The Amateur Amateur: How Did I Do That Again?
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Uummmm, which TNC or soundcard is being used? And which radio?
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.
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 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.
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.
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?