Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lessons from Amateur Radio

Of the many recent signals that peak oil has come of age as a social reality, the one I find most interesting is the efforts being made, on nearly all sides of the cultural spectrum, to find reasons not to talk about it. The ongoing superspike in the price of oil, for example, has been blamed on almost everything under the sun except the simple, easily verifiable fact that worldwide petroleum production has been stuck on a plateau since late in 2004, and shows no sign of going anywhere but down in the foreseeable future.

Now of course it’s true that speculation has played a role in driving up the price of oil, though as many speculators have bet on a decline in oil prices as on a continued rise – check the short interest on oil futures on any of the exchanges in recent months if you doubt that. It’s also true that Russia, for example, has been using its newfound energy wealth as a political weapon, though there’s rich irony to be savored in watching pundits in the United States, which built an empire on its own now-depleted petroleum reserves, criticizing Russia for doing the same thing. If oil production was still increasing at 2% per year, none of that would matter.

Look at the situation in the light of the relationship between supply and demand and the nature of the current crisis is hard to miss. Over the last year, the price of oil has approximately doubled. According to conventional economics, a price increase on this scale ought to stimulate new production, since oil reserves that were economically marginal when oil was $70 a barrel are much less so when oil is $140 a barrel. During the same period, despite frantic drilling on the part of oil companies, production has remained stuck in a narrow band. This only makes sense if production is constrained by non-economic factors. That, in a nutshell, is the peak oil concept: at a certain point, geology trumps economics, because you can’t pump oil that’s not there any more.

This may seem obvious enough. To most of the people in the world’s industrial nations right now, though, this sort of logic is unthinkable, for intensely personal reasons. Accept the reality of peak oil, and the future most people have planned for themselves and their children stands revealed as one of history’s all-time bad jokes. Worse still, the reality of peak oil means that all those who turned their backs on the lessons of the 1970s energy crises, and wallowed in the quarter century of excess that followed, have personally contributed to making the world their children will inhabit a poorer place. That’s a hard pill to swallow at the best of times, and this goes a long way to explain the passion for finding someone else – anyone else – to blame for the unfolding crisis.

They’ll get over it eventually, when it becomes clear that what I have called the age of scarcity industrialism is the new reality, and no amount of scapegoat-hunting is going to change that fact. In the meantime, it seems to me, it’s crucial that the peak oil movement keep going forward. Ten years ago, when the idea of oil priced above $100 a barrel was considered laughable by serious people, we correctly predicted the shape of the future. Now it’s time to move on, and propose constructive responses to that future as it takes shape around us.

And that, dear readers, is what landed me in a converted World War Two barracks building the Saturday before last, with a multiple choice test on the table in front of me and a group of elderly men from the American Radio Relay League to grade it.

A few words of explanation are probably in order at this point. One of the major achievements of the last two hundred years, it seems to me, is the emergence of communications networks that allow news and information to move from one side of the planet to another at a faster pace than messengers on horseback or sailing ships can travel. Though there had been plenty of earlier attempts, using semaphore and other visual systems, the telegraph revolutionized communication across the industrial world, and launched a series of more complex media – telephone, radio, television, and finally the internet. Not all these were an unmixed blessing, it has to be said; every technology has its downsides, but on the whole, widespread access to long-distance communication has been much more a blessing than the opposite.

There are also few dimensions of modern industrial society more vulnerable to breakdown in the age of scarcity now beginning. The internet, the crown jewel of modern communications, depends on a huge and energy-intensive infrastructure that may well prove unsustainable in the future. A single server farm can use as much electricity as a small city, and the technology that makes the internet possible in the first place requires plenty of energy, exotic raw materials, and a very high level of technology – none of which can necessarily be guaranteed in the decades to come. On a broader level, most of today’s telecommunications, including the internet, support themselves through advertising sales, and the economic model that makes this work will have a hard time surviving the collapse of the consumer economy.

At the same time, electronic communications media need not be as dependent on today’s industrial systems as they are. It’s quite possible to build a vacuum tube – the backbone of radio communications in the days before transistors – from commonly available materials using hand tools; Peter Friedrichs’ excellent book Instruments of Amplification, which details how to do this, has become popular reading on the more outrĂ© end of the do-it-yourself crowd. Fifty years ago, widely available books for the teen market such as Alfred P. Morgan’s The Boy’s First (and so on up through Sixth) Book of Radio and Electronics taught aspiring young electricians how to build remarkably sophisticated gear out of oatmeal boxes, spare parts and salvaged scrap. The possibility of viable electronics in a post-peak oil era deserves exploration.

What would a viable long-distance communications network in the age of peak oil look like? To begin with, it would use the airwaves rather than land lines, to minimize infrastructure, and its energy needs would be modest enough to be met by local renewable sources. It would take the form of a decentralized network of self-supporting and self-managing stations sharing common standards and operating procedures. It would use a diverse mix of communications modalities, so that operators could climb down the technological ladder as needed, from computerized data transfer all the way to equipment that could be built locally with hand tools. It would have its own subculture, of course, in which technical knowledge and practical expertise would be rewarded, encouraged, and fostered in newcomers. Finally, it would take a particular interest in energency communications, so that operators could respond to disruptions and disasters with effective workarounds at times when having even the most basic communications net in place could save many lives.

The interesting thing, of course, is that a network that fills exactly these specifications already exists, in the form of amateur radio. During a long and complex history, the original loose network of radio experimenters who pioneered the airwaves in the first three decades of the 20th century morphed into a worldwide community of radio hobbyists, who are assigned their own segments of the radio spectrum. Licensed and occasionally encouraged by governments, “ham radio” – the origins of the nickname are a subject of some debate – flies almost completely under the radar of the wider culture these days, surfacing only when someone in the media notices that in the wake of some natural disaster, a group of local radio amateurs stepped up and kept emergency communications going when all other channels shut down.

All this was in my mind when I sat down two Saturdays ago and prepared to take the first of a series of FCC exams that would qualify me for an amateur radio license. Like a fair number of my generation, I’d been involved in amateur radio in my teen years – my Boy Scout troop had a ham radio club – but it got lost somewhere in the tangles of a difficult adolescence. Six months of study had, I hoped, prepared me for the most challenging test of all, the Element Four exam required to get an Amateur Extra class license, which authorizes operations on all amateur bands and all modes. Longtime readers of this blog will have already guessed that I had my Pickett slide rule with me, to crunch numbers as needed.

As it happened, that six months of study paid off, and the Pickett performed splendidly. I passed all three required exams, and a week later got an envelope from the FCC containing my Amateur Extra “ticket,” call sign AD7VI. The next task is to assemble a station; given the limits on my budget, that will involve a good deal of scrounging and probably some homebuilt gear as well, but that’s hardly a disadvantage; a Druid interested in appropriate technology has much to gain by practicing technological salvage and getting some facility with a soldering iron.

All this has several lessons that may be worth considering as we move deeper into the age of peak oil. First, of course, members of the peak oil community interested in practical responses to the future ahead of us could do worse than look into amateur radio. The internet has been the crucial framework for peak oil organization and information sharing since the dawn of the peak oil scene in the late 1990s. If the net becomes unstable, or outlying areas begin to lose access – both real possibilities as energy prices rise and infrastructure falters – having something else in place as a backup has much to recommend it. The Druid order I head has similar concerns, and similar plans in process.

Second, many other technologies vulnerable to the impacts of peak oil, climate change, and the other impacts of the predicament of industrial society have potential backups and replacements in the large and little-known world of hobby subcultures. An astonishing number of what we might as well call “trailing edge technologies,” from black powder firearms through handloom weaving to long-distance sailing on windpowered boats, have survived intact to the present in the form of hobbies pursued by their own community of aficionados. Those communities, and the knowledge they preserve, are potentially an immense resource as we look for more sustainable ways to do things in the aftermath of the age of oil.

A third lesson, though, may be the most relevant of all. I’ve suggested elsewhere that our civilization is the first, and thus the most clumsy and tentative, of a new class of human societies – technic societies – as distinct from earlier forms as the first urban agricultural societies were from the tribal cultures that preceded them. One of the inevitable blind spots our historical position imposes on us is a tendency to confuse the particular cultural forms evolved by our technic society with the requirements of technic societies in general. Amateur radio is a reminder that there are ways to handle long-distance electronic communications that do not involve, say, mass broadcasting supported by huge energy inputs and the financial payback of a consumer economy. This is worth keeping in mind as we begin the long transition toward the ecotechnic societies of a sustainable future.


Danby said...


Bill Pulliam said...

I have found it comical watching the economic pundits dancing their little sidesteps about oil prices. These are the same people who vehemently maintain that supply and demand will always drive markets to fair and accurate assesments of the value of everything, from corn to healthcare to information. Except for right now, with petroleum. This can’t be the free market, it must be manipulation. The lack of a production surge in the face of what are prices beyond the wildest dreams of analysts just a few months ago is such an inescapable dead giveaway that it is surreal watching this fact being ignored. Equally blatant is how the drop in US demand has no appreciable downward effect on fuel prices. There is only ONE simple explanation for the fundamental cause of the price surge: The supply curve is shifting to the left. It has not merely shifted in the preterite, implying a one-time change; it is continuing to shift, inexorably, month by month, maintaining the upward trend in prices in spite of “demand destruction” and no appreciable change in production.

As for our criticizing Russia, I think we are just annoyed that we peaked too soon and are missing the robber-baron party now when the price boom is really beginning.

You think Americans will feel guilt about the children? Nah, we are much too narcissistic, juvenile, and short sighted to get to that complex level of thinking. It’s just denial in the face of unpalatable options that threaten our personal laziness and comfort.

To your main theme, the preservation of “archaic” technologies by hobbyists: I have long thought there must be a selective force (i.e. an evolutionary advantage) behind the human drive to idiosyncratic passions and obsessions. It is easy to see the value to the tribe of having a diversity of interests and abilities in spite of close genetic relationship. “It takes all kinds to make a world,” as they say. You don’t even need to invoke the taboo mechanism of “group selection;” just the standard model of “kin selection” does the trick. Again, it is easy to see how it could increase your own personal evolutionary fitness if your parents, children, siblings and cousins have different inclinations than yourself. This would be especially so in tough times when survival is threatened and likely depends on creativity, diversity, and social innovation. I think what you have presented here is an large-scale example of this phenomenon in action. The "hobbyists" don't need to be thinking about preserving these things for a possible future when they might be needed again; they just have to be indulging in the natural human fascination for the unusual, different, and individualistic. In an analogous case, to get sexually reproducing critters to get on with the reproduction, evolution doesn't require that they have an actual understanding of ova, sperm, conception, parenthood, etc. It just has to give them a sex drive and make copulation be something they enjoy doing.

I’ve been pondering getting active with the local amateur radio club for a few years. because of its central role in storm spotting and emergency response. Now that you have suggested an additonal reason, I may actually get off my rear and go to a meeting.

By the way, a linguistic quibble with a comment you posted on another thread about restricting "profanity" on your blog. I believe you actually are taking exception to vulgarity, not profanity, yes? I suspect your concern is not with secular use of sacred language, but with those familiar anglo-saxon four letter words for body parts and biological functions; do I surmise correctly? Of course, you might in fact consider those time-tested, venerable (but rarely venerated) teutonic tetraglyphs to be sacred and powerful and do not wish to see them diminished by excessive, casual, and disrespectful usage. In that case, "profanity" is indeed the proper term!

RDatta said...

Amateur radio is truly another excellent idea. In times to come it may not be amateurish, and in fact it is not so now. Congratulations on your FCC certification.

The 1970s were not without prescient leaders, as Carter's MEOW (moral equivalent of war - speech) demonstrates:

When I first heard that speech, I was a CPT. at Ft. Benning, GA.

When I was called up with my reserve unit for Desert Storm, I did write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper (Louisville, KY's Courier Journal) advising them that the - then current - adventure could have been rendered unnecessary if we had heeded the message.

Indeed, if we had heeded it at the time of Desert Storm, we might hot have needed Operation Iraq Liberation (which two days after it started was renamed Operation Iraq Freedom).

Bill said...

Congratulations! The Amateur Extra class license is an quite an achievement.

As for equipment, some of the new transceivers are reasonably priced, and I personally am tempted by them. However, I agree that there is something to be said about rolling your own, if only because you have an inkling about how your units work, and have some chance of repairing them yourself. There also are a number of kits for sale that are quite functional and are less than $200. I am currently assembling a NorCal 40A.


John Michael Greer said...


Bill, I'm not at all sure it's just laziness or narcissism that motivates all the peak oil denial out there. if that's all that was involved, I'd expect to see more "who cares?" and a lot less of the almost frantic anger or faux-optimism so common just now. My guess is that there are a lot of very uncomfortable consciences among Americans just now.

As for profanity, granted, I'm using the word in an inexact sense, because it's understood. I'd be as unhappy with profanity as with vulgarity, to be honest, but nobody's waded on here with a high blasphemy quotient recently.

Rdatta, whatever Carter's other limitations as a leader, he had the right response to the energy crisis...and he was pilloried for it. I don't envy the next president who has to say the same things.

Heteromeles said...

Hi Michael: Congratulations! I'm jealous, a little, because I wanted to take the entry-level class in amateur radio last spring, but I had to work that weekend. I've still got the books, and next time, maybe I'll be able to start down that path.

Two quick comments: About hobbyists, one of the heartening things is that most scientists are effectively professional hobbyists, in that they are getting paid to pursue their passions. Many of them hang out in herbariums, museums, parks, and conservancies (as well as in colleges and universities) and keep our culture's knowledge alive. Good reason to support these institutions.

Second point, about the blindness of people to peak oil. There's a really wonderful example of blindness to the obvious in Taleb's The Black Swan, which is about how people refuse to properly understand unpredictable events, and how there is this massive tendency to post facto rationalize. One classic case of this is the warning on all investments: "Past performance is no predictor of future results." This is true in many walks of life, yet we like to believe that anyone who can rationalize the past into a story of cause and effect, can thereby predict the future.

Not that I'm saying you should get out of the prediction game. Life isn't solely governed by unpredictable events, though it might hinge on them.

No, the basic point is that we're used to ignoring unpleasant parts of reality and rationalizing our response, so I'm not surprised that we're whistling past the graveyard on peak oil. My prediction is that at some point it will all come crashing home. What's the stage after denial anyway? Rage? It should be interesting.

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Not sure I can even get to the pork beam communication meme this post is ostensibly about ‘cuz I’m stumbling over some crushingly Roman obstacles in the road (and “Roman” is about as unDruid as it gets, btw, as that incarnation of the Empire crushed Celtic Europe, cutting down all the sacred oak groves in Gaul on the road to Britain...the road we’re still on.)

Anyway, here they are:

Look at the situation in the light of the relationship between supply and demand and the nature of the current crisis is hard to miss.

Peak oil, supply & demand…my arse! We don’t need no stinkin’ oil and this supply & demand myth is getting really old—market? What market? You mean that free market, with its invisible hand? The icons of free market fundamentalism will (God willing) be desecrated just like the groves were one day

They’ll get over it eventually, when it becomes clear that what I have called the age of scarcity industrialism is the new reality, and no amount of scapegoat-hunting is going to change that fact.

“Scarcity industrialiam” is just the current face of the economy of scarcity that has been in place ever since the Fall 6000 years ago. It’s manipulation, pure & simple.

Now, if you want to get clever about what could replace your oil empire and its disposable, planned obsolescence, try Bucky Fuller’s economy of abundance on for size.

Sabretache said...

JMG said: "Bill, I'm not at all sure it's just laziness or narcissism that motivates all the peak oil denial out there."

My take is that peak oil denial is just another manifestation of cognitive dissonance reduction, that psychological mechanism that leads all of us to minimise the jarring effects of uncomfortable (dissonant) facts on our own self-image and the things that are important to us. It has two extreme manifestations:

1. Passive - burying one's head in the sand
2. Active - killing the messenger coupled with manufacturing an enemy to blame

Both of which are on display in spades in the MSM and US military adventures.

The oil problem isn't a fundamental one of geology; rather it is one of 'those wicked Muslim countries denying us our rightful access to it - not to mention those eco-freaks who are preventing us drilling here and there for the sake of penguins or polar bears or whatever'

alfski said...

G'day John, always enjoy your posts.

Don't write the Internet off completely, there is quite a good underground movement of geeks who build IP networks (free nets) based on cheap low-power open-mesh wireless gear. Individual hops can be anything from 100m to ten's of kilometres. Not quite the range of radio, but meshing extends the network ad infinitum.

Obviously there's a fairly high-level of tech involved. But then again, how many ham radio enthusiasts could REALLY build their own transceivers?

And then there's always RFC 1149 :)

"A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers"

Cheers from Down Under.

fernwise said...

JMG, have you been to your first hamfest yet? All sorts of interesting equipment available at them. The biggest ones (like the BRATS hamfest in the Baltimore area) have an electrical and handtool fleamarket as well. Heck, the tailgate vendors at hamfests have provided many of the paper products for our home business, my first solar planel for experimentation, tools and books of all sorts.

Fern - ADF, ASW, met you at BTW '07

awlknottedup said...

I am also an advocate for amateur radio having a license myself (KI6DIU). It is a means of communication that has proven itself to me several times. I am in the Missouri Ozarks and getting ready to send up a G5RV into some of these trees.farmall12

awlknottedup said...

I too believe that amateur radio is an important communication tool. I am KI6DIU. It provides local information in emergencies and other times. Weather spotting is but one. During last fall's fires in Southern California I had information on road closures that were not available on the Internet of local news outlets.

I am in the Missouri Ozarks looking at putting up a G5RV into some of these trees.

Remember it is but one tool in a bag. We each should do as many skills as we can.

Carenna said...

Congrats on your extra ticket. I got my license when I was 9 years old back in 79. My dad is a lifelong ham and electrical engineer, and I've been thinking that ham radio would be a valuable avocation/skill to promote for the coming years. If I had to choose, I would rather have a good antenna and a good low power ham rig tied to solar panels 20 years from now than an internet connection that's liable to be worthless.

Bill Pulliam said...

Is Morse Code still a part of the training and testing? It may seem archaic now, but a dash-dot transmitter is much easier and cheaper to build from scrap than a voice transmitter, I'd expect.

Personally I still think Americans feel more guilty if they don’t buy their kids an iPhone than they do about having burned through the natural resources and leaving their kids a ruined economy. I just haven’t noticed much capacity for seeing the extended consequences of personal actions at that scale. But, we just disagree on this poiint. I might be tempted to ascribe our differing opinions to the fact that you live in a hippy-artist colony and I live in a small town in the bible/WalMart belt; but I’ve been to your town, I first met you about 30 miles away from my town, and neither of us is that provincial.

I’ve been thinking about other sorts of global electronic infrastructure and wondering how well it will hold up to global energy shortages. Specifically, I’ve been wondering about GPS and associated technologies. People in the developed world seem to have lost the ability to read a map, chart a course, and plan a route. They have just turned this over 100% to GPS, Google, and MapQuest. And, I might observe, I have never before seen so many people getting lost and having no clue how to right themselves! If you look up “excersize in folly” you might find the definition now reading as “attempting to follow MapQuest directions or automated GPS guidance in the rural South.” I am wondering how long we might expect the GPS units to keep working. Given its strong military basis, and the utter dependence now of commercial transportation on it, I suspect it will be kept up and running at some level as long as is possible. But how long is that? How long does a GPS satellite function in orbit? How much does it cost to manufacture and launch a replacement? Perhaps just as important, given the way “national security concerns” get trumped up during economic hard times, how long will civilians still be allowed access to the technology?

As recently as 1983 when I was on a long open ocean sailing voyage in the southern Caribbean, the sun, moon, and stars were still the only reliable navigation guides. This was long before civilian GPS, and Loran-C coverage down there was spotty and unreliable. We managed a 2000km traverse of featureless sea, with not a single sighting of land, buoy, or other navigation aid, with just sextant, chronometer, shortwave time signal, printed ephemeris, paper, pencil, straight edge, and drafting compass. When we came in sight of the first buoy at the seaward end of the Belize ship channel, less than a km off our plotted course after over two weeks since our last visual fix on a landmark, it felt to me like magic. I dare say that shortwaves, chronometers, and sextants will be FAR easier to maintain in an energy-impoverished world than orbiting satellites and computerized digital receivers. But of course how many people still even manufacture precision sextants? Do commercial, passenger, and military vessels still even carry them onboard? And is there anyone onboard who knows how to use one? I’m not even going to bother asking about aircraft and private pleasure boats!

Also envisioning a world where the Shortwave once again becomes the global communication grid, and each town’s ham radio operators are re-elevated to their place as the prime channel through which news of triumph, disaster, and daily life are spread to the rest of humanity.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I'm certainly looking at kits. Thanks for the tip!

Heteromeles, good -- anger comes right after denial, and right before bargaining. Mind you, there are people at every point in the process right now. As for scientist-hobbyists -- a valid point, though I'm not at all sure how long it will be possible to support the more expensive institutions of the sort you've mentioned; I hope enough of the people interested in the sciences are willing to do things in their basements.

Cuttlefish, I hate to break it to you, but scarcity is ecological reality. The delusion that we can have everything we want if we only get the right kind of society in place is particularly unproductive just now, and mapping religious concepts such as the Fall onto a skewed version of history doesn't improve it. As for Bucky Fuller, he was a brilliant man whose ideas were utterly divorced from reality -- there's a reason why his Dymaxion car killed its driver the first time it got into a collision, and why geodesic domes don't keep the rain out.

Sabretache, good. Cognitive dissonance goes into overdrive when events contradict the core narratives of a culture -- in this case, the myth of perpetual progress.

Alfski, that sort of thing is certainly an option, at least over the short and middle terms, but it's dependent on a very high level of tech. Radio is simpler, and a lot of hams homebrew their rigs -- I'm just getting started, and I've put together a regenerative receiver that can pick up Radio Taiwan on a good night.

Fern, there's one out on the Oregon coast later this month; I'm certainly considering it. Thanks for the tip!

Awl, good luck with the G5RV!

Carenna, that's pretty much exactly the rig I have in mind for 20 years from now, so we're definitely on the same page.

Bill, Morse isn't required any more but there are still a lot of people working it, and yes, a CW (Morse code) rig is a lot easier to make than just about anything else. As for non-GPS navigation, that's an excellent point -- I don't happen to know how long the GPS satellites can be expected to stay functional, but sooner or later they'll be orbiting space junk. Worth looking into.

Codesuidae said...

I had to laugh when I read this post, it's almost my story exactly, it was very amusing to see it come across on a familiar blog.

A point of interest, there is overlap between the amateur radio bands and some of the the wifi frequencies. That means a ham can operate a standard WAP under amateur radio rules and bump the transmission power up to as much as 1500W (with some external assistance, obviously consumer AP's can't be turned up that far). This is sometimes called the hinternet, or ham internet.

As far as how many hams could really build their own rig, probably most of the active ones, as it isn't difficult and active hams typically know someone who knows how. Whether or not they could actually operate it is a different story, a great many of us can't do morse code. Now, if you picked out some random hams and threw a bunch of salvaged electronics and a soldering iron at him (or her) and said 'make a transceiver from memory' you'd find many fewer successes (but you might be surprised to find a good number who could do it).


Degringolade said...

Excellent Post, I couldn't agree more. There are tons of "old" technology that will have to be picked up, dusted off, and honed in the near future.

I am thinking about a post on non-refrigeration food preservation. How much of the power that we use is to control temperatures? How much can simple "old-fashioned" technologies help us return to a reasonable footprint on this world.


Thomas said...

Congratulations and welcome.

Amateur radio also provides very good local communication via 2-meter FM. After all the cell phone towers fall from lack of maintenance there might be some 2-meter repeater networks still functioning.

I worked as a hot-type printer in my 20's and am thinking about setting up a small print shop using hand set type and a hand operated printing press. The ability to print broadsides, handbills, local newspapers, even books, should not be lost. The University of Iowa Center for the Book offers courses in letterpress printing, paper making and bookbinding. These are all manual arts that must be preserved.

As for equipment, eBay usually has a decent selection of tube equipment--Drakes, Hallicrafters, Hammarlunds, National, etc. Good working stuff, particularly less than collector quality cosmetically, is inexpensive.

73, AB0DI

awlknottedup said...

The GPS system is controlled by the military. They can turn off what is called Selective Availability (SA) any time they choose.

Google Earth, look at a map of Israel on GE and what do you see, no street names. I would think old road and topo maps could become a valuable resource.

Morse Code or CW has not been a requirement for the entry level license for many years and the requirement was dropped altogether in Feburary 2007.

There is a whole sub segment of the radio hobby called QRP or low power radio. They build very small less than 5 Watt transmitters and using code see how far they can transmit. One goal is 1000 miles per Watt. Do a search on QRP and Tuna Tinned Tuner, a 5 Watt tuner kit in a Tuna can. Many are built in an Altoids tin.

Another advantage of code is a very narrow bandwidth and usually code will get through when nothing else will.

awlknottedup said...

2M repeaters can be the lifeblood of local disaster communications. During the fires last fall I was able to monitor one repeater that was in the middle of the fires and pass along road conditions. It was on emergency battery power

A couple of other repeaters had to go on battery power only to discover the batteries or chargers were bad. Another repeater burned so it pays to have a backup.

Also we need to use the 146.520 simplex calling frequency more. I have that and my call sign on the backs of my vehicles and during several trips from SoCal to the bay area and a just completed 1700 mile cross country trip, no one called me and I never heard anyone else on the frequency. I called out several times and no response.

thorn said...

I when I got my general license I had to do 13 WPM CW! I have an advanced ticket (now grandfathered), one of these days I'll upgrade to extra. I had almost passed 20 WPM for extra.

I just setup a 440MHz repeater at my home QTH @ 1,200ft, soon to be on solar power. It would be good for local communications after PO for emergencies. It has about 30+ miles coverage.

I wonder if the PO people with ham tickets should setup a PO net on 20m? Might be useful to chat about PO.

Anyone have HF?


Heteromeles said...

Bill: Gotta love Google. I just did a quick check of Google market, and yes, precision sextants are still available for aroun $300 or less (David Micrometer Master Sextant). I'm not a sailor, but I agree that using the old tools makes more sense, so long as the charts are accurate (of course, with rising sea levels, will the charts remain accurate? Inquiring minds want to know).

Michael: about the scientist-hobbyists. Yes, some of them (us) are a bit too expensive to keep in business. This specifically applies to those whose work depends on those wonderfully expensive biotech toys. The rest of us will adapt. Just as an example, one of my favorite tools is a 2 meter staff, marked off in centimeters. I made four of them 12 years ago for $6.00 each, and I still use them routinely for measurements. I recommend this as a druid's staff for anyone interested.

FARfetched said...

Congrats on the Extra!

For those who find the higher classes a bit too difficult, the Technician class gives you all the VHF and higher frequencies, any mode, any power (IIRC). 'Course, high-power equipment in the UHF range can get rather pricey and dangerous if not handled properly. But most of the time, low-bandwidth modes on 2 meters can reach out dozens of miles, so local and regional communications are within reach. I let my Advanced ticket lapse some time ago, but I'm thinking about just jumping in as a Technician.

One thing to think about: with the advent of satellite links, microwave links, fiber links, and of course the Internet, a lot of services are abandoning the HF (shortwave) spectrum. But if those techno-wonders get too difficult to maintain, they'll go right back to the HF bands and resume the long-time crowding out of hams.

I have to wonder though, about the people who expect that the military would turn off GPS but not touch the hams?

RAS said...

JMG, congrats on the ticket!

How long the GPS will work is anyones guess. It will be a race between the electronics and power supply going out and the fuel supply running out. Each one has a certain backup amount of fuel that is supposed to be used to boost it to the graveyard to make room for its replacement when the time comes. Of course, if mission control such down the comman may never be given.

My guess is that they will blink off one by one, causing spotty reception in place where there are no longer enough to triangulate a position with, until there are so few left its not a viable communication system anymore. It's also worth noting that Russia, Europe, India, and China are all trying to build their own GPS type system. If they succeed, it may be worthwile to have receivers for those types as well to keep the system running longer.

As for navigation I agree with Bill that we need to get sextants and the old systems back up. Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean without a GPS locator, and yet there are people today who can't find a wal-mart without one!

Some other hobbyists that I think will be useful are the SCA types. They've kept alive some useful knowledge. My best friend's husband is an old-fashioned blacksmith in his garage in his spare time. You should see the stuff he turns out!

Bill Pulliam said...

"I have to wonder though, about the people who expect that the military would turn off GPS but not touch the hams?"

This actually brings up an important point about the future of various technologies if governments get more restrictive and/or less functional. It is the difference between technologies that the government actually provides and controls, versus those it merely regulates.

GPS is provided by the military and controlled by them absolutely. A few commands sent up to the satellites and *poof* civilian GPS vanishes instantly. Highly-skilled unauthorized users might still be able to gain access to it, but only with serious high-tech hacks or stolen equipment.

Amateur radio, in contrast, is regulated by the government, but not provided by them. It does not require any proprietary equipment that is difficult or impossible to fabricate on your own; it does not use centralized nodes or transmission systems that are easily controlled. Shutting down amateur radio would require massive, ongoing, constant enforcement of regulations, active frequency jamming, and other sorts of large-scale intervention. It would therefore be impossible to actually achieve a complete shutdown of amateur and outlaw radio, History bears this out. Outlaws and rebels with portable transmitters have always been able to circumvent oppressive regulation and keep information flowing, just as they are always the first communication lines established out of major disaster areas when all other infrastructure is disabled.

This highlights a fundamental issue that I'm sure will be an ongoing theme of JMG's writings here, cutting to the core of which technologies are most suitable to what he terms an ecotechnic world. I think we need to keep in mind, by the way, that the internet is fundamentally a government provided and controlled system as well. Perhaps not as thoroughly as GPS, but much more so than most appreciate. If your central government doesn't want you to have access to Google, they can stop you pretty easily. And if your central government stops functioning, the infrastructure that gives you access to Google will crumble and you will NOT be able to build and maintain something comparable on your own.

John Michael Greer said...

Codesuidae, I admit I'm more interested in packet radio -- which can duplicate a lot of internet functions over continental distances -- than in higher-tech options such as high-powered wifi, but that's just me.

John, low-tech food preservation is crucial; fortunately, it's also not that hard. We've got quite a few cans of pickles and preserves here at home, and there'll be more as the harvest comes in.

Thomas, please do get that press going! That's another sustainable and highly useful technology that can be preserved if there are people willing to do so.

Awl, I've got a Pixie II on the workbench right now -- another QRP transceiver, small enough that you can fit it and the 9 volt battery that powers it in an Altoids tin. I plan on doing a lot of QRP, not least because it's easy to get that amount of power out of renewable sources.

Thorn, I'll have HF as soon as I get the necessary gear; a peak oil net on 20 meters might be a very good idea.

Heteromeles, good to hear. I've begun keeping track of the local wild bees -- while honeybees are getting scarce, some other species are expanding to fill the void -- and I find that a notebook, some field guides, and a hand lens are all the tools I need.

Farfetched, one curious thing about ham radio is that even very repressive governments tend to allow and even support it -- the Soviet Union promoted ham radio vigorously, for example. Even dictatorships tend to think well of the benefits gained by having a large number of trained radio operators who pay for their own rigs, and are ready, willing and able to handle emergency communications.

Ras, I'll be devoting a post in the near future to the SCA and other reenactment groups.

Bill, exactly -- the internet is very nearly a poster child for the sort of complex, energy- and resource-intensive, and potentially fragile technological systems that we can't rely on over the long term. Remember that it was built during the last blowoff of the age of cheap energy, when fossil fuels were cheaper, in constant money, than they had ever before been in history -- or ever will be again. It embodies the values of that 25-year spree and, I suspect, will not survive that period's definitive end.

Bill Pulliam said...

Fortunately the ancient methods of food preservation are still very much alive, even in industrial food processing. No arcane secrets here, just familiar everyday techniques. There are four basic tools:

1 -- Drying
2 -- Cooking
3 -- Chemicals
4 -- Microorganisms

All four date back far into prehistory. Many foods can simply be air- or sun-dried and then be preserved for years without spoiling. Cooking sterilizes food and chemically modifies it in ways slow spoilage. Chemical preservatives are also ancient: Sugar and salt are two of the best chemical preservatives known. They mostly work by essentially sucking the moisture out of food and unwanted microbes, and can also preserve food for years if used properly. Anti-microbial chemical preservatives in the form of strong spices have been in use just as long. Finally, there is the use of microbes for fermenting and "ripening" food, a kind of controlled spoilage that gives you edible and tasty results rather than unpleasant ones. Fermentation can preserve formerly perishable, unstable foods for decades; cheese has been described as "milk's leap to immortality." Often a single preserved food will use several of these techniques. Smoking combines cooking and chemicals, hard cheese making uses heat, microbes and salt, and so forth.

The newest addition before refrigeration was canning. Canning take the ancient method of cooking (often superheated using pressure) and combines it with mechanically maintained anaerobiosis (the airtight canning seal). By requiring stable 100% airtight containers and seals, canning greatly extends shelf life, but it also requires things that have to be purchased if you really want your results to be completely safe and stable. Still, these supplies are low-tech enough that they will probably be available for many generations beyond the oil peak.

Having eaten our own homegrown two-year old canned tomatoes and three-year old dried tomatoes, tiding us through years (like the meteorological nightmare that was 2007!) when the tomato crop was a 90% bust, I can testify that old-fashioned food preservation is easy, effective, and satisfying!

Oh, and as for loss of nutritional value, sure there is some associated with each of these methods. But compared to having the food rot away to toxic slime, their preservation of nuritional value is outstanding!

Jean-Vivien said...


just a few stupid question for people who already know answers :

- what is HF ? is it ampli or freq modulation ?

- what is best to begin with ? an HF, FM or LW/MW receptor ? A transceiver ? What kind ? I have read that amplitude modulation is easier than frequency modulatioN... is it true ?

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, you're using your crystal ball again -- food preservation will be the theme of a future post.

Jean-Vivien, HF means high frequency (3-30 megahertz); AM and FM, by contrast, refer to modulation, which is the way that information is encoded on a radio wave; either one can be done on any convenient frequency, and there are other ways of modulating a radio wave besides AM and FM. So asking whether HF is AM or FM is a bit like asking whether the German language is a noun or a verb.

That being said, different ways of modulation are more common on different frequency bands. FM voice is very common in VHF (30-300 Mhz) and UHF (300-3000 Mhz) and rare on HF; single sideband (which is a variant on AM) is common on HF; CW (Morse code) gets used all over the spectrum, and then there are other modes such as radioteletype, packet radio, etc. that are also common all over the place.

As for what's best, it depends on what you want to do! If you want to contact people on the other side of the world via Morse code, you need completely different gear and training than you'd need to set up a packet radio network linking your computer to those of your friends in the town where you live. Your best bet would be to contact the ham radio society in your area and talk to them -- they can walk you through the process of qualifying for your license and getting equipment. There's a lot of used gear out there that's quite cheap -- a Druid friend of mine just set himself up with a complete HF station on Morse code and single sideband for less than US$120.

awlknottedup said...

In radio transmissions there are two major components, the carrier and the intelligence. The carrier is the RF or Radio Frequency. The intelligence is carried by the RF.

RF is broken into bands, HF is High Frequency from 3 MHz (MegaHertz or three million cycles per second) to 30 MHz. The AM broadcast band is in the MF range, 300 KHz (Kilo Hertz) to 3 MHz. The frequencies continue on into VHF (Very High Frequency) UHF, EHF, etc. These were all named in the early days of radio.

HF is what is sometimes called Shortwave. The lower frequencies are Mediun Wave (MW) and Long Wave (LW). Again AM broadcast radio is an MW signal. This comes from representing the frequencies by the wave length. HF is 100 Meters to 10 Meters. VHF is 10 meters to 1 meter, and so forth.

HF signals are bent back to earth by certain atmospheric conditions so is used for long range communications. The higher frequencies tend not exhibit this affect and many are line of sight communications only.

The intelligence is modulated on the carrier. The simplest form of modulation is CW (Continuous Wave) where the signal can be stopped and started to form the dots and dashes of International Morse Code. Early transmitters used a simple spark gap to transmit and all the receiver heard was a series if pulses of static.

As we move up the radio technology ladder we have AM or Amplitude Modulation where the strength or amplitude of the carrier is modulated by voices or other sounds. AM was the first modulation technique where voices could be sent.

FM is Frequency Modulation where the frequency varies to carry the intelligence. Broadcast TV uses AM for the picture and FM for the sound. SSB is Single Side Band suppressed carrier and is a way to increase effective power by not sending the carrier and one half the energy.

A transceiver is a transmitter and receiver built into one unit. Back in the tube days they separate units but as tubes got smaller and later as transistors took over the units were combined into a single box or transceiver.

Amateur radio operators are given certain slices of the frequency spectrum depending upon their class of license. The entry level license gives one complete use of all the amateur frequencies above 50 MHz. Most activity is on FM with local repeaters. A repeater listens on one frequency and retransmits on another. A well located repeater can significantly extend the range in UHF and VHF. Above 50 MHz is where you find moon bounce, satellite communications, ISS communications and others. The tech license also has access to the code portions of the HF spectrum and a small slice of 10M voice.

As you move up the license ladder to General you get more frequency and voice privileges. There are small segments of the various bands reserved for the top class or Extra.

Jean-Vivien said...


I dont know, I just wanted to try voice communications, both in recept. and emission.
I was wondering, as a beginner, how I could connect with other radio amateurs in the area ( say, a 30 miles radius). I mean, listening to them, and also talking to them. I want voice, not morse ! Anyway, even if voice has a more limited range, could you use it to do morse on a wider range (because morse would be more tolerant to background noise than voice) ?
Is this sort of things costly in energy (cf QRP) ? Would you use AM or FM to do that ? I know AM reception doesnt require much power, but AM emission could be quite demanding. Could you give me an idea, both for emission and reception, of the different options (AM/FM), their respective ranges, power requirements, financial costs, and difficulty levels ?

I hope I am not asking too much, but if you want other people to start taking steps for the future, I consider you wont mind helping them a bit to do so...

JMG, I am glad you posted the entry on radio right at the same time as I was thinking about it... I guess many ideas will simultaneously reappear in people's minds as the broader context becomes tenser (and industrialized society starts breaking apart fastger than it can catabolic collapse).

Jean-Vivien said...


Thank you for your very informative reply.
It gives me a much better picture of radio in general.

So for the long range, I would use HF ie short waves ?
The radio AM uses the MW & LW (lower frequencies than HF). The radio FM uses the VHF.
So if I use HF (in between LF and VHF) should I carry the intelligence through frequency or amplitude modulation ? Because MW & LW amplitude modulation enable one to listen to radio stations from other countries, as opposed to FM on VHF, which seems to be more localized...

I think it's good to have this discussion here, because it may encourage conscious people to get interested in amateur radio... And I live in Europe, but having info about the legal rules on your side of the pond is interesting (and it probably works the same way on my own side of the pond...)

awlknottedup said...

You cannot legally talk on the amateur bands in a non emergency without a license or having a licensed operator at the controls. On the other hand you can listen all you want.

A good place to start is the ARRL at You can find local clubs and testing schedules there. Find a club and ask if anyone wants to be an Elmer, someone who helps new hams. You may also find the club website on the ARRL site or with a google search and get email addresses.

Buy or borrow a 2 Meter hand held radio and listen in on local nets. Schedules and repeater setting can be had at the club. The tech license is easy, I know people with no technical background who have passed tech without studying.

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, if you live in France, the people to contact are the Union Francaise des Radioamateurs (REF) -- they can tell you far more than I can about how things work on your side of the pond. (If you're elsewhere in Europe, or for that matter anywhere in the world, the list of national amateur radio societies here will get you the contact information you need. Every country does things differently, and advice that would be good here might be completely off base where you are.

I've also noticed, by the way, that similar ideas seem to be surfacing in many minds at the same time. It was Charles Fort, if I recall correctly, who commented that ideas have seasons as precise as those of flowers or fruits; when steam-engine season comes around, people start inventing steam engines, and so on. It may be radio season again.

Jean-Vivien said...

Hi !

thank you for your very informative replies ! How do you know I am living in France ? anyway...

From what I gathered over the Internet, BLU could be a good choice for me, but i dont know if its open to beginner amateurs, or easy to begin with...
As for "2 meters handheld radios"... Is it a kind of transceiver ? Operating on which carrier ? (i guess its HF) And on which intelligence ? (BLU, FM, AM?)

FARfetched said...

JMG, remember that packet over HF frequencies is (due to bandwidth considerations) limited to 300 bps. Doesn't sound like much, but I remember using 300 bps modems to connect to local BBSes back in the day. If you limit your activity to non-interactive text (email and the like) or the equivalent of IM, 300 will do you.

Bill, funny you mention food preservation. I just canned 12 pints of blackberry jelly today, from 3 gallons of blackberries I picked yesterday. Now I need to go make some bread so we'll have some toast to put it on tomorrow. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, I know it's not as true as it once was, but the fact that you have the name you do -- rather than Juan, or Johann, or John, or Ivan, or Giovanni, or what have you -- does tend to locate you within a fairly small number of countries in Europe! As for 2 meters, that's VHF -- around 144 megahertz -- and nearly all 2 meter transceivers (which is what Awl is talking about) are FM voice.

Farfetched, I'm mostly thinking of email and bulletin boards rather than the more interactive dimension of the current internet. For the purposes the Druid order I head has in mind, that'll be more than adequate, and we can also go down the technological ladder to voice or CW if the supply of computers starts getting scarce.

awlknottedup said...

HF is called the world wide bands because you can transmit to most of the world. Most HF communication is with SSB (Single Side Band). There are also several packet modes in use.

In the US most VHF and UHF is FM via local repeaters. Some repeaters may be linked to extend the coverage even as much as state wide.

Dwig said...

Re the current peak oil denial phenomenon: Mahatma Gandhi once said of his nonviolent resistance campaign: "First they ignore us, then they ridicule us, then they denounce us, then they fight us, then we win." Lately, I've seen and heard a combination of ridicule and denunciation, so if Gandhi's model is accurate, we're in for some real rhetorical fireworks over the next couple of years.

John: "As for Bucky Fuller, he was a brilliant man whose ideas were utterly divorced from reality -- there's a reason why his Dymaxion car killed its driver the first time it got into a collision..." Do you have a reference for the reason? The articles I've seen quoted a coroner's report that exonerated the car as the cause of the crash. And in general,
I think this may be a bit harsh; some of Fuller's ideas have been adapted and become useful. (Also, I find the Dymaxion map to be a useful way to look at the world; it helps break the Mercator frame that privileges certain parts of the world over others.)

Bill: "People in the developed world seem to have lost the ability to read a map, chart a course, and plan a route. They have just turned this over 100% to GPS, Google, and MapQuest." One of the odd hobby subcultures such as those John referred to is orienteering, which may help sustain a critical survival skill.

Talking about creativity in networking: I read a story a few years ago about remote villages in India (I think it was) that couldn't be economically connected to the 'net via communication towers (and satellite communications didn't exist yet. The solution they came up with was to put "servers" on buses, that would connect via short-range wireless to the various villages they passed on their routes. These servers would collect emails from the village computers, and send them out on the Internet when they reached the larger cities. They'd also collect the replies in those cities and bring them back to the villages on their next run.

John: ".. the internet is very nearly a poster child for the sort of complex, energy- and resource-intensive, and potentially fragile technological systems that we can't rely on over the long term." This is no doubt true of the current internet infrastructure, but remember that it was preceded by a variety of networks of varying range and capabilities, build and used by both professionals and hobbyists. (Any Fidonet veterans out there?)

I suspect that, as long as computers exist in any form, and can be connected to whatever electronic communications devices are around, we'll have some form of global digital communications network for some time to come. Also, in a catabolic decline scenario, I think there'll be a punctuated devolution of the structure and bandwidth of the net, as folks adapt to each new set of circumstances; I don't expect an "internet apocalypse" any more than a human one.

My particular interest is, how much computer can be built, like your radios, out of commonly available materials by knowledgeable amateurs? I don't have time, at least at present to attack that question, but I'm fairly confident that, if I can think up the question, someone is already actively pursuing it.

Finally, thanks for the Fort quote! It raises many fond memories for me. (Maybe it's time to read the Book of the Damned again.)

Jean-Vivien said...

Okay ! thank you all for your informative replies again !

Well this post is one of the few, along with the posts about conservation of the scientific method (and not ideology/believes...), that could have practical implications for how I will face the future ! Fortunately, I am turning 24, which means I am still young and adaptive... but also a bit inexperimented in everything :-)

So all your replies have made me investigate the question a bit further.

A 2 metre handheld radio is VHF as you say, 144 to 148 MHz in ITU 2/144 to 146 MHz here in ITU 1. The term "2-metres" actually refers to the wavelength of radio waves which have frequencies around 144 MHz (and NOT to the physical range of the emission-reception, as I initially thought ^_^ ). And the actual physical range seems to depend on the power it can emit, and that is measured in W (Watts). The emission power (probably not the exact technical term) seems to range between 25 and 100 W. The physical range is usually around 100km but it can be stretched much further (10000km ?) depending on special atmospheric conditions due to sun activity : ducting, sun spikes... I have even read that hams sometimes perform earth-moon-earth CW communications (morse code)...

It seems like a sound option to begin with. I was wondering about prices for new hardware : here in France it seems expensive to get a transceiver (around 200€). A transceiver is an electronic device which features both emission and reception. How much should I expect to invest in a beginner's transceiver ? What special gear do I need beside the transceiver : antenna, ampli ? I guess two-meters is the easiest and cheapest for a beginner...

Of course the most costly investment will be work to get a license, since radioamateur demands efforts to acquire basic knowledge before you can even start thinking of emitting.

Jean-Vivien said...

Hello all,

I guess 200 bucks for a transceiver is not so much anyway, and I will start when I have some time on my own to get a license and practice. I will start with plain FM on the 144-146/8 MHz band ("2 metres"). SSB seems a bit more costly and harder to begin with.
On a more off-topic note, John Michael (it would be "Jean Michel" here, as you may already know :-) ), you said you were observing pollinisator bees around your house. In the post arguing for conservation of the scientific method, you also mentionned measuring erosion, and learning to use erosion reducing plants. So could you give more practical details about these examples of low-tech natural science : methods, what kinds of insects you have observed yourself, list of possible terrains and possible plants to help deal with erosion. After all you are a druid, so I hope you wont mind instructing other younger people :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Awl, if you're lucky enough to live on the US west coast you can do better than statewide via repeaters -- there's a network of 2 meter repeaters that spans the three coastal states.

Dwig, I haven't seen the coroner's report on the Dymaxion car; I'll have to look that up. What I've read is that it suffered from the same problem as all of Fuller's other engineering designs -- no redundancy, and therefore no margin for error. The geodesic domes that were so popular in the late 60s got dropped like a hot rock once it became clear that unless every seam was perfectly caulked -- and of course in the real world that isn't attainable -- the domes leaked in the rain. Thank the gods nobody ever built any of Fuller's more exotic tensegrity structures: they look very elegant, but if one wire snaps or one strut buckles, the whole thing comes crashing down.

As for internet apocalypses, no, I'm not expecting that. My guess is that the internet will gradually become less reliable and more expensive, and geographically peripheral areas will start to lose access, as catabolic collapse unfolds. (Those buses in India sound like a great idea, for example, until you factor in the cost of fuel.) The goal we have in AODA is to be able to take up the slack step by step, at least for our order, as the net falters. Some of the older nets you mention might be good models there.

Jean-Vivien, here in the US it's possible to get a cheap 2-meter handheld transceiver for around $60 on online auction houses such as eBay. As for learning what you need to know to pass the exam, once again, your national amateur radio organization is the place to check -- here in the US the ARRL has a huge assortment of resources, and there's a lot more online offered for free by individual hams.

awlknottedup said...

The Dymaxion car rolled over in an accident along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. A strong wind was blowing off the lake and the car as it was designed line a boat, turned into the wind.

I am aware of interconnected repeaters like the Condor net that covers several western states. Many areas of the country have books on the local repeaters, I have one for Southern California and another for Northern California. Both show interconnected repeaters. APRS uses the Internet to interconnect digipeaters.

New mobile single band 2m transceivers can be had for not much over $100. Most are 60-60 Watts, some are closer to 75 Watts. Multi band radios are more expensive. Hand helds are usually limited to 5 Watts or less and are more expensive than mobiles. All can be found used.

I have found eBay to be the most expensive p lace for radios but the cheapest place to accessories. I have had more luck with friends,, and and hamfests.

Codesuidae said...


the actual physical range [of a 2M radio] seems to depend on the power it can emit, and that is measured in W (Watts).

Yes, to some extent, but VHF is largely line-of-sight, so your antenna height will be a very large factor in your range. That is why we put our local repeaters as high as possible. It's common to talk local commercial radio or television broadcasters into donating tower space for amateur use (often it seems you'll find hams working for those organizations anyway). Near me in Lincoln, NE one of the major repeaters is on the top of the state capital dome :)

That said though, you can get great range on 2M. A couple of weeks ago I was vacationing in San Antonio and I put up an untuned slim-jim at about 20 feet to listen to the local nets and I picked up a guy from Arkansas who was using a pretty respectable beam to get into one of the local repeaters. I don't recall what city he was in offhand, but it was over 1000km. Also heard a guy from California the same night, but I'm not sure how he was getting into the repeater.

The emission power (probably not the exact technical term) seems to range between 25 and 100 W.

HT's usually top out at 5W, mostly due to battery limitations I'd guess, but possibly also due to user proximity to the antenna.

Even at 5W HT's do a respectable job of getting into your local repeaters. IMO a good quality HT is one of the best radios a new ham can get for 2M/70cm work. I use a Yaesu FT8800 radio in my car, which is very nice, but I really would like to have an HT. It's an annoyance to have to either go get the radio out of the car to listen in the house, or to have to sit in the car to listen to the storm chasers or whatever.

The physical range is usually around 100km

This is highly variable. If I'm not using a local repeater the range from my car at 50W can be anything from just a few miles if I'm in a hole to dozens of miles on a hill.

Here in France it seems expensive to get a transceiver (around 200€).

I can find good new 2M transceivers here for around the equivalent of 75€. Nothing fancy, just a basic radio, but a good start. Used online or from a ham-fest should be even better.

What special gear do I need beside the transceiver

Nothing, except maybe a spare battery and a car charger. And your tech ticket of course :)

Of course the most costly investment will be work to get a license, since radioamateur demands efforts to acquire basic knowledge before you can even start thinking of emitting.

I think you'll be surprised how easy the test is. The entire official question pool for the US is published in PDF format on the ARRL website (I have it in text format processed from those documents, as well as in text format suitable for importing into SuperMemo, a windows application useful for studying such questions). I presume that similar is available in other regions.

You can find practice tests many places online that will pick questions from the test exactly as if you were taking the official version and then give you your score. If you think carefully about the questions and answers you'll probably find that you can very nearly pass it with absolutely no studying.

I bought all three of the ARRL study books for about $60 (~40€) and spent about 5 weeks studying the first two books. For the last week before the test I skimmed the Extra class book, which is substantially larger and has a considerably larger question pool. I took all three tests and passed them all with a comfortable (though progressively shrinking) margin. I was fortunate to already have an electronics background or I probably would not have passed the Extra class test.

Find out what the testing schedule is in your area and get in to do it ASAP, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Jean-Vivien said...

Thank you codesuidae !

I think you have all been of great advice concerning the radioamateurism.
Now I know what to start with :-)

About buses in India :

I was talking to my gradna lately, and I asked her about home alcohol ["eau-de-vie ... nature, de prune, ou de feuilles de pĂȘcher..."] (home made prune liquor, for example). I was complaining about the fact that grocery stores in France dont sell any more the base alcohol ["eau-de-vie blanche"] in which you macerate the fruits (I wanted to prepare medicinal plant tinctures, not only fruit liquors :-) )
Then she explained me that in the first half of the century, there were these specialized people ["bouilleurs de cru"] moving from village to village with horse, and tracting an alambic that villagers could use against a fee at vineyard harvest times["vendanges"], to distillate the grapes into liquor ["eau-de-vie"]. That's because when a field worker became too old to work in the fields, he needed another profession, and these people were useful since the alambic was too expensive to be had at each peasant's house, and you needed to buy a license to possess that equipment.
Of course these people were friends with everyone : one peasant could pay him a bit more, and get to distillate a bit more than the state quota allowed per peasants...
It instantly reminded me of our society's predicament : how do you share scarce items ?
So yes to internet buses, but I think we could extend the logic and say hello to internet *horses*... I guess everyone has seen my point here.

About the fragility of the Net :

What an irony when you think it was designed for more reliability in computer systems. It actually has improved the reliability of standalone systems, even if the more interesting possibility of sharing info with all the rest of the world is a side effect and as such is less reliable.
Besides, that's because of the way civilization works : it will encourage investing in more complexity rather than in more resiliency. *Civilization must grow...*

Dwig said...

John: "Thank the gods nobody ever built any of Fuller's more exotic tensegrity structures: they look very elegant, but if one wire snaps or one strut buckles, the whole thing comes crashing down." I'm not sure what you'd consider exotic, but Wikipedia mentions the Georgia Dome as an application of the principle. It seems to be still standing. Also, the first application of the domes was as shelters for radar installations in the old DEW Line across the arctic -- they withstood some seriously bad weather (presumably without leaking). (I agree, though, that geodesic domes are probably not suited for DIY homes built by alternative lifestyle fans. Many of Fuller's designs suffered at the hands of engineers who lacked a clear understanding of why the designs were just so.)

Awl: "The Dymaxion car rolled over in an accident along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. A strong wind was blowing off the lake and the car as it was designed line a boat, turned into the wind." I finally found a biography of Fuller that I'd thought I'd lost, "Buckminster Fuller's Universe", by Lloyd Seiden. He gives a full account of the accident. What you've quoted was the initial report of the accident, but after the two passengers in the car had recovered, they testified to the coroner that the real cause was a second car that pursued the Dymaxion in order to observe it. This car got too close and hit the Dymaxion's tail, causing it to roll over.

I'm not recommending Fuller for sainthood, but suggesting giving him a second look. He really doesn't deserve the brusque dismissal John gave him. I'll get off the digression now.

Kevin Anderson K9IUA said...

Congrats, JMG, on getting your amateur license, and an extra at that! I agree heartily about recommending PO-aware people getting a ham radio license; this topic is regularly brought on the RunningOnEmpty forums I frequent.

But as Bill's comments early on are pertinent - it is the government that gives us the privileges to legally operate amateur radio, and they can be taken away (the last time was during WWII). And amateur radio is still electronic technology subject to breakage and dependent on electric power. The simpler the radio the better in that regard. Even if we learn to build and maintain our own radios, it will become increasingly harder to do in the future as resusable parts become ever more scarce.

I suspect as the Internet breaks down, we will see a reemergence, assuming the telephone works, of a community effort that was a precursor to today's internet. I'm thinking here of FidoNet, a cooperate venture of countless amateur computer hobbiests who used telephone to transfer files and messages from computer to computer.

Again, congrats on your amateur license.
Kevin, K9IUA, licensed since 1993.

Todd Boyle said...

I was the youngest general-class license in Arizona at the time, when I was 12 or 13, love amateur radio. But it becomes practical replacement for telephone and Internet only in conditions unlikely to happen, most critically, you need wide, near universal adoption of a solution. The first, most critical element is a robust routing device. Then, the technology of the link is irrelevant. It might be lasers, copper, UHF, microwave, etc. or any of *billions* of digital radios built into everything from WiFi to cellphones.

Today we have top-down control over the whole fabric: IP addresses as well as DNS, both within artificial scarcity. If you assume social order but energy scarcity, that might continue. OTOH if you assume social conflict and/or top down Stalinism, or corporate monopoly gatekeepers, then Zebra ad-hoc routing and P2P etc. become options. They don't scale terribly well but for DX you come back to FIDONET and other forwarding at the application layer... -Todd ex WA7DGZ

Bonapartes Retreat said...


Have you gotten your radio set up yet? Since they have simplified the licensing process, I've thought about taking the exam. The topic of PO and information communication is still ripe for exploration. As you and Heinberg point out, we take a lot of the current infrastructure for granted.

Thanks, Mark

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, not yet -- an unexpected move across the country and house purchase upended most of my plans, and spare time and money are going into green retrofits for the house right now. About the most I've been able to do is keep working on my CW! All in good time, though.