Thursday, February 2, 2012

Everyday a Hamfest

In being an amateur radio operator for 20 years, an upcoming hamfest still generates a great level of excitement and anticipation for me.  The combination of seeing good friends as well as hidden treasures adds to this allure of learning something new or finding that one missing piece needed in the hamshack.  Like the holidays, some only get to one hamfest a year.  Others attend several throughout the year in various places with some making the annual trip to Dayton for the World Series of hamfests.  No doubt, whether we attend one or ten a year, we all share the same anticipation for the upcoming hamfest event.  With this level of excitement generated, we can use that same level of excitement and anticipation everyday...having our own personal hamfest everyday.

Without going into a litany of reasons as to why we radio amateurs go to a hamfest, it is certain that nobody ever dreads or complains about having to go to another hamfest.  We may hear this complaint from our better half or non-ham family members, but us radio aficianados treat every hamfest as if it is the only one we will ever go to.  The challenge presented is to live everyday as if it were a hamfest.

Picture a lifestyle where we look forward to interacting with people we chat with everyday on the air.  Most of us have coworkers that we talk and communicate with we present ourselves everyday with that same level of excitement as we do when meeting our fellow hams at a hamfest or while on the air?  We have the ability when we are excited about the early hamfest morning...the trick is to believe that you are living your own hamfest everyday.  Even though we may not get on the radio or have to opportunity to search endless rows of flea market item, but if we change our perspective and believe that we can find, do, or learn something new everyday, we can truly live everyday a hamfest.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tim Tebow and Ham Radio

Over the last several weeks, there has been a great buzz and mystique behind some fellow out of Denver named Tim Tebow.  What is it about this young man that has caught the attention not only of the Front Range of Colorado, but who has captured the attention of a worldwide audience?  By looking at his character traits, mannerisms, and presentation of self, we as radio hobbyists can apply similar techniques to our beloved hobby; what an amazing difference this could make.

At first glance, many would think that Tebow is all about the spotlight and himself.  Many sportscasters are touting that today's game is Tim Tebow vs. the New England Patriots.  When we carefully listen to the countless interviews that he has given, Tebow pushes the attention off of himself and onto his teammates when everything is going right. When things are not going well, Tebow takes responsibility and accountability.  These traits are the key characteristics of a defined leader.  Although leadership traits may be God given, it takes work and dedication by the individual to allow these blessed traits to flourish.

How many times have we allowed ourselves to get caught up in politics or drama at our local club meetings or someone of nuisance (lid, banana) on the air?  How many times have we rolled our eyes at a newbie who doesn't have a clue between a dit and and a dah, let alone how to turn their HT on for power?  It is very easy to jump on the negativity band-wagon..."it's too easy to get a ham license...I had to learn code in order to and so on the repeater talks too much and doesn't have a clue..."  Again, it is very easy to jump on the negativity band-wagon.  Changing our mindset and perspective takes work, patience and dedication to actually want to change our perspective.  It is not that the situation is any different, but it is how we react during difficult situations that can sway victory.  For some in ham radio, swallowing pride may be difficult, but it can be done.  It is a matter of wanting to do it, doing it, then maintaining that consistency in our actions.  Nobody can force you to change your mindset; that decision is yours. 

We all possess the ability to change our mindset and perspective.  That is inherent.  With hard work and dedication, we can allow what is already in our 'internal programming' to flourish.  Obviously, Tim Tebow is not the most mechanically graceful quarterback in the NFL.  More obvious is that he gets the job done.  In ham radio, we have to realize that it is not all about me.  It does not matter how many awards or radios we have.  Today, think about what it is that you can do to help someone or promote our hobby in a positive fashion.  Today is a great day to start...if the opportunity is not there today, remember, there is always tomorrow.  Right now, you have no idea how you can influence the next Tim Tebow.

Go Broncos!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Back to Basics

Being on the dawn of another wonderful Christmas season, my better half and I took inventory of our house and how we can accomplish having more usable space without the financial set-back of adding an addition or coordinating the complete finish to our basement.  With a young and vibrant family, we identified a need to give our kiddies some needed space of their own that would allow them to do homework, study, and also give them the versatility to play their favorite video game (so long as their homework was done and grades were in check).  The good news is that we identified the spare main-floor bedroom as the ideal location.  The bad news, that is where my shack was set up.

By power of her office, my better half utilized Executive Power and the decision was made to move my office and shack set-up to the basement.  In the professional world, I would see this as a demotion, but at the same time, I was thankful to still be in the house.  Remember, the glass is always half-full.

I have a very modest shack set-up...nothing elaborate, but simple.  The challenge of the move was re-running the few runs of coax to the new demarcation point.  Considering the hassle of the coax re-run, I treated myself to a coax upgrade.  With most of that challenge accomplished in an afternoon, it was time to get the rig fired back up and on the air.  Everything was in place and set...good grounding throughout, double checked connectors, etc.  However, getting back on the air was soon to become frustrating.

After double and triple checking everything ten-times over, my SWR remained well out of range across every band.  Something was inherently wrong somewhere.  I quickly looked at possible impeachment of the Chief Executive for commanding such a relocation.  Considering I am solely using my internal tuner of the rig, I thought along the same lines of adding an external tuner along the same mindset of upgrading my coax.  Now the dollars are starting to add up...not that external tuners are very costly, but the frustration of having to spend money towards my rig that was perfectly happy where it resided was the frustrating part.

Then it hit me...the new coax.  Check the length of the former against the current.  Hmmm....a bit short.  Add 12'....CHECK!  Tuning successful on all bands and SWR in-line.  Problem solved.

The lesson learned in all of this...get back to basics.  In my haste to have the new shack set up, it would have taken me 30 seconds to confirm coax lengths needed.  And that nearly cost me $200...did you think I was going to go for the manual tuner?  No way...automatic all the way...and the model to match the rig, of course.

Pappa is happy that his SWR is low.  Momma is happy because she is utilizing her Executive Power and reallocating the funds towards Christmas shopping (I 'love' funny math).  Kiddies are happy to have their own work area and lounge.  Life is good...and the glass remains half full.

Back on the air, chasing more DX and working all states...


Monday, November 14, 2011

Finding the Positive in Disaster

In bad situations, there exists a great gift to be able to find the good.  This is a gift you can give to yourself, but it is simply a matter of making the decision to do so.

When I was first interested in amateur radio, I studied, to what I thought, very thoroughly.  At the young age of 13, I thought I knew the material like the back of my hand; thinking back, I am sure I exhibited a degree of arrogance walking into the testing room.  Needless to say, the first exam element went flawlessly and I was quickly given the second element.  Feeling all too comfortable with myself and being past the half-way point, I was also quick to find out that I had bombed the second element.  My vision and expectation of walking out of the exam room that night knowing I was soon going to be issued a call-sign was gone.  What was harder was that I had four other buddies from the neighborhood that had also studied and all had passed but me.  Did I feel discouraged, you bet.  Was I mad at myself, yes again.  Did I have the thought to quit and not take it again, I absolutely did.

When people come upon a stumbling block or hurdle in their path, they sometimes become discouraged and quit.  Successful people know how to turn these stumbling blocks and hurdles into stepping stones.  A great example of this is the story of Thomas Edison's lab that was destroyed in a fire.   In the early 1900's, Thomas Edison lost a couple million dollars worth of equipment and records documenting his work.  A couple million dollars in the early 1900's??  Imagine what that value is today?  As Edison walked around the still smoldering remains of his lab, he said, "There is great value in disaster; all of our mistakes are burned up.  Thank God we can start anew."

Now here I was, faced with the embarrassment of failing a second element examination when all of my buddies had passed and were anxiously awaiting their ticket from Gettysburg.  My realization was that I was likely studying the wrong way or in the wrong process.  When I had asked my friends on what methods they used to study, what amazed me was that they all told me something different.  Now, I was in a real jam...not only did I not have a clean-cut way to study differently, but the most difficult part was which study method was correct?  What benefit was I gaining in hearing how all of my buddies, who were now happy hams, had studied?  The answer resided in all of their answers.  When I took bits and pieces of what I liked about each of their study habits, I was able to piece together my own method learned from tidbits of their suggestions.  Looking at the disaster in failing, I now had a new way to conquer this beast of an exam...and I did pass a very short time later.

Should we ever pretend that things are always wonderful when they are in fact bad?  Of course not!  Acceptance of disappointment and pain as a part of life is important, just as when I learned I had failed that test and all my friends had passed.  However, if we can see it for what it is, and move past it, while we look disaster in the eye and call it what it is....then find a blessing in it, we can make the best of most bad situations.  The decision to look for ways to study differently kept me away from the demon that wanted me to quit my studying, efforts and desire to be licensed.  The longing to search for the good in a bad situation can and will carry us over life's obstacles and disappointments; it is just a matter of making the decision yourself to do so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Got Cards?

This fellow may be the coolest kid on the block with this killer QSL card collection.  If these were baseball cards, he may have qualified as my idol when I was younger.  With the onset of Logbook-of-the-World, I wonder if he made the conversion?  I highly doubt it...73!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Power of One

For nearly two decades, I have been an amateur radio operator.  The hobby was introduced to me by a middle school science teacher who captured my imagination with this hobby by creating the mystery of the airwaves.  When we stop and think about it, it is truly magical how our voice or digital signal is not only transmitted, but received and deciphered by another radio aficionado.  After twenty years, that same magic and mystery still captures my imagination and all of this was was instilled by one quirky science teacher twenty years ago...the power of one.

With the recent boom in 10 Meter DX activity, I set a goal for myself to achieve both DXCC and WAS before year's end.  A lofty goal, but something that is certainly achievable in between the balancing act of the kids' school activities, competitions, and daily life.  Considering my time on HF has been limited because of the family factors, the recent sunspots have given all radio amateurs renewed excitement.

Being the grandson of Irish immigrants, since becoming a ham in 1992, I have always wanted to have a confirmed QSO with with the Emerald Isle.  Such an opportunity was presented to me a few weeks ago, on October 8th.  Gerry, EI9JU, was working a decent North American pile-up for well over an hour.  With my rig running 50W into a G5RV, I was having little luck getting through the pile-up.  Hearing that Gerry was starting to wear-our from the litany of QSOs that he was having, he happily announced that he had taken his last call and was going to go QRT for the day.  In haste, I called, "Gerry, can you hang in for one more?" and gave my call-sign.  Jerry obviously had a decision to make; acknowledge the one last desperate call...or he could have just as easily shut his rig off and called it quits after a successful afternoon on the air.  How many times have we been presented with this situation not only in our radio activities, but in our lives?  How many times have we heard from a child, "just one more story, please?  The power of one at hand...

With his delicate Irish brogue, Gerry came back to my call for "just one more."  Feeling like I was making my first ever ham radio contact, my voice was filled with excitement, which I am sure that Gerry could sense.  In our short QSO, I explained to Gerry that I have been a ham for two decades and he was my first Ireland contact.  Once we were able to finish our on-the-air 'high-five' for this accomplishment, I told him about the areas where my Grandmother and Grandfather were from in his homeland.  What was great to find out was that he lived all not too far from my Grandmother's home town of Sligo.  I thanked Gerry for hanging in for just "one more" as it was a very special contact for me.  Gerry expressed his thanks to me for being involved in a momentous occasion for a fellow ham.

The story does not particularly end there...a few weeks later, on the eve of my birthday, what I had perceived to be a standard birthday card arrived in the mail.  Considering it had my address on it with a unique identifier of "USA" at the bottom, I was a bit baffled.  Enclosed showed the epitome of class in amateur radio operating.  Gerry obviously was well aware of the enormity of my contact with him.  He enclosed his QSL card with the message "thanks for giving me a reason to keep the old beam up on the tower."  Obviously, Gerry had some serious thoughts of taking the 10M beam down.  With The Power of One at hand, Gerry showed me the class and dignity that I need to possess in not only my operating skills and ham radio manners, but he showed me how powerful "one more" can be...especially as my son is getting really good at convincing me he needs "one more" piece of candy before bed.  At the same time, Gerry will keep his 10M beam up on the tower to give give other Emerald Isle seekers the opportunity for the unique contact.   Bail รณ Dhia ort  to you, Gerry...the Blessing of God on you.