I got tired of updating WordPress, so I built a new static website using
Jekyll. I think it looks better than the old one,
it’s faster, and I dumped Google Analytics so there is no tracking or cookies.
Even the fonts are served locally.
Maybe this will inspire me to write here more often.
Once I decided to buy a radio, there are a million choices out there. I had no
idea what exactly I was looking for, or what I would use, or how fast I would
outgrow it and want something better. I knew I wanted a handheld, and that’s
about it. Many people suggest that you should buy a cheap Baofeng as your first
radio. That way you can expand your skills and learn what you really want and
like before spending a lot of money. I ignored that advice. I figure that I’ll
always want a handheld, so I might as well just get a good one.
After lots of research and looking carefully at many options I chose the
Kenwood TH-D72A. It’s a 5W
dual bander with built in GPS and APRS, and it’s splash proof and dust proof.
I immediately replaced the included rubber duck with a Diamond
SRH320A triband antenna. This
change made a marked improvement in both transmit and receive performance. If
you were wondering if replacing the rubber duck antenna on your handheld is
worth it, stop wondering and just buy a better antenna. Money well spent.
This antenna feels like if you bent it too much, it would permanently deform, or
even worse, break. However, it has proved to be much sturdier than I expected.
It’s been thrown in backpacks with other stuff, tossed in duffle bags with
clothes, and bent every which way, with no ill effects. With the stock rubber
duck antenna, the radio is 11” tall. With the SRH320A, it’s about 18.5” tall.
I have been very happy with this radio and antenna combo. Highly recommended.
When my dad was a kid, he built a ham radio from a kit, and strung up an antenna
to the telephone pole in front of his house. The screw eye he put into the
telephone pole is still there. After starting college, he sold his kit radio so
he could buy shoes.
While finishing his degree in mathematics, my dad purchased one of the first
electronic calculators, a HP-45.
It cost $399 in the early 1970’s, which is about $1,800 today. It could do
arithmetic, which was nice, but the real draw was that it could do trigonometry
and logarithmic functions. This made it much faster and more powerful than the
slide rule it replaced. After graduating, he spent the first half of his career
as a computer programmer, or what today we would call a software engineer.
Father also liked to tinker with stuff. I remember making a killer rubber band
rifle using a jig saw, a few clothes pins, and some surgical tubing. It was
stout enough to break plastic toys, and left a big welt on my brother’s leg when
I shot him with it. My dad gave me an electronics kit, which had various
components soldered on to a big breadboard, with little spring posts attached to
each component. An enterprising youth could use the fistful of colored wires to
create any of the two hundred projects in the included booklet. A little
experimentation led to many other projects, including a doorbell/alarm for our
bedroom, various kinds of sound generators, and a light activated digital
My dad showed me how to use the transformer from my electric train set to make
an incredibly strong electromagnet. Using the same transformer to apply current
to a glass of water (which seemed incredibly dangerous to me), we created
hydrogen and oxygen gasses via electrolysis. He helped me build a battery
powered robot that looked like a turtle with wheels. It could roll around the
floor, and would stop and turn when it ran into things. I named him Bert.
Back then, it cost real money, or a long time, to talk to people far away. Long
distance phone calls were reserved for Mother’s Day and were never long. A
cousin my age, whose dad was a dentist in the Air Force, always seemed to live
far away. For a while they were stationed in the Netherlands. We occasionally
exchanged letters with drawings of our latest spaceships, but it was hard for me
to get excited about and stay focused on anything with a several month cycle
We frequently tuned in to broadcast FM and AM stations, for music, news, and
college football games. In fact, I had constructed my own AM radio using the
electronics kit, but tuning it required a delicate hand. At some point we got a
shortwave receiver. It seemed to have some sort of magic not found in broadcast
radio. Using only the metal telescoping antenna that came in the box, we
occasionally managed to hear far away conversations in languages we couldn’t
understand. We found a Morse Code chart in the Encyclopedia Britannica on the
living room bookshelf, and tried to decipher the sing song tones we heard over
the airwaves, but it was always beyond our skill. I pored over the previously
uninteresting section of the HeathKit catalog (yes, someone has an old
online) which contained shortwave transceivers, and dreamed of converting the
closet under the stairs into my own ham shack. My interest soon waned, and I
moved on to the next fascination.
I now have children of my own, and a modern tinker’s workbench consists of a
computer, Minecraft, a quad copter drone, and a 3D printer instead of resistors
and a soldering iron. The Internet makes communication with people on the other
side of the planet commonplace and instantaneous. Podcasts and Spotify have
replaced broadcast radio for the rising generation. But my father still listens
to NPR on an old shortwave radio, and I still find magic in amateur radio.
I finally decided to get a license. To my delight, the Morse Code proficiency
requirements had been removed. After few days of studying and a couple of online
practice tests and I headed off to take the Technician exam. The week I had to
wait between passing the exam and receiving my call sign seemed like forever.
Now we have a different word for tinkerers; we call them makers. Whatever you
call it, I love to play around with stuff. Amateur radio is an integral part of
that tinkering for me.