Road Hog

Our world is awash in technologies that in some way touch upon, or originate with, ham radio. Whether it is wireless internet, or GPS, many of our technologies owe something to ham radio. In fact, when it comes to RF devices, you would be hard pressed to find something that didn’t have its start with amateur radio. However, not all devices are alike, and people have become more dependent upon some than should be the case. GPS is one of them.

GPS is short for Global Positioning System, and has its origin in APRS, or Amateur Packet Reporting System, which borrowed from military doppler shift tracking during the era of Sputnik. Initially, it was intended as a tool to help emergency responders, and also had some use with various radio clubs for Field Day use. However, if there is a technology, it can be commercialized, and APRS was quickly commercialized into GPS, with the first handheld commercial unit being the Magellen NAV 1000.

Now, why would a blog that is, supposedly, dedicated to tube radios talk about GPS? That is a fair question, and worthy of a good answer. The honest answer is that people have become too dependent upon GPS devices, to the point in which they ignore road signs and many don’t even know how to read a proper map any more. It is sad that recent Boy Scout handbooks now address the subject of using a GPS for direction finding, and just barely mention the use of a proper map and compass. However, it gets much worse.

Along the Puyallup River, there is a bridge located at 66th Avenue. It is a small bridge with a single lane in either direction. This bridge was built in 1931, and is still in service today. However, as farm land has given way to warehouse space, there has been a very dangerous trend of truck drivers using this bridge for crossing from Levee Road on the Fife side of the Puyallup River to access River Road (Highway 167) on the Puyallup side of the river. So dangerous is this trend that Pierce County had an ordinance prohibiting any vehicle with a trailer longer than twenty eight feet on the bridge, and there are cameras on the bridge to record offenders.

However, even with signs posted warning of the ordinance, many truck drivers still take the risk of crossing this bridge. Why? Because their GPS device is telling them that the bridge is best route. I have seen, and nearly been part of, many near collision events due to truck drivers taking this bridge. I have also seen many an instance in which drivers get stuck on the bridge, all because their truck was too high, and they were following the advice of the GPS, all the while, ignoring the warning signs.

I won’t lie, I do use the built-in GPS that my Boost Mobile device comes with, but only when I am trying to get someplace that isn’t necessarily on a map, and there are no obvious road signs directing me to the place I am going. Otherwise, I still use paper maps for many places that I want to go, along with road signs. I also use Google Maps to print directions that I can follow. I don’t rely upon the GPS device, especially because you can’t always get it to recalculate your route when roads are closed or traffic is otherwise interrupted.

GPS may be helpful, but when one relies too much upon it, all it is does is become little than an electronic leash, telling you where to go. If you are a truck driver, and mindlessly following the instructions it gives you, it may well be that you are putting others at risk and have now become a Road Hog. Please disconnect from the GPS and double check the map, and read the road signs. Over dependence on GPS is a form of distracted driving, and it puts us all at risk.

Market Ham

Every year I like to attend/work the K7LED Mike and Key Radio Club flea market. I really enjoy seeing what is being sold and catching up with old friends that I don’t see often. This last year, I bought myself a new soldering tool. I also picked up an older solid state two meter transceiver (yes, I know that this blog is dedicated to tube rigs and other such things, but a tube rig would be a bit big for bicycle operations). Currently the radio doesn’t work. However, the is often the case with used gear that is found at a flea market, and that is part of what makes this hobby so wonderful. It is often great fun to repair/restore an older radio to full function. I heartily encourage that if you can attend a flea market, and particularly an amateur radio flea market, that you do so. We ham really can have fun with these. In fact, we often have more fun than a hog in a bog.

Steamed Ham

I have had a fascination with the genre of Steampunk for some time now. However, I was less than impressed with an episode of the competitive series “Steampunk’d”. Grammar issues aside, I didn’t like the episode in which a wardrobe closet was built. In the episode, there was a very painful misrepresentation of radio.

Let me explain. The two teams were required to build a wardrobe. This doesn’t both me. What bothered me was when they reach the part of the episode in which an explanation of the build is given. The team with only three people built a rather awkward room and costume. The costume had a globe valve on the front of it. The explanation given was that it was to tune to other radio channels to call for help. I should mention that the room was themed as “Royal Garrison”. Please excuse my disgust, but a water valve is NOT a VFO, or even a shoddy surrogate for one.

The simple truth of the matter is that radio may have been invented as early as 1895, and is credited to Guglielmo Marconi, the fact is that the distance for a radio signal was exceedingly short, and it was Morse Code only. In fact, the first trans-Atlantic Morse Code transmission would not be until 1901. Additionally, tuning would have been very limited, for though the variable capacitor was invented in 1893 by Dezső Korda, it’s full application wouldn’t be seen for several years after the first trans-Atlantic transmission. Add to that the first voice transmission wouldn’t be until 1906, which would be after the end of the antebellum age, and you find that voice over the radio is almost inappropriate for Steampunk.

Is there room for radio, and voice transmission, in Steampunk? Yes. However, it must be presented as an alt-history scenario, and it must not be misrepresented. When dealing with radio, even in a cosplay, it must be done responsibly. Simply put, if you don’t know and understand radio, don’t talk about it as if you do. The simple truth is, you are very likely to upset somebody who is knowledgeable, and actually has experience doing what you don’t really know or understand.

What does this mean? Realistically, it is just a rant. I really hate seeing radio misrepresented. This is precisely what happened in season 2, episode 4 of “Steampunk’d”. Additionally, not only did they misrepresent radio, they misrepresented the proper use of a globe valve. I will say that had the globe valve been used to “control the flow of plasma” to the costume’s “weapon”, I would not have taken issue with it. However, to say that it was used as a radio to call for help, I have no option but to take issue. However, I will let the reader decide for themselves.

Steampunk’d Season 1 Episode 4. The affront to radio begins at the 26 minute mark.


If it was up to me, I’d demand an apology from that particular team for how they misrepresented radio.

Note to critics: I have been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1998, and I have built several radios, both locked frequency and variable frequency. I have also studied the history of radio, and will be quite happy to argue that radio is more product of the diesel era than that of the steam era, as it is the diesel era in which voice transmissions and tuned circuits really belong.

Interesting Interested Ham

Volunteering with the local club at the county fair can be an interesting experience. This has been the case for me over the last few years while helping at the Puyallup fair. Anyone that knows me knows well that I am not too fond of the Puyallup fair these days. Why? I simply feel that it has become way too commercialized. Think of it as being like the Dayton Hamfest, with a roller coaster, but not a radio in sight. I cringe at that thought.

As myself and another ham operator sat in the booth for the local club, I noticed something that seemed rather odd to me. I have long held that amateur radio is for anyone, and everyone. However, it is always very interesting to see who is willing to come up and ask about it.

I have noticed that the greatest amount of interest in amateur radio comes from males. Of that group, married males of retirement age are more likely to look into amateur radio than married males who are still raising children. Likewise, single males are more likely than married males to ask about amateur radio. Of the women, older women are more likely than young women to ask about radio. Women who grew up around amateur radio, regardless of age, are more likely to ask than those who have never been exposed to it. Teenagers tend to be the less likely than pre-teens to ask about radio.

I can’t really say why this trend, which is what I call it after years of observation, exists. I do have a thought about why teens are less likely than pre-teens to ask about radio. It is quite simple. Today’s teens are spoiled. They have mobile devices that tend to be reliable, are capable of nearly instant access to all forms of media, and there is no test to take, just pay your money and run.

However, don’t tell them that their devices aren’t reliable in a disaster. Depending upon where you live, you might encounter any manner of hostility. I happen to live along the Cascadian Subduction Zone. If you have read the September edition of QST magazine, you know full well that FEMA recently conducted an earthquake drill in the Pacific Northwest based upon the likely event of a rupture of this particular fault line, a rupture that is already better than 50 years overdue.

I find that very few people can acknowledge that mobile devices will fail during a disaster, and fewer still that are willing to discuss it and how to maintain communications during such disasters. Part of the problem is that, at least where I live, too many people have a mindset of “it will never happen here”, and have been lulled into a false sense of security. The sad fact is that for many in my region, disasters are something that happens somewhere else, all we get is that occasion snowstorm (which can also be a disaster, but denial is full effect there too).

Unfortunately, even discussing the potential for disasters can be a turn off for those who might otherwise be interested in ham radio. I suppose that when it comes down to it, knowing whom you are discussing amateur radio with helps, but it is not a reliable factor in determining interest. In fact, better than half the people we spoke with, regardless of age or gender, only wanted to know where the restrooms were, or where the giant pumpkins were. No interest at all.

I don’t know that there is any real way to spur more interest in amateur radio. The advent of mobile media devices, with their near instant connection to everything, has spoiled many. Even knowing the vulnerabilities of these devices, or how amateur radio played a part in their development doesn’t seem to help. Perhaps all we can do is wait, wait until an earthquake or volcanic eruption hits before people will be interested, and by then, it will already be too late.