The Amateur Amateur

Welcome to the home of The Amateur Amateur

The Amateur Amateur is a column about my experiences in ham radio. Since I have little technical expertise and not much knowledge of electronics, I make a lot of mistakes. I consider myself to be just an amateur amateur radio operator, but I keep pressing on and trying new things. This column details my triumphs - and foibles - and I try not to take myself too seriously. Whether you are an experienced ham or new to the hobby, I hope you find these chronicles of my efforts to be entertaining.

Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

December 2021

The Amateur Amateur: How Did I Do That Again?

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

TNCs and radios
Uummmm, which TNC or soundcard is being used? And which radio?

I've learned a lot during the 26 years that I've had my Amateur Radio license. Regrettably, I think I've forgotten even more. I often find myself about to do something I've done before, pausing with my hand outstretched, and asking myself: How did I do that again?

Part of the problem is that over that time I've done (or at least tried) so many things. I'll read about something interesting, give it a try, and then it either works or it doesn't. If it does work, I may pursue it with vigor, or I may say, “Gee, that was neat” and move on to something else. If, on the other hand, it doesn't work at all, it's very likely that I will not clean up after myself. I will just leave everything where it is. I guess I may have some notion that I will try again some time in the future.

Another problem is that I have so much rarely used equipment lying around that I can't remember how to perform even the simplest functions on most of it. This happens more often than I care to admit. In the case of transceivers, however, I will assign part of the blame to the manufacturers. I mean, honestly... “Press the F button and hold for 3 seconds, then press and hold knob Q and button FS simultaneously...” Seriously? And, of course, the procedure is completely different on the same manufacturer's other models.

I do keep scrupulous logs of what I've done, but.. ahem!.. I tend to misplace them. It's true. I will type up exactly what I did and save it in a computer file, then stash the file away in a logical-seeming folder.

Years later, when I find myself trying to figure out how to do something, I will have a nagging sensation that I'd done it once before. How did I do that again? I'm pretty sure that I wrote it down.

But where? Must be on the computer somewhere.

I have dozens of files marked “Log” scattered across three computers. I am trying to move everything radio-related to one computer, but things still wind up in a variety of different folders. Here's an example: I'll need to reload an instruction set into a terminal node controller. I'd done it before and I know that I wrote down how to do it. (Yes, I have the manual, but it doesn't say exactly what program to use, nor what to do to trigger the transfer.) So, what I need to do is located on the computer in my radio shack... somewhere. It could be in a folder marked “Terminal Node Controllers”, “Kantronics”, “Digital”, “APRS” or heaven-knows-what-else Worse, it may or may not be in a file marked “Logs” (I wasn't always consistent over the years) and it may be an unknown number of folder layers down. So, I'll need to look in /Digital/Terminal Node Controllers/Kantronics/APRS, or /Digital/APRS, or /Radio Logs... or any combination of those. Or maybe someplace else altogether. Sometimes I never find what I'm looking for.

Unruly cabels
Sneaky, snakey cables and wires. Don't get too close.

Yes, I actually do have a file on my desktop marked “Find Stuff”.

And, no, I don't manage to keep it up to date.

Being compulsive doesn't always help.

Finding my misplaced notes aside, I have other dilemmas where I lose track of what I've done in the past.

Quite often I don't have just one working transceiver sitting on my desk. There may be two, or even three transceivers sitting on top of each other. Only one will actually be in use, but the others are, well, on “standby”.

Let me explain. Radio “A” wasn't receiving as well as I'd expected. So, as a test, I plunked radio “B” down on top of it and moved over all of the cables and wires. After a test run or two I wasn't sure if reception on radio “B” was any better. So I left things as they were, planning to come back later and make a decision whether to use “A” or “B”. I got distracted and that decision never came.

This happens so often so often that I've named it “the equipment pileup problem”. Why is there a Yaesu FT-8800 sitting on top of my Kenwood TM-V71A? For that matter, why is there a Masters Communication DRA-50 soundcard interface sitting on top of a Signalink soundcard interface in my shack, and a Signalink soundcard interface sitting on top of a Kantronics KPC3+ terminal node controller in my study? It sure looks like an experiment that didn't go well and wound up being put on hold indefinitely. Eventually I will get back to it, but by then I will have forgotten why everything is configured the way it is, what the problem was, and of course, where I put my notes.

Sometimes I feel like an archaeologist going through my own stuff.

Power cables
Power cables going everywhere

Probably the most annoying, and frankly frightening pileup I have to deal with is the tangle of wires and cables underneath the desk in my shack. It's not like a mess of spaghetti, it's more a den of snakes (see The Cable Family). You see, equipment gets connected, disconnected, replaced, moved, and removed, but the cables always remain. Some are labeled, some are not. Quite a few have been moved from computer port to computer port as USB connections become unreliable or suddenly revive. It's an unbelievable mess.

I've tried straightening it all out before, but trying to trace what goes where can be very difficult, given the cramped nature of my shack. Everything was much cleaner, literally and figuratively, when I first started. But that was hundreds of experiments ago, and things have long since gotten out of hand.

I guess I should include software I have written for the St. Louis Metro ARES website and internal database. That has been growing, expanding, and morphing for 17 years, and right now it is pretty extensive. Every now and then the Emergency Coordinator or one of the Assistant ECs will ask me to create something for them. Often that will tickle a memory of writing something similar a while back.

And once again, I will find myself asking: How did I do that again?

Glitches in the System
A series of cartoons about what really happens when your radio breaks down

Earlier columns and other stories

Non-ham-related stories

Also vist
Stan Horzepa's "Surfin'"
Eric Guth's "QSO Today'"

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