave communications to precision timekeeping. Build that DC-to-daylight receiver you've always wanted... the one the Feds won't let you buy off the shelf. Run your own "Amateur Deep Space Network" receiver site [free-online.co.uk], or communicate with other people all over the world by bouncing your signal off the Moon. There is still more cool stuff to learn and do in Amateur Radio than you will ever have time to tackle... if you don't fall into the trap of thinking it's all a bunch of old farts carrying walkie-talkies around for no good reason. Like lawyers, 98% of hams give the rest a bad name.

    There are a few links on my site (in the comment header) to various homebrew/experimental projects, but most of them are broken at the moment due to a hosting move that's taking way longer than it was supposed to. Anyone interested in the technical side of things is welcome to email me for advice and indoctrination. :-P

    In short: some parts of ham radio have benefitted tremendously from the advent of the Internet; but yeah, it's also true that many of the other aspects are less relevant than ever. You get out of the hobby what you're willing to put into it.
    • Warning: I work with hams on a daily basis as part of my job, and have for some time. I am, therefore, rather biased.

      Ham radio is dead. It is not cutting-edge. It is not exciting. It is not a viable or useful communications medium except in a state of emergency, where despite everyone's best efforts, government communication falls on its face during a disaster.

      And the ONLY reason that the government systems still fall on their face is that, even with expensive plug-boards like the JPS ACU-1000, they're
      • And Pioneer? Voyager? Dude: I carry more technology than that in my fucking wristwatch. I should -hope- that amateur radio has advanced similarly...but that doesn't make it fun, or exciting. It just makes it more advanced than it used to be. (Duh.) Ham radio was, I thought, supposed to be about communicating in ways which otherwise weren't possible with people who otherwise were unreachable. It used to be high-tech. It used to be cutting-edge. That time is past.

        Definitely some valid points; I won't defend
      • Nice rant....

        But in all that posting, you didn't even lead the reader to think that you even TRIED using HAM radio for more than a couple minutes.

        Most of the times, I see hams talking on their radios more about being hams than about anything useful. Such-and-such repeater is acting up, So-and-so's ratty homebuilt antenna took damage in yesterday's wind, would you please show up early and make the coffee for the weekly radio club meeting this Thursday, I'm standing in the park in $towntwentymilesaway talking
    • I think HAM radio is interesting but it does have some real big issues. In a way it reminds me of Model Airplanes.
      Back in the day kids where into model airplanes. You had a many kids flying free flight and later control line models. Now you can fly carbon fiber jets! Well you can if you have $10,000 to spend. The nice thing is that now there are some inexpensive RC planes comming on the market. Maybe that will help get young people interested again.

      Take a look at the cost of some of the high end HAM rigs? Y
  • Is Amateur Radio still interesting?

    Good question. As someone who is a HAM radio operator, and has been around computers for longer than I have held a HAM license, I would have to say YES. In many ways HAM radio is more interesting to me than computers are.

    I am not a gamer, or a programmer. I use computers as a tool in my profession, but am not so enamored over them as to let them consume my free time. I used to do a lot of hardware hacking, on older mainframes and then minis (DECs, Data General Nov

  • The true missionof Amateur Radio has naver changed...it was always supposed to be a service that would provide communications during a disaster. Ths disaster focus is more the focus today more then ever. With meager resources, I can setup a communications station that will work on a minimum of power and is capable of worldwide communications. The old focus used to be on the rag chew...case in point, in the 50's through the 70's how cool was it to talk to someone in Germany, Japan or Australia?? That's a
  • I think I'm kinda weird but I love listening to the air traffic control channel when flying on planes. I am not really interested in getting into amateur radio but I'd love to be able to listen in from my home. Every time I have looked into doing this it seems to require a lot of knowledge of radio. Can a radio expert explain a bit about listening in on air traffic control or some links about it? In particular I'd just like to listen into air traffic control stations.
  • by Guspaz (556486)
    I used to, but not anymore:

    1) No practical use.
    2) Redundant in emergencies
    3) Taking up valuable bandwidth
    4) User complains slowing down adoption of actual useful technologies like BPL
    5) For hobby, there are tons of free internet solutions. Skype anyone?

    Now, I'll admit that I'm taking a wild stab at #2. I assume that in actual emergencies, emergency personnel rely on other radio equipment than HAM, but I'm just taking a guess. But I think the other ones are pretty solid (save number one if number two is fals
  • by MagikSlinger (259969) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:02AM (#15399385) Homepage Journal
    The idea of simply communicating with people without wires is so banal I doubt you could get anyone under the age of 30 to think it cool. And talking to people in far away places? Internet. But I notice some talk in the comments about what could bring people back.

    IP over radio. I mean, sure, we have wi-fi repeaters, etc., but there are so many other cool things to do with IP over radio. And considering the fun (and interest) people have in hacking wi-fi, it reminds me of the fun ham operators had. Maybe it's time to create a pure digital license? Create a low-cost digital packet radio that some one could build at home for a $100 worth of parts or less.

    When the corporations start locking down the Internet, IP-Ham could become the next big thing for geeks. Heh, makes the idea of getting SPAM over an IP-Ham connection sound even funnier. :-)
    • Check out the Icom D-Star [icomamerica.com] system. It's a digital voice and data communications sysem that is routable across the Internet. It's built on open protiocols, and anyone can hack on it.
    • As amazing as that would be, it'd also be too easy and hilarious to 'disconnect' people at will. Radio is really vulnerable to DoS attacks, and my understanding is that the ham scene gets by on etiquette.
    • Remember all the excitement over PSK31 [bi.ehu.es]? It was the first taste of what people could do with a sound card and the processing power of even a crummy computer. I first ran it on a Pentium 233MMX (my 486/66 couldn't quite do it). With Linux, of course. :-)

      People have now built stripped down little radios [amqrp.org] that plug in to a sound card and use software to make all sorts of interesting noises.

      I'd be surprised if even one ham in 1000 could tell you exactly how PSK31 works, but that's other matter...

      ...laura

  • by Vskye (9079)
    I received my tech license back in 2001. (kc9aae) My friend and I both took the test together and passed, it was alot of fun. We studied for the test using online resources like: http://www.qrz.com/p/testing.pl [qrz.com]
    I enjoy all the different things you can do, like building antennas, aprs, weather stations, etc. Fun hobby, but it can get expensive.
  • Packet got me going! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbarr (2233) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:15AM (#15399417) Homepage
    I got my Technician license (N9ONL) back in the early 90's in the Chicago area, and and was immediately enamored with packet radio. Interestingly, I actually hated TALKING over the radio--conversing via packet really did it for me. Hopping from nodes to node locally and around the world through "wormholes" and such was very cool stuff at 1200 baud, especially considering that 2400 baud modems were about as good as it got at the time. Connecting to BBS's was obviously the hot topic in the early 90's, but the idea of being able to connect simultaneously to multiple nodes on the same channel was just mind-blowing.

    I got really interested in KA9Q TCP/IP packet operation, including variants like JNOS, and it's what probably launched me in understanding TCP/IP networking--obviously very useful today. I always waited and waited for native Windows TCP/IP packet drivers. You know, install a driver, hook up a serial-connected TNC, configure the settings, and voila, packet-based networking. Problem is that it never happened--(at least I don't think it did. Does anyone know of native Windows drivers (XP, preferably) that would facilitate TCP/IP packet connectivity?)

    Though TCP/IP was considered the "icing" on the preverbial cake, interestingly, setting up simple digipeaters, local nodes, and packet BBS's were so simple and very fun. It was just amazing to be able to wirelessly connect to other computers in the area.

    Probably the most exciting event was actually hearing a packet station in space! I honestly can't remember if it was MIR or a shuttle mission, but I do remember getting an copying the ID text. Very exciting!

    I always hoped that someone would market a multi-band handheld HT that incorporated a TNC with a keyboard that would let me have a truely portable packet radio system. I think Kenwood still has a model or two with an integrated TNC, but it's quite pricy, and I don't know how input works....

    Anyway, Ham radio filled a technological niche for me at a time when I was ripe for wireless data communication. Unfortunatly, the Internet reared it's head, and my packet radio days eventually faded. I still have my 2m HT, TNC, and software. I've been thinking lately of setting it up again to see what it'll do.
    • by pe1chl (90186)
      Sure, packet radio learned me a lot about TCP/IP and networking in general, something that became very useful lateron.

      SV2AGW wrote something that does what you were interested in. I have not personally looked at it, but I hear it works.

      It seems like more of the software-homebrewing amateurs were active in the Linux world, where it is easier to create something like this. Packet radio is a part of the Linux kernel, although it seems to be non-maintained for a long time and could drop out.
  • Theres plenty of deep geekery going on still in Ham radio. Software defined radio for a start

    http://www.gnu.org/software/gnuradio/ [gnu.org]

    Not to mention all the GHz experimental work, digital modes experimentation, Earth Moon Earth transmission and you can still do new fundamental research into ELF natural phenomenon, build your own radio telescope - all done with gear developed by and for radio amateurs.

    Of course the mainstream is more like stamp collecting by cb radio - a competition to work two way communication

  • I know I've heard a few famous geeks mention their early Amateur Radio
    interests and/or activities, eg, on some of the talks that are archived
    at:

    http://itconversations.com/ [itconversations.com]

    I don't remember them all, but one of Cliff Stoll's MP3's (on that site)
    goes into a bit of detail on his using Ham Radio skills to build a hand-
    held radar-based speed-gun (after speeding cars run down a little girl's
  • I've been a ham for the last four years or so. I have the Technician class licence, which most slashdotters could pass with a little study. The internet does not replace ham radio..the net is infrastructure heavy, and everything must work. Ham radio needs an antenna and power source, which is why ham radio "reappears" after every major disaster. I have a ham radio in the car, which covers 1.8 mhz up to 470 mhz. Last night on the way home from work, I listened to Radio Austraila, the highway patrol, and
  • what today's geek thinks about amateur radio? ... Do you think that we could see a renaissance of Ham Radio among 21st century techies?

    Well such renaissance is already happening with Wifi: people doing COTS ad-hoc networks, wardriving etc. Many of these people are radio amateurs and the opening of the ISM band has just made it much cheaper to buy the equipment. The experimental frontier spirit is still strong. More traditional RA stuff has also benefited from the internet. People are hooking up VHF/UHF r

  • My involvement in ham radio is the occasional QSO or contest (Field Day, SS), using so called "boatanchors", or vacuum tube equipment I have restored or built from scratch. The only solid state rig I own is my 2 meter HT.

    While there is plenty of fun to be had playing around with digital modes and microwaves (and I played a lot with packet in the early 90s), I spend my whole workweek dealing with modern electronics and digital doodads, and I find great enjoyment in working with the technologies of the past.
  • About four years ago I was getting bored with my computer hobby (and occupation), and I had been going to hamfests for years getting computer equipment. I decided to look into getting a ham license, and I am glad I did. I have always had an interest in electronics, and being able to experiment with a lot of bands and modes of communication has kept me in the hobby. There are lots of ham clubs across the country, and several good ones around my area (Milwaukee, WI, USA).

    There are lots of sub groups to the ho
  • as soon as I finish rebuilding a signal one, I'm testing back in, and former WN0CBZ will be torturing stray electrons again. it was a neat goal in 1969, and with all the natural disasters about, it's still relevant.
  • by ivi (126837) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:06AM (#15400740)
    You know, some of the folks doing Ham Radio
    are a bit like folks who sail.

    They're doing something that has roots way back in time.

    Eg, using Morse Code (radiotelegraphy = CW mode) on radio
    is akin to sailing without an engine...
    both "modes" depend on technologies developed years ago.

    Now, who ever asks folks who sail
    whether Sailing is "still" interesting?
    (It must be; otherwise, sailboat, etc. would never sell...)

    Why should this article's question be asked ONLY of Radio Hams' hobby?

    Perhaps telecoms or other [would-be] big spectrum users
    would like to push Hams from their allocated frequencies.
    • An excellent point. Here are the rhetorical questions I use to try to explain the appeal of amateur radio to non-hams:

      "Why does anyone spend huge amounts of money on a fishing boats and fishing equipment, when they can just buy a fish at the grocery store?"

      "Why do people go horseback riding, when a car would get them where they want to go, faster and more comfortably?"

      Amateur radio is a hobby. Like most hobbies, it's not meant to be practical (though it can sometimes come in handy during emergencies).

  • by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @09:55AM (#15401123)
    I've been ham for 15 years now and I have an Extra class license - and its fun as long as you have friends who are into it. Far too often it seems like there are operators who have an elitest attitude that makes it hard to get involved locally.

    For example - there are extra class hams who don't like other extra class hams because of the 5 wpm requirement. There are still hams who don't like or will not talk to no-code techs. What drives me nuts is these guys seem to be the most active so your more likely to run into these people online.

    So for that I really haven't done much with it in a while.
  • Yes and no.

    No in that I don't really care to chat on VHF/UHF repeaters or 80 meter nets. When I go to a hamfest, I'd say that 80% of the hams there are people I really am not interested in knowing or being associated with. I'm not a big fan of the ARRL and hate the way that so many hams insist that "the league" is the hobby.

    Yes in that I really enjoy some aspects. I have a great local ham club where I can go to a meeting and see 20+ people that I'm proud to associate with. The whole room isn't filled wi
  • To summarize, yes, there are still interesting things you can do with ham, but you can't just fire up a radio set and start running anymore; you need to be prepared to dump gobs of money and time into esoteric antenna arrays (and you'd better be landed, get proper permits, not piss off the neighborhood assoc) that can send signals into orbital space or modulate into arcane digital transmission modes.

    In other words, if you want to do anything *really* interesting with ham, don't plan to have time to do or bu
  • Not having a liscense or even having ever used ham equipment I cannot tell you. But I sure would like to know things like antenna design and analog/digital electronics.. because I have always wondered about how much amateur radio astronomy could be done on the ultra cheap with a minimum of hardware and a pc. I have an 8 in. telescope but live in a very overcast and light drenched city, so I think about that a lot. Also have often been intrigued by digital circuit design and it would seem that is also part
    • P.S. responding to my own post, the radiosky.com site did provide a couple of answers. It definitely IS a good idea to get a ham license, and being a ham is closely linked to radio astronomy and also to being able to build circuits. So definitely I was on track with this wish of mine, maybe I should get cracking on the books!

      Second, the same site has a simple [radiosky.com] description of a radio telescope. It notes that while you basically get an amplitude graph by pointing at the same direction in the sky as the Eart

  • There's nothing like a CW QSO with someone who doesn't speak the same language as yourself, or a long CW ragchew with an old timer, or breaking a pile-up while knowing that you are weaker than many other signals in the pile-up. I rarely get on SSB, but CW is most definitely still fun.

    But it is sadly true that in the US interest in CW has declined precipitously. If I tune across the CW end of 20 metres during a work day, there will usually be only one or two signals from the US (at least that's all I hea

  • by r2q2 (50527)
    How can you not be excited when you have IRLP [irlp.net]? The fusion of the internet and radio.
  • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @02:11PM (#15403526)

    We are surrounded, indeed, inundated with technology, but for the vast majority of people, their only interest is to consume it. They don't care how it works. Hams care how things work.

    You can do some incredibly cool things with ham radio, and my ham background (VE7LDH) has served me well in my work (telecommunications). But as an active ham? I haven't attended a ham club meeting in years. The same old grey haired people (almost all men), the same old cliques, the same old conversations (many of which were more about computers than ham radio anyway). Too many throwbacks stuck in the Good Old Days of the 1950s. Transistors? DSP? What's that?

    AMSAT [amsat.org] has enormous geek potential, but in my entire involvement with ham radio (since 1993) the party line has been "give us more money and maybe some day we'll launch the super-duper satellite of your dreams". They launched one, all-but-bankrupted the organization doing it, it worked for a while, then it partially stopped working, then it packed up completely. Now they're back in Give Us Money mode.

    I want ham radio to be interesting. I think it's a great incubator for techies. Real in-depth geeks, not techie-as-fashion-statement. But at the moment, I'm not finding it as interesting as I'd like to. I think that's a shame. I wonder what happened.

    ...laura

  • Headed elsewhere... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilviper (135110) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @07:28PM (#15406060) Journal
    Do you think that we could see a renaissance of Ham Radio among 21st century techies?

    Actually, limiting the question to "Ham Radio" is too specific. The HF frequency has been historically the most interesting, because of it's unique propogation. These days, that worldwide propogation simply isn't as desirable as it used-to be.

    OTOH, communications in other frequencies have skyrocketed. Digital Satellite TV/Radio/Internet cover most of the planet. Cell towers are going up everywhere. Wireless communications with 802.11 is incredibly popular, and some cities are being fully covered. Digital terrestrial TV/Radio promise to seriously increase the number of people recieving transmissions via the airwaves. et al.

    So, while voice communications over HF seem to be declining, I expect you'll see most people refocusing their efforts in higher frequency digital communications. 802.11 certainly has the potential to bring the same kind of community aspect (and do-it-yourself improvents) as Ham has, except it will be digital content of every kind, including music and high-def videos, not just voice communications.

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