Category Archives: life

A Strange Summer Surrenders

This summer has been a wild one. The Rhode Island shoreline stayed comfortable and mostly dry while most of Southern New England got walloped with heat and heavy rains in July. That continued into August until the tropical storm carousel started dealing us hurricanes, tropical depressions, and hurricane leftovers. Add in the continues COVID restrictions, and rain-outs on the big holiday weekend, and it was a bit of Groundhog Day from the summer of 2020.

There were few travel opportunities in 2021, but my wife and I made a great road trip to see friends in eastern Michigan, and saw family on the way home. We arrived back in Rhode Island just in time to batten down the hatches before Hurricane Henri made landfall right in our backyard here. We dodged the worst of it with more winds off to the east and more rain off to the west. Still, tree damage, flooding, and 24-48hr power outages were common here. We also cheered the arrival of the big “summer back-breaker” Canadian cold front, which blew out the over-stayed summer funk and replaced it with an Autumn preview. For some reason it also brought a big mosquito hatch with it!

We had the chance to catch up with many friends and family, enjoying the change in the weather along with perfect ocean temperatures and great beachgoing opportunities. Those became priority events in my life. I know that I will have a long winter of ham radio and projects, but the opportunities to enjoy the company of friends is often fleeting. The weekend of September 11-12, 2021 was a great example. Normally I would have been packing my portable VHF contest rig and running my /Rover station in the ARRL September VHF contest. That didn’t happen. My wife and I were able to get together with several friends we haven’t seen in too long, and had three days of good food, good waves, and great company. With everything the past 18 months has deprived us of, it was easy to take a pass on a personal pursuit and enjoy some friends and family. This late-summer weather is a reminder of the long cold season ahead, where there will be great opportunities for radio adventures as well as sitting in my warm shack and exploring the airwaves.

I hope a reader of this post had a great summer (or winter in the southern side of the globe), and is likewise looking ahead to opportunities to come.

Catching Radio Waves

Most hams go through cycles of days or weeks or months where they operate more intensely or take a more relaxed approach. Those “lulls” might look like doing more listening, or working on projects, or making cables, or any of the maintenance things that need to get done. In my current situation I am balancing work, family, friends, and other interests against being on the air. A lazy Sunday walking the beach with a surf rod hoping to annoy some fish is not a time poorly spent. Neither is spending quality time with my wife. We have both been working from home for over 16 months and I think it has made it more important that we do fun things together now. Being stuck in the house together all day is not a substitute for real time spent together. Since I set up an antenna each time I want to operate there is a hurdle to getting on the air. That time is often during peak family time, and family often wins. Even then I am still practicing morse code, reading up on antenna designs, planning my next portable operation, and fine-tuning my VHF Rover setup.

In a way it is not unlike being a surfer in a lineup. You can never catch every wave. Some of the best time you spend might be sitting on your board enjoying the setting, watching the fish, or cheering on your fellow surfers. Here in Rhode Island we are in the heart of the summer beach season. It brings with it many opportunities for recreation, gatherings with friends, and even some solitude if you know what beach to be at and when. It’s hard to choose sitting at a desk (again) over watching the daylight fade while up to my neck in the Atlantic.

Every person has their own circumstances, and I can’t deny being a little jealous of hams who are active every day with permanent installations. I look forward to having that chance as my life balance changes. So, I wish I had a technical topic or an operating tip, but this post is about finding balance and making the most of time on the air when we get it.

OK, I lied! Here is a cool tool for JS8Call, written in Python by Groups.io user basho1600. It scrapes calls, grids, and QSO information from the JS8Call receive window and maps out the station grids with lines connecting stations in QSO. It’s a great example of how you don’t need to be developing executables to make something useful. Being open-source it can also be a starting point for another developer. This is the kind of feature that JS8 needs, and a user stepped in to get the ball rolling. BRAVO

73, Pete N1QDQ

Let the Music Play

This blog has been dormant for quite a while, but my plan is to start putting up music reviews, and some longer-form pieces on learning, performing, and experiencing music.

Coming up very soon: A Tale of Two Mothers

It’s About That Time

I have a gig coming up and am taking time each day to get up to speed. Prepping for a gig can be as much or as little as you make it. Want to be uber-prepared? Get busy about two weeks ahead, daily work. If it is very charty, that would be 2 months. Metronome practice, and a lot of it. Until the metronome sounds like Zig. Or Danny Richmond. and so on.

Meh. Point is: at least I have a plan.

And the improbable situation I find myself in is that I have become a person who is all about planning. Planning in the sense of structuring activity and time in a way to get things done. I also find myself at the a very weird crossroads in life. A place where I have hit a lot of strong numbers. Turning 50. 21 years on one job. Two amazing nephews turning 21. 25 years with an amazing partner who was suggestible enough to agree to marry me, baggage and all. My main man Wylee kicking ass at 11 years.

There is a rising drumbeat reminder of how tenuous it is and how things change. How much change I have seen. Who, and how, and when, and occasionally why. Rarely why.

There is a certainty that the present is a testament to how well or badly we have measured the past. The successes and mistakes form the ripples and eddys. It might be that the most important human mental tool is that we learn from mistakes. If we are especially aware we can learn from others’ mistakes. The humor in the idea that we are better off learning from the mistakes of others is that it is just not the real thing. Yes, you can learn from someone else’s mistake. But you won’t learn as much.

Nothing will get worn smooth by your mind like rehashing your very own gnarly, craggy mistake. Don’t pass up that juice. I realize that I’m a big fan of mistakes on the simple premise that mistakes are an essential tool. Throwing their value away is a monumental waste.

Mistakes are a huge part of preparing for a gig. It is all about making the mistakes before you get to the gig. My wife just sat through a week or two of me working on audio mixes for a project. Essentially it is repetitive listening to eradicate mistakes or make incremental improvements. Nobody wants to hear that except one person. And that person is always looking for ways to have to hear less of it. The continuous quest is to get more efficient. Not that inefficiency is all bad, it just is not as good. Being inefficient is its own, lesser, learning  tool.

And you would be wise to ask why someone would put themselves through all that. All those mistakes and slop and frustration… Simply: At any moment you either decide not to suck at something, or you decide something else, anything else. So the odds are stacked against that decision. To make it, and make it regularly, you have to be motivated by something.  Formal education is all about someone else providing enough structure to make that work compulsory and fairly evaluated. Otherwise you would be going all Huck F. Finn on your schedule. Without that external structure you need to do it because you want to do it. Your plan depends on it. Internal or external, that structure is essential. Huck was not going to ride that raft forever. He had a plan.

You have a plan of attack. Good. You can treat it as a formula like I did up top in the gig prep. I need two weeks to make all those mistakes. It is an inefficiency, but like friction generates heat, actions generate a voice. In music there are many variables. How you listen. How you feel time. How well you read. How well you can translate your inner voice with your instrument’s voice.Your voice becomes a product of your process. Your product will bear the fingerprints of your plan.

You decide, you act, you observe, you hopefully learn, and you apply the lesson. Done.

In a few days I play some Miles Davis, and Herbie, and Nick DeMaria (fer crissakes) and the questions all get answered. Musical questions, and some others too. And there will be more mistakes to provide the grist for the mill.

Miles’ “It’s about that time” is in the setlist, and each time I hear it I laugh at Miles playing with the words in a way James Brown or Sly Stone would immediately recognize. It is all about “that time”. Miles was always the man with the plan.

[this post is dedicated to my nephews Nick Charlton and Chris Gonzalez]