Building Stuff

anything that produces solder smoke in the shack is better than living the life of an “appliance” operator

It would be easy to declare that the weather has been “weird” around here. But that’s lost all meaning since it’s been this way for much of the last decade. And then there’s the weather in Australia that makes our anomalies seem tame.

But lots of rain and temperatures in the 50-60F range during most of December and January in Central Indiana isn’t normal. A lot of folks seem to be loving it. Those who whine at the first appearance of a snowflake. Weak humans. Me, I enjoy winter weather and am disappointed, but it’s more than that.

It would be like if all the birds fell out of the sky dead one day and local residents celebrated the reduction of bird poop to scrape off their automobiles, without considering for even a moment, why the birds died. I don’t think these warm winters without snow are anything to celebrate, I think it means something bad is brewing…

No matter, 50F and nearly constant rain has kept me in the house more than I would like and that has triggered the desire to build something, like maybe a new kit. Here’s one that’s created a lot of buzz so I ordered one to give me something to do on these long, sickly warm, and nearly always moist winter evenings when the sun goes down at 5:30pm.

Like most hams, I’ve become an appliance operator. The excuse for not building things anymore is much the same all over, it’s become too difficult to find parts so why not just purchase commercially manufactured equipment? And that lame excuse has prevented me (and maybe you?) from taking part in one of the more interesting facets of the hobby that I used to enjoy, building stuff.

But it’s not only the excess indoor time that has me anxious to fire up the soldering tools. The January 2020 edition of the Cheese Bits newsletter included an article by Rick Campbell, KK7B entitled Hot-Rodding Radio Gear – a bit of nostalgia AND some observations on current trends in RF design. Campbell has gone back to educating students in an “attempt to pass along skills and attitudes that will help the next generation of Analog/RF/Microwave engineers progress into the mid-21st century”

It’s a great article and I recommend you read it, but it includes rather pointed commentary that hits home:

In the Sputnik era, every radio amateur knew how to start with a CW transmitter and modulate the final amplifier to put a voice signal on the air. Those questions were on the exam. Then came SSB and VHF-FM, and endless editorials about how radio amateurs need to embrace new technology and abandon outdated modes. Yes, SSB ushered in a new era in amateur radio—the era when 100% of radio amateurs became appliance operators. A decade later, FM did the same thing to VHF. Be honest: when was the last time you made a contact with an FM or SSB transmitter you designed and built?

The latest trend in RF engineering is use of COTS, “Commercial Off The Shelf” hardware. Not only have radio amateurs become appliance operators, but professional radio “designers” just string together a set of available commercial modules. Who designs the modules?

Ouch. That hurts a little, but he’s not wrong. And while assembling a little 30 meter transceiver kit doesn’t rise to the level of RF design, anything that produces solder smoke in the shack is better than living the life of an “appliance” operator on a full-time basis.