What you don’t know can kill you

What you don’t know can kill you

Facebook garners little of my attention.  The social noise from so many uninformed individuals spouting opinions as facts drive me to distraction.  While social media is an adequate way to keep up with the goings-on of some people, it is hardly a substitute for a phone call or Zoom visit during these rather inauspicious times.

Other uses for the site are finding like-minded folks.   Ham (amateur) radio has been a rather large part of my life since the early 70’s when I taught myself electronics at the ripe old age of eight.

Earning my first ticket in 1973 opened a whole new world for me.  Geography soon became essential. I was talking with people in countries I did not know existed.  Interestingly enough, some of the countries I ‘worked’ are no longer countries today.  I spoke with a King of a country that is no more, how many can say that?

One of the groups on Facebook is a ham radio group.  Seldom do I comment.  Those people in that group are from a different time.  The hobby is a leftover from earlier when we knew a language that few speak.  The communication was megacycles and micro henrys.  From Zeps to long wires and grid dip meters, we were something else.

More and more of my friends of this age are dying off from natural causes, and yes, COVID.

Amateur radio operators created much of the technology we enjoy today out of need.  Necessity is the mother of invention.

For instance, yesterday was Navajo Code Talker Day.  If you don’t know the history, please, inform yourself, it is fascinating.  They helped us win the war. These people tearing down statues are clueless bastards.

If they are successful, there will be generations of clueless bastards that have no comprehension of why kneeling when the anthem is played is so distressing to those of us who know history.

Ham Radio has been dumbed down over the years. On this site, there was a young man who was studying for his test.  He had the book open, took a picture of the page, and asked the group the question, ‘do I really need to know this stuff?’

The answer should have been an emphatic ‘YES.’

The responses were down hearting.  They ranged from ’just learn the formulas’ to pointing him to a place where they teach to the test.  The latter is why we are in the fix we are in today. We have taught to the test.

I pointed out that when the hobby began, we designed and built our equipment.  There were no radio’s selling for thousands of dollars made in China, ready for you to plug in and talk.

Today on Amazon, there is a dual-band five-watt handy talkie for $20.00. Those were $600 until the Chinese got into the mix.  This thing is full of whistles and bells, I have a few of them, just because.

While the CB craze in the ’70s set the stage for such radios, it took another twenty years before the FCC changed the rules, first removing the requirement for Morse code.   The questions went from an essay type question or fill in the blank, to multiple guess.

Testing went from traveling downtown to the federal building to volunteers like me who can administer the test.

While we have smartphones that can facetime people anywhere in the world where there is cell service, I am asked, why the need for ham radio?

The answer is we provide communication when there is any disaster where commercial methods of communication are down.  From hurricanes to earthquakes, we are there.

I responded to the person asking the question, telling him as much and relating to him that inside the transmitters and amplifiers are lethal voltages.  If you use a screwdriver and have any curiosity about your equipment, what you don’t know can kill you.  That is why multiple guess tests are not a good thing.  They are great for the people who manufacture and sell radios, but not suitable for the hobby or the people who are responsible for the signal the radio emits.

If they don’t have to work for it, they don’t respect it.  Just about any given night, you can find ‘operators’ most probably drunk, swearing like a sailor.  Very much illegal and could land you in jail.

Case in point and this is a simple thing.  I ordered an inrush current limiting device to keep the filaments of the tubes in my amplifier from getting all that current at an instant.  How many times have you flipped on a light to have the bulb flash and go out?

The same could happen to the filaments in the tubes, which are considerably more expensive than a bulb.

The case of the device was not put on correctly.  Because I know electronics and I know where this stuff is being made and by whom, I decided to open it up and peek at it before fixing the case properly.

crappy job

The pictures are what I found.  If those that learn to the test take that knowledge no further, they would not know what they are looking for.  Also, they might not understand what is wrong with it.

If you are an Amateur Radio Operator and you are savvy with electronics, I would encourage you to remove the covers and peek inside before you plug it in.  From cold solder joints to plugs not seated correctly, nothing surprises me.

This device you see is $90 plus tax and shipping.

Two MOV’s, one capacitor, one 10 ohm wire wound resistor, and a relay.  Add two fuses and a case and outlet you have an inrush current protector.   I would have liked an LED telling me that I have it on, or have power but nope.

IMG_6198
Correctly installed

If you look at the wire on the outlet, only a tad bit of the wire is connected to the outlet.  The green or ground wire has a part of the wire super close to the hot lead of the 110.  While the ground was wrapped backward, I left it as it was tight.

ground1
This is what you don’t want to see.

Whoever built this either did not care, was in a hurry, or child labor.  Yes, they could have been tired or hungover or a host of other excuses.  My point is this is not the first time I have had shoddy quality on ‘turn-key’ devices.  Had I learned to the test, I would never know the difference unless it failed, and I had to get it repaired under warranty.

The good news is the design is robust and there are two fuses.  The bad news is that outlet on the device might have been a source of heat, and intermittent connection through arcing and what have you.  It also might have been a source for electrical noise in the receiver, if indeed it began to arc.

If you are going to get into the hobby of Ham Radio, step up and learn it.  What you don’t know could kill you.

A friend of mine years ago was working on his amplifier late in the afternoon.  He was tired but used to tinkering as many of us do.  The high voltage in his amplifier was not where it belonged.  Taking the high voltage leads lose from the rectifier assembly, he went to measure the voltage from the transformer without a load.

Again, like many of us do with low voltage, we grab the end of the wires and hold to the leads of the meter.  Bad habit.

He did it with 3000 volts at an amp.  That mistake blew both of his arms off and exploded his kidneys.  The electricity shot out the bottoms of his feet, through his shoes while finding ground.

He lived for three days like that.

What you don’t know can kill you! 

Working on things when you are tired can kill you.  Bad habits can kill you.  I keep one hand in my pocket whenever I am working on high voltage.  I remove all jewelry when I am working on electronics, period.

I never re-load bullets when I am tired.  I never drink and get on the radio, or send an e-mail to someone whom I have a disagreement with. 🙂  Words to live by.

I hope this story is helpful in some way to those of you who tinker with electronics.

-Best

Scott

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s