The Amateur Amateur: Raiders of the Lost Shack

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
December 23, 2005

The holidays are a busy time. There is so much to do, and it seems that most of it requires making a trip to the basement.

Door to the (shudder) basement

Entrance to the basement. Legend has it that the Lost Shack is somewhere down there.

Ah yes, the basement. It's the repository for most things used only occasionally and all things never actually used but too good to throw away. And something else as well. For it seems that every time I rummage around in the basement looking for ornaments or packing material or Christmas tree lights, I get a sense of longing, as if something is missing from my life.

Some times when I'm in the basement I also get a sense of nearness, as if I'm close to an important, perhaps even great, discovery. It's as if there is some long-hidden treasure down there, just waiting for me to find it. Sometimes I feel as if I can almost identify this treasure. I wonder. Could it be that I'm sensing the Lost Shack?

Cluttered basement

Right around this area I get a sense of nearness to the Lost Shack.

The Lost Shack is probably only a myth, something I dreamed about after taking a heavy dose of flu-symptom medication just before going to bed. It's a mystical place where all sorts of wondrous things reside. There are supposed to be meters and dials and strange boxes whose functions are unknown. It's a place of amazing sights and sounds, like nothing heard anywhere else. It's rumored to be a place where magicians go to commune with each other through some fairy-web stuff called ether.

I have memories, probably false ones, of a great ledger in which such magical contacts are recorded. It's full of cryptic charms used to call other sorcerers; their secret names, used only by other magicians; and indecipherable runes, probably having to do with the phase of the moon and the alignment of the planets. "K1KC 7.163 MHz 0020 UTC"

Who knows what it might mean?

I also recall some plants, creeping vines of various sorts, which wind around virtually everything in the Lost Shack. Some are thick and heavy. Others are thinner and more flexible and seem to insinuate themselves everywhere. They tend to grow in pairs, one shiny black and the other brilliant red. I seem to remember that the vines have valuable magical properties, but that if you aren't careful they will grow wildly out of control and cover everything. I have vague recollections of them occasionally trying to grab my feet and trip me.

Lost shack

An artist's conception of the Lost Shack.

If I remember correctly, there is a part of the Lost Shack that is called the Land of Forgotten Projects. It's where great ideas never realized go to languish. There are books and papers and articles and notes, all containing wonderful notions. These notions are all, alas, things that were never done. Forlornly they sit, awaiting an interested wizard, a bit of inspiration, a touch of solder.

I can almost hear the mini-TNC calling to be plugged in and tested. The Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave literature cries out to be read. Power inverters beg to be attached to batteries. Piles of books plead to be shelved in an orderly fashion. A rain gauge waits in misery to be taken out of its package and to be put in action.

My mental meanderings also call up images of many happy hours spent in the Lost Shack. I can see myself conversing with mages and agreeing to exchange magical spells via QSL cards. I envision myself battling wits with Iono, the great laughing demigod of the sky. I can picture myself using a butane-powered magic wand to heal some broken artifact. I can feel the puzzlement of trying to solve the incantations set forth in a circuit diagram. I remember the shock of finding that I had let loose the Demons of RFI. And I can clearly call to mind the joys of conjuring voices from lands far, far away.

Such is the magic to be found in the fabulous Lost Shack.

Oh, I know I'm too old to believe in such fairy tales, but I can't shake the feeling that such a place as the Lost Shack really existed once. Maybe it did, a long, long time ago.. before the holidays.

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 e-mail, [email protected].

© 2005 American Radio Relay League

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