The Amateur Amateur: T'was The Month Before Christmas

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
December 2017

Christmas tree spire
Guess the resonant frequency of this tree-top "ornament".

December is supposed to be a time for celebration, but like many people, I find the whole month to be highly stressful. There is so much that needs to be done: Shopping, decorating, travel plans and so forth. Add to that all of the begging and demands for money. Why do all of the tax bills and insurance bills come right when you need all of your spare cash? Why does every charity on Earth ask for donations at the precise time of year when any check you write is likely to bounce?

But, I'll tell you what stresses me even more than the pile of tasks that need to be done.

It's that I'm called upon to make so many decisions.

I'm not a person who can whistle and chew gum at the same time. If I'm struggling to put up the Christmas tree and my wife, Nancy, asks me to make a decision, I have to stop and think about it. To me, the mental effort of making a decision is much harder than the physical act of putting up the tree (which, in the meantime, has fallen over).

Not all decisions baffle me like that. Many just involve common sense or prior experience. But December seems to be full of special decisions that require extra mental effort. For example:

Nancy asks me what I'd like for Christmas. Should I peruse a stack of Amateur Radio mail order catalogs? Or should I just fire up my computer and Google "ham radio gift ideas"? Perhaps I should just look around my shack to see what I don't yet have.

If my brother or sister ask the same question, I have to ask myself: Can either of them afford a Rohn tower?

Christmas stockings
Should I poke holes in my stocking so that the rubber duck antennas don't bend?

I'm wracked with indecision.

The gift-idea problem works both ways. It's quite obvious that just about everyone has a difficult time coming up with their own wish-list to give to me. And, if, by some miracle, I'm struck by inspiration, there is yet another decision to make. That is:

If I find a great radio gift idea for Nancy (who is also a ham) or my brother (ditto), instead of buying it for one of them, should I put it on my wish list instead? (If I decide to buy two of the items, who should get the other one, Nancy or my brother?)

If I run out of ribbon while wrapping gifts, is it okay to use old feed line instead? (I personally think that ladder-line would be attractive.)

Other gift-related decisions aren't quite so difficult. Such as, do I want that pithy ham radio slogan printed on a t-shirt or on a coffee mug? (Answer: Neither, put it on a mouse pad.) Or, would I like something that has nothing to do with Amateur Radio? (Answer: Are you serious?)

And then there are decisions to make about decorating. The Christmas tree alone presents numerous problems, such as: Can I get away with putting an antenna at the top instead of an angel or a star? Should I replace the Santa ornament with one of Edwin Armstrong? If I do, can I find an accompanying regenerative receiver ornament? If I tinker with the twinkling light control box, what Morse code message should I program into it?

For that matter, should I consider relocating the tree? Our house has a cathedral ceiling, and I should probably clear the space beneath its highest point, just in case Santa needs someplace to leave a sizable antenna.

And then there is the matter of the stockings. I'm expecting certain kinds of gifts, so should I poke holes in my stocking so that the rubber duck antennas don't bend? Or should I put up a much larger stocking in case I get something with more power than a hand held?

Decorating the outside of the house is a pain, but deciding exactly what to do is always worse. For example, where can I get an inflatable Hiram Percy Maxim yard ornament? Would that be too much of an "insider" thing? If so, then where can I get one of Guglielmo Marconi?

Christmas wreath
There's a well-hidden loop antenna inside the wreath.

Okay, maybe that idea isn't Christmas-y enough. If I put up a display of Santa's sleigh and reindeer, could I turn their antlers into a phased array?

Nancy always puts a seasonal wreath on the front door. She always asks me to help her mount it. Should I try to sneak a loop antenna inside it this year?

Would it just confuse the neighbors if our outdoor light display spelled out our call signs?

And just in case you think I'm going overboard, I decided definitely not to put a working Tesla coil on the lawn, despite the pretty lights it would produce. (I'll save that idea for Halloween.)

While I'm discussing what should be done outside the house, should I remove the antennas on the roof to give Santa a clear landing zone, or should I put up additional beacons?

After all the decorating has been done, and all of the gifts have been wrapped, there is the matter of social etiquette. We will likely spend Christmas Day out of town at Nancy's brother's home. That presents a whole new set of decisions that I'll have to make. For example:

Should I discreetly slip outside during the festivities so I can use my mobile rig, or should I periodically hide in the bathroom and use my hand held instead? Would anyone notice if I crept upstairs and operated from the attic? Would it be gauche of me to wear a headset at the dinner table?

With so many decisions to make, is it any wonder that December is so stressful?

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