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M, as in Mancy

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

I just came off a 5 week push to get my Technician, General, and Amateur Extra amateur radio licenses in one sitting. I just wanted to remember a glorious visit I once took to hell, detailed below in an edited (I'm a privacy freak) copy of a message to some friends who graciously allow me to periodically bore them. The prior blog post was done during the first week, just before I had ramped up to peak 100% psycho-commitment.

One hindsight reaction I have is that I wish I had done this while I still considered myself a boater. Clock Work has 2 VHF's, plus a handheld VHF and my old VHF handheld from the 90's in the emergency kit, and an SSB radio. Those licenses just require money, and the SSB to me, still, makes no sense at all as a tool for someone on the kind of mission for which the vessel was designed. I can't think of a possible ownership scenario in the NE that renders the SSB useful, and even fewer where the owner would be up on how to use it. Nobody heads for Europe in an NT. The only time I ever used it was was at the dock with a good friend who has been a lifelong radio amateur and also boat owner took me thorough a 1 or 2 hour lesson in how/where (freq-wise) to run it. I have a lot of background in electronics and measurement and I think my ridiculous improve-until-it-hurts wiring would have enjoyed optimizing antenna feeds and placement around the boat, along with some long-range cell connectivity I was planning when I decided to give up boating. Frankly, the FR surface of the SSB antenna could stand some love and I always thought it'd be fun to bring it back home to my shop/measurement gear (soon to hopefully include a VNA) to see if I could rejuvenate the surface while not impacting electrical performance. My point here being that if a boater has an adequate background to usefully tinker with their communications gear that that sounds like a really neat thing to do. I wish I knew my friend who tried to make me a marine SSB expert had an amateur station on his boat too. I might have hung in there. And put a station on CW as well. Along with that small machine shop I wanted in the second state room (no Bridgeports or Southbends.. more a Unimat, or two).

About the title of this... throughout my prep, the ARRL resources constantly/overly reinforced the frequent use of the Nato Phonetic Alphabet, so the title of this refers to my reaction. Search on Archer and Mancy and watch the video.

Take care. Begin pasted message:

It's 1125am on Tues... woke up maybe 15 min ago. The immediately visible evidence, like my last outbound typo-drenched text suggests about 12 hours of sleep just got put on the books. I am experiencing a strange all-over feeling I think is called "rested" in non-OCD circles.. My office looks like I've been testing hand grenades in there, with visible carnage extending out from there. Even though I am reasonably confident I wore pants yesterday, as best I can recall, and on a good many of the days before that, I just now notice I have moved a bit more than one hole toward the tip of my belt. Which might be attributable to the possibility that I have entirely abandoned working out, and not just abandoned eating right and my successful experience with intermittent fasting, but have been mainlining caffeine and carbs as hard as possible for weeks. The brain is the largest consumer of carbs.. a thesis, given my job, I naturally tested decades ago. Carbs were expelled from my daily life years ago, and I only go off that wagon when I have a pressing need to think/reason/decide or push out an idea better than my daily lot. The "recycle pile" in the garage next to a personal record number of pizza boxes prompts the comment from my wife I've been pounding down about a 12 pack of Pepsi a day on top of my ~2+ pots of dark roast. So.... oh, my poor septic system. I best flush down a heartfelt sympathy card and call a priest when I finish this.

I realize a couple of you will, if you reply at all, be quick to chastise me for this extreme retrograde change away from healthy behavior, and will ask (in a tone indicating you thought you had me)... "so what did you get for doing this to yourself?"

Well...... Messr/Mme Smart Asses, et al.... said with love... I got this here thing:

This ticket was handed to me about an hour away from here last night after about three hours of testing that says I passed the Technician, General and Amateur Extra exams for FCC amateur radio licenses... i.e. from the basic to the top tier, in one seating. I'd say about a dozen guys sat for Tech, and then it was just me for General and Extra. I say "guys" because just going from the evidence at hand, I'm pretty sure they don't let women get licensed for amateur radio. I presume perhaps the FCC learned lessons from the voting and driving morasses in which we are all mired.

6 or 7 weeks ago, after a few weeks of research into fire hose/nozzle science (for fun, I audited nearly the entire fluid dynamics sequence when I was teaching electrical engineering) , I temporarily shelved my "street pressure/flow nozzle" design/build project, as an important element turned out to not be necessary... various high precision drilling/placement operations along a complex contour, though I may revisit in the future. I was pumped to grow my hole placement skills (and yes/of course, I have Moore's book). Fortunately, I did have a backup pursuit that dates to the 60's.. amateur radio. My absolute all time favorite Springfield store was Lafayette Radio and Electronics on Sumner. I could hang out in there for hours drooling over about everything, Hallicrafters and Drake amateur rigs included. Heathkit was one of my favorite catalogs.. their SB-101/102 probably my longest held non-dirtbike material lust, and was nearly my high school electronics build project. My dad and I built up a Heath GR-64 shortwave receiver which right now is sitting in the repair rack in my shop waiting to be brought back to life. In scouting, I studied for the radio merit badge and got a little CW practice kit from Lafayette and tried to learn Morse code.. but never made it to 5wpm (hockey/dirt bikes/chess/astronomy & telescope-making deserve all the blame I peaked ~4.2... I'm completely innocent!). My dad was a signalman in the Navy during WW2 and knew/remembered Morse his whole life. Semaphore too. So a connection existed. I enjoyed listening to him decode Morse on the radio we built.

Just bullets from here forward.. I'm behind on so very many things after 5 weeks on this.

  • The overall goal of this was not just get a license, but push as hard as I could chasing something challenging at which I could not succeed without an extreme and well designed effort. Everything's too GD easy now, in my opinion. In my mind, this was my version of a dream vacation... to recreate the most intellectually satisfying flow experience I ever knew... to recreate the final 4-6 months of pushing on the PhD qualifier prep. I spent 4-5 weeks on this.. about 5-6 days of that just on the Extra prep.

  • Here's the materials that got me there

[Please pardon the less-than-pristine carpet.... my wife hasn't been feeling well.]

  • The three ARRL books were my primary sources but my undergrad Communications Systems book was still referenced often. It's clear from all the notations in the margins I enjoyed that course. I was still in Jr. High when my grandfather bought the ITT radio reference book despite not starting to be smart enough to use it for years. Finally, one of my most useful steps in this project was to use my last Claire-Fontaine notebook (from Hastings, RIP) and create my own reference notebook to the last thing I'd check before turning in each day, and in my truck before going in to do the test. Everything I believed important to the tests out of everything else on that table is in my notebook.

[Note... writing this epic bore was paused at this point so my family could take me out to lunch. I've been dying for a fried egg sandwich and have no idea how to make one or how to learn to make one, so.... I am forced to count on other more skilled practitioners for this. Back now... on Wed.. btw, I don't think the 12 hours got me caught up on my sleep.. I fell asleep twice at lunch:)]

  • On the way out the door to the test, my family was commenting on my obvious degree of caffination. I drank 1 mug of high-test on the way there and had another for during the test. Caffeine is magical.. if I ever get sucked back into boating, there's a great boat name.

  • My brother-in-law was there for the Tech test. Kudos to anyone who doesn't have an electronics engineering background and goes for it. Not an easy thing.

  • One thing about all the guys I met there... all appear cut from significantly different cloth than I ever encounter here in town. None had that layer of imitation/obligatory "yuppie nice" that is standard issue here, and these guys seemed ooze curiosity and motivation. Reminds me of the majority of my friends (dirtbike/cop-riding/photography/engines/making/shooting whatever) from daily life 20 years ago.

  • A bunch of those same guys stuck around while I took my tests and would occasionally shoot smiles and thumbs up through thru glass in the door while they all talked about whatever out in the lobby.

  • When I was done, it was a bunch of genuine congratulations and smiles merging into friendly curiosity-demonstrating chat without the slightest risk the subject of "marble countertops" or how cosmically superior this year's updated shades of white for Range Rovers are. It was SO perfectly old days... SO reminiscent of the... genialness... of people that filled the engineering buildings for the days after the qualifier completed. Genuine.

  • I was cooked as I took the General and Extra. My sense of humor.... drifts... significantly... when I'm cooked. One of the examiners asked me what I kept laughing at as I took the tests. I answered that I best not say.

  • The transition out of the 24/7 hyper-focus on stuffing my "mind" with radio for the last several weeks came to an abrupt end the moment I turned in my Extra test. Poof... GIANT mode shift in my head. No more mission... target destroyed. I'd just run off the flow chart. I must have looked like Biden trying to figure out how to walk off a stage while his handler was outside smoking a joint. The closest cinematic example I could reference would be Dave Bowman being a spectator to his own life when he ended up in that all-white Renaissance bedroom with the illuminated floor. Or perhaps Bruce Brown's narration in "On Any Sunday" as to what the end of a desert race is like.. paraphrasing.. "just a few people standing around, and they're all waiting for someone else. It's just over." Tomorrow, you wake up and you resume your sentence of pushing the rock up the hill for no particularly useful reason.

  • It was foggy when I left. And I was foggy-plus. I drove up the road to the Something Inn parking lot, which was empty and looked cool in the fog. Someone should take that photo. I took the photo of my ticket above to text to my friend Rich. He's an Extra and an old photo buddy I met on a consult in So Cal in the 90's. Then I laid back to take a 10 min nap to recharge some.

  • Next I knew, someone knocked on my window... a state cop who asked if I was ok. Pleasantly. I explained I was fine... just cooked from prepping for 5 weeks around the clock for my amateur radio licenses and showed him the ticket from my dash board and charging my batteries before heading home. He smiled and said congratulations and to be safe. Pete Molloy would be proud. No fucking with you... just a normal OK guy. Maybe he saw the EVOC sticker ("Riding like a civilian scares the hell out of me") or the Police Motorcycle Rider's Handbook from the UK in the back (my preferred roadcraft reference). Boccharini was playing on my stereo. No thug shit going on in my truck.

  • Headed back. Slow going in the fog but things looked very cool. I saw two scenes in Three Rivers I'd have come back with my camera to shoot in the old days (last year) before I quit night photography after 50+ yr for self-preservation from little tyrants... if anyone ever decides the world needs one more shot of a gas station on a foggy night with wet pavement, send them to the station by the pond in 3 Rivers. Best night station scene yet.

One last thing... I decided to not waste heartbeats on memorization crap and there's more of that than needed in all three tests. They took code off the test so I have no doubt there's some BS be-more-inclusive-of-stupid-people thing going on. I looked at every question across all three question pools (total 1500) and identified pointless, unactionable questions vs those of genuine potential. I studied the latter and for the former, I tried to figure out a memory device to just make the right answer stand out. Here's a page from my notebook covering some memory tricks for the "What was Fats Dominoes real first name?" kind of questions...

Like.. there's one correct answer that is 7.250MHz... if I see a 250, I think 250 motocross... there's my answer.

  • A list of bands that General licenses can operate on is like 8 or 10 bands long... like - A. 2m, 6m, 20m, etc... and all 4 choices are like that and LOOK THE SAME. The list that adds up to 289 (like the engine in Beth's old Mustang) is the right one. Pure stupid question, though I heard they stopped throwing a box of tooth pics on the ground at your feet and expecting you to tell them how many.

  • Honda 305... WHYN radio... "The 300"... Roger Marris/61.... those options ID the right answer.

  • the question with 3 choices all "28.something MHz" plus an "all of the above"... it's all of the above.

  • My fav... space stations are allocated different freq's on HF (right ans ends in 4), VHF (ends in 2) and UHF (ends in 83). Easy to remember which is which.. remember typing in text messages using the keypad pf upper cell? 4-2-83 spells HATE.

  • Etc.

  • Two of my tests had such questions.

Anyway... mission accomplished... Back to the slog. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the midst of a time-critical balls to the wall no-prisoners effort. It's nice I got the tickets too, but it was infinitely more about the journey than the destination. I can't say if I'll even buy/set up a radio/station. I assume I'll at least get something simple and portable for personal/family emergency use to back up cell, internet and gmrs. Maybe build out a bit more so I might be useful for community or larger emergencies... I'm guessing there's a ton of people doing that though. I'll look into it, and either way I'll probably take some of the online emergency communications training just for something to do. For now.. I need to get another exact copy of my truck from someplace it doesn't rust, and a good bit of pre-winter work still needs doing on the property too. And time to get serious again about my eating and working out. Maybe learn Morse, or how to fry an egg. Oh wait....... I'm an engineer, not a........... wom... never mind:)

Huge kudos to my wife for making my all-day headache yesterday disappear by making me drink a bunch of Propel, and proving her theory it was mere dehydration. But still... what's the top ingredient in coffee or Pepsi??? Water!

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