Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This WILL Hook 'Em!

A lot of us who are passionate about the hobby of amateur radio have been wracking our brains, trying to figure out to attract today's younger folks into the hobby.  Our local organization, the Amateur Radio Advancement Group, has this as a major reason for our existence and have some exciting things working in this regard.  But we continue to hear from the naysayers that claim that with Facebook, smart phones, video games, and YouTube, there is no reason for kids to even consider such an archaic hobby as amateur radio.

"Phooey!"  I say.  Granted, it's a different day and time and there are many distractions I did not have way back in '61 when the radio bug bit me so hard.  Heck, we were on a five-family telephone party line and only had three TV channels to watch.  But I am convinced that despite this, there are many, many technically inclined youth out there who would love what today's ham radio has to offer.  And once they find it, they will enjoy it just as much as the rest of us have...and still do.  It can even lead to a career for many of them.  A technical career, and Lord knows, we need as many young Americans following that path as we can get.

And I believe the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national membership organization for ham radio, has finally hit all the right buttons.  Along with some very talented amateur radio ops, the League has just released an 8-minute video that strikes all the right cords.  There is a very vigorous "do it yourself" movement sweeping the country these days, made up of people who enjoy creating things and then using learn, to have fun, to achieve a sense of fulfillment.

Ham radio fits perfectly into that movement on so many levels that it is dizzying.  Watch the video and see if you agree with me.  If you can, show it to a teenager, somebody in his or her 20s, someone who enjoys making things with their hands, regardless the age.  Then watch the light come on!

(Congrats to the ARRL, the producers, and anyone associated with this video!  Very well done, guys.  You can see the video at the link above or by clicking HERE.)

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, December 16, 2011

700K strong...and growing

For a hobby that is dying as a result of the white-hot growth of all other more sexy technology, amateur radio seems to be holding its own.  At least when you look at the latest figures from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The news that over 700,000 people are now licensed as ham radio ops in the U.S.A. confirms my earlier stated opinion that predictions of the demise of the avocation are seriously misplaced.

Frankly, those who say smart phones, Facebook, and all the social networking are eliminating the appeal of a hobby that got its start with spark gap and Marconi are W R O N G.  They miss the point of our hobby completely.  Yes, I can dial a random number on my Samsung Galaxy and, maybe, get an answer.  But what's my likelihood of striking up a conversation with someone who shares common ground with me?  I can tell folks on Facebook that I just passed mile-marker 100 on I-59, but is it any easier than making the same announcement on the 146.88 repeater in Birmingham?  Will the people be equally unimpressed with the update or not?

First, I didn't build that Samsung device.  Nor did I design and install the antenna it uses.  I had no choice of the mode I used to reach out to the random victim on the other end.  If there was a choice, some computer at the cell site made it...3G or 4G?  When I sit down at my radio desk at home or flip on the multi-band, multi-mode radio in my truck, I have many, many choices I can make, and the result is what kind of experience I am likely to have.  Plus I am employing much more gained knowledge than it would ever take to punch in a number on a phone or click the Facebook link.

I might decide to go after the station in Thailand that the DX cluster says is operating on 21.009 mHz.  That would obviously be on CW, so I turn my rig to that band, frequency and drag the Morse paddle over.  I also know from my propagation maps that I have a chance of hearing him at that time and frequency.  Yep, there he is.  Which antenna do I use?  The big loop I built myself?  The trap vertical I installed in the backyard over a ground radial system I concocted?  The hexbeam I built from scratch?  Do I turn on the amplifier or try to talk with him at a relatively low power of 100 watts?

The hexbeam gives me the best signal received (though the loop is very quiet and I can hear him slightly better above the natural atmospheric noise) so I make a small adjustment in the bearing I'm beaming and decide to try with 100 watts...about the same as a light bulb.  I could do like many do and see if I can reach him with even less power, reveling in the challenge of such a thing.  Next I determine where he is listening by hearing the other stations with which he is conversing, split my transmit and receive frequencies, and begin sending my call letters when he finished up with the other guy.  I smile broadly as he responds to me and tells me "good morning," even though it is afternoon where I am.  He is literally on the other side of the world, see?  We exchange signal reports, chat briefly and finally send polite thanks to each other for the "QSO," and I sit back, contented.

It may be hard for others to understand, but there is no way I could get the same amount of fulfillment and satisfaction by simply dialing a telephone number in Thailand and trying to get someone who answers to talk to me.  Or by randomly "friending" a total stranger on Facebook.  Was it because I use a station I put together myself?  Not built from scratch--though that certainly is an option--but hooked up and put on the air the way I like it.  Was it that I used propagation knowledge that I gained from studying and observing?  That I employed the very efficient Morse code that I learned and have used to the point that I'm pretty good at it?  Was it that the fellow in Thailand and I had common ground and talked about stations, antennas, jobs, and the like?

Yes, it was all that and more.  I could tell you about many, many other fascinating chats I've enjoyed, amazing people I've met, countries I've learned about, all on the radio and not in chat or IM or LinkedIn.  Like the fellow in South Africa with whom I talked for almost an hour the other night.  Or the gentleman in Ireland who is a big NASCAR fan and that I ended up inviting to stay with us if he ever makes it to a race at Talladega as he hopes.  (Think I would have done that with some weirdo who answered my random cell call?)  Or the friends I have from Costa Rica to Wisconsin to the other side of the planet who I run into on the air from time to time and always enjoy conversing with.  Or the fellow on the western coast of Australia who operates by remote control (via the Internet) a station in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is always a source of fascinating conversation.  I could also make a long list of things I have learned, technology I have been introduced to, geography I have had made real and tangible to me, storm-spotting I have heard real-time that DID save lives, all through amateur radio.

That's why our ranks continue to grow...maybe not at the same rate as the general record levels.  When you can do all the things I can do on my ham station on a cell phone or via Facebook, let me know and I'll consider giving up that desk full of gear. 

Meanwhile, I'll just stick with my ancient, out-of-date hobby, thank you very much.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apologies and Excuses


I'm a tad embarrassed when I look at the date of my last post on this blog and see how long it has been.  But from "Don's Big Book of Excuses," here are some of the reasons I have been so lax in posting:

  • The day job.  We have many, many positive things happening with our company, despite silly government regulations and scurrilous legal actions.  Still, the time requirement has been considerable.
  • Books!  My latest, "Undersea Warrior," just hit the bookstores this week.  This is the remarkable story of submarine skipper Commander Dudley "Mush" Morton, arguably the most important figure from World War II that most people have never heard of.  I'm doing several events in support of the book, and just yesterday recorded a segment for CSPAN "Book TV" to air nationally later in November.  Details and exact air times for the TV thing will be at
  • More books!  At the moment, I'm working on several books: a novel that I'm very excited about; a non-fiction book about a truly fascinating man who overcame gang membership and drug pushing to become a painter and has already gained a huge following in the sports community; another thriller set in submarines, co-written with Commander George Wallace--a sequel to "Final Bearing," which will also be a sequel to the book that will soon be a major motion picture titled "Hunter Killer," set for release in December 2012 by Relativity Media; and a book of articles and short stories set in amateur radio, some of which have appeared in other versions on  I'll probably self-publish that bad boy when I get around to finishing it up.
  • And still more books!  Just got an ebook version of "Final Bearing" up on  Click HERE to see and order it.  Details are at
  • Ham radio!  Yes, I have managed to get a few hours in on the new Kenwood TS-590 transceiver and I have been having a blast.  The radio combines tried and true technology with more modern stuff to make a truly remarkable transceiver...especially the receiver.  And with the bands open and the appearance of more sunspots, it is about as much fun as I have ever had in ham radio.  Just last weekend, in what we hams call "radiosport," I participated in a worldwide contest called CQWW and on the ten meter band--not far from the same frequencies occupied by Citizens Band--I had contacts with stations in over 50 different countries.
  • Oh, and a few health issues with my wife, Charlene, too, if we want to include all the excuses for not posting here.  We now know what the situation is and how to deal with it.  It is not nearly as serious as our bout with breast cancer fifteen years ago, but still something to contend with.
So, apology accepted?  I will try to post more often.  But there is the Alabama-LSU football game tomorrow.  And it's a gorgeous weekend coming up and I have leaves to rake.  Then I just checked the DX clusters and the band seems to be open to Asia so...

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, September 23, 2011

Luddite or Traditionalist?


There is quite a debate raging over on about a service provided to amateur radio operators by our national organization, the American Radio Relay League.  For those unfamiliar with the working of hamdom, when two stations contact each other, since the early days of the hobby, they often exchange a confirmation postcard to confirm the contact.  Called a "QSL card," these confirmations have often been colorful and informative "souvenirs" of the conversation, sometimes featuring pictures of the stations, local geography, and more.  Those cards also serve as verification for a long list of awards that hams can earn.  "WAS" signifies that a station has confirmed contact with a station in all 50 U.S. states.  "DXCC" is an award for confirming contacts with at least 100 countries around the world. 

Now, with the Internet and computer being an integral part of most amateur radio "shacks," the ARRL created an electronic way to do these confirmations.  Some say they went overboard on the security aspect of their "Logbook of the World" system.  It does require a security certificate with an applicant's call sign and location verified through the Federal Communications Commission before it is granted to the user.  Many hams have had difficulties setting up the system on their computers or moving it to a different machine when necessary.

The thrust of the eHam comments--and those with a negative view tend to dominate this discussion just as they do any Internet forum--is that LoTW is too complex, that it threatens the traditional printed, post office-delivered QSL card, and even that it threatens the "privacy" of anyone who uses the system since the League could sell that info or it could be subpoenaed by some nefarious government agency.

This type of debate seems to be quite common these days anytime there is a new-fangled way to do anything in our society.  I suspect a big part of it is simple resistance to technological change.  People still have a choice in most things technical.  You don't have to use a smart phone, join Facebook, have an email address, or use an online QSL service.  But I understand why anyone with an aversion to change or a distrust--however well founded or dismally unfounded it might be--of all this technology is reluctant to accept it.

I enjoy getting a QSL card from a new country in Africa or one that bears a picture of a ham's antenna farm in rural Belgium.  I hope we never lose that personal touch.  But I also enjoy the convenience and cost savings of being able to confirm contacts electronically.  Stamps to mail to some parts of the world are expensive.  It can take years to send and receive back a card.  Stations in rare locations get tons of requests for confirmations and that can run into big expense for them, too.  Some even ask for "green stamps"--U.S. dollars--to offset their expenses, but putting cash into an envelope is risky, especially in some spots where an envelope bound for a ham radio operator is routinely opened because everyone knows there are bucks in there.

But the real reason I endorse LoTW and similar services is that it allows me to easily and inexpensively extend the courtesy of a confirmation to anyone and everyone who wants it for whatever reason.  I still get paper cards and I display them on the wall in my office/"shack."  I enjoy looking at them.  I hope they never stop coming.  But I also recognize that there is a way that is better in most aspects and that allows me to benefit from the service.  And I believe there are enough people like me who still like the card that they will probably not go away.

And isn't that what new technology is supposed to do?  I love the fact that I can download a book on my Nook, but I also still enjoy the traditional book.  I also think both methods will still be around for a long, long time. 

But I also understand that all this change is scaring the bejesus out of some folks.

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Tech Change is at Its Greatest

I had the unique opportunity this past week to visit Minneapolis and be a part of their excellent World War II History Roundtable.  Yes, you ask, but what does that have to do with rapid technological change?  And why do you, Mr. Blogger, bring that up on this tech-change forum?

Well, hold your horses and I'll tell you.  Thanks to Don Patton and others involved with the roundtable, I had the opportunity to tour historic Ft. Snelling, where more than 300,000 young men were inducted into the service in WWII.  It was an old horse fort, established in the early 1800s when the area was Sioux territory, and was once the lodging place for Dred Scott, among other historical significance., fascinating...but hardly high-tech. 

But not far from there, I was treated to a restoration project that boggles the mind.  Inside a small, cramped room at the back of a lumberyard, a group of amazing people are meticulously restoring a CG-4 glider plane.  During the war, a couple of Minneapolis companies combined to build a bunch of these gliders...decidedly low-tech aircraft...but they were, in their own way, very high-tech in their design and operation.  The handiwork and craftsmanship used in these planes was astounding, as is the talent of the dedicated individuals who are restoring this one.

A little digression here, but later in the day, I got a glimpse of the "Greatest Generation" exhibit at the Minnesota History Center.  While there, we ran into an elderly gentleman being helped through the museum by his son.  And that man had actually flown one of the CG-4s during the war.

Anyway, it occurred to me just how much technology comes from something as destructive and horrible as war.  I often give presentations on submarines, and specifically about the Gato and Balao class boats that helped win the war in the Pacific.  At the time of their construction, they were by far the most technologically advanced war machines on the planet.  And they worked.  Over 50% of all Japanese shipping destroyed during the war was the result of the submarines, even though they were at no time any more than 5% of the total naval assets in the Pacific.

I also talk about how much a factor other tech developments such as radar were.  We came up with better radar than the enemies did and it made a big difference in the eventual outcome.  Heck, even VHF radio...previously thought to be virtually useless...helped submarine skippers work together in their wolfpacks without fear of the enemy eavesdropping.

Odd but true: when bad things happen, good things can come from them.  And sometimes the worst things are, the more we gain.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, August 26, 2011

1999 is just around the corner


Regular readers know that I often quote media researcher/consultant Mark Ramsey in these musings.  He does about as good a job as anyone in anticipating rapid technological change and how it relates to the future of broadcast media.  In one of his latest posts, he talks about what broadcasters can learn from Steve Jobs (Mark also has a knack for being topical, too).  In the post, one thing jumped out at me when he listed five things radio broadcaster "leaders" continue to believe:

1.This business hiccup is only a passing phase. 1999 is just around the corner.

2.We are the Great and Powerful Radio and can enforce our will on consumers if we run enough promotional announcements to do it

3.Don’t worry about Google and Groupon and Pandora – just sell more commercials

4.Everyone who listens to the radio today consumes as much of it as ever – maybe even more!

5.We can defend our importance among consumers and advertisers even as we trim out all that expensive stuff between the songs

When it comes to the people who run radio these days, there has never been a group with their heads more deeply buried in the sand.  A few are trying.  They really are.  But some think their digital strategy is to compensate their program directors with how many hits the station gets on its web site.  Lord help them!
The time has come--and maybe passed already--when they will have to group together and do some radical things to maintain and grow radio broadcasting as a viable medium.  Individual stations will have a tough time saving the whole concept of "radio broadcasting."
And I know from experience that radio folk are cannibalistic.  Everything they do is designed to take down what they perceive to be their biggest and most "direct competitors," other over-the-air radio stations. 
Is the National Association of Broadcasters the means for doing that, for leading the charge into the future?  I don't think so.
It's not the sand where those guys have their heads stuck!
Don Keith N4KC

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Wall Street Yo Yo

As we sit here, head bobbing, watching the stock market bounce up and down like a yo yo, we should realize that we are seeing yet another example of how rapid technological change has affected an institution that has been around forever.  And that has a direct effect on something as personal to us as our money.

I've been ranting for a while about how technology is now being used by short-term traders who are constantly buying and selling, making pennies on each share but trading automatically at certain trigger levels on such a high volume that they make millions doing it.  And at such a volume that it dramatically affects the market indicators.  That, in turn, leads to emotional over-reaction by us normal folks, which only contributes to the volatility.  Then, today, I see an article about Mark Cuban, a former broadcaster and now NBA-team-owner, who speaks to the same subject and used his opinions to correctly predict the dizzying last few days.

Does this mean we need to return to the days when any order on the NYSE had to be scribbled on a piece of paper and submitted in order for a sale or buy to be accomplished?  A part of me says, "Yeah!"  It will never happen, of course, nor should it.  And though I favor as little government regulation on the free market--including the buying and selling of pieces of companies--another part of me longs for the government to make any such rapid, reactive, pre-programmed trading illegal.

But something has to be done.  Remember the Whammo "Superball?"  The little ball with the super-secret rubber compound material that was supposed to bounce four times as high when you dropped it?  That's what our stock market reminds me of.  If certain key stocks drop a small percent, the SELL programs kick in and it gets pummeled.  It has nothing to do with whether the company is doing well or has a favorable outlook.

It's just that some bit of computer code somewhere is doing exactly what it has been told to do, and logic and common sense be damned.

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A truly startling realization

I no longer subscribe to many printed magazines but I still always look forward to receiving a couple of my amateur radio publications, QST and CQ magazines, each month.  I really do enjoy reading about our hobby and appreciate the authors who contribute to these publications (for very little money in return). Shoot, I even study the ads, including those that have not changed in decades. (Why do some vendors insist on showing the faces of every radio by every manufacturer, as if we make our purchasing decisions based on those tiny thumbnails? And will MFJ ever change the full-page Hy-Gain rotator ad?)  I always feel good when I open the mailbox and one of the magazines is in there, waiting for me.  It usually lies right there on the hearth next to my recliner where I can pick it up and read an article whenever the mood strikes.

However, as I thumbed through the current edition of CQ, I could not help but notice that the lead article is about all the new gear unveiled this year at the largest amateur radio gathering in the world, the Dayton Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio. The event was in May! And it’s August as I write this. You know, there was a time when we took such delay in a story’s content as the norm. It is, after all, the nature of the magazine publishing biz that there must be considerable lead time for reporting, gathering info, composing the magazine, getting it printed and bound, and putting it in the mail at a rate that the publication can afford, even if it takes a few days to wend its way out to its readers.

But, for example, as I read the short writeup on the exciting new Elecraft KX3 portable transceiver, I recalled that there was a YouTube video posted way back on May 20 featuring Wayne Burdick K6XR giving a very enlightening ten-minute demo of this interesting bit of kit. Posted the same day it happened.  Video.  In full color. With sound. That I could pause, back up, re-run, and go back and look at anytime I wanted to without having to subscribe to and save a magazine or riffle through a bunch of musty, stacked-up old mags to find the one that had the article I wanted to read.  I just went to YouTube and pulled up the video.  It took me all of 20 seconds to find it and get it running.

Is the KX3 story old news in CQ? I’m afraid so.

ARRL recently did a major update on their web site, but though they are trying and it does give us quite a bit of content, it is still clunky and hard to navigate. It does offer some video (welcome to the 21st century) and plenty of archived articles and reviews, all of which is much more current, colorful, and searchable than the magazine could ever be. CQ is also trying, buying World Radio News and offering it as a free PDF download.  However, it is still basically a "print" magazine that can be read on a computer monitor (can ONLY be read there unless you print it out).  It still seems to have many of the same disadvantages as any other printed pub, though.  It just happens to be available on the Internet instead of showing up in the mailbox.

I would hate to lose the printed magazines, though.  I have to worry that the day will come when it is no longer economically feasible to mail me a magazine every month. I still prefer taking that paper-and-stapled thing out on the deck to read on a nice morning.  Or along with me to Subway at lunch to peruse while I enjoy my Black Forest ham sandwich.  And am I the only one that has trouble reading things on a monitor--even a big one--when I have to scroll and click?

Won’t happen, you say? The traditional magazine will never go away. Okay, what was your favorite article in your latest copy of Look or Life? Mind if I borrow your Saturday Evening Post?  There was a time when magazines argued that they could offer more in-depth reporting and analysis than newspapers or radio/TV.  More pretty pictures than you could ever get in a newspaper.  No longer true.  Google "Dayton Hamvention" (146,000 results) or "Elecraft KX3" (13,400 results)  Any publication offering that amount of stuff would not fit into my mailbox!

I rest my case. Truth is, media consumers want their content in a wide variety of ways, and will choose such media on three primary criteria:

1) How easy it is to consume in all those myriad ways,

2) How compelling the content is, and

3) How cheap it is to access. 

We see it happening with books, movies, television, music and more and it amounts to a revolution.  Some media will not fare well unless they figure out how to monetize--the new buzz word for all media--or subsicize some of the old ways of distribution.  As in any revolution, there will be casualties.

I’m afraid that does not bode well for QST and CQ.


Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Radio on the phone?

The National Association of Broadcasters has taken the stance that having the ability to receive FM-broadcast radio built into cell phones--by law--is the salvation of the medium.  In fact, it is about the only solution they are offering to keep over-the-air radio viable.

So along comes researcher (and a blogger I frequently reference here) Mark Ramsey who has conducted a survey to see just how much phone owners who already have this feature care about such a thing.  The results:

What this says is that it simply is not all that important to them.  If the question had been, "How often do you listen to the radio?", it would have been a huge percentage...somewhere north of 90% I'm betting.  But of these guys who already have a phone on which they can get FM radio, only 5% say they listen "nearly ever day."

What this says...and what Mark Ramsey has been maintaining all that consumers don't particularly care about FM on the telephone.  Mark...nor I...are opposed to such a thing.  If the phone companies can sell it to their customers, bring it on!  The point is that the NAB and broadcasters are wasting time, effort and money pushing this as THE solution.

As I have said here over and over, consumers of media want to get content in a wide, wide variety of media.  They want radio from a radio, from the computer, from their smart phones, from their iPads...well, you get the message.  But what they really, really want is content that is compelling and engaging enough that they will dial it up, click on it, download it or do whatever they have to do to get it.  That includes over-the-air broadcasters, the historical controllers and purveyors or content.

But those broadcasters, as never before, face competition--not from each other so much--but from a broad variety of content pushers.  Pushers who are not only offering better heroin but giving it to users in a dizzying array of distribution methods.

People want what they want when they want it and by whatever means they can get it.  If broadcasters don't realize they are no longer in the tower-on-the-mountain-over-the-air-streaming-the-hits business, they are doomed to failure.  And it ain't gonna be pretty.

Don Keith

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Nobody to talk to?

There's an interesting forum discussion going on at in which a relativly new amateur radio licensee asks why he is having so much trouble finding people with whom he can carry on a good conversation.  The responses have been all over the map but quite a few take the tack that society is mean, that amateur radio ops are not what they used to be, that the quality of people who are currently in the hobby is not what it once was...back in "the good old days."

You know what is funny? Had there been an Internet and online forums back in 1962, you would have seen many of the very same comments you see there now.  You know the kind...whether it's a forum for ham radio or for stamp collectors:

The hobby is going to heck. Nobody to talk to. Those SSBers are ruining the whole thing for the rest of us. People are impolite and disgustingly uncivil. They talk about things they shouldn't on the air. No wonder our numbers are aren't entering the hobby...the FCC is ignoring us, hoping we go away. The test is too easy. 5 WPM Novice? Disaster! Guys don't even know how to turn on their radios. Where's the challenge, the barrier to entry to keep out the riffraff? Glorified CB! Weed 'em out! Make 'em build a transmitter before they can get a license. Make the code test be 40 WPM.  That'll make sure anyone entering ham radio represents the elite, the best.  (Sound just a tad "Nazy Youth?")

I'm no Pollyanna, and I think I have a realistic view of the hobby, current society, and technological change. I even blog on it here for all five or six of my loyal followers.  We have the same problems, issues, idiots, and goofballs as we probably had when Marconi made the first DX QSO. We just have a much more elaborate (and anonymous) way to hear and complain about them.

There's an interesting concept among those who study media. It suggests that while life on this planet is so far superior for most of its inhabitants than it has ever been in history, we dwell on the bad things more. That's because good news and positive stories don't sell papers, increase viewers and listeners, or make you click on web sites. Doom sells!  (See my earlier rant about global warming.  Lots of folks have made money and won prestigious awards selling that concept!)

Case in point: that gal who was charged with killing her daughter down in Orlando but was found innocent. Women have been accused of killing their kids since the very beginning of time. Many were found innocent. Why does this one continue to be the lead story on all those cable channels?

And what does that have to do with not being able to find a QSO on 146.88? Well, hopefully you get the point. The hobby is not going to heck in a handbasket. There are jerks out there...on the hams bands just as there on the Internet and in real life. But there are also plenty of delightful, interesting people. We just tend to blog and post about the bad ones.

Maybe everyone should get off the forums and blogs and, instead, go twist a dial on their radios and listen!  Or actually smile and say hello to that person next to you on your next airplane trip.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

When did "for-profit" become a slur?

(Off the technology-change topic for a bit this time, but I have to vent!)

There was a story on PBS's "Frontline" this week that purported to show all the terrible things for-profit colleges are doing to veterans, ripping them off as they are returning from serving their country.  Each time the reporter said the words "for-profit," it appeared he was using some kind of vile expletive.  And the story implied that schools that seek profit for educating veterans...and anyone else...are not only not providing any value, but are brutally abusing those who risked their lives for our country, all in the name of greed and avarice and obscene profits.

(BIAS DISCLAIMER: I work in marketing, advertising and PR for a company that operates colleges...for a profit.  I am in no way speaking in an official capacity or on behalf of my company in this article.)

Now, I can debunk the PBS story in so many ways it would make your head spin.  Give me a camera crew and several months and I can find disgruntled students from any college or university you name...from the University of Phoenix to Harvard or Yale.  For-profit schools are getting a growing portion of veterans' educational benefits because we are doing a much better job than traditional institutions in meeting the needs of those students.  Unlike state universities and other traditional schools, we don't get a penny of money from the government.  Students do, in the form of Title IV student aid or veterans' benefits.  They vote with their feet and go to schools that offer the education they need when they need it.  This story further implies that veterans don't have sense enough to investigate schools and potential careers without the Veterans Administration or some other government entity showing them the way.  That borders on slander.

In the story, we see a vet decide he wants to get a bachelor's degree in animation and video game design, signs up for classes at a for-profit, and then learns what a tough job field that is to break into.  Seems that before I committed thousands of dollars and four years of my life to preparing for a career, I would invest twenty minutes on the Internet to see if there were jobs available.  Your government spends millions of your tax dollars doing career research, publishes books available at the library and on the Internet, and anyone can access the data.  Google "Occupational Outlook Handbook."  There are regulations in place that forbid schools from promising jobs, lying about career options, or confusing or misleading potential students.  If anyone does that...and especially to men who have risked their lives on my behalf...they should be punished severely.

By the way, for-profit schools like ours are required to graduate a large percentage of people who enroll and to place them in their chosen career fields.  If we don't, we lose our accreditation and are out of business.  That's why you won't find academic programs in philosophy, basket-weaving...or most for-profit career colleges.  If we see job demand diminishing, we drop the program.  If we see increased demand, we start the classes, as we have just done with our green energy tech school in Denver.  Start them with a big investment, taking the risk to hopefully meet the demand of students and the companies that will employ them, all with the expectation of being able to make a profit.  The point is that good for-profit schools have no incentive to enroll people who are not good prospects to complete the program and graduate.  Then, if we send ill-prepared grads out to potential employers, you can bet they won't hire them.  Or anyone else we send them in the future.  We have to do what we do well or we don't make a profit.  Or stay in business.  Or invest in new schools and programs and hire people.

But the even bigger issue here is how "for-profit" has gradually come to mean "fat cats in their corporate jets and yachts, ripping off poor, unsuspecting people."  I know it seems obscene when we hear how much so-and-so company pays its CEO, or what the profits are for a bank we taxpayers just bailed out a couple of years ago.  But stop and take a breath for a moment.  If the company is doing something well and making lots of money doing it, they will be incentivized to do other things well, invest, and hire.  So what's wrong with the company making ridiculous profits?  And shouldn't we praise them for dong so? 

As I mentioned before, if someone is truly breaking a law or regulation...and there are plenty of those laws and regs on the books, I can tell you...then they should be punished.  Fined.  Thrown into the calaboose.  Enforce the existing regs! But don't punish anyone for making an honest profit.  Or even a really huge profit.   And I know it galls me, too, to see profitable companies avoid paying taxes, but don't blame them if our tax system is chaotic and they take advantage of the mess.  They only follow the laws as written, just as you and I do when we do our own taxes.  Are you going to stop deducting your charitable contributions just because you are a wonderful citizen and don't want to use a lawful part of the tax code?

Let's say I have a little start-up company that takes some risks, I invest my 401K money and put some startup costs on my Visa card, and we develop and market a widget.  We are taking a big risk, but that widget is better than anyone else's and becomes a runaway hit.  My little company starts to make some serious profits.  We hire more people, build some more widget factories.  We even raise the price on our widget because we can, and people willingly pay it.  And that gives us more capital to develop another great product and build more plants and hire more folks.  But I also pay myself more, too.  And build a beach house, buy a corporate jet, join a country club, and take vacations in Europe.  Note that at no point have I burned any money, taken unlawful advantage of anyone, or stuffed cash under the mattress so nobody else can see it or use it.  Every self-indulgent thing I have done with those profits...willingly paid by people who like and want my widget...has created more wealth for others: the people I hire, the people who build and maintain those new factories, the carpenters, electricians, and plumbers who built my beach house, the guys who designed, built and sold me the corporate jet, the people who drill and refine the oil that I burn in the plane, the hundred or so people who are employed by the country club, the airline, hotel, and other workers who so ably hosted me on those European vacations.

Now, if in the process of creating and marketing that widget, I bribed somebody, lied about the dangerous materials we used to build it, colluded with anyone to set the price, or did anything else illegal or unethical, then hit me.  Hit me hard.  Prosecute me.  Fine me.  Send me to the slammer. 

But in every other way, government should be doing all it can to encourage me and others like me to create, innovate, invest, and build something.  It should not be throwing up new and convoluted ways of preventing me from creating wealth...and tax a legal way.  Or demonizing me because I make a profit. 

Listen to me: so long as I am doing it legally and ethically, THE BIGGER PROFIT MY COMPANY MAKES THE BETTER IT IS FOR EVERYBODY!

If I make an inferior or dangerous product, or if I charge too much for it, the marketplace will speak loudly and clearly and I will not only not be banking all the filthy lucre, I will be shuttering my plants and laying off people.  Especially now, consumers are better informed than ever. 

I'll give you one more example.  I heard a story the other day on NPR (see a pattern here?) about the huge profits being made by for-profit correctional companies.  These are companies that contract with governmental entities to operate jails and prisons, and apparently, because they are doing something traditionally done by government (another parallel with the for-profit educational companies), they are not supposed to make too much profit.  Never mind that they are doing something the cities, states or federal government don't want to do, and that they are doing it more efficiently and are saving taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.  Or that the entities hiring them are perfectly well pleased with them.  They should not make too much money doing what they contracted to do or they are ripping us off.

If they are mistreating prisoners, feeding them gruel, sleeping a dozen to a cell or in any way violating the terms of their contracts, then go after them.  But don't punish them...and don't denigrate them...for making a profit, no matter how much it is.

Profits are not a zero-sum deal.  A company making a profit legally and ethically is not hurting or abusing anyone.  Profits don't get sent on a rocket ship to the moon.  They are used to buy and invest and inject a boost into every other sector of the economy.  Tax profits fairly, evenly and consistently so companies can plan for it and you will see our economic woes disappear.

Remove the profit motive from our free-enterprise system and you kill it.  But maybe that is the agenda some people have.  All profit is evil.  "For-profit" is obscene.  Anyone who makes a profit is a money-grubber and must be taking advantage of someone else or breaking laws to do so.  Let government dictate how much profit a person or a company can make.  Protect us from the robber barons!

That's the answer.

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"There's no such thing as TV anymore"

The television cable industry is struggling with the same rapid changing dynamics as all other branches of media are.  The way consumers want to subscribe to, access and use media is changing so rapidly and in so many directions it can only be compared to trying to nail Jello to a tree.  Some of the comments coming from the Nationa Cable Show clearly demonstrate how the leaders of what we still consider to be "cable television" have hammers in hand and a dollop of Jello ready to make the attempt.  They just can't quite figure how to get it accomplished.

Perhaps the most telling comment was the shortest, from Time-Warner CEO Glenn Britt: "There's no such thing as TV anymore."  How true!  He says there are now, in the minds of most consumers, only "video devices."  Case in point: how many of you use that big screen in the den just to watch over-the-air TV?  And where else do you watch what might be classified as "video?"

This goes directly to my contention that regardless the medium, users want to be able to access their media in a variety of ways.  Few are exclusive to one.  We want to watch movies on our TV sets, on our iPads, on our computers, on our smart phones, and, yes, in theaters down at the mall.  We like to read books on our computers, on our smart phones, on our Nooks or Kindles and, yes, on paper, bound, with a cover.

This is still baffling to traditional broadcasters, cable operators, movie studios, book publishers and others who have seen their businesses remain relatively the same for decades.  Centuries in the case of book publishing.  But now, suddenly, everything is topsy-turvy.  Traditional business models that enriched them don't work anymore.

Those who cannot understand that they are no longer in the "TV," "radio," "movie theater," or "book publishing" business are in real trouble.  Those who understand that they are in the "content" business and that they need to be able to deliver that content in whatever ways people want to consume it will be the ones that prosper.  Whatever ways and forms.  Radio with video.  Books with dynamic web links.  Audio with pictures.  Magazines that talk and move.  Video games with printed backstory.  Movies that allow you to "chat" with the characters.

And wow!  The implications of all this to the business of advertising is staggering!  People not only want all this stellar content coming at them in a variety of ways but they also want it cheap, cheap, cheap.  Cheap content distribution has almost always been possible because of the support of advertising.  Advertising planned, priced, and paid for based on the numbers of eyeballs or ears that consumed it.  Numbers determined by ratings measurement.

All that is changing just as quickly and dynamically as everything else associated with media.  If there is no such thing as TV anymore, then how do TV advertisers get their message to folks?  If I listen to radio in a wide variety of ways, how can advertisers assure I hear their sales pitch enough times to make it effective?

And believe me when I tell you that nobody can measure media usage the way media is now being used. 

It's a wild scenario, my friend, filled with drama, intrigue, and unexpected plot changes!  And I can't wait to see how the story develops.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Our little sliver of time

All the news sources--I saw it on Yahoo!, of all places--are churning out stories today about the current state of the surface of the sun.  Three different sources have issued dire predictions about the sleepy sun and what it means for mankind...and not just us hams, who enjoy bouncing signals off an ionized atmosphere.

You know as well as I do that simply saying this cycle is slow to develop is not going to attract much reader interest.  But if you say there is the possibility that the dormancy of Ole Sol portends historic implications, that it could reverse the effects of that evil, man-made global warming, that there could be unknown but potentially catastrophic weather events as a result...heck, even that we are on the verge of another Maunder Minimum, when the sun went to sleep for 300 years and we entered a "mini-Ice Age!"...then you will get some attention.  Attention to your columns, your websites, your blogs, your books, your speeches.

I know it is human nature to see things from a very narrow perspective.  Understanding things like climate change that usually takes eons to be obvious and variations in sunspot minima and maxima that only occur in eleven-year cycles are difficult for us mortals to do.  Geologic time is impossible for us to comprehend in our simple little seven- or eight-decade life spans.  That's why all the junk about rapid climate change (which I consider normal weather variation) has found so many who are willing to swallow it, hook, line and sinker.

I admit I know little about sunspots or solar weather, beyond the fact that more spots equal better propagation on the high-frequency radio bands and pretty displays of the Northern Lights.  But seems to me that it is far too early to say the sun is going to be dozing for the next three centuries simply because cycle 24 is a tad bit slow to get moving.  After all, many of these same "experts" were touting what an active cycle this was going to be...and doing it only a year or so ago.

Reminds me of the high-tech "weather rock" my wife has in her flower garden.  "If this rock is wet, it is raining.  If it is dry, it is sunny.  If it is white, it is snowing."

I'm still hoping for an active solar cycle.  I have somehow managed to be inactive in my amateur radio activities during each of the past two cycle maxima, and I had high hopes for that "arm-chair" ragchew with the Far East on 10 meters in the middle of the day.  But if it doesn't measure up, so be it.  I talked to guys all over the world at the lowest point, after all.

But most of all, I'd like to see everyone calm down a bit and not be so myopic.  We see only a tiny slice of time in our own existence.  Even so-called scientific observations are looking at a pitifully narrow slab of time. 

Put it into perspective before you panic and sell all your ham gear.  Or before you stop gazing northward for a glimpse of the aurora borealis.

By the way, I checked.  There is nothing we can do about the state of the sun's surface, so why worry?

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, May 23, 2011

An amazing piece of "kit"

That's what the Brits call ham radio gear..."kit."  And let me apologize right up front for two amateur radio blog posts in a row.  However, I think this one speaks well to the rapid technological change that is going on in the hobby.

I remember when I started out...way back when Marconi was spitting sparks off an energized bit of wire...a ham radio station usually consisted of a big transmitter--like a Viking Valiant or a Heath DX-100--and an even bigger receiver.  I had a Hammarlund HQ-180 and it was the size of a larger microwave oven.  Only the rare amateur radio operator dared put radios into his vehicle, and the thought of putting any kind of station into a pack and heading for portable operation was unheard of.

Things have changed dramatically.  I have a Yaesu FT-857D that is about the size of a cigar box and it, along with a tiny switching 12-volt power supply and a simple wire antenna, gets me on the air from anywhere there is AC.  And Yaesu makes a version of my radio that has a built-in battery pack that removes the necessity of AC altogether.  There are many other examples of very small, very advanced radios that can sit on the desk at home with a full set of features, be easily installed in the vehicle for mobile operating, or head for the campground or beach (or some emergency shelter somewhere).

Now, I have seen the most amazing bit of "kit" yet.  Elecraft, a company that has really created some elegant new gear that takes advantage of emerging technology, announced a transceiver at the Dayton Hamvention in Ohio last weekend.  The Elecraft KX3 is a truly remarkable slice of technology.  HERE is a demonstration of this thing.  I have no idea what the price will be, but I want one! 

No, I want several!

Don Keith N4KC

(PS: Somebody wrote that if you just use the words Elecraft and KX3 in a blog, the search engine robots beat a path to your site.  We'll see!  Any of you robots interested in hooking up with a KX3?)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Technological change finally comes to my basement

So, I do this blog dedicated to rapid technological change and its effect on society, media and my beloved hobby of amateur radio.  Seems I spend an inordinate amount of bandwidth on the "media" part, but that is where there has been the most fodder for blogs lately.  I suspect it shall remain so.  At least from my limited perspective, since that is where I make my living.

But I am pleased to report that technological innovation has finally come to my basement--right here in my office/ham shack.  After years of resisting it, I have finally succumbed to the lure of DIGITAL MODE communication!  My excuse has been a good one.  I spend ten to twelve hours a day on a keyboard...doing advertising and marketing stuff at the office and writing books here in the home office.  When I get ready for some ham radio operating, I don't necessarily want to go back to a keyboard yet again.  The available gear has also been very kludgy with lots of cables running about, tricky interfaces to radio gear, and devices that put a big strain on computers.

But a couple of things shoved me in the direction of such acronyms as PSK31 and RTTY.  One was the urging of some buddies (W9YNF, KW4J, and others) who sing the praises of the fun that is digital.  Another was the claim that I could work much DX with very low power.  And then I keep seeing rare countries pop up on the DX cluster spotting systems that are only working teletype or PSK31.

Then here comes a tiny little box that addresses my cables-everywhere worries.  It is a neat little device called a SignaLink USB, which offers the ability to easily and quickly link a computer to a ham radio receiver/transmitter using minimal cabling, and, obviously the USB port.  It does not get in the way of anything I might want to do on the computer or the radio, and simply plugs into a USB port on the 'puter and the accessory socket on my Kenwood TS-2000 radio.  It even contains its own sound card so it does not muck up anything on the computer while it decodes digital tones being transmitted by other stations and takes my own keyboard input and converts it to a long list of modes.  And hooking it up and getting it adjusted took a whopping fifteen minutes.  Downloading and figuring out one of the shareware software programs was a bit more of a challenge but nothing to really fuss about.

I must admit I am impressed so far.  I played with teletype back in the '70s when we had to use big, noisy, oily teletype machines and fairly frightening voltages to be able to print out stuff on fan-fold paper.  Tuning in a station was a real task and any nearby interfering station ruined any hope of a good chat.  The way it's done now is so far superior to that it is silly. 

When I first tuned down to 14.070 megahertz on the 20-meter ham band, it sounded like a choir of banshees all screeching at once.  Or like punk rock.  But you know what's cool?  You don't have to listen at all.  You can turn down the volume and not hear anything at all when you use the accessory port on the radio.  The SignaLink gets its audio back there.  But how do you pull any intelligence out of all those stations, all basically on the same frequency at the same time, competing with each other?

Amazingly, it's easy.  The software (I'm using a free program called Digital Master) shows what is called a "waterfall."  It is a moving view, with each signal displayed as a little red/yellow trace making its way down the screen.  All I have to do is click on one of those traces and words start appearing in a text window above.  And it is guys chatting.  On Saturday night, there must have been a dozen traces at once, all perfectly readable.  Some are more yellow than red, indicating they are weaker, but I was able to print them even when they were almost invisible on the screen.

OK, so I decide to jump right in and answer a "CQ" (someone putting out a call looking for another station to talk with).  He came right back to my call and we had a nice, short contact.  And he was in Russia.  So were the next three stations I spoke with.  All came back to my initial call and all gave me "599," which is a very strong signal.  Oh, and by the way, I was putting out a mere 20 watts!  I was hooked!  And after 48 years in the hobby, I had "gone digital."

I'm still having trouble getting used to dropping in the pre-set information at the right time without messing up and sending the wrong thing, and I'm still learning which function keys do what with the software, but so far, it seems like a very nice way to chat.  I've talked with guys all over Europe so far on PSK31, and am soon going to play with this new-fangled version of radio teletype that promises to be so much better than that old oil-slinging, sprocket-throwing Kleinschmidt clunker I used back in the '70s.

See, embracing change is no big deal!

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, April 22, 2011

Broadcast radio and smart phones

It has been a while since I have charged off after the keepers of the keys to America's over-the-air radio broadcasting facilities and their obvious inability to comprehend what consumers want.  Now, in a new demonstration of dunder-headedness, the group's lobbying and membership organization, the National Association of Broadcasters, has launched a really silly campaign to try to convince common folks to lobby Congress to require phone manufacturers to include radio reception "chips" in all phones sold in this country.

Never mind that there is no pent up demand for radio on cell phones.  Those who want it typically already have the ability to access more radio streams than anyone could imagine or ever possibly use.  Nor is there any indication that people even care.  But get ready.  Soon you will be hearing commercials...amid all the other many, many commercials...on your favorite radio station urging you to pick up the phone and call your rep in Washington and lobby for this redundant capability.  In typical fashion, all radio broadcasters understand is "run some commercials" and put up a web site that meets no real perceived need.

Why?  Because radio broadcasters simply don't understand.  If they would put the time, effort, and money into providing compelling content and somethign worth listening for, and if they would provide that content in a variety of ways that people expect to be able to access it, then they just might be able to salvage what was once a powerful, dynamic, ubiquitous medium.

See more at my friend Mark Ramsey's blog HERE.  Or, if you want a laugh and a prime demonstration of self-massage, visit the NAB web site devoted to this really goofy campaign HERE.

When I talk about the inability of some to comprehend technological change and adapt their industries to that change, I can't help but point at radio broadcasters.  How ironic that folks who have those towers pointed high into the sky also have their heads so deeply buried in the sand!

Don Keith

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Change sweeps away ten "solid" business types

As the pace of change--and especially change of the technological variety--increases, there are inevitable winners and losers.  We have to stay informed, adapt, and be ready to accept the inevitable.  That is especially true if we are to be successful in business. 

I have blogged at length here about how I am afraid my beloved medium of over-the-air radio is much too slow to adapt and expect to continue to remain viable.  Thus I am mildly surprised that radio broadcasting did not make the list of top ten industries on life support recently featured in an article in THE STREET.

I was not surprised at any of the ones that did:

  • Wired communications carriers
  • Record stores
  • Photo-finishing
  • Video post-production
  • Newspapers
  • Stores that rent DVDs and video games.
  • Stores that rent formal wear and costumes (no technological aspect here...China and other countries are simply making clothing so cheaply that you can buy a tux as cheaply as you can rent one)
  • Textile need to mill cotton when synthetic fabrics can be produced cheaper and better
  • Apparel manufacturing...same reasons as the previous two bullets
  • Manufactured housing...again not necessarily a technological victim, just another one of the industries that have been hardest hit by the recession.  This seems to me to be one that could innovate and come out of the recession when pent-up housing demand is unleashed, though.
I know it sounds Darwinian, but industry has to innovate or die.  Technological change may be quick and getting quicker, but it is still possible to see it coming and feint and parry.  But it takes insight and a willingness to listen and innovate.

Find out what the customer wants.  Give it to him.  Tell him you are giving it to him.

There it is: a degree in marketing in three sentences.

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Self Promotion...and a Treatise on Book Titles

So, the paperback version of my latest book, WAR BENEATH THE WAVES, is due to ship to bookstores in early April.  I got my copies yesterday, and the publisher has done a nice job.

I also note that my next book--publication date of November 11--is now being listed on, and they have the title as UNDERSEA WARRIOR: THE WORLD WAR II STORY OF MUSH MORTON AND THE USS WAHOO.  That was one of the titles we were kicking around, so I suppose it is settled.

Titles are funny things.  I'm not especially good at them and often defer to the publishers, whose job it is to create interest and sell copies.  They do it every day, so I figure they must know what title ideas might help sell them.

My favorite two titles of my books are THE FOREVER SEASON and WIZARD OF THE WIND, both of which I came up with.  I don't dislike any of the others, though.  But there is more that goes into titling a book than you might think.

My title idea for WAR BENEATH THE WAVES was SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF HELL.  I thought it described very well a hellish undersea incident involving depth charges, and was based on a description by a submariner that I had seen somewhere of just such an incident.  But my editor informed me that WalMart--who sells more books than just about anybody nowadays--will not put a book on their racks with "damn," "hell," or other words they deem inappropriate.

OK.  Those are their stores and they are perfectly within their rights to refuse to stock any item for any reason they want.  And, by the way, I am perfectly willing to forego my wonderful title idea if it helps them help me to tell Charlie Rush's amazing story.

One more bit of shameless promotion: the book I co-wrote with radio personalities Rick Burgess and Bill "Bubba" Bussey (who is also ham radio op KJ4JJ) is in stores next week.  WE BE BIG is a very interesting book, and I am proud to have been a part of it.  If it follows most of their previous titles--with which I had no association whatsoever--it will be a New York Times bestseller.

That means I can then add that descriptor to my name!  "New York Times best-selling author Don Keith!"

I like the sound of that!

Don Keith N4KC

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Friends in Faraway Places

Even as our planet continues to shrink, we sometimes have difficulty understanding or contemplating disasters that happen on the other side of the globe from where we reside.  It is so remote, so...well...foreign.  However, one of the things about my hobby of amateur radio is that whatever happens and wherever on the planet it occurs, I have probably spoken on the radio with and know someone who lives there. 
I remember a few years ago when the earthquake hit Costa Rica, I was immediately concerned about my friend, Carlos TI8II.  I heard him on the air a few days later and thankfully, he and his family were okay.  He told an amusing story about how his wife was still mad at him.  It seems that as soon as the shaking stopped, his first concern was his 80-foot tower in the backyard.  His wife accused him of checking on his tower before he did her.

Well, the horrible disaster in Japan this weekend was another instance in which I immediately thought of the many Japanese amateur radio friends I have made over the years.  One is Koichi JR1MLT.  I have spoken with Koichi several times and we exchange messages on the reflector group for the hexbeam antenna, which we both use for our shortwave radio work.  He posted this message on the reflector this morning:

It is 11:30AM, Sunday morning here in Yokohama, Japan.  Myself and my family are OK. The antennas and shack are OK as well but many stuffs came fallen down on the floor. Not serious fortunately.
All the trains and public transportations in Tokyo area on Friday were out of operation. It made many people including myself stayed overnight in the offices, etc. I finally returned home Saturday afternoon.
As you heard through the news over one thousand people were killed and/or are missing due to the giant tsunami in mainly JA7 area. It was nothing but unbelievable! But it happened....
Currently the most horrible news is the accident at the atomic power plant in Fukushima (appx. 250 km north of Tokyo) where a very serious conditions at Plant #1 and may be #2 and #3.

The government spokes man is trying to calm down the public but his words smell something wrong....

I sincerely hope things will get well soon but no idea for the time being. Even now some shaking keeps going. I would sincerely appreciate your help and support globally.

Not video on CNN or Fox.  Real words from a friend in a faraway place.  A friend made through this magical hobby of ours.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Future of media gets cloudier and cloudier

Big announcement this week that Clear Channel...which started as a single radio station in San Antonio and is now the largest owner of radio outlets in the world...has purchased Thumbplay, a Pandora-like cloud-based music service.  Why?  Because CC finally understands, unlike most other traditional broadcasters, that listeners will expect to find their media in myriad places, available on a wide range of "devices," so they can consume that media in any way they wish.

I first met Bob Pittman when he was in broadcasting.  He left radio to start a little cable channel called Music Television (MTV).  He later worked with AOL and was unfortunate enough to ascend to the CEO position after the ill-conceived merger with Time-Warner.  Now, he has joined Clear Channel to try to help them understand the rapidly changing nature of media. 

HERE he is interviewed on CNBC's "Power Lunch" about the Thumbplay acquisition and what is happening in media. 

Funny thing is, nobody has it figured out yet.  And when somebody does, it will change the next day.  But somebody has to lead radio into the future.  Pittman is one guy who could do it.  Watch this one.  It could be the harbinger of...not spring, like the first robin...but of the future of mass media.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Are you hungry yet?

Interesting article on Yahoo about how the planet will have to look totally different from space by 2050...a mere 39 years into our future.  See the article HERE.  The premise is that if population growth continues at its current rate, we will either run out of food or have to find radically new ways to produce it. 

Kind of makes me hungry.

The author indicates that capping growth will become more and more a function of government.  People will either be told they cannot have more than 1.7 kids...or whatever the number is to stem growth...or will be rewarded in some way for doing so.

Maybe get an extra slab of meat on their hamburger?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your cost-saving government at work

OK, regulars know that I rarely do anything political on this little self-indulgence I call a blog.  I would usually rather talk about technological change, media and my beloved hobby of amateur radio.  I'm not apolitical, though.  Just hard to pin down or label according to the usual definitions.  Truth is I am way, way conservative on some things and way, way liberal on others.  Add it all up and I guess it puts me--on average--somewhere near the middle.

But our government's proclivity to spend more and more and more money that we don't have is really bothering me lately.  Even with tax season and the usual awareness of how much of my income gets sucked in, I do maintain that I don't mind paying my fair share.  If I had even an inkling that the various governments out there were being good stewards of those involuntary contributions I make.

That's why I thought this bit of whimsy I received in my email today was especially appropriate:

President Obama has given his cabinet instructions to cut $100 million from the $3.5 trillion federal budget!  I'm so impressed by this sacrifice that I have decided to do the same thing with my personal budget. I spend about $2000 a month on groceries, medicine, bills, etc, but it's time to get out the budget cutting ax, go line by line through my expenses, and see what I can do.

I'm going to cut my spending at exactly the same ratio -1/35,000 of my total budget. After doing the math, it looks like instead of spending $2000 a month, I'm going to have to cut that number by six cents!

Yes, I'm going to have to get by with spending $1999.94, but that's what sacrifice is all about. I'll just have to do without some things, that are, frankly, luxuries. I expect all of you to follow the lead of our president and I and make similar sacrifices.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just plain fun

Look, I'll be the first to admit that amateur radio is not a hobby for everyone.  I even wrote an article about the subject for the web site.  But for a bunch of us--and we are not all nerds, geeks, or sparks-for-brains--the hobby offers a lot. 

Some love it for the technical aspect, and the hobby continues to lead the way with new and innovative ways to involve computers, wi-fi, and the Internet with our radios.  (My own things are antennas and propagation, and with the unusual nature of sunspot cycle 24 and how it affects us all in more ways than most folks know, it is a fascinating time for us solar flux watchers!)

Others like radiosport, using their "rigs" in active competition with other hams around the world in contests or chasing operators in rare, exotic places.  (I am a casual contester, too, since it is a good way to learn more about propagation and how my homebrew aerials it is just a lot of fun!  There is a group of hams about to set up and operate on Spratley you never heard of it.  And I talked to a station operating from the Japanese exploration base in Antarctica the other day.  Heck, you can even talk to the International Space Station as it orbits above earth.)

Still others like helping out in emergency situations, and perform valuable public service.  A lot of us simply enjoy chatting with like-minded people around the planet.  (I had an enjoyable conversation ["QSO"] with a fellow in Latvia yesterday, and exchanged signal reports with guys in Namibia, French Polynesia, Latvia, European Russia...and Nashville, Tennessee...just in the last few days.)

Here's a great video of a ham in Melbourne, Australia, showing us his set-up in a park in the city where he just likes to go operate for a while, using solar power and a simple radio station.  You can hear the joy in his voice!

Okay.  Enough selling.  If you are here for more info on the hobby.

Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

That picture of me

I have a photo I use on my web sites and even here on this blog.  It was taken about ten years ago by a photographer from a local daily newspaper (like so many daily papers, it is now defunct) for an article they were doing on me.  When my book editor at St. Martin's Press saw the photo, he said, "That's a good shot.  You should use it as your publicity photo."

Bob Wyatt was seldom wrong so I did.  And now, as I am on the verge of having my daughter-in-law, who is a good photographer, take some new pictures for that use, I am reminded of a telling exchange I had recently with a young person regarding the photo.  An exchange that fits the theme of this blog exactly.

"Don, what is that thing in the picture?" he asked.

Thinking he meant the "old-fashioned" CRT monitor, those big monsters that you can't even give away anymore at garage sales.  I told him.

"No, not that."

"Oh, the mouse," I said.  "There was a time when mice had cords that actually plugged into the computer."

"No, not that," he persevered.  "I mean that black thing over there next to the lamp.  The thing with the twisty cord on it."

Then I realized he was talking about my desk phone.  I tried to explain to him that telephones once had cords that not only ran between the headset and the main part of the 'phone, but had to plug into something in the wall, too.  You couldn't walk all around the house talking because you couldn't get any farther away from the phone itself than the "twisty cord" could reach.

He blinked a few times and finally said, "Yeah, I think my grandma had one of those one time."  I didn't even try to describe rotary dials and such arcane stuff as that.  And I also resisted the impuse to ask him if he was familiar with phone booths.

Do you realize how many people do not even have landline telephones at home anymore?  And will never know about cords, wall plugs, long-distance charges, party lines, telephones without video screens and apps...

Similar thing hit me just yesterday.  A group of us were talking about what our kids and grandkids got for Christmas (my darling Alexa got a Barnes & Noble Nook, bless her heart) and one fellow said his kid got a CD.  A CD album, with songs on it.  She had no idea what it was.  And then Dad realized the only things they had that would play it was their BluRay player or their computer.  Finally, it dawned on them--on the kid first and then her old man--that she needed to get on the computer and put the tracks she wanted into her iTunes folder so she could download them to her iPod.

Have you tried to describe a 33-and-a-third record album or a 45 RPM record to anyone under 30?  Of dragging a needle through a groove on a piece of plastic and amplifying the resulting vibrations as a way of playing music?

Of having to buy a whole album of bad songs to get the one or two that you really wanted to own?

Save your breath for talking on the telephone.

Don Keith N4KC