A Very Valuable Class

Jun 16, 2019

Tonight was the fifth of six sessions of the Amateur Radio Licensing Course offered by the Santa Cruz Public Libraries and the local HAM radio clubs, primarily San Lorenzo Valley ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service). Next Wednesday is the last class, then the test will be administered Saturday, July 6.

The class tonight was the easiest yet for me, because it covered basic electronics. I've always been an electronics hobbyist, and I went to vocational school to be trained as an avionics technician. So I've already got Ohm's law memorized.

Next week will be harder, because it covers antennas, which have always been a mystery to me. (Us avionics techs just mount the specified antenna and check the signal strength. We don't have to do the math!)

Since I already have the Technician license, I don't need to take the test with the rest of the class. But I might take it anyway, because the class covered the new set of test questions released by FCC after I passed the test last fall. So I'll be interested to see how I do on it.

And Dan N6RJX suggested taking the General test that day, because I might just pass it. Dan took it on a whim and passed it. Might be worth a try. (Dan says the Amateur Extra class is a lot harder.)

The class has been great so far. In the six 2-hour sessions, the primary goal has been to prepare us for the test. But that's enough time to ask questions and learn a lot more than the few hours of self-study in the HAM Cram I took last fall. (But, hey, I aced the test.)

Also, the class was an opportunity to meet lots of experienced HAMs and even watch them operate. Tonight was the regular net (over-the-air meet-up) for SLV ARES, so we paused the class at 7:30 pm to listen to the net. Several SLV ARES members in the room checked in and were acknowledged by net control.

I had my HT tuned to the WB6ECE repeater so the students near me could hear the net clearly. I thought about checking in by just mimicing the calls that the experienced operators had made. But I wasn't sure if the net wanted people like me to check in, when we haven't been introduced. (Later, Dan said that would have been fine.)

From the ensuing discussion, I leared that WB6ECE is quite a sophisticated repeater network that's really useful throughout Santa Cruz County, for people in areas with no cell service who need to communicate, for emergencies or even routine chats. WB6ECE is run by volunteers, of course, but they've set up a nonprofit to accept donations to help pay for the equipment, facility, and services needed to provide such extensive capability to the public at no charge.

And that led to a discussion of the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, bicycle tour coming up July 20, organized by the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club. SLV ARES volunteers will be stationed at each of the rest stops and probably riding in the SAG cars. That will help the club to respond to riders with emergencies or just mechanical problems along the route, some of which is out of cell coverage.

I'm a member of the cycling club, and I'm planning to ride 100 miles that day! So I ran home after class and made a substantial donation to support WB6ECE. And I'm planning to find out from the cycling club leadership how to propose making a grant to WB6ECE. After all, the HAM volunteers providing support for the Mountains Challenge can't accept payment, so this is a way for the cycling club to support all HAMs in the area and the people who benefit from their volunteerism.

So, yeah, I think it's clear that I'm learning a lot from this class!

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