Technical Information Service Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The most common technical question that the Lab staff is asked to answer usually starts with, "How do I find information about... <fill in the subject>?" In many cases, the member could have had an answer much sooner by doing a bit of on-line searching. It's easy to do, and learning how to use some of the excellent search tools available on the ARRL site and on the world-wide web in general will literally put a world of information at your fingertips.
The technical-information pages that ARRL staff has put on the Technology portion of the ARRL web site were created to provide information on a wide range of technical topics. The pages contain a brief overview of a particular topic, followed by links to ARRL and other downloadable articles about the subject and a list of other web pages with more information. Many of the pages also contain an FAQ section, where the ARRL Lab staff provide an answer to the common questions we receive on the subject.
You can search the ARRL web site using the search box located on the upper right of almost every page. This will provide a list of links on the ARRL web page that contain the word or words you typed into the box. The ARRL search capability uses a search engine and hardware designed by Google.
You can also search the world-wide web in general, using your favorite search engine. For example, if you wanted to search for Amateur Radio, you could first go to Google (http://www.google.com) and in its search engine, type the words Amateur Radio.
Although the Google search engine is designed to provide the most commonly used links first, that broad search resulted in over 12,000,000 results! If you are looking for more than general information about Amateur Radio, you may want to try a narrower search, perhaps Amateur Radio Contests or whatever subject interests you..
Searching can sometimes yield some interersting results. If you wanted inforamtion about RFI -- Radio Freqeuncy Interference, a good search will give you links to RFI-Request for Information, Radio France International and probably others. The pages you want are on the large list of results, but you'll have to go looking for them. There are also synonyms for RFI, such as EMI (electromagnetic interference), EMC (electromagnetic compatibility), etc. Try different variations on the search, until you use one that provides a good balance between too many results and too few. Try the following searches, to give you a feel for what you will find:
- Radio Frequency Interference
- RFI Amateur Radio
- Telephone interference filter
- Cable TV interference filter chartreuse case
Another excellent resource is the ARRL on-line archive of past QST articles, available to ARRL members as part of their membership. The archive search engine looks at words in the title, author name or call and at keywords the ARRL Lab staff have entered for some of the articles. If you are looking for a particular article, try different ways and words to search the archive to see if you can find the one you want.
The ARRL Lab staff is happy to answer technical questions for members, so if you run through a web search and don't find the answers you want, feel free to contact the Lab. If you remember an article, but just can't find it by title or keyword, or you read an article or web page and still have a question or you'd like an explanation of something you don't understand, feel free to contact the HQ Lab staff. The best way to do this is by email, to TIS@arrl.org. That email will be sent to the ARRL Lab staffer, or an expert that doesn't work at HQ, so you will get the best possible answer. If you call the Lab, you will get whichever of the Lab staff is most available to answer the phone at the time, and he may not be the msot knowledgeable person we have on staff for the particular subject of the question.
Q) Why can’t I get a recommendation about the best radio to buy?
A) There may ber a "best radio," but what is best for one ham would not be best for another. Every ham needs to evaluate his or her own needs, prefrences and budget against the new or used radios that are available. ARRL answers this question by pointing members to the informatiion we publish in each QST Product Reveiw, and to the "Best Rig" FAQ page we have put on the ARRL web site Technology page, to help members answer the question for themselves. Just as one example, to many members, a rig's features may be mroe important than the "numbers" in the Product Review column that describe a rig's measured performance. Just as one example, for hams with modest antennnas, there are not usually a lot of big signals to overload the receiver, so a receiver with a adequate dynamic range will sound just as good as one with a top-drawer (and top price) dynamic range. The articls on the Best Rig FAQ page describe all this and more.
Q) I shelled out a lot of money for a top of the line radio, why don’t I hear more signals than the economy radio I bought?
A) Modern economy HF radios are just as sensitive as the most expensive radios—the limitation isn’t the radio, but the noise level at your station. Sort of like trying to see better on a bright sunny day—image intensifiers work at night, but are useless when there is plenty of light. What you get is the ability for the radio to handle stronger signals without overloading.
Q) Where are those strong signals? I visited a ham with a beam at 100 feet—distant signals at his house are incredibly loud compared to the ones at my station.
A) Strong signals are a combination of band conditions and antennas. At the bottom of the Sunspot cycle, high antennas have a huge advantage over low antennas, because they favor low angle paths. Low ionization levels may only support low angle paths. When we move closer to the top of the Sunspot cycle, this advantage will decrease. On occasion, at the top of the cycle, low antennas will actually outperform higher antennas on rare high angle paths, but at this time, we can only dream.
Q) I’ve asked dozens of hams about the best antenna—all the answers are too expensive or terribly impractical. Can you recommend the best antenna?
A) The "best" is rarely both cheap and practical. Every ham decides on antenna performance capabiliites based on their own antenna site and budget.
Q) Which all band antenna will give me maximum efficiency with the convenience of a coax feed to the station?
A) Center feeding with open wire generally gives maximum efficiency. If cost isn’t an issue, one can place an automatic antenna tuner between the open wire and the coaxial feed line.
Q) Can I use my old ARRL software with Windows 7?
A) It depends on how old it is. Really old software that is Windows 95 compatible software, designed to operate on 16 bit systems, won’t run under your new 64 bit operating system, though they will run under 32 bit versions of Windows 7. New systems with 4GB of RAM or more need 64 bits to access that much RAM. Some old 4GB systems were shipped with 32 bit software, as there were issues with getting drivers for 64 bit software at that time. Drivers interface hardware like printers with your computer software.
The good news is, most of the newer software runs just fine, once you get past the security issues. Due to issues with hackers writing malicious programs, Microsoft has implemented tougher measures to prevent hackers from gaining control of your computer. In order for programs like Yagi for Windows to write and modify files, so you can save your work, you need to explicitly grant YW Administrative Privileges, by clicking the appropriate box in the security window. Merely operating the program from an administrative account won’t allow the program to function properly. This can be a little confusing, as the computer will flag the antenna file as the problem—changing the settings on the file won’t help. You need to change the settings on YW. YW comes on the companion CD for the ARRL Antenna Book, 21st edition. I'd suggest downloading the software notes if you intend to use this CD.
You may also run into problems with missing libraries that used to be a part of older Windows software, but was left out of Windows 7. This may not be an issue if you have a lot of software loaded, some programs will supply the missing libraries—you may never notice this issue. But, with a fresh new system, you may run into this issue. A library known to be missing is COM32DLG.OCX. One can get this library installed by visiting Dan Maguire, AC6LA’s page and installing his Moxon antenna program.
If you have difficulty understanding online help, you might consider buying Windows 7: The Missing Manual. It may not be obvious that you can use the Search box to run programs—or that you can put “Run” back onto the Start menu.