ham radios

I just closed some web tabs containing renewal information about my expired ham radio license which have been festering for over a month now. When my license expiration date came around, I was led to believe that renewal could not be done directly through the FCC, and had to be done through a VEC. I figured if I really wanted to keep my ham license, I should meet up with a local group. It never happened, and my license expired.

I have radio machines. A tube heathkit HW-101, a sandbox HF icom, and a modern tri-band yaesu HT.

The HW-101 was given to me in high school, and barely worked when I got it. In college a ham I met on usenet sent me the full schematics and service manual, and I was able to tune it up a bit, but I could tell that some of the tubes needed replacement. After college, I had a co-worker who got into the surplus tube sorting business with his sister, and was able to get me a few replacements. Since owning a house, I’ve never put up an antenna, and haven’t fired it up. I should get rid of it, as the icom likely bests it in all metrics except for heat production. and sound. and smell. the tube rig has a satisfying hum when it fires up, and smells like toasted dust when it warms up. the filaments glow. the feel can’t be emulated.

the HF icom was pieced together from two friends, one who had the radio, and the other had the power supply. I don’t know how the two components got separated, but they were reunited for me. even without plugging in an antenna I can easily pick up WWV. digital display, all bands, multiple modes. not as tactile as the HW-101, but a lot more practical.

The yaesu HT was purchased when I realized that modern radios usually had receive-only capability over more than just the amateur bands, and I wanted to see if I could listen to local railroad traffic. indeed I could, and the radio was amazingly just slightly over $100. probably the most useful radio in an emergency situation.

I fondly recall a yaesu FT-208R I received as a hand-me-down from a neighbor when I was in high school. I used it to talk on my club’s repeater, and even participate in some club net exercises. it stopped working in college, and I figured I might be able to fix it, but never did. I don’t think I got rid of it until I got the newer HT. the tone encoder was third-party, and had to be manually switched to change the tones. good times.

Only tonight after knuckling down to fill out a paper license renewal form did I take a closer look my license expiration date and realized that the date I had been looking at was a cancellation date, not an expiration date, which meant that my license had no grace period left, and had already been cancelled. So if I want a new license, I get to start from scratch. I’m getting 80% correct walking through the tech question pool doing it totally cold, so maybe not such a big deal… but I do have to track down a local VEC.

Dumping peripherals

I had a volunteer project with my employer at a local non-profit recycler a couple years ago. our project was disassembling keyboards into component parts (plastic, circuit boards, cables), and while most of the keyboards were cheap, generic membrane-style, one of the volunteers had an LK201 keyboard. She pulled off the Do keycap and everyone had a chuckle while she debated if she was going to keep the “Do key”.

So here we are a few years later, and I’m cleaning out my basement, including a box of keyboards, mice, and audio peripherals. I kept the pieces to re-create workstation setups with the various systems I owned. I started with my Linux PC, went to a DECStation, an Alpha, then a SPARCStation. Ultimately I came full-circle back an x86.

After getting my own computer together in college, I had built a VGA to sync-on-green adapter so I could drive a surplus 19″ monitor from my 5×86 linux box. The monitor was salvaged from a Tektronix X terminal, which already had bad gamma due to aging. These were the days of shadow masks, and as the monitor warmed up, it got progressively blurrier.

I switched to a DEC-branded Hitachi monitor on my DECStation 5000/240 and things were suddenly much brighter and clearer. Most of the applications I needed were available on the DECStation, and I could remotely run Netscape from my Linux box when I needed it. The LK401 and puck mouse were perfectly usable.

After moving, I had a new desk, and set up both an Alpha 3000/400, and a SPARCStation. I ran X-to-X to link the two screens together. I mostly used the DEC head, not being much of a fan of the Sun type 5c keyboard. (I did like the optical mice, though.)

The setup only lasted a few months before it was painfully obvious that the graphics capabilities of an x86 with Xfree86 (later Xorg) completely outstripped the capabilities of decade+ old workstation hardware, and the peripherals got put away, never to be used again.

I saved a DEC LoFi box (and interface card), and a “Digital Ears” DSP box for my NeXT cube, as well as an LK400-series keyboard with a PS/2 interface. But more on those another time…