Extra Class: Improving! (Vidicons and thoughts about the exam)

Well.  I failed yet another Extra Class practice exam.  However, I am improving.  I constistantly now am scoring in the mid 60% range which means I am almost there though.  70% is required to pass, so I think I will have this down before I go to the Dayton Hamvention to take my exam.

So far, I have no real secret for studying.  I have bought books, listened to audio by Gordon West WB6NOA, bought an online subscription to hamtestonline.com, and downloaded study guides.  I find that most of these things have helped me learn the material to some degree, however none of them really explains why things work the way they do.  For example, question E6E09 asks: “What type of amplifier device cosists of a small pill-type package with an input lead, an ouput lead and 2 ground leads?  (Answer:  “A monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC)).  But in all the materials that I have obtained, it just gives you the correct answer.  No real information (not even a breif blurb) that explains what MMIC are or what they do.  For that I guess we have google. 😉  I really believe that most of the material that I am learning is due to rote memorization more than any other learning technique.  And why that is good I guess for me passing the exam, it really doesn’t teach me much other than learning what the answer is to a given question that I have read several times and memorized the answer.  I find this a bit disappointing.  Perhaps a class would be a better way to go as a instructor could get more in depth with the hows and why things work.

For anyone thinking about taking the Extra Class exam, I think you need to answer this question:

What do I really want from an Extra Class Amateur Radio License?  

If the answer to this question is to just merely have the privledges of the license (operating in the Extra Class portions of the bands), then I would say rote memorization should be your study method.  If you want to learn stuff and really understand radio, I would suggest seeking out an Elmer or going to some sort of class where you can be with experienced hams (especially old guys that were radio station or TV station engineers back in the 50’s and 60’s).  🙂

Let’s face it A LOT of the info on the Extra Class Amateur Radio exam is based on old technologies.  There are several questions about antiquated technology such as CRTs,and vacuum tubes.  One question, E6D01:  “How is the electron beam deflected in a vidicon?”  (Answer: “By varing the electromagnetic fields”), I was all “WTF is a vidicon!?!?!?!?”  So I googled it up:  From Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_camera_tube#Vidicon]  “A vidicon tube is a video camera tube design in which the target material is a photoconductor. The Vidicon was developed in the 1950s at RCA by P. K. Weimer, S. V. Forgue and R. R. Goodrich as a simple alternative to the structurally and electrically complex Image Orthicon.[citation needed] While the initial photoconductor used was selenium, other targets–including silicon diode arrays–have been used.”

Although interesting, I really don’t understand why questions like this are even on the test in the 21st century.  It’s 2012 and most people don’t even have a CRT television in their homes anymore much less a Vidicon laying about.  I am interested in the technology of long ago, and find it interesting, but I think these types of questions are frankly ridiculous.  If you are interested in building a old radio or using a Vidicon, there are plenty of resources you can go too to find out more about those things.  Hams will be more likely to get a computer web cam or other modern camera for SSTV, ATV or other ham application where they need to use a camera than an old video camera with a Vidicon tube.

I know that some would say that I am for dumbing down the exam, but they could not be further from the truth.  And although there are a few questions about PSK31, and other digital modes, I would find it more relevant today to have more technical questions about computer technology on the exam.  You will find more computers in Ham shacks today than you will find CRTs, vacuum tubes and Vidicons.  Most hams use computers for station control, logging, digital modes, etc., so why not get rid of the antiquated stuff and put in some questions about how their computer works.  (and if your a guy that is saying “well then that would be a computer exam, computers are used for all sorts of things” …well then I would counter with my CRT argument.  They were mostly used for Television sets.  You wouldn’t have said this is a “TV exam”.  😐

I know that this turned into a bit of criticism about the test and the VEC that puts in the questions, but if they want to attract younger blood to this hobby, they need to consider what I am saying about these old technolgies.  Most new hams buy their shack anymore.  And the stuff they buy is modern, microprocessor, computer interface able, and even network able gear. I doubt that many young hams are saying “Yeah, I’m going to build my radio with a Colpitts oscillator and send crappy CW to a guy with an ICOM 7800, because I am all about the old school technology.”

I enjoy learning about the old school stuff, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think it needs to be on this exam.  Questions about more modern technologies need to be there.
If you really just want the license and don’t care about learning anything, I suggest not purchasing a darn thing.  Just look at the free downloadable study guides on the internet, and take the free practice exam on QRZ.com continually unitl you memorize the questions and pass.  (I know that is a horrible thing to say!!!) :s

If you want to learn and understand radio theory and engineering, find an old station engineer, an Elmer, and read a lot on the internet and from books.  (Of course you can do this after you pass the Extra class exam – like I am going to do)  I find that learning is the journey not the destination.  I am also learning CW and have even made several contacts (even though they removed the CW tests from the requirements of getting an Amateur Radio License!)

On the plus side, the VEC does do a good job with the questions regarding procedures and policies.  I think there should be more questions about that sort of thing.  Maybe the LIDS on 14.313 would have turned out different if they understood the rules better.  (I seriously doubt it…just making a crack here.  Dickheads are dickheads regardless of passing tests, or getting licensed).

Am I right or wrong here?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

In the meantime, I am going to keep studying so that I get my Extra Class license, and when I do get it, I am going to find me a damn Vidicon to hang on my wall and collect dust in tribute to this post. 😀

73! de Nick N9SJA

2 thoughts on “Extra Class: Improving! (Vidicons and thoughts about the exam)

  1. Pingback: Extra Class: Passed my 1st practice test! YEA!!! « N9SJA

  2. Vidicons forever OM! Don’t give way to those new-fangled LCD’s, they’re much too small and light weight for serious ham radio duty. I believe that MMIC’s are uses in microwave technology due to their small size and short leads not affecting the circuit so much. I remember some stuff from the test but learn much more just by practical use. Agreed on the inclusion of outdated material on the test. Hopefully the next question pool will be revised to include more current, relevant info. Just memorize what you need to in order to pass the test. You have the rest of your life to learn how best to apply the knowledge.

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