Last night I went to the monthly Yolo Amateur Radio Society's meeting. It's "just" down 5th Street (read: 20 minutes, and 3.2 miles), so I rode my bike.
The meeting didn't have a posted agenda, but on the net Monday (which I finally remember to check into after forgetting about for two weeks), someone mentioned that they were going to do a presentation on Foxhunting. Foxhunting is a game where someone hides a transmitter, and everyone else uses their radios and antennas to find it. The transmitter is about the size of a stick of gum, plus a 9 volt battery and two pieces of wire for an antenna.
The meeting started out rather slow, with people telling stories about some bike event they worked last weekend, or how they got such-and-such power supply for free from some e-waste bin, and how great it was because it was a $100 piece of equipment. The stories were still pretty interesting, so no big loss.
After the talk on how to foxhunt and how to build your own foxhunting antenna, the speaker showed us his setup, and asked if anyone would like to try and find the transmitter he hid around the building. No one else jumped on it, but dude, did I want to get in on this action. It was a commercial 3 element yagi, fed through an active attenuator (which makes the signal quieter, thus easier to tell where the peak is).
It was relatively simple: Every 20 seconds, the transmiter beeped, and I swung the antenna around and saw where the signal peaked. Then we moved over a few dozen yards, and waited for another beep to get another heading. At one point I got confused because I got turned around and started getting headings that triangulated the transmiter in the middle of a field, but this turned out to be because the back of a yagi is another lobe of gain, so I was getting the right headings, just off by 180 degrees. We finally narrowed the thing down to one bush, so we all broke out flashlights, and someone finally found it. It was in a Nesquik tub with a hook on it.
It was a really good meeting, and I learned a few things I didn't know before about direction finding equipment, attenuators, etc, but really the most valueable part of the meeting was afterwards when I hung around and talked with the rest of the guys for half an hour.
As anyone who has been reading my blog lately might have picked up, VHF has been a little frustrating for me. FM is notoriously short ranged, and when I eventually do manage to find someone on the local repeater, it seems like three times out of four they're not very fun to talk to. My concern has been how much of that is just that I'm on 2 meters, and how much of it is just ham radio in general. Part of me wants to think about getting another radio, yet another half wants to just stick with the one and do little more than public service.
These guys pointed out that if you look in the right places, there are a lot of very technical people out there. They asked me about what parts of amateur radio really interest me (building my equipment, and casual contesting), and made a lot of really good recomendations.
They refered me to two of the guys in the club who are big into contesting. One of them, Tom, lives out on a farm and has enough equipment that he'd be able to accomidate me if I asked to join him for a contest. They also offered to have me over to use their rig to really test the waters (other than field day, which is almost as bad as the Steve Jobs reality distortion field). Then at the end, the gold nugget of references. They pointed out that the club has an Icom HF rig, complete with power supply and tuner, that the club would be able to loan to me for a few months!!!
Getting it up and running in an apartment would be super hard (read: secretly stringing wire through the trees in the dead of night), but getting to burn the tubes in my own personal space for a month or two before buying my own rig would be invalueable.
Getting to talk to other amateurs who really knew what they were talking about (not to mention not calling computers new fangled confusing things), really reaffirmed my interest in this hobby. It had almost lost me there for a few weeks...