Tag Archives: Long Now

In the works

Mid May, two months since the last post. What have I been up to?

Of course, I have been doing the regular VE sessions, but other than that… Packing. Lots of packing. We have been planning on relocating for several years now but time has finally arrived that we are moving forward pun intended.

We don’t want to move in the winter and we don’t want to wait another year so… we are gearing up for a move sometime soon. One of the best ways to get ready is to start filtering through all of the stuff that has accumulated over the last 21 years we have been here.

As we shed truck-loads of stuff we just don’t need to Savers and Goodwill, we have been packing up the things we can do without for a few months. Having a bunch of other stuff on the brain, the ham shack, or most of it anyway, was one of the first things to get boxed. So for now, no electronics lab. Nearly all of my test equipment is boxed up. We are up to 40 boxes, filtering and packing more every day.

Lest you think I’m ignoring radio, I have been gearing up to be more active in ARES, RACES, NTS, Skywarn, and CERT by taking a lot of FEMA/DHS classes that are prereqs for various organizations. I am also scheduled to take a BLS class in two weeks which includes CPR, AES and more. I want to add a variety of EmComm instruction to my growing list of classes offered in the near future so I am ticking down the long list of prereqs and associated training.

In a somewhat side related area, I also recently acquired my Remote Pilot certificate with Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems rating. Basically, a commercial UAV pilots license in addition to my commercial airplane pilot certificate. This will allow me to do aerial photography and inspections for pay with a UAV/UAS. And what might I be taking pictures of and inspecting, radio towers???? Possibly.

Anywho, I wanted to post an update so you didn’t think I had abandon radio or the site. I just don’t have a lot to post about other than classes and ratings. I will be doing a mobile install of my FT-817 with a quad-band antenna sometime soon so I will plan on posting about that soon. I may also be posting some short subject videos in the near future as well.

Til next time, 73

The Future of Amateur Radio

children are the futureGoing through Yahoo group posts this morning I came across something on the Ham Instructors group that caught my attention, a discussion on the demographics of new hams and whether or not the focus for recruiting should continue to be centered on the idea that children are the future of ham radio.

Many hams, maybe even most hams, share a basic story line. They got interested in radio as a pre-teen or teen, usually exposed to radio by family, friends, or social event. Most drift away from radio as they go through various stages of life when they are swamped with the normal stuff life tends to throw at us all, school, marriage, having kids, career, the usual. Later on as things settle down radio creeps back into their life. Some manage to get licensed during that early exposure, some end up waiting several decades before getting a ticket.

In my opinion, providing the young an opportunity to catch the radio bug is the best bet. They may never actually get an amateur radio license and their attention may turn down many different paths. But the likelyhood of that exposure being beneficial to the amateur radio community down the road in some other form is immense. They would at least have some understanding and appreciation for amateur radio and its benefits to the community at large.

While I think the positions presented in the Yahoo group and associated blog posts K0NR and KB6NU are certainly worth looking into in greater depth, I think there is a more pressing matter that may affect the future of amateur radio.

Why is amateur radio experiencing a huge upswing? Basic statistics show the upswing began in 2008 shortly after the FCC dropped the code requirement for all amateur licenses. Wheather or not that decision was good for the service I will leave alone for now.

My ham path followed a derivation the one I described above. I got interested in radio as a teen back in the 80s but didn’t get my license until I was 46, only in part because of the code requirement. My reasons for finally getting my license were centered on personal emergency preparedness, serving the community, and to have fun experimenting and building RF electronics.

As a Volunteer Examiner I participate in license exam sessions and it seems that the predominant reasons for taking the license exams generally follow along with the age ranges:

Retirees & Pre-retirees are either upgrading an existing  license, had a licence but it expired and are getting back into the hobby, or always wanted to but hadn’t gotten around to it till now. Or you could say, the story we are so familiar with.

20s & 30s seem to be engineering students or engineers, Makers who have projects that require a license, or preppers.

Teens and under seem to either be in a social program like a school club or scouting. A few come from dedicated ham families.

Pretty much what you might expect, but there are a couple that might have an effect on the ham future landscape. Two categories that could pose concern.

I’ll start with Makers. By in large these are folks who embody the early spirit of amateur radio, they like to build stuff. While they bring to the table that early spirit of radio, how many of them participate in the radio community? Are they here because of one project they might need to be licensed for, or are they going to keep renewing their license and play radio alongside other Maker pursuits? Either way, I am glad they are here now. They do indeed advance the science and art of radio. Down the road however the passing interest MakerHam may drop the Ham part altogether.

The other group is of particular interest, preppers. My hats off to them if they actually get licensed, many more don’t. It is common practice for prepper groups to buy cheap Chinese ham-band radios and use them regularly on FRS/GMRS radio frequencies which is illegal, at least when it is not an emergency, but they are much less likely to get busted for that than using amateur frequencies without a callsign.

One thing to consider is the term prepper. There is a massive range of people who consider themselves preppers that covers the entire spectrum from keeping some extra food and water along with a flashlight, first aid kit, and blanket, something we all should have at a minimum by the way, to the massive underground hords and compounds guarded by paramilitary groups.

Another consideration is, do they further the science and art? Do they participate? If so, welcome aboard.

I mention these two groups of people not to place judgement, but rather to ask if they are a part of the ham community. The reason for asking is, what happens if they don’t renew their licenses? There was concern that the ham community was dwindling away, leading to a loss of tribal knowledge. What happens when non-invested license holders don’t see the benefit of keeping an unused license? Or just forget about it?

Amateure radio has been experiencing an unprecidented growth spurt over the last 8 years. We still have two years to go before the early no-code era hams begin to cycle for renewal. I would imagine the first few years after the start of the second ten-year cycle won’t see much of an effect either way, but what happens in 2020? Will we start to see a roll-off?

In general, we seem to be more focused on recruiting rather than retention. Back in the day, the code requirement acted as a filter. People with only a casual interest in amateur radio were less likely to pursue it. While it worked fairly well as such, it also filtered out people interested in radio, just not cw. Now we have no filter at all. The only impediment to getting licensed is $15 and some time studying the relatively small question pool. You can be a Technician class licensee in short order.

In life, most things are more valuable when you have to pay for them, monetarily or by blood, sweat, and tears. Personal commitment to seeing it through establishes the value. This basic principle would indicate that removal of the code requirement and as some would say, lowering the bar on the knowledge test, the sweat equity has been removed or at least lessened thereby the value, at least the perceived value for the licensee.

So now we have several issues to contend with; keeping the number of licensees up, ensuring that they keep their licenses renewed, and keeping some level of commitment to the hobby and community at large.

Frankly, I have no idea how to accomplish any of these. I don’t think we have enough data. Too many things have changed in the hobby in the last decade and we still don’t have any results from what I think may be the most impacting factor, the dropping of the code requirement. In all honesty, I doubt if we can even begin to answer these questions until 2020 and the effects can be quantified.

In the meantime, we should continue to do as we have always done, inspire and encourage the youth, at any age. Encourage fellowship among the community, Elmer whenever possible, maintain the highest personal standards, and reach out and engage the radio community and the general community at large.

The Amateur Radio preservation mantra,
“Engage, Inspire, Encourage, Educate, Participate”


Lab Book Conundrum

I have been doing a fair amount of homebrew electronics projects as of late and I am coming to a point where I need to address documentation. With my woodworking projects I really don’t worry too much about documentation. Some projects don’t even have plans beyond a couple of dimensions on a post-it note.  Electronics projects are a bit different.

So far my projects have been taken from articles online, from magazines, and from books. I have kept hard copy of the designs for the most part, and any changes or additions I may have made have been noted on the hard-copy or attached as separate sheets.

Now that I am delving into the world of bigger projects and doing tests of the circuits beyond continuity at various stages in the build I should be keeping more in depth notes with test results and the like. The question is in what form should these note be. There are so many options that I’m just not sure which route to go.

DigitalDelemaThe obvious choice is an electronic notebook. I use OneNote currently and have used Evernote in the past. A part of me is a bit paranoid about data loss, so exclusively electronic notes make me uncomfortable.

I do regular backups and I keep redundant sets of data, but there is always the contingency you didn’t or couldn’t prepare for. There is also something to be said for Long Now thinking when it comes to data storage. I have come across a lot of stored data in formats and on hardware that are now very difficult to retrieve and if you manage to get the data out, the big question is will it be complete.

Any body remember 5¼” floppy discs? How about 10″ floppies and 8-track tapes?

This of course leads me to a hybrid solution. Digital notes occasionally printed out to hard copy and kept in binders.  It’s not like I’m doing any cutting edge work or something involving national security, but if I have learned nothing else in life, I have learned this, you never know where things will lead or when you will need information you have gathered. Data hoarder, maybe.

How long is long?
How long is long? This book is over 100 years old.

One definite advantage to digital notes is the ease in which that data may be shared. Another is the ease in searching through pages upon pages of notes for a specific piece of information. How about the ease in linking to other resources rather than copying that data, though this is a double edged sword. If data is not long-tail, it may not remain at its current location for very long. How long is long anyway? There is also the typographical concideration; typed notes are much more legible, by my hand anyway, than handwriting or printing.

Time for a little more research and thinking, the clock is ticking …