Tag Archives: books

Ever been to Cornbread Road?

My favorite amateur radio blog comes from Jeff Davis, KE9V. If you have been following Jeff’s blog through the years you’ll have seen a constant evolution of his site and content. In addition to his ponderings of the current state of ham radio, Jeff has produced a number of engaging podcasts. Long Delayed Echoes was Jeff’s podcast series that covered a great deal of the early history of amateur radio. It featured selections from Clinton B. DeSoto’s 200 Meters & Down as well as other significant historical sources of ham history. In addition to his written contributions to QST (see the May 2005 issue on page 56) Jeff has also shared his talent for fiction with us. He has several other ham radio related stories that he posts now and again on his blog (… it is worth checking his blog frequently because once in a blue moon he will put links up to his stories… my favorites are QRP Christmas and Tragedy on the Trail).

Besides his blog, Jeff prodigiously uses social media and you would likely enjoy his ham radio musing that can be read via Twitter and Google +.

Jeff combined his podcast talents along with his fiction writing skills with the production of Cornbread Road. All 13 episodes of the serial are currently available and on the 30th of September, Jeff has promised us a final installment. I’m looking forward to that!

A little DX

I spent Saturday filling out QSL cards, stuffing them in envelopes, and putting on $0.98 worth of postage for the USPS first class international air mail rate. To make life easier I ran both the return envelopes and main envelopes through the printer to get my address on. It would be easier to get some kind of mailing label sheets, which I think I will try to find when I get home for Christmas. Any way you slice it, filling out QSL cards and getting them in the mail takes a while. Keeping me entertained during the QSL card envelope stuffing session was the Insomniac Net through my IRLP node.

Sunday I woke up early and put up my Buddipole antenna, configuring it as a dipole for 20M. Exceptional DX catches for the day were:
UN7FU – Kazakhstan
WH0/WH7C – Northern Mariana Islands
FK8GX – New Caledonia Island
CW3TD – Timoteo Dominguez Island, Uruguay

I am continually surprised by my ability to work stations in South America. I’m not sure what path I am getting the propagation from. There is no one single time of day for my South American contacts – some are in the morning, others in the afternoon.

Today was the first day using my MicroHam USB III. The device is small, just larger than a pack of cards. The radio cable, which comes with the interface, is very well shielded. I used the USB III for both CW and PSK – the device worked well in both modes. Is the MicroHam USB III better than the West Mountain Radio USB PnP RIGBlaster? From a performance standpoint, I think it does a better. With PSK streams, I was able to detect and have QSOs with much weaker signals using the USB III. The fact that the USB III has its own soundcard is a big plus.

Almost done reading A Year of DX by Bob Locher, W9KNI. Bob details his year-long run in the CQ DX Marathon. The reader gets to sit side-by-side with Bob as he uses his Elecraft K3 and DX cluster alarm to work country after country. Bob demonstrates the importance of researching the various rare entities, determining when they might become active and how best to work them. The book is divided month by month, detailing the QSO with each new entity. Between the month chapters are useful chapters concerned with amplifiers, SSB phone techniques, and an amusing Walter Mitty-esque short story themed around DX contacts. I’m enjoying the book and recommend it (…potential stocking stuffer!).

Chasing MARS…

I’m continuing my research of piecing together the history of MARS starting back from the early days of the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). The process of research is as enjoyable as the information I’m digging up.

- Jeff, KE9V, had a post on his blog the other day that featured a humorous cartoon of different styles of keying and he sited it from a 1952 MARS Bulletin. The “MARS Bulletin” reference caught my eye, because I had not yet heard that there was such a bulletin. Additionally, the time frame of the bulletin in 1952 was near the time when MARS had been reincarnated from the ashes of the pre-WWII AARS. Jeff said he had got the picture from Dr. Kristen Haring’s book Ham Radio’s Technical Culture, published back in 2006. I contacted Dr. Haring (she’s a professor at Auburn University) and asked if she could provide me any additional information on the MARS Bulletin. Dr. Haring told me that she had accessed the MARS Bulletin while conducting research at both the Library of Congress and Columbia University’s library. She also recommended a search tool called WorldCat to help locate copies of the MARS Bulletin nearby. WorldCat is a great tool (it would have been helpful to have had this earlier on in my research) and I was able to locate copies of the Bulletin at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology located in nearby Kansas City (with the next closest source at Indiana University which is some distance away). The library here at Fort Leavenworth is top notch – its official title being the Combined Arms Research Library.

But I am sometimes surprised that they lack items like the MARS Bulletin. Tomorrow I will head down to Kansas City and see if the MARS Bulletin can help explain why MARS was resurrected after WWII and what was the military’s intended mission for the organization.

- Following another lead for QST, I found a letter to the editor in the October 1998 issue from a gentleman by the name of Robert Gabardy, K4TJ. In the letter, Mr. Gabardy explained how he was part of a team which formed to bring MARS back to life back in 1949 and explained how they arrived a the new name for the organization. I was able to contact the retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gabardy, who served in the US Army for a period of over 23 years and is a veteran of WWII. He was able to give me a bit more background and also agreed to respond to some additional questions that I am developing.

- My last hot lead comes from another QST letter to the editor from the June 1998 issue that had caused LTC Gabardy to write in. This letter was from George Hart, W1NJM, a former staff member of ARRL… but also a former member of the AARS and also an Army veteran of WWII. From what I can tell now, Mr. Hart is in a retirement facility in Connecticut. I am going to try to reach him tomorrow and see if I can conduct a telephone interview with him. He would be an amazing source of information into how AARS functioned. I am particular interested in trying to determine why the US Army failed to directly draw from the pool of trained AARS operators to fill the ranks of the Signal Corps after Pearl Harbor. Equally confusing is why the Army didn’t maintain the organization to continue to fulfill its domestic responsibilities of acting as an auxiliary communications network. Instead AARS disintegrated within hours after Pearl Harbor, but only to be replaced later by the Wartime Emergency Radio Service (WERS).

I am hoping tomorrow will be a productive research day.

The Geek-Nerd Singularity

I have been reading a few of books lately that have focused on the geek/nerd subculture. Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People does the best job of providing an overall examination of the subject. His conclusions say that nerds like a rule-bound world and sites examples that include amateur radio operators (to include those who favor Morse Code).

Two other books focus on the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing culture. Mark Barrowcliffe’s The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange is an autobiographical look at Mark’s adolescent life growing up as a roll playing enthusiast who takes his gaming desires to a bit of an extreme.

Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms is the latest. Ethan is a journalist and former gamer who, when he stumbles across his old stash of Dungeons and Dragons material, turns his journalistic talents towards a journey of self-reflection through the current growth (and acceptance(?)) of the gaming culture.

I rented this on my Apple TV: Monster Camp. A hilarious documentary about folks who take role playing to the extreme – leaving the table top and miniature figures and donning the garb of their character to spend the weekend bringing fantasy gaming to life.

These examinations of the geek/nerd subculture have been very enlightening. The recent ground swell is probably due to the maturity of those who lived through the hay-day of Dungeons and Dragons (late 70s and early 80s) which also paralleled the computer revolution. Whether it is for recreational escape or gravitating towards rule-based environments, the geek/nerd has come out of the high school A/V closet and has proudly integrated as a member of society… no longer on the social fringe.

Finally, Cory Doctorow’s Makers is a book I got for Christmas. I actually thought it was non-fiction… I hadn’t read much about it but I enjoy Cory Doctrow. The book is actually science fiction, based in the not to distant future based around a changing world economy that is driven more by small groups of creative individuals reather than large, corporate monoliths. The book has bogged down a bit towards the middle but I am hoping it starts to pick up again.

Digital Books

I have one of the first edition Kindles that I’ve had since last year. Previously I was using the Sony Reader and enjoyed using it immensely. The Kindle offers the exact same reading experience but with a larger selection of titles to choose from. Jeff Davis, KE9V of Signal and Noise, has previously mentioned The Radio Boys – the title of a series of juvenile fiction books published in the 1920s. Believe it or not, many of their titles are available for the Kindle. I read one and it was pretty entertaining. Another recent find in the Kindle Store was the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien. That’s pretty amazing as the Tolkien books have long resisted being available in digital format. As I’ve said above, I enjoy reading books on the Kindle and it is a huge space saver – but it does not work for me when I am using textbooks. I have found that when I am using a textbook, I need to physically make marks (highlights, underlining, stars, etc.) as well as notes in the margin – it helps me learn the material. Many of the eReaders allow you to make digital annotations… but that is not same (at least for me).

SolderSmoke: A Global Adventure in Radio Electronics, by Bill Meara, N2CQR

SolderSmoke: A Global Adventure in Radio Electronics, by Bill Meara, N2CQR, takes the reader on a journey into the magic of radio and the essence of the amateur radio hobby. The book is both a personal journal and a workbench notebook. Bill weaves together his exploration of radio through both his experiences since joining the hobby as a boy and the continual development of his conceptualization and resulting understanding of the basics of electronics. With a liberal arts education, Bill’s exploration of electronics becomes a passionate pursuit driven by questions not easily explained by standard text book answers. Anyone who has enjoyed listening to a SolderSmoke podcast knows that Bill is a wonderful storyteller. His narrative traces his development in the hobby: early years as a boy, an Army private at Fort Gordon, GA experiencing the Signal Corps school, his reemergence in the hobby upon the start of a State Department posting in the Dominican Republic, followed by tours in the Azores, London, and Rome. Bill’s interests in amateur radio covers many of its facets. He makes contact with a Russian OSCAR satellite, talks to an astronaut aboard MIR, and catches the homebrewing bug – building an AM rig, a dual side-band rig that he uses on 17M and other completely homebrewed projects. His job with the State Department allows him to enjoy the hobby from exotic locations around the globe. The fellow hams he meets (both on air and locals) adds to his adventures. Whether a fellow homebrewer is sending him a hard to get part or he works a local ham in the Dominican Republic via a satellite-based VHF repeater, Bill brings to life the camaraderie of the amateur radio fellowship. His journey takes him beyond the basic equations of electronic theory and explores some of the fundamental questions behind the formulas. I would recommend this book for anyone who views amateur radio gear as more than just a collection of transistors, capacitors, diodes, and solder. SolderSmoke (the book) is one man’s journey into the soul of ham radio. It is a wonderful, amazing quest to unlock the magic of the electron.
The book [softbound, 195 pages] is self-published and available from Lulu or Amazon.com for $22.99.

Another antenna book?

I am really enjoying this book. I have many of the ARRL books on antennas (and there are many) but I have found this book to be indispensable in understanding how antennas work and why. It starts with basic, simple antennas and builds from there. I was especially pleased to read one of the sections by Tom Schiller, N6BT. Mr. Schiller works for Force 12 and is an antenna guru. But more importantly, he is the father of Traci Schiller, one of my good friends from high school. The Schiller’s backyard backed up to Foothill Expressway in Los Altos, CA and you could always see Mr. Schiller’s massive tower. I wish I had been involved in the hobby back then and gotten a tour of Mr. Schiller’s shack. His article in this book is about how every antenna will work, but some work better than others. He does a great job of differentiating between great antennas and antennas that get you on the air. He also shows the rate of diminishing returns you receive at a certain point. I am enjoying Simple and Fun Antennas for Hams and recommend it if you don’t have a firm understanding the basics of antennas and would like to experiment, build your own, and attempt to master the mysteries of the aerial.

Travels With Barley


I started reading this book, by Ken Wells, on my Kindle. Great read that covers the history of beer – which I knew started in Iraq but ironically you are not allowed to drink it there now. The story follows beer to America, the development of the brewery system, the ascendancy of the big breweries, and the explosion of microbrews. The backdrop for the story is Ken Wells journey along the Mississippi River, from north to south, in his attempt to locate cool beer joints.

Wells even mentions the first recognized microbrew in the US – Bert Grant’s place in Yakima, Washington. I’ve been there and was a big fan of Bert’s brew. I think it is closed now and been replaced by the Yakima Craft Brewing Co. Grant’s was a great pub with wonderful brew. Although my favorite Washington microbrew is the Ram Big Horn Brewing Company.

I’m really enjoying Ken’s roadtrip but it’s making me thirsty.

The Review, Part 2: The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: A Social History

Read part 1 of the review here

This was a book I hated to finish reading. Chapters 9 – 12 are full of amateur radio’s involvement in aviation, sea journeys, and the exploration of the polar regions. There is great coverage of the private schooner Yankee, which sailed around-the-world with a crew made up of college age young men and stops included the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Pitcairn (a fascinating story there), Manga, and Tahiti. Alan Eurich, W8IGO, worked the onboard rig and was an invaluable member of the crew. Chapter 10 talks about an amazing air race between Oakland, CA and Hawaii – amateur radio played a key role in tracking the planes and providing help. Anne Morrow Lindbergh operated a rig when flying with her husband, making contacts with many amateurs. The most interesting of the Antarctica explorations involved radio operator Sidney Jeffryes who’s isolation and resulting insanity jeopardized the mission… sending crazed reports back to Australia via Macquarie Island. Almost all the major polar expeditions used radio. QST covered almost all these adventures, sparking the imagination of young hams back home.

Chapter 13 covers amateur radio’s involvement in supporting emergency and disaster response. Flooding, hurricanes, and fire – hams responded and used their radios to help the authorities organize their efforts as well as to pass health and welfare traffic. The forest service was also instrumental in the development of portable radio with the help of dedicated amateurs.

Chapters 14 and 15 cover the neutrality period prior to WWII, WWII itself, and the early post-war years. QST encouraged those hams enlisting in the service to bring along their FCC license and push to be placed in a signal organization to take advantage of their skills.

The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: A Social History is a great book, well written, entertaining, and enlightening as to the roots of amateur radio in the US. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of ham radio and the individual hams who have contributed so much in the early years.

The Review, Part 1: The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: A Social History

This is a modern telling of Clinton DeSoto’s 1936 classic 200 Meters and Down story through meticulous research of the author, Richard Bartlett, and the amateur radio experiences of the his brother Forrest, W6OWP. Tracing the start of radio from Marconi through the emergence of a thriving hobby in the post WWI years, Bartlett does a wonderful job of taking the reader on a journey through the history of ham radio. It is a more vibrant story than 200 Meters, aided by hindsight and a wealth of primary sources the author pulls from. When he describes the early boy-ham experimenter, I immediately drew a parallel with the boy-”hackers” of the 1980s and 90s. Teenage boys, curious and prone to mischief with knowledge of a new technology unfamiliar to most. Ignorance easily creates fear, and these early boy-hams were often looked at as a danger and a threat.

There is good coverage of the early organizations supporting ham radio to include The Royal Order of the Wouff Hong. I’d always heard about the Wouff Hong and it was fascinating to read about it’s humorous origins.

Bartlett covers many of the highlights of ham radios initial contributions: demonstrating the ability to relay messages across the country, providing a means of communications in support of disaster areas, and sending messages across the globe. It is amazing that amateur radio survived the post-WWI years – threatened by both the military and commercial broadcast interests. The hobby also created a commercial industry of amateur radio equipment suppliers – Bartlett describes the elaborate displays these businesses put on at the Chicago’s 1933-34 World’s Fair that helped capture the imagination of the public.

The best part of the book so far is Bartlett’s coverage of ham radio’s support to exploration in the 1920s and 30s (Chapter 7, Amateurs as Experimenters and Adventurers). Harry Wells, W3ZD, accompanied a 1929 scientific expedition to Borneo and sent reports back to hams in the states. Bertram Sandham, W6EQF supported an automobile expedition to open up an International Pacific Highway from Fairbanks, AK to Buenos Aires. The descriptions of both these portable and mobile operations are exciting and inspiring.

I’m still working through the book, so more to come.

… part 2 of the review is here