The Radio Amateur’s Workshop

Make the Most of Your Home Workshop

NEW from the ARRL Bookstore – your guide to setting up and maintaining an efficient at-home laboratory and work station. It describes the tools you’ll need for projects ranging from assembling electronic kits to building and testing antennas. Subsequent chapters look at a wide variety of workshop test equipment, including an explanation of how various instruments can be used to develop, fabricate, and evaluate projects.

Also available in Kindle format.


The Evolution of Google+

Having been an enthusiastic Google+ user since the first day it hit the Web, I’ve enjoyed the features that were deeply embedded in the service. Then I watched as Google disassembled many of those, spinning them off as independent services — like Photos and Hangouts.


It’s most recent evolution has further streamlined things by focusing on those features that have been most embraced by its users. I told you a few months ago that the level of technical discourse on Google+ was unrivaled and now features like that are being fine-tuned and amplified.

Tens of thousands of ham radio enthusiasts have migrated to Google+ and taken up residence in hundreds of specialized communities that have flourished around our many unique activities.

I’m still there, sharing my interests in radio and personal technology every chance I get. Come have a look around and see what all has changed — it’s a whole new world.

Fast Track License Audio Book

I’m an Audible subscriber, Audible being the spoken book company. This month while perusing items that have been selected especially for me, there was an amateur radio related title. That’s unusual because while the Kindle store overfloweth with self-published ditties from ham radio authors, as far as I’m aware, few, if any have transitioned to Audible — until now.

The Fast Track to Your Technician Class Ham Radio License was written by Michael Burnette, AF7KB. Published last year, it’s also available in Kindle and printed form. Online reviewers have given Burnette glowing, high marks on his work.


Being an Extra class operator, I’m not in the market for license study manuals and regularly ignore them. I would have this one too had it not been for the recommendation from Audible. It was easy enough to click and listen to a five-minute (free) sample of the work and while you can’t judge a book by its cover, if I were in the market for a beginners guide, this one would be difficult to ignore.

Studying for any FCC license involves spending time with dry material to be sure, but Burnette sounds like an excellent communicator and steady help for those traversing the desert dry course material. Give the sample a listen and see what you think.

Would you recommend this work to a prospective radio enthusiast? Sound off in the comments.

A Little QRV

I spent a few minutes on the air this morning. According to my log, these were my first contacts since September 13. The SKCC weekend sprint was underway amid the larger chaos of a major contest weekend — the ARRL’s November CW Sweepstakes.

It was great to hear the wall-to-wall activity and only made hunting for the straight keys a little tougher than usual.

Thirty minutes. Five quick contacts. All on 40 meters and of course, all on CW using a straight key. Arizona, Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. Thousands of miles spanned from East coast to West and diving into the deep South from here in the Heartland.

100 watts and a wire — the TenTec Eagle was flying high. Cranking the DSP tight brushed away the SS crowd and it was easy pickings.

Each Weekend Sprintathon (WES) is usually themed for bonus points and this month was no different. Military veterans were being singled out for service and working them brought bonus points. I usually don’t track these and didn’t this month either, though there were some long serving vets in the scrum. One fellow had spent 21 years in the armed forces and I imagine many in the event were covetous of a contact with him for those bonus points.

But contesting is just not in my DNA. Sometimes I lurk in DX contests, but only to work a new one. I’ve nothing against the practice and rather enjoy all the activity it brings to the bands, but my attention span is too short. I can’t stay in the chair for hours on end with cans clamped to my head. That’s why I prefer sprinting. Quick in, quick out, and I really couldn’t care less about scoring or competition.

I guess I’ve just reached a point in my radio experience where I simply enjoy touching the key and getting a response. Doesn’t have to be a faraway contact or a long, fascinating rag chew to make me happy.

Just fist bumping with like-minded souls in the aether.

Cash on the Barrelhead

My Dad was born a few years before the ’29 market crash and grew up during the Great Depression and World War Two. Cash was the way civilized people conducted business in those days and that stuck with him. He always kept enough on hand to live for three months without visiting a bank, and he never borrowed money — except for his mortgage.

He never even had a credit card until the 1980’s when he wanted to visit his brother in California and discovered he couldn’t rent a car without one. That car rental was the only thing he ever used the card for and promptly paid it off. A few years later the issuing bank contacted him and told him if he wasn’t going to use it, they would have to begin charging him an annual fee so he closed the account.

Fast-forward a generation to me. While I share his aversion to EZ-credit, I’m all “in” when it comes to convenience. I’d love to have a chip implanted in my head so I could make purchases without having to carry a wallet.

Like most everyone, we have an ATM card that doubles as a debit/credit card with a VISA logo on it and we use that almost exclusively for daily purchases — food, gasoline, almost everything — for convenience.


That has worked well as the money comes right out of my account, and I don’t have to carry cash or checks.

But this last weekend I visited a Kohl’s Department Store where I picked up a few items that came to $40.66. I paid with my debit card as usual and went on my way. The next day while checking my account online, I saw that they had charged me $40.66 — sixteen times.

$650 had vanished from my checking account.

The department store was much less than helpful in resolving the issue so I turned to my bank. They allowed me to “contest” the charges as inappropriate, however, that process effectively freezes the disputed amount for up to thirty days and my bank told me that it could have been much worse.

My debit/credit/ATM card permits me to “charge” up to $5,000 a day. Had Kohl’s computer “glitch” hit my card 100 times instead of 16, I’d have seen over $4,000 disappear from my account. And since I have agreed to allow the bank to draw from my savings account to prevent my checking account from ever being overdrawn, well, you smell what I’m shoveling.

Needless to say, I won’t be shopping at Kohl’s anymore — and I’m going to quit using the credit/debit card for purchases.

My new modus operandi is cash on the barrelhead.

I’m not suggesting you quit using yours, to be clear this is the first such problem I’ve ever had like this. But it’s sobering to understand that using that card really means you have authorized someone to pluck a lot more money from your account should anything go wonky with the electronic transaction.

At this point in our lives, having $650 lifted from our checking account for 30 days isn’t a crisis. Twenty years ago, when we had a houseful of kids to feed, “stealing” $650 from my checking account and holding it hostage for thirty days might have resulted in me grabbing the shotgun to demand a more immediate solution.

Autumnal Twaddle

The last entry in my ham radio logbook is dated September 13. Time has been in short supply these last few months. Work has demanded lots of hours and travel which has me longing for a return to normalcy. The good news — the holiday season should provide a bit of a respite.

On that note, you know how we all complain about the Christmas decorations that appear in retail stores long before the actual holiday? I’m probably aiding and abetting that bad practice this season as my shopping is nearly complete and it’s not yet Halloween! I just hope I can remember where I hid the presents when the time comes…

I plan to attend the Ft. Wayne (Indiana) Hamfest next month, as usual. It’s the largest in the state and marks the traditional end of the hamfest year in these parts. It’s held in a fantastic facility though like most other hamfests, it has been slowly declining in number of vendors and attendance. I wonder what will be in store this time around? I think we may ultimately lose the “fest” as a ham radio tradition. Conventions on the other hand, where the focus is more on technology transfer and pressing the flesh of DX and Contesting rock stars, are likely to proliferate in the decades that follow.

We’ve been adding gadgets at an alarming rate. The latest is a Keurig single-cup coffee maker. We discussed this purchase at length beforehand and concluded it will save us money. Eventually. We’re in a 37 year routine of making a pot of coffee first thing in the morning and that never goes wasted. But often times, later in the day, we crave a single cup — and end up making a full pot — eventually tossing the unused portion out. The notion here being that the ability to make a single, decent Cup of Joe will be beneficial. I’m skeptical, but was in on the decision making pre-purchase and I suppose the buck stops here. If we’re still using it a month from now, that will be a good sign.

I’m probably the last human on Earth to have (just) finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir (now we can finally go see the movie). In addition, several interesting online articles tickled my fancy this week. Yes, the CIA Director Was Part of the JFK Assassination Cover-Up. John McCone was long suspected of withholding information from the Warren Commission. Now even the CIA says he did. And this one will make you think, The Ethics of Killing Baby Hitler. It’s based on a New York Times Magazine poll that asked whether its readers could kill an infant Adolf Hitler. And then there was this, The Tech Model Railroad Club – the first computer wizards who called themselves hackers started underneath a toy train layout at MIT’s Building 20. All excellent bathroom reading material.

The furnace guy is scheduled out later this week to perform the annual maintenance ritual. It’s time. Though we have been enjoying the warm days and cool evenings immensely, the extended forecast for East Central Indiana doesn’t show the mercury rising again to 70F for as far into the future as they dare to guess. I marvel at the majestic colors of autumn but eventually, someone is going to have to start raking all these leaves off the lawn and I have a bad feeling that “someone” is going to be me.

Don Miller, W9WNV

I finally had a chance to catch up on the recent two-part interview with Don Miller – now AE6IY but formerly W9WNV – from the pages of CQ Magazine. Paul Ewing, N6PSE handled the interview and article (Sept-Oct 2015) and did a fine job, though there wasn’t really much new information to add to Don’s amazing adventures.

Miller operated in those early days before the DXCC program had adopted strict rules. Jumping on a boat and operating ham radio from some faraway island wasn’t common and you could count on one hand the names of those adventurous souls who regularly did that. The game was new and the rules not yet fully baked. Notions that what Don did damaged the DX community are complete nonsense. The bleatings of miserable old goats whose complaints have faded to mere footnotes in antiquity.

But not Don. He is legend. Adventure, courage, amazing radio skills in the days of marginal hardware along with paper and pencil logging. And no spotting networks…

I’ve met Miller twice and have previously written about him and the pioneering days of DXpeditions. Count me a fan. I’m unimpressed with feckless old guys sitting around their shacks, never more than twenty feet from food, while “chasing” DX. The heroes and legends of DX are those who courageously travel to desolate and often dangerous places. And, there’s something about the simplicity of a 1960’s era DXpedition that, to me, shames the modern operation with helicopter landings, tons of supplies and hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment.

I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about W9WNV and I’m impressed. For all I know, Southern Cross might have been written about Miller and Swain’s Pacific adventures…

Got out of town on a boat goin’ to Southern islands
Sailing a reach before a followin’ sea
She was makin’ for the trades on the outside
And the downhill run to Papeete
Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas
We got eighty feet of the waterline nicely making way

The CQ Magazine interview provides a glimpse into the life of a ham radio legend. If you want more, I suggest you download and listen to Don tell his story in his own voice. It’s amazing. You can find the audio files (MP3) and more about W9WNV in the DokuFunk archive online: