Sunday, February 15, 2009

Who am I? Why am I here?

With due respect to James Stockdale (Ross Perot's running mate), I think this is a reasonable question.

I grew up in the 50's in the mid west, Illinois and Indiana. I became interested in ham radio when my Grandpa gave me an old AC/DC ) table top radio (I used to shock the hell out of myself with that friggin radio) that covered 160. I was a 6 year old Catholic school boy in the very near south suburbs of Chicago. When I went to school I passed Brother Rice high school which was the Catholic high a couple blocks from my school. I kind of dreamed of the day I would go to that high school, (never did). One day I was screwing around with my AC/DC tuning around on 160. I never heard a signal on 160 but between shocks I would tune the band just for practice. All of a sudden I heard a couple of AM signals blasting in. It was a couple of kids from Brother Rice with class B licenses, heading home after school in their jalopies talking about meeting up later. It was electrifying for me. It was like I was listening in on Broderic Crawford or something. At age 6 I KNEW I had to get in on that fun.

My Dad was an engineer but he had no interest in ham radio. I didn't know any hams, and at age 6 my resources were more directed to spending the quarter my grandfather gave me on penny candy at the corner store than "ham radio". But my Dad saw my interest so he subscribed to Pop-tronics. I devoured Carl and Jerry. I wanted to grow up to be Carl. I would have chosen Jerry but I didn't like the flat top. Later that year my Dad would take me down to the Allied Radio Store on north Western to a ham radio class. I had the license manual and a code record and a 2 dollar record player (eish5 tmo0 remember that?) I fathomed the meaning of tank circuits and dipoles almost clueless. I took the test and missed the code by one letter, so I never got to E=MC^2 or E=IR or what ever the hell was in that book. Much later, during my high school years, I learned that Herb Brier W9EGQ, the author of Carl and Jerry regularly used to listen in on me and my buddy K3RR as we held forth on 75 with our HT-37's and white glowing 4-1000's, describing our adventures, so I guess in some respect I did become Carl and Joe became Jerry (I guess he didn't mind the flat top). Joe had a qso with him before he died and Herb said he used to really enjoy it.

For my birthday and Christmas as combined gifts my Dad started buying me knight kits and I built the electronic lab (shocked the hell out myself) and the little AM broadcast transmitter and finally a SpanMaster. I tried to build a CB walkie Talkie but with a 200W soldering iron that soon turned into a pile of plastic goo. By then I was about 10 and we moved to southern Indiana. Here I met my first bona fide Ham. It was a woman who was in the girls club my Mom belonged to. Her OM was a ham also, a big shot in Navy Mars, and he had a genuine Windom hanging off the clothes poles out to a tree in the back that he used to talk all that Navy talk. By age 11 I had my ticket. I built a 6L6 crystal rig with plug in pill bottle coils and I had 4 crystals, 2 on 80 and 2 on 40. My RX was the mighty S-40B. 40 meters occupied about 3/8 of an inch on the dial of this behemoth. I added a heathkit Q multiplier (shocked the hell out of my self), and an antenna switch, a plastic dpdt knife switch. It was the Curly shuffle: tune the RX, hear a station, hit the mute, knife the switch, transmit, and reverse it all to hear once again. Finally I got the nerve to make a QSO. Some guy in Kentucky maybe 70 miles away, and away we went.

That year I got a paper route, and soon enough upgraded to general. I built a single 6146 on a cake pan. I had gotten smart enough to unplug the friggin thing before I worked on it so I didn't shock the hell out of myself. The money piled up. I would trudge door to door collecting the weekly 35 cents of which I got to keep 15. You wouldn't believe how many old bastard women tried to stiff me on my 35 cents, and the paper company didn't care because they got theirs off the top. Eventually we made the trek back to Chitown down to Allied and came home with a shiny old Viking-II. Best damn TVI generator I ever owned. Where there had been no TVI with my previous 5 watt and 50 watt bread board wide open xmtrs, this new 130 watt beast with its finger stock in the lid, RF tight copper plated steel case blew out the whole neighborhood. I didn't care I just got on late at night.

Then there was the HT-37, my foray into side band. It was a phasing rig. Great sounding audio and it was true wide band side band. By then we had moved to Carbondale Illinois and I started high school. Soon there after I built my first amp. Pair of 4-400's with about 5000V on the plates, which later turned into 4-1000's. When you walked into my shack (my bedroom) you litterally walked into my transmitter. I ran the heck out of those tubes, when I was done with them there were holes in the plates. That was in the hay days of 75M, when men were men and the sheep ran scared. I was known as the Carbondale kid because I was the precocious little snot that used to drive W2OY crazy on 75 of a late night, or of a Sat morning. I bear my callsign because of him, him and the fact it has a lot of dashes in it so I figure I'm a little louder in the pileups since my transmitter is on more often than its off.

I went to college and then grad school, first to Purdue then Southern Illinois University both under grad and grad, then U of Illinois. Along the way I was a design engineer and worked in broadcasting and taught electronics and physics at the college level. I had aquired degrees in engineering, chemistry, experimental neuropsychology and biophysics. All the while I experimented with ham radio. I bought a house and the guy next to me was a ham who liked to operate 75 up the band from where I operated (3895). I had a TS-820 then, and so did he. I spent a year redesigning the front end and IF stages of that radio to make it bullet proof. Our antennas were about 30 Ft apart and parallel to each other because it was the only wat to get a 75M antenna on the lot, and by the time I was done we both could run KW (actually I ran considerably more than a KW) and not know the other was on the band.

The TS-820 was an interesting radio as it was single conversion, used a near 9 mhz IF (Something like 8.830) and it was the perfect radio to cut your teeth on as far as design goes except it was crowded as hell in there, but I figured out how to use every available cubic inch and by the time I was done the RF amp mixer and IF amps were bullet proof and I had 16 poles of filtering with 4 positions of selectivity stock 1.8, 500 and 250 all front panel selectable. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. It was about this time the ARRL was developing its testing regimen for receivers, and since I was rebuilding receivers I involved myself in building a laborotory that I could spec my creations. Since I was living in Champaign at that time (U of I) and was teaching electronics at a community college at night and doing engineering during the day, I had access to a lot of good test equip, but the bottom line was my neighbor and I could both get on 75 and hold forth and not tear each other up.

I later went on to Med school back in Chicago. I sold my house and my towers and even my motorcycle, cut my hair, took out my ear ring. I had an apartment and made some stealth antennas, invisible end fed zepps with home brew tuners, and I built myself 4-811 A's up from junk I scrounged. I think I had 20 bux in that amp. I had a blast coming home from working the ER all pumped up and getting on 40 CW and working the world from the depths of the west side. This was the time of Jummy Carter, and even though I had ammassed a considerable amount of money to do the med school gig run away inflation ate me alive, so I went into the Navy for a little work for pay. After residency, when it was time for payback, my duty station choices were Millington, TN, Gitmo, or Orlando. Well DUH... I moved to Florida. I was pretty town house bound for a while and once my stint with Uncle Sam was satisfied, just after operation Desert Storm, the navy moved out of Orlando and I stayed. My wife and I spent a couple of years doing Locum Tenens around the state of FL. Locums is like a Kelly girl. I was an anesthesiologist (which means I pass gas for a living) and I knocked em out where there was a temporary need. That led me to a little fruit town about 30 miles east of Orlando and about 10 miles from the space center, where I bought some acres and planted some antennas.

After all of this I started getting bored with radio. I had big power and good antennas and a big dollar Yaesu that I never turned on. Then came the Pegasus. That radio totally revolutionized my attitude on ham radio. It was actually a pretty good SDR kind of radio. The software I used was authored by the ever capable N4PY, and that radio was a hoot. In fact at one point I had 2 of them and their SDR receiver all of which could be cobbled together in a kind of multi RX kludge tied up with N4PY's magic. Then came the Orion, neither fish or fowl. The Orion was a little bit SDR and a whole lot of Omni-6, and the FT-1000D continued on the desk. By then my passion had become low band DXing since I now had enough acreage to actually put up some reasonable antennas. I was also more and more enthralled with the SDR notion. Then came Gerald and his dorky little hobby radio, the SDR-1000.

Here I had all this horsepower, alpha amps, FT-1000D. Paragon, Orion. Pegasus. and all I could do was screw around with with this dorkey little black box which had beautiful audio, like my old HT-37, and better RX charistics that my old 820 or my new Orion and 5 times a week my software was updated as the bugs got worked out.

It did CW terrible. You could not work a pile up with the thing because of the lag. The power output varied all over the place so I had to switch from the alpha to a 3-500 amp so I wouldnt blow out the grids on my expensive tubes etc etc. BUT day by day, the same as Mr Natural, in every way it got better and better. It turns out that none of that stuff was the fault of the SDR-1000 hardware. It was because of the software. I became part of the beta testing team and we worked and worked and worked, mostly guys like Eric Ke5TDO and Bob N4HY and Frank AB2KT and John W5GI and of course Gerald K5SDR and dozens of others who pitched in, and little by little the gremlins got squished and the radio got better and better and better. It wasn't long till I was working pileups but even more amazing was the radio's plasticity.

In its original config, the SDR-1000 had one RX and one TX like my old 820 or Paragon It didn't have a second RX. It did have 2 VFO's so if you wanted to tail end a DX pile, you would keep switching the 2 VFO's back and forth. Tedious to say the least, after you've used the Orion or the FT-1000D. Then one day I downloaded the software update and Voila I now had TWO receivers and a control so I could listen to the pile in one ear, and the DX in the other JUST LIKE MY ORION!!!! AND FOR FREE!!!! In fact the software had the ability to actually turn on 16 receivers but there was no easy way to display and control all that. It didn't matter. Just adding one RX rocked my world. It took my little 1000 buck hobby radio and put it in the same league as my Orion. If my Orion already didn't have 2 receivers it never would have been able to be upgraded to 2 receivers, and yet this dorky little black box was able to do it with nothing more than a download. Amazing

So who am I? I'm a guy who grew up with Ham radio. I've been doing it for 50 years, licensed for 46. I built little simple rigs and big power rigs and I've done commercial communications and broadcasting. I started with rigs that were 20 years old when I bought them, with designs that were even older (SpanMaster), all the way to SDR. I've gotten my hands dirty. Why am I here? Because we face a new and exciting future and I am interested in contrasting the past, the present, and where we are likely to go, and what I think we need to think about to get there.

For example one question I want to investigate is how is it every one in ham radio thinks we need a "roofing filter"? Are ARRL test designed 40 years ago, test which determine how radios are designed and marketed to us, are these tests appropriate to actual progress in the radio field or do they hold us back? Is the test the reason we are stuck in the never ending roofing filter mode? Is roofing filter mode causing us to loose an incredible amount of flexibility and fun?

Intel and Microsoft held back computer development decades because they colluded to control the pace of development. The CEO of Sun Micro 15 years ago called for the development of parallel processing and talked about the tremendous processing power of parallel processing. It is only today we now see that vision coming to fruition. Is ham radio suffering such a bottle neck? Is the testing method antique to the technology? Just a question. As I write I want to look at SDR primarily in the version of the Flex radio and its operating advantages in real world situations as a start this is where I would like to go with this blog. It may not be where I end up. Like Paulson's TARP I may end up a hundred miles away but for a start that's why I'm here.

Mostly I want to have some fun with the subject and give others something to think about or react against with the idea: When men and women of good will come together, it is at that interface of action and reaction, forward motion is created. To quote W: "Let's Roll"