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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

“Kid Magnets”


*e-mail: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Want to catch a kid’s attention with technology? Try a robotic spider, a drone helicopter that transmits live video, or … a telegraph key. Last weekend, I joined my local maker group in putting on a technology exhibit for a nearby middle school’s “Innovation Faire.” Our display included robots, WiFicontrolled light-up pumpkin heads for Halloween, a 3-D printer (and a 3-D-printed arm!), and a look at “A Half Century of Making With Ham Radio” (see photos, page 41).

My piece of the exhibit featured radio projects built with technology from each of the past five decades, along with an 1890s Bunnell telegraph key and sounder and a more modern hand key connected to a 1970s vintage Heathkit keyer and code oscillator.

Two elements of the display turned out to be “kid magnets.” One was a remotely-piloted quad copter with a wireless camera on board that fed live images to a virtual reality headset that gave you a “copter’s eye view” of the room as builder Chuck Fletcher (who’s also KD2GXP) hand-flew it around the room. The other was … those keys. The kids could not keep their hands off them, and they knew exactly what to do with them without being told. They loved trying their hands at making dits and dahs or hearing their names spelled out in Morse. I particularly remember one kid who stopped, tapped each key a few times, then left; but kept coming back for a few more key taps in between visiting other exhibits

It’s easy to assume that technology born in the 19th century would hold little interest to children born in the 21st, but the fact is that kids find it captivating. Morse code is mysterious and exotic, yet not out of reach. In fact, it might just be a little more interesting than voice or even data communication, because it’s different, while talking and texting wirelessly are part of their everyday lives and have been since birth.

I’m not suggesting that every ham radio display focus on Morse code. Mine does so from necessity, since I’m displaying what I’ve built and most of what I’ve built recently involves QRP CW rigs and accessories. KH6WZ offers another Maker Faire approach in his “Ham Notebook” column this month on page 72. What I am suggesting is that, just as Morse code should be part of your toolkit for effective communication on ham radio, it should also be part of your toolkit for effective communication about ham radio. Adults appreciate its simplicity and effectiveness. And kids just think it’s cool.

“Why Are There So Many?”

When you do an exhibit like this, you need to be prepared to answer questions, from the very simple to the very complex. The best questions, in my view, are the ones that make you think; that perhaps you cannot answer instantly. Often, these appear at first to be the simplest questions.

Example: One gentleman was looking inside one of my kits, noted that he had tried his hand at building electronics when he was younger, then asked, “are those resistors there?”

“Yes,” I replied, “along with capacitors and some coils.”

“Why are there so many?” he asked.

What a great question! So simple, so direct, yet without a really simple answer. Since he had indicated at least a basic knowledge of electronics in the past, I talked about the basic building blocks of electronic circuits and how you had to arrange different numbers of different components in different patterns in order to get the circuit to do what you want it to do.

The conversation made its way to Arduinos, and I then pointed out that they can illustrate the answer to his original question. The basic Arduino board is a microcontroller that connects to the outside world, but doesn’t do anything in particular. If you want it to do “X,” then you need to attach another board (called a “shield” for the Arduino-illiterate) designed for that specific function. But if you now want it to do “Y,” then you need to remove the “X” board and replace it with a “Y” board.

It’s the same with basic circuits, I said. If you want a circuit to do “X,” then you need a certain number and arrangement of components. But if you want it to do “Y” instead of “X,” then you need a different arrangement of the same types of components. He was satisfied, and I had had my thinking jogged for the day!

A final thought from the faire … looking at technology from the 1960s onward, it occurred to me that sometimes, what’s old can be new again. My most recent project (photo in last month’s ZB) was built using “Manhattan-style” construction, in which components are soldered to pads glued onto a pc board ground plane and then connected to each other, either directly or with short wires. I was struck by how similar this is to “old fashioned” point-to-point wiring which was the standard before the introduction of printed circuit boards. What goes around, comes around!

– 73, Rich W2VU

RTTY WPX Results Delayed

We are still struggling with debugging the upgraded contest scoring software as it applies to our RTTY contests. As a result, the 2014 CQ WPX RTTY Contest results, scheduled for this issue, are delayed. We apologize for the additional delay and should have everything ready for next month’s issue. – W2VU

Tnx & 73 to N2GA

George Tranos, N2GA, has decided for personal reasons to step down as CQ Contest Editor as of this issue. His final column is on page 102. We would like to thank George for his contributions and insights over the past four-and-a-half years, offering contesting news and tips not only from his own experience but from that of a host of other successful contesters as well. At press time, we were still looking for a successor. We hope to be able to introduce a new Contest Editor as quickly as possible. If you believe you are qualified and have the interest and time to devote to a monthly column, as well as the other tasks that come along with the position, drop me an e-mail. If the post is still vacant at that time, we’ll talk.

As of now, we continue looking for a new QRP Editor as well. That column is bi-monthly, so it doesn’t have quite the same time commitment as would be required for a monthly column. Again, if you’re interested and feel you’re qualified, let’s talk. My e-mail address is at the bottom left of this page. – W2VU

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