I’ve just created a site to list places and people with test equipment that they’re willing to allow other ham radio operators to use.
The idea is to support radio homebrewers by making good quality test equipment more available, and possibly restart the elmering community.
It’s at https://rflabs.tarxvf.tech/ but keep reading to understand the motivation behind its creation.
(An “elmer” is exactly the same as a “mentor”, but for ham radio specifically.)
This all started because I needed to use a spectrum analyzer. I asked around, but no one had one. I called the ARRL Lab, since they obviously had one, and asked about using their equipment, but no dice - they are entirely focused on product reviews.
Well, no clubs around me had any, and no makerspaces in my area either, so I bought my own, at some expense, and I’m fortunate I can.
This isn’t the first time - I’ve needed an oscilloscope before, back before I could afford one - and ended up just switching projects.
Part of the reason I got into software was because of the expense and availability of hardware, and test equipment is a big factor in that.
Problem: Community, barriers to entry, and causes
Now, homebrew and kit building aren’t dead, but we’ve lost the community Amateur Radio had back when the only way to get on the air was homebrew.
My great grandfather was a ham from the very start, and a bit of a snob about people who built kits to get on the air. “They didn’t build that, they just assembled a kit!” he would say.
The critical, low-level understanding that underpins all radio operation is at risk when the only way to get on the air is a baofeng, or several thousand dollars of test equipment.
These days the only homebrewers I’ve met in person are professional RF engineers. In a world with more hams than ever, and all the Youtube instruction you could want, that seems backwards.
This difference over time is not merely people self-selecting out of lack of interest, despite what you might hear.
At least some part of it is the expense of the equipment, and you can see the proliferation of makerspaces for evidence of this; they are, at their base, equipment cost sharing cooperatives and usually pretty clear about that in their marketing.
Unfortunately for us, they’re usually focused more on machine shops than electronics.
The traditional answer for this was “join a ham radio club”, but that’s a bit like asking your dog when to plant seed. Where there’s no understanding, there are no mentors, and I’ll leave it at that.
If clubs are dead, makerspaces don’t focus on RF, and hardware is expensive, we need something else.
So I made a small directory of people that have test equipment they are willing to allow other hams to use.
I’m obviously listed there, and so is SP5WWP. He’s mostly interested in testing on the behalf of committed M17 project members to further that work.
I’m willing to help any ham that knows what they want to test, even if they aren’t entirely sure how to do it yet - though you might be expected to read the fine manual a bit.
So it goes. Hopefully this directory comes in handy.