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Alexa Can Be Your Ham Shack Assistant!

Is Alexa your ham shack assistant? She has certainly become an indispensable addition to my shack.

Alexa is Amazon’s AI voice assistant. Alexa’s voice emanates from the several Amazon Echo products, like the Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Echo Show, Echo Plus, and Fire TV, among others to be announced.

Here are several Alexa related activated skills and applications that I have found especially useful in my ham shack, and you may find useful and fun to use in your shack, too. Some of these I use several times a day, while others I rarely use, and frankly, some of these applications are a bit of a challenge to get to work the way they should. So, you will discover that you have to ask Alexa just the right way; otherwise, she can get pretty uncooperative and frustrating!

Also, many of these services must be enabled before you can use them; for example, before you can use the Call Sign Skill, you need to say:

Alexa, enable Call Sign

Then, it should work just fine for you.

Video courtesy of Essex Ham

Now, here is a list of Alexa skills and applications you may find very helpful to use in your ham shack:

Alexa, what Time is it or simply: Alexa time

Alexa, what time is it in Mexico City — or any location of which you want the time

Alexa, what is the weather or simply Alexa weather

Alexa, what is the weather in Brisbane Australia — or any other QTH in which you want the weather

Alexa, what is the temperature or simply Alexa temperature

Alexa, what is the temperature in Key West — or any other QTH you request

Alexa, what is xx Fahrenheit in Celsius
(Note: great when in a QSO with stations using the metric system and you want to give them your temperature in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit)

Alexa, what is the 7 day forecast

Alexa, what is the 7 day forecast for Montpelier Vermont — or any other QTH you request

Alexa, open Weather Sky
(Note: this will give you a very in-depth weather report and forecast for your area, more than just asking for the weather in the previous commands)

Alexa open Weather Sky for Key West, Florida — or for any other QTH for which you want an in-dept weather report and forecast

Alexa, set a 10 minute timer
(Note: this is good for creating a station ID reminder)

Alexa, how many dollars are in 85 pounds
(Note: want to purchase an antenna from the UK where the price is in pounds? Use this quick conversion! This conversion works for many other currencies as well)

Alexa, what is xxx divided by yyy
(e.g. what is 468 divided by 3.8 to determine the length of a 75 m dipole)

Alexa, what is the distance between Bowling Green Kentucky and Quito Ecuador — or whatever qth you ask for

Alexa, how do you spell heterodyne — or whatever word you ask for
(Note: even though I am a Ph.D., I am a terrible speller and use this skill frequently)

Alexa, ask call sign who is K8HSY — or whatever call you want to know
(Note: often you have to use phonetics; I suggest using proper phonetics, e.g. kilo 8 Hotel Sierra Yankee)

Alexa, ask QRZ who is W7GPF — or whatever call you want
(Note: often you have to use phonetics; I suggest using proper phonetics, e.g. Whiskey 7 Golf Papa Foxtrot)

Alexa, ask ham look-up who is K8OEY — or whatever call you want
(Note: often you have to use phonetics; I suggest using proper phonetics, e.g. Kilo 8 Oscar Echo Yankee)

Alexa, Propagation report

Alexa, ask our ionosphere what are the current band conditions

Alexa, open space weather

Alexa, what time will the sun sit tomorrow

Note: great for gray line anticipation for DX

Alexa, what time will the sun rise tomorrow

Note: great for gray line anticipation for DX

Alexa, create a reminder to meet Tom for a schedule at 9 am Saturday morning — or any other reminder you need

Alexa, create a reminder to get on the Kentucky Phone Net every day at 5 pm in the afternoon — or any other everyday reminder you might need

Alexa, play the latest Ham Nation podcast — or any number of other ham-related podcasts

Alexa, use APRS and locate kilo 4 uniform lima echo

Note; works only for stations using the APRS system when you ask

Alexa, start extra ham cram

Note: gives you 7 different questions from the extra class pool to answer each time you execute the skill; good for exam prep. See how well you do!

Alexa, Open Amateur Radio test

Note: gives you several questions from the test pool to answer for fun or as a test prep

Alexa, Open Amateur Radio General Class Study

Alexa, Ask Ham Exam for a Question

Alexa, Open Ham Radio Facts

Note: gives you a different ham related fact each time you open it

Alexa, Open Q-code

Note: gives you a different Q-code each time you open it

Undoubtedly, I left a few out. There are new skills and applications becoming available about everyday; so many that it is impossible to keep up. If you know of any I left out that you use in your ham shack, please let me know. I am trying to maintain a reasonably complete file of ham shack useful skills and applications.

Ham Friendships Span Time and Space

millimanHow many friendships have you developed through ham radio? If your answer is like most hams, it is many, probably even too numerous to recall all of them.

Just recently I’ve had some happenings that caused me to stop and ponder this very question. When I think about it, the number of people I’ve met and developed close friendships with is countless, spanning both time and space.

Several of those friendships started back when I was in Junior high school. Ron, K8OEY, and I met through an older ham, Leo, W8AJM, who knew both of us kids, and he knew we were both interested in electronics and were “ham wanta be’s.” So, Leo invited us out to his place so we could meet and get acquainted. From that meeting, Ron and I became best friends; we were inseparable. Leo was our Elmer. He first gave me my novice exam and a few months later he gave Ron his test too. Ron and I built all kinds of electronic circuits and kits, and yes, we even blew-up a few too. We remained friends over the years right up to Ron’s early death a few years ago.

In my 7th grade year, I switched from the public school system to the Michigan School for the Blind (MSB), located in Lansing Michigan and about 75 miles from my hometown of Sturgis. So, I lived on the campus of MSB most of the time, except for vacations. I lost most of my eyesight at age 8 from a pretty rare illness called Stevens – Johnson syndrome. I still had some useable sight, but I was really struggling in school because of my poor eyesight, and the medical and educational experts felt it was best if I switched to the School for the Blind. I was strongly opposed to this change; after all, my friends since kindergarten were all in Sturgis, and I didn’t know anyone at that “stupid school for the blind!” Besides, I wasn’t blind! This is an important part of my story because almost immediately I met several other kids at my new school who were also interested in electronics and becoming hams. Soon, I was fitting right in with my new pals, my “ham wanta be” buddies. We formed a study group led by one of the guy’s Dad. His name was George Woods, but we all just called him Woody. Woody and his son, Gary, lived near the MSB campus; so, it was easy to get over to their house. Woody was ahead of the rest of us, and he took and passed his novice exam first. Then, he held study sessions a couple times a week in the evenings to help the rest of us prepare for our Novice tests.

We all studied hard, the electronic theory, the rules and regulations, and oh, yes, the code. For most of the guys, the code was the easy part. Later, some of the guys developed code speeds of 40 words per minute and even faster. Over a few months we all passed our novice license exams and were officially real hams, no longer just ham wanta be’s! There was Ron Iser, KN8KLR, his Brother, Ronnie, KN8MEW; Ken Filter, KN8KIC; Gary Wood, KN8HLX; me, KN8HSY, and our Elmer, Woody, KN8HBX. We got to be really good friends, a tight little group. Woody let us use his Hallicrafters S-88 receiver and Heathkit AT-1 transmitter, running all of about 20 watts if we were lucky. Eventually, we all got our own gear. Together, we had quite a variety of receivers and transmitters, a Heathkit DX-40, Hallicrafters SX-71, Globe Scout, some military surplus gear like the BC-348, ARC-5’s, and even some homebrew gear. We strung antennas out our windows, and even tried loading up bed springs and window screens. As kids, we were up for trying anything, which also explains how we ended up blowing up a few pieces of gear too. Those old PI output networks would attempt to tune more than what was good for them! Those days were back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and many of us who were members of that little group are still friends to this day, well over 50 years later.

After high school, we all went our separate ways, but we still stayed in contact on the air and through the grapevine we developed as graduates of MSB. I went on to attend Eastern Michigan University and then, into the business world, and eventually on the graduate school at Arizona State University for my MBA and Ph.D. degrees. All along the way I met new ham friends. Ham radio was the one unifying thread. No matter where you go if you are a ham, you can almost always find other hams who quickly become your friends.

My first professorial position was at the University of Texas at Arlington. Once again, I didn’t know anyone in Arlington. I went to a local Radio Shack store and ask if anyone was a ham or if they knew any hams in the area. Bingo! One of The fellows working in the store was a ham, and the customer he was helping was a ham. I introduced myself with my name and call, W7GPF. W7GPF was my call from Arizona, and I just moved to Texas and hadn’t filed that famous or infamous FCC Form 610 yet to change my address and get assigned a new call for the 5th call district. Anyway, we immediately struck up a lively conversation over something, probably antennas or the like. Anyway, One of the guys, Vern (I don’t remember Vern’s call.) invited me to their next ham club meeting. As it turned out, Vern and I were even neighbors; he lived just down the street from where I had just purchased a house. Vern invited me to attend the local ham club meeting with him. I was able, then, to meet lots of the other hams in the area. One fellow in particular came right up to me and said: “Ron, I’m Rick. I’m not a ham yet, but I’m working on it.” That fellow turned out to be Rick Hamilton who is now WB5VQW, and Rick and I have been ham buddies now for almost 40 years. We’ve gone to hamfest together, shopped the surplus stores together, and just this week Rick and his wife, Karen, who’s also a ham (WB5UFM), met with my wife and I to share some quality time together and talk ham radio and about the “good ol’ days.” Rick and Karen invited my wife, Palma, and me up to their FMCA’s Amateur Radio Chapter’s Rally/campout where I met up with several other ol’ ham friends from my days back in Arlington. We sat around the table and talked about how Rick and I managed to burn up something in one of my rigs and had to take it over to Bob to repair, and there Bob was sitting across the table from me. It was like those good ol’ days all over again!

A few years later, I moved from Texas to Louisiana where I accepted a position as Chair of the Marketing Department at Loyola University in New Orleans. As we were approaching New Orleans and getting close enough that I could hit the repeaters, I dropped my call on the one I was told was the most active repeater. Right away I have Wd5DWO come back to me. It was Althea. She welcomed us to New Orleans, and offered to meet us and help us get acquainted with the area. We actually met for lunch, and Althea became an immediate good friend. Over the next few weeks, she introduced us to many other hams that also became good friends.

A very similar thing happened when we moved to Kentucky, and I joined the faculty at Western Kentucky University. I was able to immediately connect up with the local hams here in Bowling Green, and they became our first friends, helping us get settled, answering questions about the area, and inviting me to join the local ham club, the Kentucky Colonels Amateur Radio Club. I’m also a member of the Princeton, Kentucky Amateur Radio Club. The guys in both clubs helped me get up my antennas and have become some of my best friends.

As you read this, I’m sure you can reminisce over very similar experiences. Like me, you’ve probably developed lots of good friends; some are probably even your very best friends and some you’ve known over many years. Whether you are a rag chewer, a DX chaser, someone who enjoys participating in nets, or a builder/experimenter, you can always find other hams that share your interest with whom you can develop close friendships.

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor