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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

Those Three Little Words ...


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

There are three little words that far too many of us are afraid to say, and not saying them can often hold us back. No, this isn't a relationships magazine, so it isn't those three little words, but rather, these: I don't know.

Good friend and longtime CQ author Ted Cohen, N4XX, recently shared a transcript he'd discovered of a 2012 NPR interview with then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. In it, Bloomberg told "Science Friday" host Ira Flatow that he had once been a ham radio operator, although he couldn't remember what his callsign had been. Apparently, his time in the hobby was cut short by a non-technical problem, as he explained to Flatow, "I was OK with the code, but I can't spell and for Morse code, that's a big problem."

As interesting as it was to learn that the former mayor is a former ham, that wasn't what really caught my eye in reading the transcript. A little later in the interview, Flatow and Bloomberg were talking about the need to trust science and the fact that too many people today adopt ideas without understanding what they're about or trying to find out more about them. "One of the things that's always annoyed me," said Bloomberg, "people always talk about the XYZ, 'Well, we've got to do the XYZ,' and you say, 'What is XYZ?' (And they respond,) 'Oh, I don't know.' People don't stop to ask questions."

"People are afraid to ask," he continued, "and to let people understand that they don't know. And if you just said, 'I don't understand it,' you'll find that nobody else in the room understood it, either. You were the only one with the courage to stand up."

This is an affliction that sometimes affects us hams as well ... people think they'll look foolish if they admit they don't already know something and, as a result, never ask and never learn. This is really too bad, since ham radio is a hobby that practically demands that we learn new things and improve our skills in order to keep current with advancements in technology.

Luckily, we have the antidote for this affliction, and you're holding it in your hands (or reading it on your screen). Helping you to learn more about all the different activities that make up ham radio is what CQ is all about, keeping in mind that even someone who is a leading expert in one aspect of our hobby may be a complete novice in another.

This is one of those issues that didn't start out with a particular focus but built one for itself as it came together. That focus, if you haven't already figured it out from the theme of this editorial so far, is lifelong learning. We've got two articles on the benefits of attending technical conferences (both inside and outside ham radio), WA3UVV's "Off the Air" column this month is on "Continuing Education" and various stages of knowledge, and "Learning Curve" covers the basics of space weather and its impact on radio wave propagation (with additional info in our Propagation column).

But we don't always know what you don't know (see "Off the Air" for more on knowing or not knowing what you do and don't know), and in many cases, it will be up to you to ask. Your local club is always a good resource and there are plenty of excellent groups on the Internet and Facebook where you can ask questions without fear of being made to feel stupid for not already knowing. The "100 Watts and a Wire" group on Facebook is among the best. Lots of people who actually know stuff and are happy to share can be found there. But the bottom line is that there are plenty of resources available in our little corner of the world for learning all sorts of new things. Your ham radio license is the key to many doors of great knowledge. Just ask Mike Bloomberg (even if he can't remember what his call was!). And all it takes to get started are those three little words: I don't know.

What Goes Around (and Around) …
For decades, radio-controlled (R/C) airplanes, helicopters, and boats have been a niche within a niche in ham radio (do you even know that there are frequencies on 6 meters set aside for R/C?). Suddenly, though, R/C craft seem to be all over the news in the form of drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) with onboard GPS guidance and first-person view (FPV) cameras that let you see what the drone is seeing.

Hams, of course, are quickly finding ways to incorporate these craft into our activities, beyond just having fun. We've reported in the past on amateur radio emergency groups using drones to fly over unsafe disaster areas to send back video damage assessments, or to provide an aerial feed along a parade route.

In this issue, W6APZ adds a new ham use for drones tracking down the source of repeater interference. This can be one more tool for a local interference committee and/or radio direction-finding (foxhunting) group, and can be useful beyond the borders of the ham bands, such as helping a local public safety agency track down interference on its frequencies. Just remember that the FAA now requires all drones to be registered, so be sure to check out the latest rules and procedures before takeoff!

Learning From the Past
Sometimes, knowing something's origins can help us to chart its future. Other times, it's just plain fascinating to find out how certain devices and organizations came to be developed. For example, did you know that the cubical quad antenna was developed 73 years ago by a missionary ham in Ecuador to solve the problem of giant sparks shooting out of the ends of the Yagi antenna at shortwave broadcaster HCJB? Read Doug Weber's article on page 24 to learn more.

You've probably heard of MARS, the Military Auxiliary Radio System, but did you know that it was started by the Army 90 years ago in an effort to create a nationwide emergency radio network despite budget cuts to the Signal Corps after the end of World War I? Or that it has a new role as part of our military's cyberdefense efforts? Former Army MARS Public Information Officer Bill Sexton, N1IN, starts a three-part series on the past and future of MARS on page 27.

Looking Ahead to Spring …
I'm writing this in late January, just a few days after one of the biggest blizzards on record dropped from two to three feet of snow on the New York City area (there are payloaders outside my house right now, clearing the mountains of snow from the street), so I definitely have thoughts of spring bouncing through my brain. As you read this, spring will be much closer to being a reality than a distant dream. So it's time to wrap up your winter building and antenna projects and get ready to hit the airwaves as equinoctial propagation conditions (another chance to learn something if you don't know what that means start in our Propagation column on page 98) promise some of the year's best DX on HF. We also encourage you, as the weather gets warmer, to think about taking your station "to the field" and getting some exercise and fresh air while you operate.

Happy Spring! 73, W2VU

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