Saturday, December 27, 2008

Exploring the VHF Radio World

Since heavy ice broke my HF antenna pole last year I have been without any HF communications, being too lazy to repair the pole or replace it. I never used the VHF bands before, so I thought now is a good time to experiment with those bands especially that it is easy to install a small indoor antenna to cover the two bands: 2 m (144 MHz) and 70 cm (430 MHz). The antenna cost about $30 and can be installed on the top of a car using a magnet base. For now I intend to use it indoor only. The gain and VSWR of the antenna are probably not that good but I am hoping that I can communicate using one of the nearby repeaters in the city, and for that I don't need a lot of power or antenna gain.
The main advantage of using VHF bands is the ability to experiment with digital communications, such as RTTY, slow scan TV and ARPS systems. Some amateurs also use VHF bands for moon and meteor scatter, but that is not one of my immediate interests now.
In order to utilize any of the digital modes a TNC (Terminal Node Controller) is needed, or at least that used to be the case. Now a sound card of a common personal computer can be used instead of the TNC to connect with the radio, together with some special software installed in the PC, and the PC itself can then be used to operate the radio in digital mode. Well, I got a collection of digital mode communications software recently and it is time now to use them in the VHF bands.
Before the internet and email, radio amateurs used the digital modes to send text messages just like email. Now of course email is much more efficient, except of course when there is no access to the internet.
In any case, pretty soon I should be able to use the VHF bands and report on my findings. Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Workout

The winter here in Iowa is cold and snowy, with winds that can exceed 30 mph at times making the temperature feels like below zero F. In a weather like this one cannot go out to do anything, let alone exercise. But how can one stay in shape in a winter like this? I don't know about you but with the kind of stress I have at work I need to exercise regularly or else I can't keep up with life's pressing demands. So I do weight training in the basement. I found out that it is the best kind of workout I can do to stay in shape. Not only it helps the muscles and ligaments stay strong and flexible but it also provides aerobic benefits as a bonus. I do run on the treadmill once in a while, but I found out that the weight training alone is sufficient. There are a few things to bear in mind while weight training to get good benefit and see positive results: First you must warm up a few minutes before you start the exercise. Second you must use enough weights to push your muscles to the point of near exhaustion. This means that you won't be able to make many repetitions. A set of three-eight or even six repetitions each is enough. You must increase the weighs when you feel that your muscles can do more. Usually 10% increase each time is adequate.
Third, you must rest one day after each workout to let the muscles recover. This is important because the soreness your muscles feel are the result of micro-tear in them, and it is important to have enough nutrition and rest to let the muscles repair themselves and grow.
Speaking of nutrition, you will need to eat healthy to help the muscles grow. This means you need balanced meals that contain enough protein, carbohydrates and fiber. Whey protein helps the muscles recover quickly and grow stronger, so I use it after each workout. At night, a glass of milk before you sleep is a good way of providing protein for the body to repair the muscles without causing digestion problems during sleep.
Usually you can see results within a month. The important thing is to stay consistent and continue to work out regularly, three times a week. Start with half an hour each time, and slowly increase the time and weights as best suits you.
I have seen impressive results (relatively speaking), and that encouraged me to continue, so I hope I won't stop ever.