Posts Tagged ‘Extra’

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

Where did the year go?  Like many of you, yes I’m asking myself that question.  It seems just yesterday we were saying goodbye to 2010 and hello to 2011.  But this is what they say about getting older.  Time passes by much faster or certainly appears to do so.  I’m sure 2012 will also speed past, best sit down and buckle our seat belt. 

 

My 2011 started off a bit slow in the area of my amateur radio hobby involvement.   This partly was due to other work and life commitments.  I believe it was sometime in early summer when I really got rolling again both with this blog and my amateur radio podcast.  I would have to list both of these (the blog and the podcast) as major accomplishments to 2011.  Mainly because they both got very close to extinction.  With better focus and organization, I’m proud to say that I kept up my publishing schedule and both will be around for a long time.  Here are a few of my other highlights for 2011.

1.  Amateur Extra

As my regular readers (and listeners of PARP) know.  I was licensed as a technician in August 2007 and upgraded to general in January 2008.  Since perhaps January 2008, certainly since January 2009, every one of my annual New Years Resolutions involved upgrading to extra.  Of course I failed to accomplish this in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  But just like clock work I put it on my 2011 list with somewhat of a soft-target of getting accomplished before June 30, 2012.  Why June 30, 2012?  Well that is when the current extra class question pool expires.  I told myself I couldn’t purchase another study guide and I better just get it done.

The half way point of 2011 came and went and I hadn’t really made any progress towards extra preparation.  The book was on the bookshelf collecting dust.  Then one Tweet from Twitter in early August changed everything.  From this tweet I learned about an online (via Echolink) extra class study group which planned to meet twice a week.  This was hosted by the South Coast Amateur Radio Service.  I signed up and it was exactly what I needed.  Even before the 6 week class was finished, I was passing sample tests and on Saturday, 28 August I attended a local VE session where I passed the amateur extra exam. 

2.  New Amateur Radio Club

I’ve always believed in the importance of belonging to a local amateur radio club.  I talk about this on a regular basis on the podcast as I feel it is the best way for new amateur’s to gain experience and also share a common interest with likeminded individuals.  Having said that, I certainly realize not all amateur radio clubs are created equal.  I’ve heard some real horror stories and while I must state I’ve never experienced any rude behavior towards other hams, I had grown extremely bored with my old club and simply had stopped going to monthly meetings. 

Sometime in early September I was invited to attended a club meeting with the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association from Bob Witte, K0NR.  I attended my first meeting in September and proud to say this is my new home.  In addition to Bob being a member, I’m also extremely fortunate to also share the club with Steve Galchutt, WG0AT.  I’ve certainly learned a lot from both. 

3.  Summits On The Air (SOTA)

I certainly couldn’t end the previous paragraph of talking about Steve and not mention SOTA.  I’ve previously explained how I stumbled onto SOTA and will let you read that blog posting if you haven’t already.  As we all know, the amateur radio hobby is extremely diverse in what it offers those who participate.  SOTA has been a way for me to combine the love of the great outdoors with amateur radio.  I’ve completed two SOTA activations and am counting the days until I can get out for #3.  If you would like to learn more about the Summits On The Air program, please listen to episode 50 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. 

4.  JT65

JT65 is the weak signal mode that has a lot of our fellow amateur’s talking and for the right reasons.  The QSO’s I’ve been able to make and not even always in the best band conditions, really have me excited about this mode.  Since I started running JT65, I’ve worked a little over 350 different and unique call signs and it continues to gain in popularity.  In addition, JT65 has been successful at allowing me to work many new DX entities.  If you would like to learn more about JT65, please listen to episode 46 of PARP.

5.  Worked All States

Now one might think having been licensed for over four years I would have collected multiple WAS certificates by now.  Especially after holding a general class license with its great HF privileges for almost the entire duration of this time.  Yes it is true I’ve also seen many brand new amateurs obtain WAS within their first year or so. 

To be perfectly honest, it was never really anything I looked into until just this year.  I set my sights on obtaining the basic (mixed mode) version of Worked All States as a New Years Resolution and begin mapping out how to accomplish it.  With the help of both my HRD logbook and both eQSL and the ARRL Logbook of the World systems, I identified what I had versus what I needed. 

Of course what I found was I had worked many of the states I needed and in some cases multiple times.  However, the contact had not been confirmed in either eQSL or LoTW by the other operator.  Around the late summer timeframe I worked both the Colorado and Texas QSO parties and along with just casual operating I had managed to get my list down to just two remaining states Wyoming and South Dakota.

Wyoming went into the logbook and was confirmed in early November.  This just left South Dakota.  Up to this point I had worked and confirmed 49 of the 50 US States without the need of a sked.  I had hoped to do this with South Dakota, but time was running out.  So in early December I contacted a fellow ham in South Dakota who routinely operates JT65 and asked if he would be willing to work me for SD.  He agreed and between me getting sick and the Christmas holiday, we finally managed to complete the sked and South Dakota was in the logbook and confirmed on 26 December.  Ironically, two days later I worked another station from SD completely random on JT65.  So I suppose even if the sked wouldn’t have been possible, I would have still earned WAS in 2011.

Final Thoughts…

In closing, 2011 has been a very good year for me in the area of amateur radio.  As I approach my 5th year of being licensed I’m reminded of what this hobby truly is all about.  The friendships I’ve made over the years and especially those who I interact with on a regular basis are truly very important to me.  It is these friendships made possible through this hobby which truly help to complete who I am as a person.

The hobby of amateur radio and those who participate in it, are often referred to as ambassadors.  We are ambassadors who are not restricted by political, religious or even geographical boundaries.  We do what we do and are who we are as individuals because of a common shared interest.    It is my wish for the new year for all of us to use this common shared interest and our roles as ambassadors to continue to bridge peaceful relationships around the world.  

Until next time and next year,

73 de KD0BIK

An Extra Update

Before I get started with the updated news on what is happening with my extra class upgrade application with the FCC, I want to say a very special thank you to the ARRL and to Perry Green, WY1O who just contacted me via email.

I’ve blogged about and mentioned the value on my podcast I believe we as amateur radio operators receive from being members of the ARRL many times.  I must admit, this value was only something I had heard others mention or read directly through the efforts of the ARRL to identify why hams should join the league.  I personally had not (until now) been on the receiving end of any direct assistance from the ARRL.  Of course, I believe this is normal.  After all, we purchase insurance based on what a company tells us they can and will do and frequently never actually see or need the benefit.  But we know and trust it is there when needed.

I can tell you from first hand experience, the ARRL benefit we all receive through membership is very much worth the cost.  Within 24 hours of my initial email to the ARRL Regulatory and Advocacy group I had received a response.  Not just any response, but a response very much worthy of answering my questions, explaining what it all meant and informing me they had contacted the FCC on my behalf.  WOW…

Now to the update.  The questions I asked of the ARRL Regulatory and Advocacy group was along the lines of what did “alert list review” mean, why was I on this list and what can be done to move my application along to a full approval status.  All my questions (and more) were answered. 

First what does “Alert List Review” mean?  As provided on the FCC’s website, by definition an “Alert List Review” is:

A list maintained by the FCC staff that identifies potential categories of "problem" applications so that ULS can identify them and send them offline for manual processing. The alert list function can then be used to flag applications based on the identity of the applicant, the spectrum being applied for, or the type of license being sought. For example, if an application is received for spectrum that is the subject of an ongoing rulemaking proceeding, that application would be offlined by ULS. The staff would then need to override a system alert in order to grant the application.

Now to the “why am I on this list" question and this is really where the ARRL helped me.  The ARRL contacted the FCC on my behalf and was able to determine I was off-lined for additional research as there is another individual with a variation of my name who they needed to hold, or hold for research. 

Mr. Green went on to inform me that I was fully cleared and would have been “released” and granted sooner, if it were not for the person who manually handles this review process wasn’t on vacation.  Some may think “why is this all down to one person”, well in my job I have a lot of responsibilities that simply don’t get done when I’m out sick or on vacation and it just simply is what it is. 

I also want to state for the record, the FCC never did say that I had done anything wrong.  This was simply my own “jumping to conclusions” in trying to figure out what all this meant and what was going on.  I have absolutely no reason to believe (nor do I believe) I was singled out for any reason whatsoever, other than the simple fact my name is similar to another name which needs to be handled in a different manner. 

Finally, I fully agree with the processes and procedures the FCC has in place.  My only regret in all this was I wished I had just simply contacted the ARRL versus reading into the information given to me through various social media and the additional forum research I conducted.  This put me more on the defensive and really didn’t do anything to resolve the problem and answer my questions. 

In closing, yes we do live in the information age.  We expect almost immediate results and when something doesn’t follow an expected path we do tend to question things.  However, I’m reminded of the fact that those who received their license long ago simply didn’t enjoy the short amount of time between testing and actually getting on the air as we do today.  Brand new technician class hams can leave a VE session on a Saturday and in most cases may be able to get on the air the very next weekend.  We should better appreciate this fact and be thankful to those who work hard to make all this happen.

Until next time….

73 de KD0BIK/AE

Extra Delays

As I proudly blogged about on 28 August, I did successfully pass my first attempt at the US extra exam and walked out of the VE session with my signed CSCE in hand.  I started checking the FCC ULS database the following week.  I had certainly been given the impression from the local VE team that they send the results off and typically upgrades or new licenses are shown within just  few days.  True enough, I noticed the FCC had received the upgrade information on 1 September.  I will admit I burned a hole through cyberspace refreshing the browser several times on Friday, 2 September hoping I would see the approved status show.  However, that was not to be. 

Over the weekend I had a ball working the Colorado QSO party on Saturday and spent a few hours on Sunday and Monday on the air.  I knew with it being a long holiday weekend I would expect to see any movement until Tuesday, 6 September.  Unfortunately, Tuesday 6 September came and went and the same status was showing. 

I became somewhat curious and decided to look into the amount of time which it took the FCC to fully approve my technician to general upgrade in January 2008.  Based on the information in the ULS database, the FCC received the request and it went to approved status all in the same day with the license being mailed the following day.  Something seemed a bit odd as I couldn’t understand what would be causing the delay this time.

When I review the status on the FCC ULS database this is what I see.

09/01/2011  Modification Received
09/01/2011  Redlight Review Completed
09/01/2011  Offlined for Alert List Review

I decided to utilize social media and the many hams I follow on Google+ to see if anyone else had experienced this.  Within a short amount of time another ham responded and told me what the status of Offlined for Alert List Review means.  Basically it is the FCC equivalent of the FAA’s No Fly List.  They went on to say that my name in on the FCC’s list of people who should not be given a license.  WHAT????

Now if you know me, you know I’m a God fearing, law-abiding, tax paying, red blood American.   Since getting my technician class licensed, I successfully upgraded to general in Jan. 2008 (without issue) and have had a couple of background checks for my volunteering with the Denver Police Dept.  In addition, I had my passport renewed in the Spring of 2011 and successfully re-entered the country after visiting Belgium and England during the June/July 2011 timeframe.  So what does the FCC think I’ve done wrong?

Well…if I knew the answer to that question I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  I figure this must just be a case of mistaken identity.  After all, the name Jerry Taylor is fairly common.  Perhaps another Jerry Taylor has some FCC complaints logged against them and the FCC just needs additional time to confirm that I’m not the same Jerry Taylor.  Or, perhaps the FCC is casting a bigger net and another Jerry Taylor has been flagged in another government database.  At this point, I really don’t know. 

So what have I done about this?  Well…I’ve decided at this time NOT to contact the FCC.  I would probably only be able to speak to an admin level type person who may or may not know anything about why my application is on hold.  Instead, I utilized my ARRL Life Membership and contacted the ARRL Regulatory and Advocacy group.  At least these are fellow hams who should have the knowledge and insight to work directly with the FCC to clear this up.  Unfortunately, I’ve not heard back from the ARRL as of yet.

I wouldn’t think it would be too difficult to determine the right Jerry Taylor from the wrong Jerry Taylor (if this is the case), but who knows.  I’ve not done anything wrong and can’t think of any reason why this would or could be happening.  I’ll keep you all posted as I learn more.

Until then….

73 de KD0BIK/AE

Hidden DX Opportunities

Or…So this is where all the cool DX hangs out!  But I thought that title was a bit too long and opted for the shorter version. 

When I arrived home with my signed CSCE on Saturday, 28 August I did want to run downstairs and spin the dial into the extra class portion of 20m and work a station (contest or otherwise) as KD0BIK/AE.  However, I also wanted to make sure I treated my #1 supporter in this hobby to lunch and spend the day with her doing some of the things she wanted to do.  I’ve spent so much time over the past few weeks with my head in a book or on the PC, Laptop or iPad taking practice exams.  So we went to lunch and then spent a few hours digging through antique shops. 

After dinner and also somewhat tired/bored of watching Geraldo get blown around the streets of NYC, I decided I would head down and see what was happening on the ham bands.  This was around 20:00 local (02:00 UTC).  The 20m band was alive with activity with the Ohio and Hawaii QSO parties.  I worked about three Hawaii stations and one Ohio station and then spent about 30 minutes trying to work W9IMS.  While I had missed working them in May for the 500, I did work them in July for the Brickyard 400.  Next year I’ll plan to try to score the Trifecta and work all three special event stations for that special certificate. 

Anyway, I finally gave up on W9IMS and decided to see if the Yaesu FT-950 VFO would turn down past 14.225.  I should have stopped by Ham Radio Outlet on the way home from the VE session to have them check the serial number on my 950 to determine if it had the pre-installed AE module installed.  Ha ha ha

While I had occasionally turned the VFO down below 14.225, it was not something I did often.  I do a lot more listening than I do talking on my radio, but I guess I just always thought I would just listen on the band segments I actually could operate on.  Plus this was a built in safety net incase I heard a really rare DX calling and my excitement clouded by vision of double-checking what frequency I had been listening to.  In any event, my FT-950 tunes down nicely below 14.225 and on Saturday evening, my ears were certainly surprised at all that I heard. 

In just a matter of minutes I managed to work CT9/RW9JZ operating from Maderia Island, then I worked RJ3AA in Moscow, a few minutes later I worked RG4F in Kuznetsk, Russia.  I closed my DX hunting down by adding CO6LC in Cuba.  This was the first time I had worked Cuba on SSB phone. 

Now I’m just wearing out the FCC ULS search watching for my upgrade to be noted.  This VE Team did state it should appear within a few days so I’m sort of thinking Wednesday, Thursday or hopefully on Friday.  It would certainly be nice to have that record showing as extra class prior to the Colorado QSO party coming up this weekend.  But for now, I’ll continue to be KD0BIK/AE.

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK/AE

Extra, Extra, Extra…Read all about it!

Scan_Pic0009I realize it was just Wednesday, 24 August when I blogged about reaching the 50% mark in the amateur extra training course I’ve been attending.  I also realize it’s been less than a month (21 days to be exact) since I blogged about getting serious about extra….Again!!  I have some great news I’ll share with you all in just a minute.

When I first got my license in August 2007, I knew I wanted to upgrade to the general class and I wanted to do it in relatively short time.  I will admit that I quickly grew bored with working local VHF/UHF repeaters and while I did manage to work 10m HF, the QSO’s made on that band were few and far between.  I became intrigued in PSK31 after watching Randy Hall’s K7AGE Youtube videos.  Within a few weeks of earning my technician license, I was actively reading and preparing for general.  I tested for my general ticket on 5 January 2008, just four months after getting my ticket.

Something else I need to admit is once I had my general in hand, I was satisfied.  I had all the HF privileges that I believed I needed and wanted.  I was happy as a pig in mud with being able to work PSK31, RTTY and of course phone on all the bands generals have access to.  I even remember a conversation with a colleague from my office who was also a general.  We both discussed how general was all we felt we would ever need.

Now keep in mind this was inside of my first six months of the hobby.  In May of 2008 I started the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast and the Elmer bug bit me.  Also, it was through the podcast and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter where I really became friends with many hams who were either already extra class or working to become extra class. 

I believe it was very soon after I started the podcast and really started to get more involved with my Elmer activities that I realized I did see more to the hobby than staying at general.  Sometime during the summer of 2008 I picked up the ARRL extra class study guide and started reading.  But sadly over the last three years the ARRL extra class study guide spent more time on the shelf than it did in my hands.

Now jump forward three years and as I blogged on 8 August, I had once again pulled the book from the shelf and began studying.  The approx. 50% of the material I had previously read all came back to me relatively easy.  Plus the SCARS Echolink training was adding additional knowledge and confidence to my overall process.  Again, just as I blogged last Wednesday, I truly felt on-track to take the exam in late September or early October.  While I didn’t state this in writing, my unofficial target date was prior to October 4.  On October 4 I turn 45 years old.  Birthday present to myself???

On Thursday (just one day after the blog update) I had been passing the sample tests from QRZ in the high 80’s to low 90 range.  My ideal practice score is in the upper 90’s as I don’t feel I am the best at taking exams.  I told my wife that I couldn’t see a reason for me to delay taking the exam and she supported my decision to take a chance.  She actually suggested I go into the exam thinking it was just another practice exam.  If I didn’t pass, I still had several weeks of the SCARS class to continue to build my understanding of the material (this has always been my #1 goal versus memorization).  Another reason to give it a try is my schedule at work is also starting to pickup speed again.  I was recently promoted and had a few added responsibilities sent my way.  I feared if I delayed, something would happen and I would lose the momentum. 

Scan_Pic0012

I went to bed on Friday night feeling pretty nervous, but feeling confident.  I slept remarkably well and woke up with enough time to enjoy some coffee and a bagel and just ease into the morning.  I didn’t take any sample tests…I just enjoyed the peacefulness of the morning.  With a cup of coffee for the road (a roadie) I started the 25 mile journey to Franktown, Colorado for the Colorado ARES sponsored VE session.  By 9:45 AM, I had the CSCE in my hand and had finally made extra.

In closing, I don’t view the extra class as the only true ham class.  For those who are technician, general, advanced….if you are happy then this is what matters.  You are just as much a part of this hobby and service as anyone else is.  However, if you are interested in upgrading I say go for it.  I’m glad I finally got serious about it and followed through….ALL THE WAY through. 

Finally, thanks to all who over the past several weeks have taken the time to post comments to the blog and even email me to lend words of encouragement.  This meant a lot to my study and preparation process.  I felt like I had all of you with me yesterday cheering me on as I worked through the 50 questions and answers.  

Until next time….

73 de KD0BIK/AE

Extra Study Update

Scan_Pic0009

I thought it was about time to provide a brief update into my study preparation for my extra class upgrade.  First, I did just want to say a very special and heartfelt, “Thank You” to all who have contacted me either via email, commented on the blog post or via Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+.  Your words of encouragement have helped to push me and most importantly have helped me to believe in myself.

I certainly don’t mean to sugarcoat the difficulty (or even lack of difficulty) there is in achieving the extra class ticket.  Some have found it extremely difficult and others extremely easy.  I would safely and squarely place myself in the middle of that spectrum.  This, like many other things in life, is made much easier when you look at it through positive lenses.  It is the many comments I’ve received which have taught me that this is just like anything else in life.  Look at it negatively and it will be difficult to impossible, but look at it positively and it can be achieved.

As I mentioned in this blog post from early August, I’m participating in an online (via Echolink) study program hosted by SouthCARS and we are 50% of the way through the program.  We meet twice weekly on Sunday and Tuesday evenings again via Echolink.  Volunteer SouthCARS members help moderate the sessions and help provide both encouragement and inspiration as they help educate us in the material. 

The program works like this.  Before each session we (the students) are tasked with reading about 60-70 of the questions which make up the question pool.  During each session, the instructors select about 15-20 of the questions to cover.  They read the question and the correct answer.  But then spend several minutes providing detailed information regarding the subject of the question.  Many times this extra information comes from firsthand experiences and after a few minutes, it really becomes clear as to what the particular content of the question is about.

Because many of the questions in the extra class question pool relate to each other, once you have a good grasp of one question, the knowledge and the “ah ha” moments just click right into place.  The SouthCARS Elmers are always good about answering questions from the questions not covered. 

In addition to the homework and the online sessions, I’m also actively taking the practice tests for the information we’ve covered in the sessions.  This is helping to keep my mind sharp around those areas covered several weeks back.  I’m spending approx. 1-2 hours per day in reading the ARRL extra class manual, reading the question pool and doing the study questions for the info covered.  I’m going to owe my wife a nice dinner and perhaps tickets to the theater for her being so supportive.

So when do I plan to take the exam?  This is still a very good question.  One thing I can say today, which I couldn’t or certainly didn’t want to say back in early August, is I’m certainly better prepared on the information we have covered so far.  Having said that, if I can maintain my pace and continue as planned, I believe I could be looking at being ready to take the exam around the early October timeframe.  Yes…October 2011.  Smile

Look for another update from me regarding my study/preparation process around the 75% mark.  But for now, I need to get back to my studies and keep those brain cells “extra” energized.

 

Until then….

73 de KD0BIK

Getting serious about extra…Again!

 Scan_Pic0009 

I have been thinking about, reading and studying for my US amateur radio extra class license now since early 2008.  If you are new to my blog and do not know me through my podcast or the various social media locations I hang out on, then you might not know that I originally got my license in August of 2007 and upgraded to general in January of 2008.  For much the same reason it it best for a graduating high school senior to start his/her college studies the very next fall (after graduation) the same can be said for the amateur radio exam and study process.  Once you are in the mode of studying and testing, it is much easier to just to keep moving along the process.

 

Of course I didn’t take my own advice and I have on more than one, two and perhaps more than three occasions picked up the ARRL Extra Class license manual and said today is the day I start (or start over again).  Sadly, Yes…it has been “start over” since too much time had passed from the last time I seriously studied and read the material.

I recently heard about an amateur extra class starting up online.  The class is hosted by the South Coast Amateur Radio Service (SOUTHCARS) and is taught by extra class operators and all done on-line using Echolink or IRLP.  The time commitment is twice per week (Sunday and Tuesday evenings) and is scheduled to complete by middle of September. 

I’m really not going to pressure myself or make commitments to anyone that this time will be different.  I’m also not (at this moment) setting myself any hard and fast deadlines for when I would attempt an exam session after the middle of September.  I’ve made these mistakes before and honestly, it’s been one of the reasons I’ve put the book back on the shelf. 

All I can do is make an attempt to attend each of the twice weekly sessions and follow the guidance of the instructor(s).  I think the one key difference I see in this plan is the training class only lasts a little over one month.  It’s not something that is going to string out for half the year.  Fingers crossed, my work schedule will comfortably allow this and I can get through the class and on the other side be better prepared (both knowledge wise and confidence) to take the exam.  I won’t lie about this….my biggest fear is sitting for the extra class exam and failing.  I know failing is not the end of the world, but just a hard thing for me to deal with. 

Well….while I wasn’t going to post a blog post today, I did want to get this out there.  Wish me luck.

Until next time,

73 de KD0BIK


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