The Amateur Amateur

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The Amateur Amateur is a column about my experiences in ham radio. Since I have little technical expertise and not much knowledge of electronics, I make a lot of mistakes. I consider myself to be just an amateur amateur radio operator, but I keep pressing on and trying new things. This column details my triumphs - and foibles - and I try not to take myself too seriously. Whether you are an experienced ham or new to the hobby, I hope you find these chronicles of my efforts to be entertaining.

Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

November 2015

The Amateur Amateur: Freqenstein's Monster

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H and Nancy "Mary Shelley" Hoffman, N0NJ

Doctor Henry Freqenstein and his faithful assistant Fritz sat quietly in the cemetery and watched the activity across the street. It was a gray, gloomy day and very few of the hamfest attendees had ventured outside to view the offerings of the parking lot vendors.

"Patience, Fritz, they'll be leaving soon," the doctor said.

A short while later people began to exit the building and head for their cars. They were followed by vendors ferrying unsold items out to their vehicles. Freqenstein and his lackey watched intently, but their focus was not on the attendees nor the vendors.

It was on the dumpsters.

Sure enough, every now and then a vendor would steer his cart directly to one of the trash receptacles, and with a look of disgust throw in at least one of the items he'd failed to sell.

An hour later the last vehicle left the parking lot. Freqenstein and Fritz left the cemetery and hurried across the street. They flipped open the lid of one of the large steel containers and climbed in. Within moments they were struggling to hoist a large military-green box out of the trash.

Freqenstein paused for a moment and leaned his head against the box, as if listening.

"Just resting," he said softly, almost lovingly, "waiting for a new life.."

* * *

That night Fritz broke into a radio museum. Doctor Freqenstein had given him very specific instructions on what to do. He was to locate a particularly rare radio, open it up, and carefully extract its crystal. This crystal was the key element to the doctor's experiment.

Fritz followed his orders precisely, but as he was leaving a talking clock in the museum intoned, "It is now midnight". The startled lab assistant dropped the crystal, which broke into a million pieces. Panicky, he grabbed the nearest radio, tore open the casing, and ripped out its crystal.

* * *

Days later the storm that Doctor Freqenstein had been waiting for arrived. He paced around the makeshift laboratory he'd built in an old abandoned radio station rubbing his hands and grinning. Donning earphones, he listened with glee to the SKYWARN reports of heavy lightning. His experiment was about to come to fruition.

Just then there was a loud banging at the door.

"Fritz! Whoever it is, tell them to go away!"

Moments later three people trooped uninvited into his laboratory.

"Henry! What are you doing!? You were supposed to meet me to look at color swatches for the bridesmaids' gowns!" his fiancée Elizabeth complained as she briskly shook the rain from her umbrella.

"I say, Henry old man, what's with all the aerials on the roof? They all seem to be humming with energy and some of them are actually glowing!" said his best friend Victor. He placed his rain-soaked hat on a nearby Van de Graff generator where it was instantly vaporized.

"Young man, you are playing with forces you do not understand," Professor Wavelength, Freqenstein's old university tutor said as he cautiously stepped away from the other two. "What is it you hope to accomplish with these dangerous experiments?"

Henry Freqenstein gritted his teeth in frustration. He took a deep breath and calmed himself.

He smiled smugly and said, "I am going to revive the dead band."

Thunder crashed as if to punctuate his statement. The three visitors stared at him in horror.

"You're crazy," Victor said, looking around for his missing hat.

"Crazy, am I? You'll see," Freqenstein replied. He gestured for them to sit.

He stepped over to a table in the center of the lab. Something bulky rested there, shrouded by a sheet. He removed the covering to reveal...

...everyone gasped...

...the body of a man. But instead of a head it had what appeared to be a homebrew radio transceiver mounted on its neck.

"Doctor, I understand the radio, but why have you placed it on a body?" the Professor asked.

"I wanted a mobile unit."

"You're crazy," Victor said again, and this time Elizabeth nodded vigorously.

"You killed someone just so you would have a body to carry around your radio!?" Wavelength gasped.

"No, of course not," Freqenstein recoiled. "That is the body of a zombie."

"What did you do with its head?"

"Oh, I killed it. It kept moaning 'braaaains', so I placed it in front of a television set, tuned to a political debate, and it soon died of starvation."

"Thank heaven for that," Wavelength muttered, everyone nodding in agreement.

"Master, the storm!" Fritz cried.

Freqenstein turned. "Quickly, the skylight!" he yelled.

Fritz cranked open the skylight. Freqenstein pulled a lever that had once been part of an ancient elevator.

"Going up," said a mechanical voice, as the table began to rise.

"Mezzanine: Ropes, cables, large electrical switches."

The table continued upwards.

"Top floor: Girders, bats, various sparking devices."

The table passed through the skylight and stopped.

"Rooftop: Wind, rain, lightning, secret life-giving forces of the universe."

A rapid succession of lightning flashes came through the skylight accompanied by a staccato of earsplitting thunderclaps.

Freqenstein reversed the elevator lever.

"Going down. Top floor: Charred girders, lots of bat poop."

The table slowly descended.

"Mezzanine: Same as before."

The table settled onto the laboratory floor.

"Ground floor: Mad scientist, hunchback assistant, observers with their jaws hanging open."

"Eew! Smells like burnt zombie," Elizabeth said, wrinkling her nose and pulling out a handkerchief.

The dead hand of the zombie twitched. Everyone unconsciously leaned forward. It twitched again.

"What does it mean?" Victor said, snatching Elizabeth's handkerchief from her and wiping his face.

"I think... it's Morse code," Professor Wavelength said, squinting. "Dah-Dah-Dah, di-dit-Dah, Dah-dit-Dah-dit, di-di-di-dit."

"'Ouch'," said Victor.

"It's alive," Freqenstein whispered, and then shouted, "It's alive! It's alive! It's alive!"

* * *

Henry Freqenstein sat, calmly munching on a ham sandwich. Professor Wavelength, however, was nervously pacing back and forth.

"Relax professor, I've done it. I've brought back the dead band."

The professor stopped and wagged a finger at Freqenstein.

"You have created a monster and it will destroy you," he said.

"It's harmless," the doctor replied. "It's finely tuned with the best crystal ever made."

Wavelength's eyes narrowed. "The crystal that is in your creature came from a cheap CB radio," he said somberly.

Freqenstein choked on his ham sandwich.

"What!? Well.. it's just a dead radio...," he said uncertainly. "Let's test it."

They both went into the laboratory. Freqenstein nervously opened the door to the room where they had placed the creature.

There was movement inside.

Both Freqenstein and Wavelength stepped back.

The creature entered the room... backwards.

It slowly turned around. The box atop its neck had two dials where eyes normally would have been. Two very dead-looking dials.

The dials glowed dimly red and their needles slowly rose off of the zero mark.

"Sit," said Freqenstein. "Sit down."

The creature turned and appeared to stare at him. It did not move.

"Sit down, I say," Freqenstein repeated.

The creature raised its dead hands toward him.

"Why doesn't it obey!?" Freqenstein cried.

"Don't you understand?" Wavelength said. "You cannot control it! It's crystal is out-of-band! It's non-resonant!"

"Oh crud," said Freqenstein. "Let's get out of here."

"I'm right behind you," Wavelength replied.

The two men raced out of the building. They almost collided with a young man who was concentrating on his smartphone.

"Hey!" he bellowed at their retreating forms. "Watch where you're going!"

There was a loud thud, followed by a second one.

The young man turned. Standing in front of him was the craziest thing he had ever seen: A huge man with what appeared to be a radio instead of a head.

"Oh wow," the young man said, raising his smartphone to take a picture.

The creature, which had been advancing on him, suddenly stopped. It waved its arms as if to ward off something unseen.

"Oh man, I gotta post this," the young man said, taking picture after picture.

"Grrrraaarrrr!" said the creature, backing away.

A car stopped in the middle of the road and a woman jumped out. She, too, began taking pictures with her smartphone.

"Aaaaahhhhh!" the creature cried, apparently in pain.

Soon more and more people with smartphones showed up. The creature staggered backward, seemingly in agony.

"This is going viral!" a teenaged girl said happily.

The mob surged forward, trying to get a better view.

The creature turned to run, but more people were approaching from the other side. It looked around wildly, but there seemed to be no place to go.

Finally it looked up. Snarling, the creature made for the old radio tower.

"Hey, great!" said an eight-year-old. "Now I've got a clear shot of it!"

Hundreds of people showed up at the radio station. Thousands more registered "Likes".

The creature climbed laboriously upward, trying to escape the emissions of the smartphones. But it was to no avail. The combined radiation was too strong, and it was growing stronger as new waves of gawkers arrived.

Finally, near the top of the tower, the creature could take no more. The dials that served as its eyes were blazing white and the needles were pegged at maximum. There was a loud POP and smoke poured from its ventilation ports. The dials went dark and the needles dropped back to zero.

The creature tumbled off of the tower. It fell and made a tremendous THWACK when it hit the ground. The radio and all of its components were completely destroyed.

The zombie body, however, survived and later made several network television appearances. Rumor had it that it might even get its own series.

Glitches in the System
A series of cartoons about what really happens when your radio breaks down

Earlier columns and other stories

Stan Horzepa's "Surfin'"

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