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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

"Ham Think"


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

Too many years ago to admit, Steve Mendelsohn, W2ML (SK), and I coined the term "HamSpeak" in putting together a convention talk on the unique language shared by hams around the world. Now, it's time to add a companion term, "HamThink," to describe the ways in which hams tend to approach problem-solving tasks.

This occurred to me when I flipped on the computer in my shack a few weeks ago and … nothing happened. Nothing at all. The only hint was that the power light on the tower was yellow instead of green. This is an old computer, for which I paid the princely sum of $25 at a hamfest some years back. I put another $25 or so into added memory and it's done everything I've needed it to do.

Now, a normal person who's gotten 5-6 years' use out of a $50 computing investment would likely say, "I've gotten my money's worth," perhaps try to retain some of the data, and head for the nearest computer store. But not a ham; not me. I did end up at the computer store, but not for a new computer. It took only a little bit of poking around on the internet to discover that the most likely culprit was the power supply, and my friendly local computer store has power supplies starting at $15 (going up to well over $100 for special needs). It turned out the $15 model was all I'd need (a good thing, since I wasn't about to spend $75 to replace the power supply on a $25 computer!). I brought it home, plugged in all the plugs and turned it on … Lo and behold, it works again! Mission accomplished; $300-something saved.

But as a ham, was I satisfied? Of course not! The first thing I did after making sure the new supply worked was start taking apart the old one (see photo) to see if I could find an obvious point of failure (I couldn't) or find anything worth salvaging inside it. At minimum, I've got a nice 12-volt fan, adding its value ($2?) to my $15 investment in keeping the computer running! [OK – computer folks: What are the most common points of failure in a computer power supply and what elements — if any — are most worth trying to remove from the circuit board for possible re-use in a future project?]

Afterward, it occurred to me that I had not only saved a few hundred bucks and kept one more piece of electronics out of the recycling bin, but was using "HamThink" to keep from having to replace the computer. "HamThink" is a mindset, a way of looking at the world and of approaching problems. Hams tend to see problems — especially with electronics — as challenges to be met and opportunities to fight back against planned obsolescence (We share this trait with many Makers as well).

The innards of a dead computer power supply can be a treasure trove for your junkbox (once you've figured out what failed). Pulling the 12-volt fan didn't even require unsoldering anything!

We are trained, both formally and informally, to improvise, to "think outside the box" and to come up with a solution that works, even if it means using unorthodox methods or products. But it goes further. As members of a technical hobby, we want to know how things work and especially why they've stopped working. Thus the urge not only to replace the power supply instead of the whole computer, but to take apart the old one to try to figure out what broke. Finding the answer is almost secondary, though, to seeing how it all went together (and came apart) and learning the color code for wiring with different voltages. Plus, if I have the time and patience, I can add a collection of hefty toroids, transformers and filter capacitors to my junk box, not to mention all those short lengths of hookup wire and assorted connectors! Quite a potential bonanza from a $15 fix!

Think about how you think about things … and about how you approach problem solving. It is likely different from your non-ham neighbors, and a likely reason those neighbors may see you as a go-to person when something breaks. Congratulations! You're a practitioner of HamThink.

Amateur Radio Parity Act

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the U.S. Senate will have joined the House of Representatives in passing H.R. 1301, the Amateur Radio Parity Act, and President Obama will have signed it into law. This bill, with amendments approved by the organization representing homeowners' associations, will guarantee hams living under private land-use agreements the right to put up and use an outdoor antenna. The specifics would still need to be worked out on an individual basis, but it is hoped that hams will have much greater flexibility than they do now. We'll see how it goes, but once again, kudos to the ARRL and especially N2YBB for working out a solution after many, many years of effort.

In This Issue…

We've got an informal contesting mini-special this month, starting with our cover story on the ED8X operation from the Canary Islands in last year's CQ World Wide DX CW Contest (they didn't win that one, but did win their category in this year's WPX CW Contest, for which we have complete results in this issue). We've also got a great story of two ham radio friends operating Field Day together twice … with a 40-year break in between! Plus, we have the rules for next year's CQWW 160-Meter Contest and the 2017 CQ DX Marathon. And don't forget the CQWW DX Contest itself — the SSB weekend on October 29-30, and the CW weekend on November 26-27. See Propagation on page 97 for lastminute forecasts.

But what if you're not a contester? Not to worry … we've got you covered, too. KH6WZ writes about building a Heathkit VTVM — for the second time! KOØZ looks at combining geocaching with ham radio foxhunting, and KØOV reports on the Amateur Radio Direction Finding World Championships, at which the U.S. team won seven medals. If you want to set your sights even higher, WA8RJF fills us in on three separate moonbounce expeditions this past summer. As always, we do our best to cover the broad spectrum (pun intended) of amateur radio. Enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers in the U.S.

– 73, W2VU

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