July 2000                                                                                                     

Web Master Wanderings
By Curt Potsic, Space Coast PC Users Group

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SCPCUG Web Master Curt Potsic

This month's column is going to be a bit abbreviated in that as I write this we are in the middle of remodeling our kitchen and family room. The job has been dragging on for over a month and I'm getting a bit tired of it all. Both our kitchen and family room happen to be in the middle of the house so to go most anywhere within the house you have to go through either one or both rooms. We are living motel style, cooking what we can using a microwave, toaster, and coffee pot in my wife's sewing room. Kitchen and family room contents are placed throughout the house (wherever we can find a spare corner) including my computer room.

The main problem (which I am sure is not new) is contractors not showing up when they are supposed to. You get everything prepared for them to come in and do their job and then sit around waiting. They don't call. You page them but they don't answer the pager and another day gets wasted. Meanwhile the next contractor in line can't get in to do his job because the original did not show when he said he would. And so the remaining schedule gets shifted for everyone which causes more scheduling problems. Unfortunately this project requires the coordinated efforts of a demolition person, drywall installers, electrician, plumber, painters, tile installer, carpet installer, and cabinet installers. It seems the construction industry is so busy here in Florida that the poor homeowner is at the mercy of the contractors. It took us almost four months to get enough bids on this job just to feel comfortable enough to start. These construction guys have so much business they are working evenings and weekends trying to fit people like us in. And so us homeowners have to be flexible enough to roll with the schedule changes or the job does not get done. I'm willing to roll with the changes but please give me the courtesy of a phone call saying you can't make it instead of leaving me hanging.

I'm sure there are contractors out there that do listen to and consider the customer's concerns. I've been very pleased in the past and some of the contractors on this job have been excellent. It's just the few inconsiderate contractors that spoil it for all of us. So for anyone contemplating a remodeling job here are a few links you may want to consult: Remodeling Your Kitchen, Financing & Contracting at http://www.stretcher.com/stories/00/000501j.cfm, DoItYourself.com a "Community for Household Hints, Home Repair and Remodeling" at http://DoItYourself.com/, and Remodeling Online a "Magazine for Home Remodeling Ideas, Plans, and Help" at http://www.remodeling.hw.net/.Kenwood FRS radio

Let us now turn to a new topic. By now you have probably heard of the FRS radios. FRS stands for Family Radio Service. These little radios usually come with 14 channels and are about the size of a cell phone, small enough to fit in your shirt pocket or clip on your belt. They have up to a 2 mile range and are basically a walkie-talkie for grown-ups. They are available from stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. Well I just happened to have had some gift money from my birthday that was burning a hole in my pocket. Being the gadget freak that I am, I decided (against my wife's wishes I might add) to buy a pair. I believe her words were "Now why do you need that?" My rationale went something like: "Honey, when we go shopping to the mall or are in stores like a Wal-Mart SuperCenter we usually each go our separate ways to look at what interests us personally. Afterwards we spend 10 minutes trying to find each other. With these nifty radios I can call you and find out exactly where you are."

And so my search began as to what was a good brand and model to buy. I tried several Internet Search Engines but all I got was a bunch of returns for places selling FRS radios. I was looking for reviews of what is out in the market place and people's personal experience with them. Do they really work as advertised or was it just a lot of hype? I turned to my old standby for a source of knowledge, Deja.com (http://www.deja.com). Lately Deja has been busy transforming itself into a portal but they still retain the Usenet Newsgroup history files at http://www.deja.com/usenet/. It did not take me long to find the FRS discussion group or forum. I just searched Discussions for "family radio" and immediately came up with the forum alt.radio.family at http://www.deja.com/topics_if.xp?search=topic&group=alt.radio.family. Reading through the messages soon gave me the Internet link I had been looking for, Family Radio Service (FRS) Information Page (http://members.tripod.com/~jwilkers/frspage.html). This web site has a wealth of useful information. Be sure to read the FRS Equipment Reviews and Evaluations at http://members.tripod.com/~jwilkers/review.html.

After reading through a number of reviews I finally decided to purchase a pair of the Kenwood model UBZ-AL14 Family Radio (http://www.kenwood.net/products/index.cfm?FRS=open&radio=UBZ-AL14&selection=Family). I consulted SalesCircular.com (http://www.salescircular.com/) and found Best Buy (http://www.bestbuy.com) had the Kenwood model I was seeking on sale for $59.95 a pair. The prices seem to be falling and you can probably purchase another brand for less. I have seen prices as low as $40 per pair. My reason for selecting the Kenwood brand was the reviews I read indicated they were of higher quality than some other brands plus I liked their very small size and overall look.

So how do my FRS radios work? Very well! The model I purchased has 14 channels. More expensive models add 38 sub codes for privacy. This feature is called CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System). It allows the user to ignore (not hear)transmissions from other units that are using the same basic channel. You can read more about CTCSS at CTCSS Privacy Code Explanation (http://members.tripod.com/~jwilkers/myth.htm). Just the basic 14 channels have proved more then adequate for my needs. I have heard very few people on the various channels so no problem with unwanted users getting in on my conversation. I understand that places like the Theme parks in Orlando have a high amount of traffic on the various channels so in such a situation you may find other people on the channel you selected. I also like that the radios are perfectly quiet until they receive a transmission. There is no annoying hiss or background noise while monitoring a channel waiting for a call.

All brands claim a range of up to 2 miles but that is on clear line-of-sight terrain. In real world situations the range is probably slightly less than a mile. This is fine for trying to find my wife in a mall or Wal-Mart SuperCenter. As an experiment we tried our own personal range test. There is a fast food restaurant just under a mile from our house. As I was pulling into the drive-thru line I offered my wife (back at the house) her last chance to change her order. She said the transmission had background noise but she could still understand me.

We did find one problem with using these radios in a Wal-Mart SuperCenter. The radios have a call button which sends a series of tones letting the receiver know you are calling. My wife had her FRS radio in her purse. Due to the ambient level of noise within the SuperCenter she never heard the tones. We found that in an environment with high ambient noise the radios have to be basically at shirt pocket level or you will never know you are being called.

In conclusion I am very happy with my FRS radio purchase. Now when they get these radios reduced down to wrist watch size that will really be something.

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