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June 11, 2021, 09:43:01 PM

HAM Radio & Survival.

Started by Hoofer, January 10, 2021, 04:04:47 AM

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Rick

You seeing any UPS issues. They have been buying smaller, cheaper units, that have square wave outputs, lots of harmonics, transformers choking.
I dream of the day a chicken can cross the road with out it's motives being questioned.

Hoofer

Quote from: Rick on January 17, 2021, 06:02:08 AM
You seeing any UPS issues. They have been buying smaller, cheaper units, that have square wave outputs, lots of harmonics, transformers choking.
a local college in my area dumped a bunch of these units (because the batteries were old).
https://www.apc.com/shop/us/en/products/APC-Smart-UPS-XL-3000VA-RM-3U-120V/P-SU3000RMXL3U
So I asked if they'd like to have them hauled, and the batteries recycled.

2 pickup truck loads and lots of disassembly of the hundreds of pounds of battery packs...
it yielded 6 really nice UPS units, with the rear power plugs, and they're 48vdc - same as the rest of the battery backup system we have for the farm & incubators.  Recycling all those little batteries, was worth over $100 alone.  Just the right size for freezers & fridges, for when we do not want to run the Genset.  Noisy... yup.  Big enough to run the blower on the furnace, and more.

I'd have to put the scope on them for the waveform, my guess it's a modified sine-wave - only because they have heavy transformers and just a handful of transistors.  Of course APC says their are sine-wave... sure... like the Inverter I bought off Amazon years ago, listed as "True Sine Wave" - but the manual clearly stated "modified sine wave" - all the noise of a square-wave.
All animals are created equal; Some just take longer to cook.   Survival is keeping an eye on those around you...

walkstall

The old saying, one person's junk is another's treasure.   :thumbup:
A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.- James Freeman Clarke

Always remember "Feelings Aren't Facts."

Hoofer

Get this all the time from new HAMS, "How come I can't seem to hear anything, and you can?"

The biggest, most effective filter is between your ears.   Our mind can filter out all kinds of noise to hear the faintest voice, or sound.  A woman's voice on HAM radio cuts through a myriad of men screaming, because women sound different then men.  Let that be an encouragement for women!

Newer radios have band scopes, all radios have RF gain & Audio gain (volume) controls.  This is where S/N ratio really plays a part (signal to noise ratio).  Learn this, please, turn DOWN the RF gain until you just start to hear static, the "noise floor" is the noise without a discernable signal, it's just the random static.  Turn the RF gain down till it's quiet, and increase it just a little bit.  Then use the volume control to pick out the signal.  It sounds counter intuitive, until you try it.

So, I'm driving down the road, the car is making road noise, the radio has all the usual static, and I'm having trouble hearing stations / callers on the HAM radio.  Stopping the car & turning it off, I eliminated all the road noise, tires, wind, ignition noise, everything associated with the car.  My "noise floor" level just got lowered, and my Signal just became a little clearer, without touching the volume control.  I can do the same thing, by turning down the overall RF gain control so the static is light, to say... from 50% to 10% of the overall signal.

If my signal & noise is 100% of the scale, noise being 50% of that, why not reduce the signal & noise by 40% and amplify the rest, which is the audio you really want to hear?  The weak signals will still be weak, but your EARS will not suffer the "static fatigue" and tinnitus from listening to tons of static!

As a rule, if the radio has a band scope, I set the RF gain so the noise floor, or static level, is less than 10% - just bumping along the bottom of the scope.  The majority of the signal displayed is what I really want, voice or data, which I amplify till either I hear it, or the computer's processor can read it.

Computer's processor... read it?  In the case of digital modes, the computer is a little less forgiving to bad signals, in digital modes like FT8, RTTY, SSTV, etc.   HAM radio is a whole lot more than sending morse and talking!   There is a communication mode so sensitive & quiet, it's only a couple of years old, which uses your computer to decode a very, very weak signal.  I've talked to Antarctica with just 20 watts of power, using FT8 (well not me, but a digital version of me).  Again, it's about finding the BEST S/N ratio, tweeking those knobs, RF gain & volume.

But, there's another knob involved, the "Filter bandwidth" - how WIDE or NARROW.  When there's a ton of people talking, we narrow the filter width to hear just the one we want, chopping off the rest - again, increasing our S/N ratio.  Granted, your not going to see these knobs / controls on most of the little handi-talkies (walkie-talkies), but will see it on base stations & semi-portables that have operating modes like AM, LSB, USB.  Handi-talkies are pretty much limited to FM and really have limited control over signals, either you have it, or you don't, pretty much limited to line-of-sight or repeaters.
All animals are created equal; Some just take longer to cook.   Survival is keeping an eye on those around you...

Trisha007

Thank you Hoofer.  Just got a Tioradio F9GP, first ham radio.  I haven't programmed it yet because the cable is not working.  Your information is very helpful.  Thanks
💋

Hoofer

Back in the '60s & '70s, the mention of FCC sent shivers up our teenage spines.   There we were with our 23 channel 4 watt Johnson CB - wondering if we misspoke on the air, slipped in a "swear word" if that station wagon with the antennas all over it, we descending upon us next... State Troopers in tow.

"Did you hear about Knocker?"
"He finally got busted?"
"Naaa... we won't have to worry about him, someone pinned his coax."
-laughter-
"Dang, the FCC don't care about small fry, it's those big flame throwers they're after! the guys running a kilowatt."

https://www.commlawblog.com/2011/06/articles/enforcement-activities-fines-forfeitures-etc/fcc-fines-man-for-not-having-an-unobtainable-license/
Busted for 750 watts on a CB radio.
http://www.arrl.org/news/fcc-issues-warnings-for-amateur-radio-infractions-unlicensed-operations
Licensed HAMs Busted for operating in the "free band".
http://www.arrl.org/news/fcc-ups-the-ante-in-proposing-huge-fine-on-cb-operator
Busted for 150 watts on CB bands - $10k fine, multiple offence, made it $15k.

https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-divisions/mobility-division/citizens-band-radio-service-cbrs
What the law says in plain english, per the FCC, regarding GMRS, CB and other stuff.

Getting a License is EASY, taking tests online, at a HAMfest - the people are really, really interested in bringing *more* people into the hobby.  A Technician class gives you access mainly for repeaters, which is exactly what you want for Hand-held (handi-talkies, walkie-talkies, same thing).  Being able to legally access those repeaters (they are all over the place), can extend your communications 100mi in most cases.   If you're hooked up to a roof antenna, a 150-175 mile circle of reach is quite common.  Live on a hill, just 5 watt radio with a J-pole antenna, goes a long ways.  Live in a deep valley, hitting a repeater gets you out  - but, you've got to have at least a Technician License.

Repeaters have call signs, meaning they are operated & owned by individuals, responsible for *how* they are used.   If the owner/operator does not comply with the FCC rules, they get shut down & fined.  Fines start at $10,000.  Usually there is ample warning.  If an unlicensed person uses a repeater, the owner will be 'all over them' to stop, and take measures to make it difficult for the unauthorized to gain access.  As a former president of a local club, I've been handed cease & desist letters, club members were served by repeater operators... who just didn't like an individual (he is handicapped, they probably thought he wasn't cool).  Privately owned, privately operated, but publically heard & monitored.

One of my daughters got a postcard, after a contest, from an "official observer" (someone who just listens), stating she as a General class Licensee was operating outside her licensed privileges, which was right on the edge of the band, her signal could be heard spattering into the Extra licensed area of the band.  She was 9yrs old, cleaning house on 40m and her filter width was .2Khz too wide (2.7Kz instead of 2.5Kz).  I was running mobile, she was at the QTH (home), After calling home for her to make the adjustment, she was fine, but, still got the warning post card.

HAM radio is "self-policing", that's right, people listening to you, will report you.  Some people are quite skilled with radio direction finding equipment, bored in life... and it's so easy to record what's being said over the air!   Why some people don't get an amateur radio license, but pay taxes, collect SSN, drive a car - and then claim, "The feds will know I have a radio!!!" - makes no sense at all.  Get licensed.  Find a local club, join in the fun.  Winter Field day is coming up soon Jan 30th-31st.  plenty of time, or, if you can't get licensed before that, you can join an operator and get-on-the-air with them, using their callsign!

All kinds of online sites have practice tests, here's the one we (whole family of 10) used.
http://n3fjp.com/amateurstudy.html
I highly recommend playing this like a game - my kids got pretty quick at it, and passing the tests were easy.

The same site has Logging software we use for General logs and contests.  it was well maintained, priced right, very intuitive / easy to use, and interfaces with most radios nicely.   When you spin the VFO (frequency dial on the radio), the computer reflects that, all you do is plug in the other station's call sign, power, exchange and it's recorded.  If you want awards, ARRL has an online setup for all kinds of awards.

Another interesting site, has every HAM listed, and if you have a call-sign, create an interesting web page.  Sorry, it's not open to unlicensed.  There are a LOT of online resources for HAMs, another favorite of mine, is all about antenna theory. 

And of course, where you can find ALL the TESTS and ALL the answers.
Yes, the ARRL gives you everything, just memorize and take the tests.
Wouldn't that just make you an idiot with a license?  Not exactly, you'll learn some of the basics by studying the test questions.  By joining a local HAM club, you'll learn more, have even more fun, meet interesting people, and they'll get you on repeaters, or help you find Nets, and it expands from there.

Last resource, which has been DEAD during this Wuhan Flu thing: - where the HAMfests are.   HAMfests are great for finding used gear, antennas, coax & adapters (hook up your radio to the antenna), ladder line, and usually new radios.  Many of the HAMfests have "Shack Accessories", stuff you never knew you needed, but make operating sooo much easier, like a boom mic and foot switch to free up your hands to operate.  24hr clocks, lots of parts for building stuff - and most of all, you'll meet other HAMs and get all kinds of ideas!

I've yet to be at a HAMfest that didn't have testing for Licensing.  Testing typically costs $10-14, sometimes FREE!  As a VE (volunteer examiner), I recommend taking the test, even if you don't feel "ready".  Sometimes you get all the "easy ones" and pass easily!  One of my kids went for the Technician test, passed it, had not studied at all for the General test, took that & passed it.   I've had people take all 3 tests, Technician, General, Extra, pass all three -he said he was "guessing" on the Extra test.
If you come -close- to passing, ask to take it again.  A big part of being a HAM, there is so much to LEARN, there is nobody who understands *everything* in the hobby.

Finally a word of warning.   Some websites / people are miserable, never an encouraging word.   Just avoid them - their advice is worth what it cost you, "nothing".

The "sharpest minds" among the elderly, are HAMs.   So much to learn, so many to talk to, so much better than a Television & Internet time wasting.   Amateur Radio is an interactive hobby, as challenging as you'd like to make it, or as simple as you'd like to keep it.  We are the last line of communications, when all else fails - the government knows that, and appreciates our service.
All animals are created equal; Some just take longer to cook.   Survival is keeping an eye on those around you...

Hoofer

January 18, 2021, 02:54:34 AM #21 Last Edit: January 18, 2021, 03:12:56 AM by Hoofer
Quote from: Trisha007 on January 17, 2021, 08:21:44 AM
Thank you Hoofer.  Just got a Tioradio F9GP, first ham radio.  I haven't programmed it yet because the cable is not working.  Your information is very helpful.  Thanks
Try these links
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPMqwKSpy1A
Your radio

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l_kdktZAkI
Programming Using Chirp

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGpAV0zzpDA
detailed instructions of how to manually program for Repeater use.

Where do you find Repeaters in your area?

https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/index.php?state_id=none

Repeaters by state, just click and drill down, it'll give you the frequency, offset, Tones.

--------------------
The rest of this pertains to VHF / UHF repeaters, specifically 2 meter & 70 centimeters.

Why you need a repeater?
Talking from station to another station, is done via Simplex mode.  One person talks at a time.  You talk, they listen, they talk, you listen - you both talk = you stepped on each other, nothing is understood.  Your "range" of communication with a hand-held, typically less than 1 mile.

What if the other person is just too far away, out of your line-of-sight, other side of the mountain.
A VHF/UHF radio really does NOT transmit through-the-earth, around corners, or bounce signals off the ionosphere very well (unless you've got a big antenna).  Even a mobile version, 50 watt, 250 watt, does not work well around objects - even WORSE because they're generally FM only (you got a clear signal, or nothing but "popcorn").  This is where a Repeater, owned by someone, a club, and operated for the benefit of fellow HAMs, comes in.

Repeaters are located on the highest point of land possible, usually a tower, tall building, water tower, anything with elevation - to give the largest coverage area possible, via line-of-sight.  I've never, ever, seen nor heard of a repeater NOT sharing space on a tower.  Someone, usually the HAM is borrowing, leasing or owns that tower space with a lot of other organizations.  Police, Fire, EMTs, Schools, Broadcast TV, all seem to share tower space with HAMs, occasionally Cellular service (very rare).  "They" have the same problem "we" have, communications at those frequencies are line-of-sight.  Everyone needs height.

Repeaters all require backup power, batteries, generators, fuel cells - at these REMOTE locations, only run so long when the commercial power fails.   Do not expect to have repeater service lasting a week after massive power outages, even if the site has backup generators, they do go down.  I do everything I can to get big backup batteries to the HAMs who operate Repeaters, whether I use their service or not, people's lives could depend on their service.

HOW does a repeater actually work?
The FM signal is heard via 1 antenna on the tower, down the hardline (stiff coax) to a set of these tall hollow chambers, called a "Duplexer", which feeds the received signal into the receiver at a fixed frequency.  If the proper side TONE is heard, with the Repeater is "opened" the signal is fed to the Transmitter, on another frequency, back through the "Diplexer", up the hardline, and out the same antenna on the second frequency.  There is no delay, it's you talk on one frequency, and your radio receives on another frequency, slightly above or below. 

The Repeater's antenna is usually a specialist type, with lots of elements, all phased together to increase it's "gain" and flatten the radiation pattern.  It's a waste of power to transmit in a direction where no other radio would exist, so by hooking a bunch of antennas in parallel, we can "shape" the receive / transmit patterns.  sort of like a 360 degree beam antenna, with a pattern like a pancake.

To program, you need to know the frequency of the Repeater, That's obtained either from a local club, fellow HAM, or a Repeater Directory.
https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/index.php?state_id=none

Let's look... Oregon... 2 meters... 187 Repeaters.
https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/Display_SS.php?state_id=41&band=14&loc=%&call=%&use=%]https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/Display_SS.php?state_id=41&band=14&loc=%&call=%&use=%]https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/Display_SS.php?state_id=41&band=14&loc=%&call=%&use=%

Frequency   Offset      Tone up/down    Location                        County     Call          Use       Mode
Active?

145.1100   -0.6 MHz   136.5 / 67.0   Burns, Steens Mountain   Harney   AB7BS   OPEN   FM AllStar   ON-AIR
145.1100   -0.6 MHz   103.5   Newberg, Chehalem Mountain   Yamhill   KB7PSM   OPEN   FM   ON-AIR
145.1300   -0.6 MHz   D023 / D023   Junction City, Prairie Peak   Lane   AB7BS   OPEN   FM EchoLink   ON-AIR
145.1300   -0.6 MHz   D026 / D026   Redmond, Cline Butte   Deschutes   W7PRA   OPEN   FM EchoLink   ON-AIR
145.1500   -0.6 MHz   162.2   Fort Rock, Washtina Peak   Lake   WA7TYD   OPEN   FM

If you plug all this in manually, be sure to pick out just the counties near you.  If your radio has "memory banks", plug in the first bank your counties, the second everything north, third south, etc.  If you're travelling, select the memory bank for the direction of travel.
Every radio I know of, produced in the last dozen years, has a SCAN mode.  This is another reason to segment the repeaters for each area, your home, travel, and if you regularly run to visit Joe's girlfriend, "Aunt Tifa", use a bank for that, label it something easy to remember, like, "BLM". (LOL)

Enter the repeater programming mode, and just enter the data as it asks for it... just that simple, but, those little buttons are a pain-in-the-keister.  If you've got a computer programming cable, and your radio has software, follow their instructions.  You'll probably need to take a little time, to figure out how to "enter the programming mode" of the radio.  The rest of it, usually a USB connection, is going to be the computer itself, ugh!  getting the computer to "see" the correct USB port, some detect it automatically.

Note:  The way these programming systems work - is follow the steps.
a.  Load the computer software.
b.  Find the repeaters in your area - or someone who just happens to have it all loaded in THEIR radio
     If you lucked out, found someone with the SAME radio, repeaters loaded, you have them "clone" the radios and load your radio up!  (easiest method - you're done!).
c.  Fill in the spreadsheet looking form, from the Repeater Journal link, or, if you can figure it out, download the repeaters you want directly into your spreadsheet form, edit the form - dump the obvious ones you can't reach.
d.  Connect the computer to the radio, enter the radio's programming mode.
e.  Upload the spreadsheet to the radio.
f.   save on the radio (if necessary, usually not), reset, power cycle the radio (to make sure it "took").
g.  enter the MODE on the radio that accesses "saved memories", spin the VFO dial, up/down keys, see if the radio jumps from one programmed channel to the next.... Yes?  you've almost got it.
h.  IF YOU'RE a Licensed HAM - Key up on a channel, give your call-sign, see if it "opens" the repeater, if it does, the repeater usually answers back with a clear signal, a call sign, and/or a beep or pair of beeps.
i.  Try all the programmed channels, and make a note of which ones do not work.

Not so good...?   Consider an external antenna, possibly a radio with more power, 35-60 watts & a J-pole, OSJ-pole may be needed to "reach" repeaters.  All that stuff I said about antennas earlier, the length, etc., starts to come into play if you live any real distance to the repeater sight.
All animals are created equal; Some just take longer to cook.   Survival is keeping an eye on those around you...

Trisha007

Woaahhhh, all this great information.  I started an online Ham Radio License course last night.  I figured I'd need it.  I was really ticked about the programming cable.  The guy from Tidradio said I needed the CH340.  The one I got was recommended with the radio.  He didn't tell me half of what you all did.  I looked all over Amazon and they said they didn't have it and may not be getting it.  So I sent it all back and ordered another one.  TD-DP880.  There is a lot to learn, so I'll be busy with that.  My dad used to have a CB base at home and he loved talking to people.  I don't even know, maybe I should have stayed with the same type radio.  I just liked the screen on this one.  Seems like I could see it better.  What do you all think?
💋

walkstall

Quote from: Trisha007 on January 18, 2021, 03:16:11 AM
Woaahhhh, all this great information.  I started an online Ham Radio License course last night.  I figured I'd need it.  I was really ticked about the programming cable.  The guy from Tidradio said I needed the CH340.  The one I got was recommended with the radio.  He didn't tell me half of what you all did.  I looked all over Amazon and they said they didn't have it and may not be getting it.  So I sent it all back and ordered another one.  TD-DP880.  There is a lot to learn, so I'll be busy with that.  My dad used to have a CB base at home and he loved talking to people.  I don't even know, maybe I should have stayed with the same type radio.  I just liked the screen on this one.  Seems like I could see it better.  What do you all think?


CB are great for farmers and truckers.  Ham is for people who like talking with other people out of there area of a CB unit. 
A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.- James Freeman Clarke

Always remember "Feelings Aren't Facts."

Hoofer

Quote from: walkstall on January 18, 2021, 03:24:06 AM

CB are great for farmers and truckers.  Ham is for people who like talking with other people out of there area of a CB unit.

A woman HAM will have no problem finding someone to talk to, get help from on the HAM bands.
There is always someone looking for anyone to talk to, calling "CQ, CQ, CQ" - "calling all stations, anywhere, anyone."

I still have several CB radios, some nice ones, the range (if legal) is so limited, we don't use them.
Virginia has one of the highest populations of Licensed HAMs, we have more VEs (volunteer examiners) than some states have HAMs.  Up and down the east coast, the airwaves are briming with people talking, CW & Data modes.
All animals are created equal; Some just take longer to cook.   Survival is keeping an eye on those around you...

Trisha007

Thank you so MUCH for all the great links.  I'm going to print this all out and bookmark them on my PC.  Getting through the first course now.  I'm going to ace that sucker.  You guys are the best.
💋

Trisha007

Well, I'm going where few women have gone before I guess.  It will be awhile before I even begin to know a tiny sample of all you guys do, but I won't get discouraged.  I have blue tooth ear plugs, so you think I'll be able to hook them up with the radio?  I have to get used to the abbreviations, that's something that will help in reading all the stuff.  The q signals I have time to learn as I just want to listen first.  Hoofer very interesting info on the explanation of the sun high and low and how it affects the charge up or diminishing of the signal.  I'd love to watch a video of how exactly that stuff works.  The visual would help me.  So, too, we are in condition 2 for AMCON-AMRRON.  That was interesting. 

I have an office and my PC is in here.  I can hear it humming now.  Will that affect anything with the radio?  I also had DISH and it is on my roof, but it is disconnected now.  Will that affect my radio?  I saw where you unplug your radio if you are going out?  Did I understand that correctly.  Is that to protect it from like a surge or a storm?  I never thought about protections for the radio equipment.  Although I do have surge protectors on my electronics.  Is that information just for a base radio?  I know I have too many questions, so I'll get back to studying.   :lol:
💋

Trisha007

Hey guys and gals:

First, I passed my first quiz in the ham radio course.  Yipee.  I got the Ham radios for dummies and have not finished the first chapter. 

I am reading more about these Ham radios.  As you may know I sent the other ham radio back (TD-F9GP) and am waiting for the (TD-DP880.)  Now, after reading some bits and pieces, I am not sure if I did the right thing.  I would like your opinion please. 

There are advantages to the DMR radio:  Two different channels on 1 different repeater, using half the band width, having 2 conversations at one time, conversion of voice to digital reduces background noise, so it sounds better.  There are more reasons

Bare with me as I am just learning.

But, my question is if the crap goes down which do you think is really better and why?
💋

Possum

Quote from: Trisha007 on January 19, 2021, 03:54:07 AM
Hey guys and gals:

First, I passed my first quiz in the ham radio course.  Yipee.  I got the Ham radios for dummies and have not finished the first chapter. 

I am reading more about these Ham radios.  As you may know I sent the other ham radio back (TD-F9GP) and am waiting for the (TD-DP880.)  Now, after reading some bits and pieces, I am not sure if I did the right thing.  I would like your opinion please. 

There are advantages to the DMR radio:  Two different channels on 1 different repeater, using half the band width, having 2 conversations at one time, conversion of voice to digital reduces background noise, so it sounds better.  There are more reasons

Bare with me as I am just learning.

But, my question is if the crap goes down which do you think is really better and why?
If the crap goes down, we will be ok. I worry what will happen if the crap does not go down, then, the crap will go down.  :thumbup:

Hoofer

Quote from: Trisha007 on January 19, 2021, 03:54:07 AM
There are advantages to the DMR radio:  Two different channels on 1 different repeater, using half the band width, having 2 conversations at one time, conversion of voice to digital reduces background noise, so it sounds better.  There are more reasons
But, my question is if the crap goes down which do you think is really better and why?

First off, IMO, DMR is a passing fancy, which is based on OLD technology, long passed by.  But, that's they way it goes, some develops something, a couple of manufacturers pick it up and Presto - like magic, there's a new version of ... old.   Motorola is probably scratching their heads over it, why anyone picked up what they quit.

If the crap goes down, extended power outages, repeaters fail - your best bet is a HF, CB, 2m/70cm GMRS (radios) in that order.  Mainly because of how FAR they can transmit & be heard.  HF 3-30MHz; CB (28MHz); 2m/70cm (146/440MHz VHF/UHF); GMRS (462MHz) - notice the higher the frequency, the limitation to line-of-sight, lower frequencies take advantage of Ground Wave and/or Ionosphere (Skip, sky bounce, etc.).  There are exceptions - don't count on yours being one of them. 

For the person who JUST listens & doesn't talk - see my suggestions early on.   There's a LOT of radios, but, IMO, if operating them isn't somewhat simple & intuitive, do you really want pour over a MANUAL in time of a crisis, trying to figure out something, or use the touch screen or knobs?  This, IMO, is the biggest problem with Hand-helds, VHF/UHF  mobiles, if you lose the manual, count on frustration plugging in the simplest changes.   

I have an IC-7000 radio (behind me), have used it as a mobile, won contests running mobile, set records in 2013 contesting with it ... Great radio, all band, all mode, HF/VHF/UHF - does everything... except, I have to crack a stupid manual to get it back into SCAN Mode!
Even a CB radio is simplier than this IC-7000 (I owned FOUR of them at one time, used them in all the vehicles).  Now we have FTM-400DXR's in the vehicles.  Simpler, no manual, touch screen, and has APRS, so anyone with a radio or cell phone can track us.  When a friend's son was broken down 4 hrs away, and talked us into renting a car carrier to pick him up - he went to APRS.FI, plugged in my call sign, and when he saw us getting close, he came out to meet us (instead of sitting there in the rain). 

Problem still remains, if the repeaters go down, these FM only radios are pretty much useless.  A CB radio, *any* CB radio, is more useful in a SHTF than a VHF/UHF radio.   If your area is "hit" with an extended outage, everyone will, no doubt, turn on an AM radio, which is below the HAM band 160m, and that AM signal can go 1000 miles via ground wave.  I'm on the east side of the Appalachian Mnts, in So. Virginia.  I pick up 740-CFZM (Toronto, CA); 890-WLS (Chicago, IL); 700-WLW (Cincinnati, OH), 720-WGN (Chicago, IL), 750-WSB (Atlanta, GA) - and the local stations at night.  They're crowded in there like sardines.

Here's a guideline:  An antenna can make a cheap radio, sound good.  No antenna can make a great radio *suck*.  A great antenna can make a decent radio, sound outstanding.  The antenna is essential, a good antenna is just wise.

Whatever radio you settle on - probably be several, matching them up with decent antennas, equals performance.
http://arrowantennas.com/osj/j-pole.html
This IMO, is the overall best antenna for on a roof, or inside an attic (without a tin roof).
http://arrowantennas.com/gfx/dbj-1.gif
It offers 360 degree performance, on a rooftop it is barely noticeable, inside a roof, nobody knows you have one (performance is slightly degraded).  We have one level with the peak on our house, from the road, it's almost invisible.  This works with 2m/70cm radios, mobiles & handhelds.  We used this antenna on a 5 watt Yeasu FT-460 for almost a year for checking into nets, 35-50mi away.

Each area is different.  We have repeaters all over the place, in high remote places, and several are "linked" so you can hop from repeater-to-repeater from when I live 400mi west into TN & KY, without the internet.  Linking via the internet, it's around the world.  IMO - a good SHTF radio uses neither repeaters nor internet to function... including the WinLink stuff.

Regarding testing, good work!  As soon as you pass the Technician test, start working on the General - you really, really, want access to the HF bands & SSB radios.
All animals are created equal; Some just take longer to cook.   Survival is keeping an eye on those around you...