The Amateur Amateur: The Junkman Cometh, Part I

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
May 17, 2003

My brother, Chris, is my Elmer. He's also an inveterate accumulator of stuff--also known as "junk."

The "Junkman" is my brother Chris, K1KC--and, yes, he got that tag by accumulating lots of junk. He just loves to attend hamfests and government surplus sales. The bigger the item, the more he wants it. Oh, he plans to use it all, or sell it all, someday real soon now. In the meantime it all sits around, cluttering up his house, his garage, his barn and his yard.

Chris's rolling shack

Chris rolled into my driveway in his "mobile shack."

Chris is also my Elmer (ham radio mentor). The only problem with this arrangement is that I live in Missouri, and he lives in Georgia. But whenever I have a problem or a question I just call him up. He's always willing to give me an answer.

We did manage to get together recently, though. Chris had some junk--a recent purchase--to pick up in southern Illinois, so he decided swing by St Louis for a visit. (Actually, Winterfest was being held in the St Louis area the following weekend, and the Junkman does find it hard to pass up a hamfest.)

Chris rolled into my driveway in his "mobile shack," a monstrous truck with about a thousand antennas on it. When I say "monstrous," I mean really honking big (did I mention that he likes big stuff?). The wheels of the truck looked like they belonged on a Boeing 747. The back door of the truck was larger than my garage door. The truck was almost as tall as my house, so its antenna array challenged my rooftop antennas for dominance of the sky. (Thank the sky god Iono that he had left his trailer--and his "purchase"--in southern Illinois.)

My brother gave me the grand tour of his truck. It seemed to have everything except an elevator (something it could have really used). The daunting electronics cluster included a laptop computer, which was primarily used as an expanded front panel for the main radio. It was all very impressive, much more exotic than anything I had in my shack. It left me feeling like a really amateur amateur.

Chris's latest piece of equipment was a Global Positioning System (GPS) device. He was happy with it but wanted to find a way to attach it to the laptop computer in his truck. He needed special software. He needed special cables. He needed special connectors, adapters, fasteners, holders, mounts, and so on and so forth. But once he sets his mind to something, very little stops the Junkman. That became his big project while he was in St. Louis.

The first place Chris wanted to visit was the local Bass Pro Shop. He wasn't interested in fishing gear. He wanted to check out the GPS counter. I drove, since I was more familiar with the area. My brother sat in the passenger seat amusing himself with his GPS.

Giant truck tire

The wheels of the truck looked like they belonged on a Boeing 747.

"We're in Hazelwood," he said.

Well, yeah, I thought. Then I noticed that Chris wasn't looking at road signs, he was reading the tiny screen on his gizmo.

"We just crossed McDonnell Boulevard. We just went under a railroad bridge."

Impressive, I thought.

"You'll need to turn right in two miles."

The GPS did seem to know exactly where we were.

"Turn right in one mile."

Yes, yes, I can see the signs, I thought.

"Turn in one-half mile... one-quarter mile... one-eight of a mile.. one-sixteenth of a mile.. one thirty-second of a mile . . ."

"I'm impressed! Enough already!" I yelled.

Laptop in truck

The laptop and the GPS . . . but how to connect them?

Chris didn't say anything more during the trip, but I could see his lips moving.

Once at the Bass Pro Shop we looked around for GPS devices. They weren't hard to find. In the GPS section, Chris found a clerk, and the two of them quickly slipped into some kind of techno-speak that I couldn't follow. All I know for sure is that Chris was able to obtain some of the items he needed and that they cost a wad of cash.

During the week that Chris was here he made some progress, but was unable to complete his project. He did get his GPS device temporarily connected to his laptop computer, but only while it was in my house. I found out that my house was stationary, except for the occasional abrupt change in elevation the GPS unit indicated. (I try not to think about that.)

Not long after my brother got home, he sent me an e-mail message with some attached pictures. They showed the interior of his truck proudly sporting a newly mounted, fully functional laptop computer. It was now capable of controlling his main transceiver and his GPS device. He had completed his project.

A few weeks later I got a birthday present from Chris--a GPS unit.

What do I do now?

And why does the elevation of my house keep changing?

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

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