Saturday, January 26, 2008

How we get reading matter...and more

A couple of completely disparate topics are on my mind today. One is a consideration of how we receive what we read...the form in which reading matter comes to us...and the other is coincidence.

The older, crustier among us remember when Look, Life, The Saturday Evening Post and the daily newspaper showed up in our mailboxes. Well, three of those are history and the fourth--the venerable newsprint edition of the daily paper--is on its last legs. There's a word for that: demassification. Mass media is rapidly becoming niche media. The nightly network newscast is quickly losing its clout (and its viewers), thanks to dozens of (mostly) cable alternatives that bring news instantly, not just during the dinner hour. The national, general-interest magazine has been replaced by narrowly focused publications. Ever heard of Cement Construction, Bulldozer Monthly, or Golf for Girls? They don't have huge readership but they give advertisers a bunch of well-targeted eyeballs for a fraction of the cost and little of the waste of those former big-circulation but unfocused magazines did. QST and CQ are prime examples, too.

Same with other printed media, though the traditional book--bound pieces of paper with printed words on them--shows remarkable staying power. The "electronic" book so far has not caught on. But other types of writing, like short stories and commentary are taking advantage of a planet-wide platform in which any writer can publish, usually at no charge, and potentially have his prose read by anyone in the world. The blog is the most obvious example.

I received an email from Wayne Long, K9YNF, who has an interesting website on which he offers a subscription, at a reasonable price, to short stories he writes. Believe me, there is little or no market in the book world for short fiction! However, Wayne has a way to make his work available to anyone interested, and there is no publishing company, jaded editor, printing presses, warehousing of books, or sales force trying to talk big-box bookstores into handling their wares. Readers want to be read. Wayne has shown at least one way that can happen. The site is:

Second topic: coincidences! And this has absolutely nothing to do with anything else on this blog. I just thought it was interesting...a list that has been making the email rounds of amazing coincidences, all apparently true:

-- In 1975, a man riding a moped in Bermuda was accidentally struck and killed by a taxi. One year later, the man’s brother, riding the very same moped, was killed in the very same way by the very same taxi driven by the very same driver -- and carrying the very same passenger.

-- Twin brothers Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were separated at birth and adopted by different families. Unknown to each other, both were named James, both owned a dog named Toy, both married women named Linda, both had a son they names James Alan, and both eventually divorced and got remarried to a woman named Betty.

-- Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and John Adams helped to edit and hone it. The Continental Congress approved the document on July 4, 1776. Both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826 -- exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (I KNOW this one is true!)

-- A German mother who photographed her infant son in 1914 left the film to be developed at a store in Strasbourg, but was unable to collect the film picture when World War I broke out. Two years later she bought a film plate in Frankfurt, over 100 miles away, and took a picture of her newborn daughter -- only to find, when developed, the picture of her daughter superimposed on the earlier picture of her son. The original film, never developed, had been mistakenly labeled as unused and resold.

-- In 1858, Robert Fallon was shot dead by fellow poker players who accused him of cheating to win a $600 pot. None of the other players were willing to take the now unlucky $600, so they found a new player to take Fallon’s place, who turned the $600 into $2,200 in winnings. At that point, the police arrived and demanded that the original $600 be given to Fallon’s next of kin -- only to discover that the new player was Fallon’s son, who had not seen his father in seven years.

-- In the 19th century, the famous horror writer Egdar Allan Poe wrote a book called ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.’ It was about four survivors of a shipwreck who were in an open boat for many days before they decided to kill and eat the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker. Some years later, in 1884, the yawl, Mignonette, foundered, with only four survivors, who were in an open boat for many days. Eventually the three senior members of the crew killed and ate the cabin boy. The name of the cabin boy was Richard Parker.

-- In 1930s Detroit, a man named Joseph Figlock was to become an amazing figure in a young (and, apparently, incredibly careless) mother’s life. As Figlock was walking down the street, the mother’s baby fell from a high window onto Figlock. The baby’s fall was broken and Figlock and the baby were unharmed. A year later, the same baby fell from the same window, again falling onto Mr. Figlock as he was passing beneath. Once again, both of them survived the event.

-- In 1973, actor Anthony Hopkins agreed to appear in “The Girl From Petrovka”, based on a novel by George Feifer. Unable to find a copy of the book anywhere in London, Hopkins was surprised to discover one lying on a bench in a train station. It turned out to be George Feifer’s own annotated (personal) copy, which Feifer had lent to a friend, and which had been stolen from his friend’s car.

-- In Monza, Italy, King Umberto I went to a small restaurant for dinner, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, General Emilio Ponzia-Vaglia. When the owner took King Umberto’s order, the King noticed that he and the restaurant owner were virtual doubles, in face and in build. Both men began discussing the striking resemblance between each other and found many more similarities.
1. Both men were born on the same day, of the same year (March 14, 1844).

2. Both men had been born in the same town.
3. Both men married a woman with the same name, Margherita.
4. The restaurateur opened his restaurant on the same day that King Umberto was crowned King of Italy.
5. On the 29th July 1900, King Umberto was informed that the restaurateur had died that day in a mysterious shooting accident, and as he expressed his regret, an anarchist in the crowd then assassinated him.

-- While American novelist Anne Parrish was browsing bookstores in Paris in the 1920s, she came upon a book that was one of her childhood favorites, "Jack Frost and Other Stories." She picked up the old book and showed it to her husband, telling him of the book she fondly remembered as a child. Her husband took the book, opened it, and on the flyleaf found the inscription: “Anne Parrish, 209 N. Weber Street, Colorado Springs.” It was Anne’s very own book.

Don N4KC

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Exploring innovative aspects of our hobby

If you are an ARRL member and don't get the "Contest Rate Sheet" email newsletter, you are missing out on far too much. Let me hasten to add that you do not need to have any interest whatsoever in contesting to enjoy this excellent update from Ward Silver, N0AX. In addition to news and calendar items of interest to contesters, the latest issue features such items as a link to a website devoted entirely to Sunspot Cycle #24, another that gives you three dimensional images of various types of trees, and several that allow you to map grid squares and find your QTH among them. There are also some good operating and technical tips many hams would find useful. Good--and interesting--stuff!

But my favorite part of this issue is an article by the editor that hits close to home. It deals with our tendency to find our favorite little nook and cranny of amateur radio and resist trying anything new. This leads to many of us getting bored or even losing interest in the hobby. And it almost certainly means that some of the amazing things happening in our hobby--technical and otherwise--will pass us by. With absolutely no permission whatsoever, I reproduce below a portion of Ward's article. I hope you, too, find it interesting.

Like many of my readers, I've been in this hobby a long time - 35 years in a couple of weeks. Indeed, I've been a ham for a good part of my adolescence and all of my adult life. I've made many thousands of contacts, on many bands, with many places, with many pieces of gear. Once a callow and nervous Novice, I'm starting on the fifth solar cycle that's come 'round the limb of Ol' Sol. You would think that with that background, maybe I've pretty much experienced all of what amateur radio has to offer. Interestingly enough, the answer is, "Not even close!"

In fact, what I've found is that the longer a ham has been licensed, the FEWER different aspects of ham radio he is likely to use. We are creatures of habit and once formed, we tend to follow those habits, frequently becoming incredibly deep experts to be sure, growing narrower, relatively speaking. (Many of us also grow wider in other ways, but I digress...) It is rare individual that can lay claim to being a Renaissance Ham.

As we develop and hone our expertise, we may also find that we have explored much of what there is to explore in our chosen niches. Our hamming begins to become permeated with a sameness that leads to "been there, done that." Does this stoic inertia sound familiar? How can this electronic ennui be excised? What is there to get excited about as modern ham radio approaches nonagenarianism? Let me tell you about a few things that have caught my interest of late...

Digital contesting - After years and years of languishing as lightly attended events "up there" in the CW bands, RTTY contesting is the fastest growing contest mode. To be sure, it started small, but it's
not small any more with digital contests nearly every weekend. The combination of excellent software and simple radio hookups make this incredibly easy to try compared to the Mechanical Ages. I do miss the smell of teletype oil, though.

VHF+ Roving - In case you haven't noticed, roving has become a huge part of VHF+ contesting. The stations that take to the grids in search of adventitious locations and routes are astounding in their capabilities. New rovers, making excellent use of their new all-band, all-mode rigs, are hitting the trail on contest weekends, too. Transverters, antennas, logging software, navigational aids, beacons - all contributing to more participants and more QSOs on more bands from more places. Now, if we could just get propagation to cooperate!

Mobile Operating - Similarly, down on the HF bands, those same radios do yeoman's work as a "shack on the dash" and put out quite a decent number of microvolts per meter. We have antennas that autotune, noise blankers that actually do, plenty of power, and the open road. To those of you that live in anti-tenna communities or risk upbraiding from RFI, welcome back! Who's the mobile?

Solar Cycle 24 - Just when we were about to give up hope, fearing another Maunder Minimum, the first baby sunspot appeared on the unblemished disk of the Sun. And there was celebration throughout the land. Of course, 10 meters, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, is still dead, but now we know it won't be for long. Spring is here!

40 Meters - Lest anyone forget, 40 meters will be given over to its rightful owners (ahem) starting in 2009 as amateur radio gets its mitts on more and more of those marvelous meters. And just in the nick of time, too! Why, the stew of digital contests, salted with CW ragchewers and peppered with phone signals nearly melts the cook pot! Look for more countries to open the gates to 7100-7200 kHz, too. Will "Listening this frequency and..." become a thing of the past? We can only hope.

China and India - When 15 meters starts to open up, I am pretty sure that North American hams will be astounded at the number of new and unusual call signs in the pileups. The conditions are ripe - a growing middle class, interest in technology, governments opening the airwaves to more licensed amateurs. When the world's two largest populations begin to sprout a few amateur radio operators, there is some real potential for exciting contests!

Remote Radios - We're just an RJ-45 and CAT5 cable away from being able to operate from nearly anywhere at just about any time. What does the band sound like from, say, Samarkand? Or Tokyo? Or Johannesburg? Or Santiago?

See? There's lots of stuff in which to take an interest. So if your groove has started to become a rut, there's no need for you to stay stuck. Take a look around and try something new before you give up on the world's most amazing hobby!

I am especially intrigued by the innovations that N0AX mentions that are just now beginning to infiltrate our hobby. Remote operation, SkyCommand, digital media, the effect of millions of potential new hams from India and China...interesting times! Go to the ARRL website and look at your member preferences if you want to begin receiving this excellent newsletter.

Don N4KC

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A few thoughts on chaos

As I sit here listening to the pile-up on 80 meter CW for J5C, my mind, for some reason, turns to thoughts of chaos. I'm sure you've heard the term "chaos theory" that says a butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia can eventually cause a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Well, there is not much we can do about that. Nor can we do much with the chaos on 80 meters, other than politely letting guys who call on the DX station's frequency know that when he says "UP" on the end of every transmission, it means he is listening at a higher frequency.

It is inevitable, just like change. And change inevitably leads to chaos.

There are many people who consider ways to profit from change and chaos. Seth Grodin is a marketing guru. He says, "Build a company that's so flexible and responsive in the short and long term that you don't care what happens. As long as there's a lot of noise and disorganization and change, you'll win. In today's world, betting on chaos is the safest bet of all."

Betting on chaos is the safest bet of all? I did finally work J5C by calling him on a higher frequency than where he said he was listening, but where I had just heard a station that he worked. I guess I had found a way to work through the chaos and thus found success. Is that what Mr. Grodin means by being flexible?

Don N4KC

Friday, January 11, 2008

For those who can't get enough...the ham blog

So here I am, openly advocating that you do something I have accused others of doing too much, encouraging you to investigate something I have previously scorned. That probably makes me a hypocrite. Still, I’m standing right up and advocating, in front of “flamers” everywhere, that I think you owe it to yourself to take a look at some of the other Internet web logs—better known as “blogs”—that are devoted to amateur radio.
Yes, I believe many hams spend too much precious operating time on the computer and not enough on the air. And I have often said—including in this blog’s very first post—that blogging is the “ultimate conceit.” Who are these guys who think anybody really cares what they have to say as they blather on and on, wasting precious bandwidth? Well, as it turns out, there are some very bright guys out there who do a good job of bringing information, discussion and logic to those of us who may be interested. They do it free of charge, with no ulterior motive, and typically without trying to sell us anything. And every one of them offers you the opportunity to express your own opinion or contribute information for the common good.

I do not necessarily think anybody gives a tinker’s damn about my opinions, but I had been thinking for a long time about offering a specialized blog. I wanted to create a site on which interested parties could discuss the effects of rapid technological change, not only on our lives in general but also on our hobby in particular. I see what change is doing to my professional fields—media, publishing, and advertising—and I am equally interested in how it will affect other aspects of society, including the hobby I love.

Well, first step was to see if such a blog already existed. If one does, I didn’t find it, but doing that research was a revelation. There are some very good amateur radio blog sites out there! Some pretty bad ones, too, by the way. But I thought you might be interested in just a sample of what is available, only a few keystrokes away. Check them out if you like. Or hit the back button now and ignore the rest of this post. Either way, you can get right back on the air…but maybe better informed if you do decide to visit some of these blogs, presented here in no particular order. is a good site with interesting general content that seems to be updated regularly. (Many of the blogs I visited have not seen additions since Jimmy Carter was president!) There are comments from others as well and that indicates that somebody is actually reading KB6NU’s posts.

A blog maintained by W0JRM ( is called “The Last Link” and offers a wide variety of topics in addition to ham radio. Rob includes some politically conservative posts in addition to comments on the latest news about our hobby. is devoted to DX and general ham topics. David recently posted a great series of articles about “tools” every ham needs, and I’m not talking about wire strippers and soldering irons. These are software tools. and this is an excellent roundup of those available. presents a nice, clean site with postings on contesting, QRP, and…yes…martial arts. In case your neighbor gets violent about TVI, I guess. The site also offers a long list of other amateur radio blog sites, including some of those mentioned here. has a little more edgy tone, more like what you find in some of the posts on and There is considerable content dealing with VHF/UHF and QRP operating, too. is another site with emphasis on contesting, DX, and general operating. Like many of the blog sites, visitors may subscribe to new posts by signing up for email or RSS feeds of the site’s content. K9JY’s site even offers a link to learn more about RSS feeds for those unfamiliar with this convenience.

W2LJ’s blog ( is another that is updated regularly and its response to news is timely. Larry’s site won me over instantly since he had a nice picture of a J-38 straight key right up top! Appropriately, many of the posts deal with W2LJ’s operating activities, and especially CW and QRP.

One good blog site that features multiple topics is Ken’s interests include scanners and the Linux operating system in addition to ham radio. His site also offers a nice, long list of links to sites dealing with these and other areas of significance.

There are several sites that purport to offer lists of amateur radio blogs or to give hams the chance to post comments. I found to be disorganized and out of date. The last post was in October of 2007. There are many previous posts accessible from the main page but I didn’t go digging. (See, a new country was spotted on 17 meter CW while I was looking. I got him! T32Z! And I went scrambling back to the radio.) is a general worldwide directory of sites. I found listed here some of the ones in this article, others that were not very well done, and quite a few that no longer existed. This would actually be a good service if it were updated and if the descriptions were not quite so cryptic.

I mentioned up top that these blog sites are offered free and the owners are not trying to sell us anything. I did not spy any particular self-serving interests in any of the sites I highlight above. Some of them do have Google Ad Network ads on their sites but I found them to be unobtrusive and out of the way. I don’t begrudge anyone making a few bucks on their site. They pay for hosting and other expenses out of their own pockets and I see nothing wrong with the small ads being there, so long as the content is not commercial-disguised-as-blog.

So there you are—enough blog sites to keep you away from the radio for hours! I realize that having access to so much information can be overwhelming. However, if you check out some of what is being offered on the web, and if you find a blog that is of interest to you, it can be like joining an especially interesting 75-meter roundtable. There’s no static, QSB, or QRM either. You always have the option of subscribing to feeds of the blog content so you don’t even have to visit the site unless you want to make comments.

So if you simply cannot get enough information about our great hobby, check out some of the amateur radio-oriented blog sites.

But don’t let the rig get cold either!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Old and new...right there on my desk!

I had occasion the last couple of days to participate in an activity that really brings together the distant history of our hobby and its modern state. It's an operating event, sponsored by ARRL, called "Straight Key Night." The object is for ham radio operators to get on the air using old straight keys, to use vintage gear, and to strive for leisurely conversations, not a mass of hurried contacts as we usually do in contests. First, let me admit that I had a blast despite very limited operating time and propagation conditions that were not the best.

I talked with eight other guys, each of whom had interesting things to say and sounded like fellows with whom I'd love to share a beer and get to know. One used an ancient Knight VFO driving a homebrew 6L6, running 10 watts to a dipole. His signal was quite readable and, though he had a pronounced chirp and drifted like an inebriated New Year celebrant, it was a real pleasure talking with him. Another used the Drake "twins," a separate receiver and transmitter that once, before the advent of the transceiver, was the dream of every ham, but nowadays they lack any of the "essential" gizmos--DSP, computer control, etc.--and also tend to drift a bit. But with the RIT in my modern "shack-in-a-box" radio, I was able to stay in one spot on the band and follow these guys around. Several others were using keys that belonged to their "Elmer," the ham operator who helped them get started in the hobby, or to their father, or had other interesting histories.

There, side by side on my own desk, were the perfect symbols of how much our hobby has developed. To the right was my brand new K8RA CW paddle (Santa brought it to me and it's a beaut!), plugged into the back of a radio that covers all ham bands from 160 meters to 440 mHz, including availability of most modes, and that interfaces with the computer that sits next to it. It does not drift a whit (whatever a "whit" is). The rig has CW memories built in, and it's possible to conduct complete DX QSOs and contest exchanges without ever touching the paddle, just by hitting the buttons on the front of the radio at the proper times. Or I could hook up the software and feed it all the chatter it needed, right from the keyboard or the hard drive of my Dell.

To the left of the new paddle was a classic J-38 straight key, manufactured during WWII by Lionel, the same people who make the model trains. It, too, plugged into the back of the Kenwood TS2000, and it could send the same combination of dits and dahs that comprise the Morse Code, a form of transmission that is approaching 160 years of age. But that key was special. It belonged to my dad (SK). When I was 13, we used it to send code practice to each other. Then, when I got my Novice ticket, it became my on-air key until several years later when I switched to a "bug," then eventually a tube-type keyer with a Vibro-Keyer paddle.

Yes, I had some great chats with that old straight key--in 1962 and again yesterday, the first day of the year 2008. It accomplished the same thing as that shiny, brass beauty that Santa brought me. I turned on and off the carrier emanating from my transmitter in the proper way so some interesting fellow hams understood the lies I told them. But I couldn't help thinking about how much the hobby has changed since that key was the preferred method of conducting such communication...and yet we still use the keys, the code, the radios--vintage or state-of-the-art--to indulge in that most ancient pursuit: human interface.

So, have things really changed all that much?

Don N4KC