Sometimes…..it’s just not!

I’m still working on getting our SSB radio set up. When we first started on this project we kept hearing people say “get your communications in place 6 months before you leave”. Seemed a bit excessive to us then.

It’s not.

So after we got the radio installed, we wanted to get the pactor modem upgraded from a 2 to a 3. It’s usually a simple software upgrade-except for ours, it had to also have some physical upgrades too. So our modem went on a journey to see the great guys a Farrallon electronics in California and a few weeks later came back all refreshed and ready to work.

So, I’m all-here we go….ready to send an email via the radio…..just set up the Winlink software and connect all the cables between the computer, modem, and radio and hit send. Easy.

It’s not.

Right on the Winlink website, they state that they intentionally don’t make the set up “Internet easy”. Good job guys, mission accomplished! I did get the programs downloaded and an account set up, and I even got it to work via the internet. Not really the goal, but baby-steps. But no matter what I tried I could not get the whole system to work via the radio. The problem seemed to be that the computer/modem was not telling the radio which frequencies to transmit and receive on. God knows where I was sending my transmissions to (sorry). One frustrating weekend later, I think I have not one, but two problems.

First problem, most modems only need one cable. Ours, the PTC IIe, needs two. The second one is to select the channel on the radio from the computer. Ding-ding-ding exactly my problem. Fine, buy another specialty cable. Oh, and another USB to serial adapter cable for the specialty cable. Because it’s not so special that it actually works right on its own.

Second problem, so I am supposed to be able to program the radio without this not-so-special-cable manually. I know how to do that on the radio, no problem. I program the receive frequency. OK. I program the transmit frequency. Can’t. I tried over and over, different frequencies- just won’t program. I start to get this funny little feeling, so I try to program several of the HAM net frequencies. No go. Uh-oh. Long story short, when we purchased the radio we thought (were told) it was opened up for use on the HAM frequencies.

It’s not.

Ok, fine, just find a local radio shop and get it opened up. Easy.

Oh, of course, it’s not!

I know that someone with any experience at all could have figured out my issues in a matter of minutes, but then I wouldn’t have read, and reread (and reread) the manual. Or watch the youtube videos over and over trying to see what I missed. I wouldn’t have been googling how other sailors set up their systems. And I wouldn’t have gained the tiny bit of knowledge and confidence that I have gained in the past few frustrating days. So it’s a good thing–and I’m just going to keep telling myself that.

Needles to say, this one is not checked off the list yet.

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Where were we ONE year ago: Splurge!

Embarrassingly Clueless

Usually for us one of the hardest parts of any project is the decision making and shelling out the money part. And since it took us three years to finally purchase our SSB radio, it would seem that would be the case here too. I am afraid maybe it isn’t. We still have to complete the install-a critical step and apparently not exactly a straightforward one. Then we have to learn how to use the radio. Let me focus on the second one for a second.

I am going to be completely honest, no matter how embarrassing, and admit how clueless I am. I still don’t know how a radio (music, VHF, ssb) even works. I do not know how a phone works (the kind on the wall or the kind in my pocket). I do not know how the internet works or really what it is. I can’t explain the difference between 12v power and AC power or how an inverter works. I don’t understand wavelength bands, frequencies, or baud rates. I know I am not dumb, I actually have a degree in science and work in a lab but that is all biology/chemistry. Keith, of course, has a much better handle on most of these topics, he is very comfortable with electricity and the mechanical side of things but he too is a bit lost on the electronics aspects as computers aren’t really his thing. So we are figuring this out together. Last night Keith gave me a crash course on a few simple topics. For example: Diode=like a one way check valve in plumbing-only in electricity. I get it now. Only a couple hundred more concepts to go.

So why do these things matter? Obviously I have had no problem making phone calls without understanding the principles at use my entire life. I should be able to call on the radio without understanding the principles at use there too-right? Well they matter because I need to get my ham license in order to use the service that will allow me to send/retrieve files (weather) over the radio for free using Winlink. There is a fee-based service that works on the ssb bands, Sailmail, but I like free better. That, and I think we will need to understand the basics for installation and operation anyway.

I downloaded a ham study guide and a list of study questions, but I am finding it difficult to make heads or tails of the material when I don’t understand 4 out of 10 words in a sentence. I just don’t have the vocabulary or base knowledge. Words like rectifier, oscillator, azimuthal pattern, bandwidth, reactance, and propagation mean nothing to me. I have so much studying to do. I had hopes that getting the ham license would help learn how to use the radio. Now I am just hoping that I don’t need to know this stuff to use the radio!

So, are we over complicating this whole thing? We can’t be the only ones befuddled by this. Someone please tell us that once you start using the radio it is actually not too complicated!

In the mean time, my other little study partner is helping out too!

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