Sunday, August 21, 2005
Since I love to read this isn't really a problem as I take along a good book and some magazines and sit in the car and trying to increase my knowledge on some topic or other while I listen to Pod Casts or some good music. With the heat and humidity we were having Friday evening however I chose not to sit in the car and run the air conditioning with the cost to keep the compressor turning at almost three dollars a gallon.
Fortunately for me right across the road from Joann Fabrics is a Borders Book Store. Book stores are one of the very few establishments I can go and just browse for an extended period of time without having anything particular in mind to buy when I went in. It is my version of a woman going into a shoe store. Yes I know that is a sexist remark and a stereotype but cut me a break, I'm old. If you have stayed with me this far and I haven't bored you to tears I'll tell you how this ties into ham radio.
On this particular evening after making a quick run through the book sections that interested me I found myself at the magazine rack near the front of the store. I was drawn to several issues of technical journals that deal with construction of electronic projects like Nuts & Volts Magazine. One of the things that lead me into amateur radio was that fact that I was fascinated with just about anything to do with electricity and electronics. I remember being in grade school and making motors out of wooden frames and coils wound using nails as coil forms and run with six volt lantern batteries. I remember the thrill of hooking up a set of headphones across a crystal diode attached to a very long length of wire on one side and grounded on the other and hearing KDKA among other things.
Latter when I got my novice class license I built several pieces of gear from the folks in Benton Harbor and had a great time doing it.
Most memorable was the Heathkit SB-300 receiver that I received from my parents one year as a Christmas gift. My Dad and I spent a lot of time putting it together and I got a lot of lessons in the history of radio and what the sets were like that my Dad worked on when he was my age. His depth of knowledge never ceased to amaze me. I found this picture of one on a Heathkit collectors site and I hope he doesn't mind me using it here on the blog.
So here I am in Borders and I'm looking at what folks who still tinker with electronic hardware are into in the year of our Lord 2005. The dominate theme seems to be computer control projects and robotics. I am basing this on what is available in the way of reading material that someone is willing to part with hard earned cash for in exchange for the knowledge imparted in print. There were a one of two dedicated to hacking hardware for hard core game players and current issues of CQ which I'm sure has some articles on construction of some type of radio project. The mainstream of the “hardware hacker” press though is interested in servo motors and micro processor based controllers. Those that are tinkering with radio are looking to license free 802.11g equipment to move data back and fourth between those controllers and in some cases the servo motors.
This is the crowd that we need to be pulling into amateur radio. They are a pool of talent that would be a real asset to the hobby. If they found out that those controllers they like to tinker with could be used to position a directional antenna I think they would be interested. You see these guys like hooking things up in the real world and watching it work. That is why most of them are either doing home automation or working on some robotics project. Show them that even with a code free technician license that they can be sending data over long distances without wires or the Internet and you will have their interest. Show them APARS, Packet Radio, remote weather stations, repeater controllers and other possibilities for controlling devices at a distance and they will want to learn more.
I hear constantly about how we need to bring more young people into the hobby and that is a statement that I agree whole heartedly with. I think though if you rely entirely on the “hook” of the “magic of radio” to snag them you are going to come up short of your goal. Especially in the era of cell phones and the Internet. There are still a lot of bright intelligent people out there, and not all of them young, who have an interest in electronics that we should be inviting into the world of amateur radio.
If you know someone like that you don't you give them an invitation? Invite them to a local club meeting or even just over to your shack to let them see what you are up to. Have any old issues of QST or CQ that you are thinking about putting in the recycle bin? Pass them along and don't be shy about ear marking the construction articles. Amateur radio is one of those rare commodities that increases in value as you get more of it. If you make more microprocessor chips each one gets less expensive. Each time you add a new ham to the hobby it is one more person that you can talk to and share interests with. So the hobby as a whole becomes more valuable to the new member. I haven't added any new members to the ranks lately but I am always on the look out. I hope you are also.