The Amateur Amateur: All I Want for Christmas . . .
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
It's time again to consider the holiday ham radio wish list.
December 19, 2004
When my wife
Nancy asked me to make up my Christmas wish list, my thoughts turned
naturally to Amateur Radio. I started perusing catalogs and looking
over Web sites. There was a lot of neat stuff out there, but nothing
I actually wanted--nothing affordable, anyway. It was right about
then that I realized that the stuff I really
wanted wasn't in
any catalog. What I wanted didn't actually exist.
The equipment I'd
like to have just isn't manufactured. In most cases it
be manufactured, but I want it just the same. For
entertainment purposes only
, I'm sharing my wish list--a
compilation of non-existent products that I will not
my stocking or under the tree on Christmas morning.
The "Perfect" Mobile Radio
The mobile transceiver's auxiliary control panel,
My current mobile
radio has all the features I could possibly want. But what I wish
it had are really big buttons.
I'm tired of reaching for and
pressing not only the button I want, but two or three of its
neighbors as well. I want buttons substantial enough so that if I
press one, the radio will do what I intend it to do, not careen off
into some esoteric function such as computing postal rates in Nepal.
wish that every button, every switch and every knob had just one
It drives me crazy to have to press and hold two or
three buttons in a certain sequence, count to eleven, then hum a
Gregorian chant to put the radio into the right mode. It seems like
the buttons on my current radio are always in the wrong mode and
always cause the radio to do something totally unexpected when I
Of course, I
realize that a one-button-per-function control head would be so large
that I wouldn't be able to see through the windshield. But I have a
solution. Mobile radios have dozens, perhaps hundreds of features,
but I only use a half dozen or fewer while I'm driving. My ideal
mobile rig's control head would need only six knobs or buttons. The
rest of the myriad features could be consigned to the auxiliary
This would be a special panel that I could fold
out when I'm not driving. Indeed, since it would be about the size of
the windshield, it would be best if it had a special detector to
prevent it from being deployed while the car was in motion.
with an Attitude
My ideal base
station would be similar to my mobile radio, except that there would
be no auxiliary control panel. Everything would be on the main panel.
And yes, it would be huge
. That's the point. After all, we
Amateur Radio operators have a reputation to maintain. People expect
us to have monstrous radios in our shacks. In fact, the more
intimidating the better. That way your visiting nephew will think
twice before messing with it.
I would add one
feature to my base station: an artificial intelligence (AI) chip. The
AI chip would contain a program called Common Sense
example, before it allowed me to turn on the power to my rig, it
would display the following messages: Did you turn on the power
supply? Did you set the antenna switch? Will your transmissions
disrupt your wife's favorite TV show?
Books Actually Aimed at Beginners
My wife Nancy
suggested this one, but I know precisely what she means. I have
encountered countless books, courses, and columns that purport to be
basic or for beginners but assume a vast amount of a priori
knowledge on the reader's part. I find that many authors of
basic-type books start out simply enough. But by the time they reach
Chapter 2, they lapse into technical jargon without explaining what
any of it means.
Take Ohm's Law: E
. It seems
simple enough, but readers who have not
taken high school physics (or at least metal shop) typically won't
understand why voltage, measured in volts is represented by the
(which stands for "electromotive force" or
"EMF"), and current, measured in amps is represented by the
(we had to go to a real expert, Zack Lau, W1VT, of
the ARRL Lab to learn that the formula's "I"
taken from the French word intensité
--as in "intensity).
Anyway, it's not
that readers can't do simple math. It's that they feel the instructor
has skipped over something. Usually they're right.
I think every
beginner's book--indeed, every book that has the word "basic"
in its title--should be reviewed by a panel consisting of one person
for whom English is a second language, one grammar school pupil and
the author's mother-in-law. If the panel doesn't understand the book,
it doesn't get published before undergoing basification
another review by the abovementioned panel).
Mobile Antennas with a Sense of Self-Preservation
I want my mobile antennas to have a sense of self preservation.
Now that I'm
installing HF equipment in my car, I need taller antennas than I did
for VHF and UHF. I'd like to have mobile antennas that have a sense
of self preservation and will duck
when I pull into my garage.
Or at least retract.
You Can Fix
I've only been
licensed since 1995, so--unlike many ham radio veterans--I've never
owned a radio that I could actually repair, much less actually see
the components. Okay, I've fixed a few of them, but the repairs
usually consisted of:
- Opening the radio.
- Replacing the defective circuit board.
were tantamount to buying a new radio, only more expensive as a rule.
What I would like
to see is a radio with individual components that can be
replaced--components that I can buy locally and cheaply (and, of
course, see). That way if my radio fails during an emergency, I might
actually be able to fix it.
Oh, and it would
be nice if the components were designed to flash red when they fail,
so that I don't have to actually use any test instruments or even
understand electronic theory or anything like that. (Just kidding!)
Self-Routing Power Cable
Wouldn't it be great if the power cable were able to route itself?
[Illustrations by the author]
I've now done
five mobile transceiver installations. The hardest part of every
installation has been running power cable from the engine compartment
back to the trunk of the car. It was the job I feared the most, the
one that had the greatest potential for causing damage.
There is always a
route for the cable, but I may have to remove something that
shouldn't be removed, stuff myself upside down in the foot well, or
risk losing several inches of skin to get at it. What I would like to
see is power cable that can figure out all by itself how to get from
the engine compartment to the trunk or other desired location.
N-type? Male or female? I have countless connectors and adapters in
my shack and still
never have on hand the type that I need
when I start some new project. I want a connector that will figure
out on its own
what it needs to be, then morph to fit the job.
Mighty Morphin' Power Connectors
! Has a nice ring.
So there you have
it--my fanciful Christmas wish list. Since I won't get any of the
items on the list, what would I really
like? Just about
anything. As long as it has really big buttons
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