Category Archives: radio

The Trail

A silly Rottweiler sniffs at a trail sign.

Most days are ending with a turn through the park. 3 to 6 miles of terrain with some amount of gear and a large puppy. The first run through the park with what will be the bulk of my gear for the backpacking trip was pretty good. I remembered why I loved this particular pack. It’s 50L and will more than hold what I need it to hold. Certainly better than a half-empty 75L pack would.

With the optional radio gear, it isn’t too bad. Given that the longest day is set to be about 12 miles, I think taking the radio will be worth it. Not taking it would, in some small way, invalidate having purchased it at all. Not really, but that’s one way to talk myself into the extra weight. And more importantly, I’m learning that this pack and the gear that I’ve selected will likely be perfect for summer conditions in most settings. Depending on the circumstances, a tent might be preferable to the hammock setup (imagining a place with no good trees) but that might go in a separate bag on a bike.

Yes, the thoughts are trending toward bike packing. I doubt that I will do any this summer as my current bike is really only good for paved surfaces, but in the fall (assuming a new bike is available) I could probably squeak in one quick weekend just to see how it feels and to scratch the itch.

In the meantime, backpacking and doing portable radio seems like a good way to spend some summer.

The Old Magick

An ESP32 chip with OLED displaying the time and date set by NTP over WiFi.

Not thinking about the Strange Days is more and more my hobby. To distract myself, I peel the onions within my more physical hobbies. A good hobby has layers and each one could be its own area of recreation. Radio is great in that regard.

I have a microprocessor that came on a development board with an OLED display. It is WiFi and Bluetooth enabled. I put together a small program to grab the time from an NTP server and display it. I put power to the chip, it connects to my WiFi, grabs the time, and shows it. Incredibly simple. But in that chain, how many things could I not recreate from scratch?

That’s where it falls down for me. I don’t think that I could pull together what I’d need to reproduce such a function. I know how the components work and could do a block diagram, sure. Obviously, I can write code. But could I do it all from nothing? No.

Radio is a little different. One can still assemble a pile of resistors, capacitors, and coils and make a functional radio. Each of those pieces can be fabricated using simple materials. It really is the basis of so much tech. And there are books that can take one from nothing to a functional radio, given time and patience. It’s wonderful to play with that power and absorb that knowledge. It really feels like mastering a kind of magic – the old kind from legends and the deep past.

It’s a sickening feeling, but it feels like we as a culture are on the edge of losing things. Hard earned knowledge and a respect for curiosity are threatened. Perhaps it’s time to enhance all of our personal libraries where we can with books that hold the basics. We may yet need them.


The head unit of an IC-7100 radio tuned to 14.074 MHz.

Right. Wrong blog again.

When I first got into the ham radio hobby, I was living in PA. My dad talked me into joining PCARS which was the club where he was a member. I regularly attended nets put on by local clubs, but when I went to meetings, I felt really out of place. I would join the PCARS net using EchoLink which is a way for hams to use the internet to reach distant repeaters. The club was always welcoming and very friendly.

When we decided to move, I figured I would get to enjoy some of the events in person. We were never able to make it out to an event when we were out of state, but it should have been easy after the move. But, of course, nothing worked out that way.

Every year, the radio guys get their mobile rigs together and head out to an A&W. They park in an adjacent lot and mill around talking about mobile radio. I have a radio in my Jeep! I want to talk too! Because it was outdoors and the prevailing demographic in the club is older, I asked my dad if he wanted to go. He was definitely on board. We talked my son into going by promising a root beer float.

The three of us drove out to the A&W. We got our floats. Masked, we stood around at a respectful distance from one another and talked about EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) transmissions on 40m (a radio “joke” thing) and the tower work that was starting up for various members as fall enters the collective consciousness. It was my first club event. Just a bunch of people standing around a parking lot talking about radios. Not much. But it felt “Normal”? It was good.

I know that I won’t go to an indoor event – that’s just out of the question. But for something like the cruise in, it was definitely worth getting out of the house. It was something I didn’t know that I needed until I was there. Being mindful and conscious of emotional needs is a difficult thing.


ARRL Extra Class License Manual

If I look back on it, the real reason that I started poking at ham radio to begin with was entirely to do with stress at work. I needed a place to apply my brain that I could pick up and put down without guilt, fear, anxiety, or loss. Most people might have once described that as a hobby. But our culture has become increasingly hostile to the idea of recreation for its own sake. For all of the talk of Self Care, there are still people talking about what side hustle they are going to develop during These Strange Times. That’s an illness.

What’s the cure? I think it starts with reclaiming some space for fun. Fun that doesn’t come with pictures of sunsets from inside of a tent or a perfectly posed photo of children picking up a flower. That space that seems to be missing is in the empty spots between pictures and stories. They’re the things we do to make ourselves whole again. Those deep breaths between the long series of sprints that make up the marathon that is life in 2020.

I can safely say, that in terms of personal accomplishments, I hadn’t done much for myself in many, many years up until I walked into the Ben Wilson Senior Center to take my test for the Technician License. Most of my achievements were around family or work. But the studying I did between calls and the books I read before bed were little bits of me being reclaimed. And when I walked out of the exam with a perfect score and my ticket in hand, it felt amazing.

I hadn’t felt that way in so long that I couldn’t remember the sensation. It was personal pride mixed with excitement and a huge dash of accomplishment.

No one but me cared at all. And I smiled all the way home.

Now that we’re in The After Times, I’ve decided to grab the manual for the last rung on the ladder. I want to hit that Extra Class. I don’t care if I make it by one point on the test, I want to do it. So I will. And again, no one will care but me. And that? That’s the point.

Staying Sane

Label for Phaser 20 meter Digital Mode Transceiver Kit

Here we are, in the After Times. The Strange Days. As a resident of Gen X, I was promised that the apocalypse would be swift and that there would be an immediate free fall into chaos. As it turns out, the apocalypse we got is more of a slow settling to the bottom of the ocean. Thoughts like these are prompting me to look for ways to fill the hours. Reading is always a good use of time (see also: books I cleared off of the pile last week) but it still brings thoughts with it that might not be the best for the times. What’s a body to do?

If I were so inclined, I’d be working on handicrafts. I’m not very good at that. I’ve done some tree pruning. I’ve installed a bird feeder. I’m poking around at the things in the house that need doing, but that’s not very recreational now, is it? It doesn’t feel like it.

There was a time when I would solder something together at least once a year. Synthesizer kits. Effects pedals. Winding my own pickups for guitars that were never finished. Right now seems to be a renaissance of kits for radio amateurs. Yes, the original “Social Distancers” have a lot to choose from these days. So I threw in and picked up this kit. It only does FT8 and one other mode (I’m going to try JS8 for this one). It only works on 20m. And it looks like it’s fairly simple to assemble, test, and get on the air.

A little time spent staring at tiny parts with a soldering iron in my hand will hopefully bring some much needed mental quiet. That’s the name of the game.

There will be more on this as I build it on The Other Blog That I Don’t Update Much.