The Amateur Amateur: Fifteen Milliseconds of Fame

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
December 20, 2003

My Amateur Radio book would have plenty of visual references, like little smiley-faced electrons dancing merrily down the feed line.

I was talking on the telephone with Chris--my brother and my Elmer. Now, I don't keep a log of these calls, but if I did, the message numbers would be in the triple digits by now. As usual, I was asking him about Amateur Radio theory rather than actual practice. I can find plenty of sources that tell me what to do, but very few that tell me why to do it. I am infinitely more comfortable knowing why I am doing something than I am doing it just because the manual says so.

Gary on phone, confused

Chris kept on talking but my mind had stopped right there.

As usual, the discussion with my brother was about antennas.

"What does a counterpoise do?" I asked.

"Your vertical antenna is like half of a dipole," he began. "The counterpoise acts as the missing half."

Chris kept on talking, but my mind had stopped right there. This used to happen to me in school a lot. I'd be following a lecture just fine, and then the instructor would say something that I didn't quite understand. I'd sit there ruminating over the statement, and by the time I'd figured it out the instructor had already covered several more topics.

"You see, the radiation resistance . . ."

I knew that term from one of the books I'd studied while upgrading. I couldn't quite remember what it meant. I knew that it was measured in ohms. Oh, right! I remember now.

". . . current return . . ." he was saying.

I realized he'd lost me again. Isn't there a book that explains all this in simple terms, I thought to myself. Something I can understand? I wished that Chris were here instead of 700 miles away. I needed him to draw pictures on a blackboard while he talked. I needed a visual reference point.

"And then you take the drag coefficient . . ."

I try to make things simple when I write about them in my column, I thought. Heck, I should probably write my own book about Amateur Radio. At least it would be understandable.

". . . square of the hypotenuse . . ."

Gary on phone, light blub over head

My book would have lots of things, like little smiley-faced electrons dancing merrily down the feed line.

You know, that might not be a bad idea, I thought. I can write coherent sentences. I think I could hold the reader's interest. I can draw, too. My ham radio book would have plenty of visual references. It would have lots of things like little smiley-faced electrons, dancing merrily down the feed line.

". . . party of the first part, herein known as the Plaintiff . . ."

The more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became. It should be a breeze to write about radio topics in simple, easy-to-understand terms, because that's the only way I understand them. I wouldn't have to "dumb down" the discussion, as my grasp of the material already is at the lowest, most basic level. During a discussion of standing wave ratio (SWR), for example, I would show my smiley-faced electrons rushing back down the feed line, yelling to their forward-rushing counterparts, "Turn around! The traffic is awful up ahead!"

"...but according to Socrates..."

Cover of non-existent book

This could work. This could be great!

This could work. This could be great! I already knew from e-mail responses to my column that there were plenty of amateur amateurs like myself out there, just thirsting for information. As I had, they found most of the material available seemed to be written for graduate engineering students, not for common folks like us. I could fill that gap! My book could become very popular. I might even make lots of money.

"...forms a bond with the chlorine atom..."

But wait. Before I could write such a book, I would have to thoroughly understand the topics. At present I barely understand them at all. I needed someone to explain all of the intricacies of radio to me, perhaps even collaborate with me in writing the book.

"Uh, Chris, could you repeat that, please?" I said lamely.

"Glitches in the System"

A few years ago I toyed with the idea of drawing an Amateur Radio related cartoon strip. Eventually I developed a strip about little critters that infiltrate radio equipment and create mayhem. I called it "Glitches in the System." The magazine for which I created the strip went belly up, however, and the cartoons never made it into print.

I recently unearthed the original six cartoons. As a holiday treat from me to you, I've included No 1.

Glitches in the System #1

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via email.

© 2003 American Radio Relay League

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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