Coping: My Time in the “Ideal Hobby”

Prepping:  Last weekend was SKN – Straight Key Night – in ham radio circles.  I had gotten everything ready for the event – moved equipment around, rewired the antenna switching, moved power, control lines and more.  Everything seemed set…

But, as soon as I fired up the old Gonset GSB-100, the room began to get a hot smoky smell.  Frustrated, I rolled back to plan B – a good quality Kenwood TS-590S.  Sure it worked, and since it has more DSP than existed on the whole Earth when we went to be Moon back in 1969, it was no problem making a couple of contacts.

Wondering over to the house, a plopped down on the sofa and Elaine – sensing my ‘out of balance condition’ asked what was it about ham radio that made it such an addictive hobby?  “There are five answers to that…and each one deserves a bit of discussion….”

(Continues Below)


“The first reason is to keep in touch with people and hear what they have to say…”

I don’t get down to the local ham radio club very often, but there are a much of ‘on-air’ meet-ups that happen on the two-meter ham band.  The license is within anyone’s reach, there’s not Morse Code requirement for anyone – even the Extra Class “super license” and the equipment is dirt cheap.

Why, for $25-bucks you can get a BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Two Way Radio (Black) and that will get you on the air on-the-cheap.

Ham radio (for me) is completely different that the abysmally mis-named “social media.”  On the social sites, people are constantly posting “Me, me, me” remarks.  If there is anything directed at ‘others’ it’s usually a slam.  The term drive-by media fits social to a tee.

On the amateur radio bands, the importance of Others is paramount since the hobby requires two of more stations in order to exchange messages.  Just like AOL/Instant Messenger was nice for quick quips back and forth, ham radio is that in the spoken word.  From a network analysis view, Social is a one-to-many ego trip while ham radio is a one-to-one or one-to-several pursuit.

By this time, Elaine was nodding in agreement.  She is, after all, a ham herself.  But not a very active one.  Occasionally in the car when she’s 50 miles out and there’s no cell phone coverage.  Maybe then I will head KG4YHV pop up on the regional repeater.  Not often, though.

The second angle to the hobby is the Electronics knowledge,” I continued.

I just read a book recently, “How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electronic.”  You have to remember that when I learned electronics it was all tube-type gear.  This is a dandy book for “reclaiming past competences.”

Just like I put a releaning program in place to bring back my competency in airplane flying after a 30-some year stretch in the hangar, so too in electronics a lot of things have changed.  My electronics bench had spouted some prized equipment (like my Rhode & Schwartz RF Signal Generator), but there has been so much more.  ESR meters (equivalent series resistance) meters, for one.  It has opened a whole new world of in-circuit testing – which means faster repairs.

The normal way to learn about be get books.  But less than 18-months out from 70, you get particular about how your time is spent.  Is it an expenditure on which there will be a return, or is it just a time-sink that’s in the way of creating new memories?

The troubleshooting book brought me up to speed on a lot of the board fab and surface mount techniques.  But the same problems of my youth are still lurking inside circuits of today.    It just takes better eyes for smaller parts.  And I’ve nailed that problem with a trick I learned from my endodontics people up in Tyler.  Use a USB device and toss it up on an LCD screed.  A bit over $40 bucks is the Digital USB Microscope, Teslong Portable Multi-function Magnifier Otoscope Intraoral Camera with 10-200 Magnification IP67 Waterproof for Android PC and Mac which isx one of the finest tools in the inventory, now.

Without the time as a broadcast engineer, time as a recording college director, or all that ham radio background, my latest book would never have happened.  (If you read Dimensions Next Door: Hacking Space-time, don’t forget to post an online review please!)

Then there is the detective part of the hobby…”  That got a look which h quickly turned to agreement as I explained the process.

“Take tonight,” I began.  “I knew there was something fluky going on with the transmitter because the SWR/Watt meter was not showing anything going to the antenna.  But, the final amplifier section of the transmitter was showing good power output.  And that leaves me with only a handful of suspects:  There’s the antenna plug on the transmitter, the cable to the transmit/receive switch, and I just discovered that some of the MFJ 1708 antenna switches may have been mislabeled…. so the Detective angle is pretty intense….”

The Fourth Part of the Hobby is Morse Code.”

Sure, it’s not required anymore, but it is faster than texting and there is a growing body of evidence that if you want to live with a sharp mind, the best thing you can do with your brain is USE IT.

Once you have the Morse characters in your head, then it’s a matter of seeing how fast you can go.  You start off at 5 to 15 words per minute and work up from there.  Next thing you know, there are contest operators who can ‘catch a call sign’ blasting by at 70 words per minute.  I have to work at keeping in the 30-35 zone, but it helps with mental acuity, I’m sure of it.

This doesn’t even go into the value of having yet-another-way to communicate as you age, should you fall victim to stroke or lose your sight…which shortens your reading career.  Best to that borderland in the past couple of years and Morse is a back-up bet.

Let’s not forget #5:  The joy of being able to invent things…”

I bet you would be surprised to learn how many people can do a friction calculation, figure how long a lever (and how strong) to lift things, and what-not.

But a solid knowledge of ham radio means you’ve at least gotten down some of the basics of Ohm’s Law and maybe you have even tried your hand at antenna modeling.  Roy Lewallen, W7EL has a program called EZNEC and it makes the arcane (and super-math intensive) work of antenna modeling something approaching a point and click affair.  Thing is, even without a deep knowledge of Smith Charts, you can build a super antenna optimized to your situation.

The main difference between ham radio and other hobbies is that it’s warmer in the winter than deer hunting.  It can be cooler in the summer than fishing.  There’s a valuable community service aspect of it in all seasons, but especially around floods, fires, and hurricanes…oh and earthquakes, too, come to think of it.

My friend, the late Don Stoner (W6TNS, sk) referred to ham radio as the King of Hobbies.  Back when we were experimenting with transmitting digital computer data over radio in 1982, who knew where wireless data would lead?

Like flying, the personalities that are drawn to the hobby tend to be more exceptional than average.  As the popular ham radio site noted “Marlon Brando, Arthur Godfry, King Hussein of Jordan, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Walter Cronkite, Joe Walsh of the rock band “The Eagles” just to name a few.”  And yeah, I got to talk to Barry Goldwater before he turned into a silent key.  K9EID is another interesting fellow:  Bob Heil’s the engineer behind the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound…and he still makes microphones (for a lot of hams) today.

With two transmit/receive switches dead, I spent some of my “spare” time on the meters and then chasing down parts.  A 6BL7 vacuum tube (with a shorted filament) was one of the problems.  All things in time, though.  Tubes hark back to days gone by; when real radios glowed in the dark and kept the room warm on cold winter nights.

SDR – software defined radio –  is in the process of “re-revolutionizing” the world.  There’s a reason every space shuttle mission required a at least one ham radio operator, too.

Now, if I’d just had some of those big brains around when the antenna switching problem cropped up at the opening of SKN…Goes to show we don’t live in a perfect world….and self-reliance always matters.

Write when you get rich,  (AC7X)

10 thoughts on “Coping: My Time in the “Ideal Hobby””

  1. Chasing DX is my favorite part of the hobby. Also, I have made many friends on Ham radio and most probably I will never get to meet them in person because they live all over the world.

    • I have two in the inventory: Plus the HT-32b transmitter. And the HT-37/SX-111…grand equipment!!!!

  2. My Dad, WB5COS, actually spoke with King Hussein way back in the day. I still have the QSL card!

  3. Kilo golf 7 whiskey Hotel Alpha I agree with everything you said George it’s a great past time yes I’m a young 65 and I teach at the local College and I wish more than millennials would take up ham radio instead of staring at their cell phones all day

  4. “How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electronic.”

    LOL LOL LOL LOL… years ago I had this idea.. I was laid up for the best part of a year and ended up having to watch as the stomach churns when friend of mine had heard of a guy that built his own satellite receiver and antenna.. ( they weren’t for sale then) so we went out on icy roads and seen this thing hundreds of miles away.. LOL LOL the idea hit.. I am going to be laid up anyway so why not a cigar box project.. off to radio shack I went.. got a couple of books one on ac dc current and one on rf signals.. phew.. I built one took all winter the dish was made out of old chicken wire and window screen LOL LOL LOL LOL.. I didn’t have the fancy equipment so I sighted it in by angles and then adjusted the equipment by hand.. Can you see anything yet.. LOL LOL which gives me a chuckle with the old can you hear me now commercials..
    yup I got her to work.. will I ever do something like that again.. Not on your life I did it.. a couple of years later you could buy one for several thousand dollars I think I had two hundred in my radio shack satellite receiver there was only a couple of parts I had to send off for in my cigar box case.. now you can pick that stuff up for nothing definitely looks a lot nicer to LOL and no fine tuning.. back then i was always having to fine tune the darn thing….

  5. How to heat your house using the Fibonacci principles starting with the 369 but in reverse another words the Heat comes from the 9 and then is pressured toward the six and then from the six it goes to the three but at that point what are the three is it goes back into the 9 but only at the 9 and 6 connection.

    • Remember the Daniel Boone TV shows and the kids were sleeping in the top it was a bunk up top for the kids and the parents slept down on a Bed near the ground because they could keep warm cuddling .

      the kids didn’t have that commodity supposedly so after the food was cooked place was pretty warm and they kept the fire going and the Heat was very much stored in the top of the cabin where the kids were and they had curtains that one across those curtains serve more than one purpose.

      The curtains kept the heat out cuz it got hot up there and then as the night lingered on toward morning the curtains kept the Heat their bodily Heat and the little heat they had inside that cubicle near the ceiling where they slept

      • So if you’re living in a Northern environment where the snow and cold you need at least 3 people to make things work because why you’re sleeping another person could be keeping a fire going and then when that person sleeping another person could be keeping the fire going so you have 3 different people.

        one sleeping ones keeping the fire going and wondering the day is gathering the wood that all three feed the fire.

        The people in Young America weren’t all that wise so the people in Europe and in Russia were very right wise when it comes to cold weather they learn to put their chimneys and their brick structures on the inside of the house America if you look all across our great land we have chimneys on the outside of the house what good is that going to do to you you want those bricks to heat up store energy not be on the outside of the house toward the woods so they have that fact wrong Young Americans toward Maine they were little bit smarter they did use the inside principles all the way up to the ceiling on the inside of the house and had an exhaust that went out eventually after it went through a series of paths back and forth so there was no hot air coming out of the top of those.

        Now it’s time for the new technology no wood burning no oil burning no gas burning it all comes from magnetics.

        It all comes from learning about 3 6 9 which Tesla was soul intensely wrapped around trying to discover the secrets of that secret technology and he did now it’s our turn to overthrow the world leaders that are keeping this technology in their pocket.

        With the help from our brothers and sisters in space and Trump and you and George and everybody that’s got a positive attitude toward changing the world for the better place instead of destroying it we will become energy efficient we will not deplete the Earth of all its great attributes we will Forge forward into having the ability 2 make components that take us Beyond where we are now.

        May all beings be lovingly fulfilled so be it

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