The Amateur Amateur: Discovering the Junkosphere
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
March 25, 2004
I was in my
basement recently, contemplating the sad state of my ham shack.
Radio-related odds and ends lay everywhere, including on the floor.
My wife Nancy and I had made serious attempts to get it all under
control, but to no avail. I kept installing shelves and benches, but
they kept disappearing into the debris. I hauled a boxed workbench
downstairs, assembled it, and placed it in my shack with the idea
that I'd finally have a place to do
things. I admired its
pristine condition, its clean surface and vowed to keep it that way.
A week later it was gone, and in its place was a heap.
What was this assortment of strange devices, and what did they do?
It was almost as if mysterious tidal forces had taken away my work spaces
and had washed up piles of debris in their place. What was
this stuff? Had I really pulled handfuls of wiring out of something?
What did all those odd pieces of plastic do? Why were there dozens of
pill bottles, each containing a single, uniquely-threaded screw? Why
did I have connectors that didn't plug into anything I owned?
What was that
assortment of strange devices from MFJ, and what did they do? Why did
I still have the owner's manual for a clock radio that had been
thrown away 40 years ago? And why on Earth did I have so many tiny
electronic components when I can't read the color code? This stuff
couldn't really be mine
, could it?
While I'd been
adding more surfaces to clutter up, Nancy had tried a different
approach. She went out and got a bunch of large plastic containers.
That seemed like a good idea., and for a while it looked like it was
really going to work. But the objects we put inside the containers
appeared to grow and grow until they no longer fit. We tried larger
containers, but the objects kept expanding. Eventually the containers
disappeared, gobbled up by their contents.
The problem appeared to be totally out of control. But what was even more
perplexing was that the detritus kept growing even though I wasn't
anything. That led me to wonder if there was some
heretofore unknown law of physics involved. Did obtaining an Amateur
Radio license imbue the operator with some strange invisible field
that attracted junk? Was it similar to electromagnetism? Were there
positive and negative junk-particles out there?
A large container in the process of being consumed.
But before I went
too far down that flight of fantasy I started remembering how I'd
accumulated some of the stuff in my shack. People had given
lot of it to me.
One of my
co-workers has a pretty unbelievable collection of "stuff"
in his own basement. (He has claimed that if NASA ever wants to
restart the Saturn rocket program, they're going to have to come to
him first.) Although he is not an Amateur Radio operator, he has
shown a lot of interest in the hobby. On occasion, he's cornered me
in the garage at work and said, "Got something for you."
Then he'd open the trunk of his car and haul out what could only be
described as a bona fide
from the Paleozoic Era of electronics. He was definitely responsible
for the bulkier objects in my shack.
These items mysteriously appeared on my front porch.
My brother Chris,
K1KC (a-k-a "The Junkman") also was a big-time contributor
to my shack heap. He'd given me the bizarre antenna sitting in the
corner. It looked like an origami experiment gone mad. I was pretty
sure that his fingerprints were on a number of other items piled here
and there as well. And while I was on a roll, additional names came
to mind of people who had turned their own clutter problems into my
clutter problem. And sometimes they even did it anonymously.
Honestly. On a couple of occasions I've discovered "gifts"
left surreptitiously on my porch--an old AM/FM radio, a busted
antenna rotator control box and, most recently, a handful of vacuum
But wait! Now that I think about it, I was just as guilty as everyone else. I
had given away radio magazines at club meetings. I had passed out
coils of coax. I had even added to "The Junkman's" stock of
junk. I wasn't just a clutteree
, I was also a clutterer
Do old radio
get thrown away? Or do they just go from one shack
to the next? Is a hamfest really what it seems, or is it in actuality
a secret ritual for the resurrection of dead electronic equipment?
motivation for passing on unwanted items. I just
hate to see waste. Why make more garbage if the stuff could still be
used? Maybe my friends feel the same way. Perhaps Amateur Radio
operators are the ultimate recyclers. It's even possible that we're
just a generous bunch of people.
Still, if I ever
find out who left that junk on my front porch . . .
Bonus Cartoon Feature: "Glitches in the System"
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 e-mail, [email protected].
© 2004 American Radio Relay League