Maker Faire Q & A

Questions from the Maker Faire

Q: I enjoyed seeing what you displayed at the Maker Faire, but is that the main things you can do with amateur radio?

A: Certainly  not.  Amateur radio is rich with areas to explore and enjoy. Many  amateurs were licensed in their youth and still enjoy the hobby fifty or more years later. Besides the exhibits showcased at the Maker Faire, radio amateurs play a key role in public service activities such as storm spotting,  providing communications at events like the Chicago Marathon, and are the first to be called upon in time of disaster.  Amateur radio is an excellent way of learning about other countries by communicating with amateurs in that country. It is also a great way to practice a new language! For competitive gaming types, there is RadioSport where amateurs compete with each other amateurs to score the most points.  And there are opportunities to sit back and have a nice chat with hams in your area or around the country. These are just a few of the many opportunities that an amateur radio license opens for you.  

Q: I heard that amateur radio operators were involved with a scientific experiment during the April 8, 2024 total eclipse. What was that all about?

A: This was an excellent opportunity for radio amateurs to help scientists gain knowledge of radio propagation (how radio waves bounce off our atmosphere) immediately before, during, and after the total eclipse. Amateurs also participated in the total eclipse of August 21,  2017.  While radio propagation may not be the most exciting topic of research, it is extremely important because it determines if radio communications from Point A to Point B are possible or likely to be impacted by solar activity.  Thousands of radio amateurs became citizen scientists by doing what they like to do best: make contacts with other amateurs, providing a rare opportunity for HamSci and the National Science Foundation to gather a rich set of data that will help scientists understand the impact of the sun on the ability to reliably communicate.

Q: Are there any resources that will help me learn more about amateur radio and study for a license?

A: Absolutely! There are many online resources that provide more information about the world of amateur radio and even help prepare you to take your amateur radio examination. There are a number of local amateur radio clubs that not only administer the license exams, but also can help you through the entire process from information gathering, studying for your license, and helping clarify questions that you may have. But that is just the start. Amateurs are eager to share experiences and mentor new hams to help you get the most of out of the hobby. This is an excellent reason to seek out a local amateur radio club near you.

Here is a list of resources to get you started:








Q: Isn’t it difficult to get an amateur radio license? I’m not an electronics wizard.

A: It is true that some studying is involved to become a licensed radio amateur, but the privileges and opportunities a license provides is well worth the effort. You don’t have to be a wizard or PhD. In fact many non-technical people obtain their licenses every day. Even ten year old children (and even younger) have successfully passed the test.  It can be hard, although not impossible, to study and pass the test by yourself. But, you don’t need to go that route. There are many amateur radio clubs in the area that can help you through the process and help you over any rough areas of understanding.

Q: I enjoyed learning about how hams can use satellites that were built and launched for them. How do they get into orbit and how long do they stay there?

A:  Our satellites as well as other CubeSats are typically deployed by the International Space Station (ISS) or sometimes launched as part of a payload from rocket launch vehicle. When the ISS deploys a CubeSat, it can deploy multiple satellites at the same time. The satellites arrive at the ISS as part of a secondary payload on a SpaceX or other launch vehicle. It provides access to space at cost far below that having a rocket directly launch the satellite. CubeSats stay in orbit from anywhere from around a year to as long as twenty five years, depending upon the height of their orbit. The satellites eventually fall back to Earth due to the pull of gravity and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Q: I found out that the 40-meter shortwave receiver kits were updated with a ten- turn “Tune” control for easier tuning. I picked up one of the kits at the last Maker Faire. Where I can get one of those ten-turn controls?

A: If you need only one or two, Amazon carries them at a reasonable price. Don’t forget to order a knob, if you don’t have one, as the one shipped with the original “Tune” control won’t fit.  Search for “10k ohm potentiometer 10-turn”. Here is one result that is current as of April 2024:  10-turn control

Q: At your exhibit, you mentioned that you were using PiAware, but modified so that you didn’t need another computer to view the display. What changes are needed?

A: First off, it is doubtful that the way you use PiAware to display ADS-B air traffic will require these changes. For the Maker Faire, we wanted to display the map of aircraft on the same Raspberry Pi that was decoding the data so another computer wouldn’t be necessary. Most times, you just need to install the standard PiAware software from FlightAware and have the Raspberry Pi connect to your home network.  Then the map can be displayed by browsing to the the Pi on a laptop, tablet, or phone. 

In the unusual case where you need to replicate what we did at the Maker Faire, reach out to Ralph (WB9ICF) at It will require installing a version of the Raspberry Pi operating system with graphic user interface and manually building and installing dump1090-fa.