an expensive hobby

Looks like this amateur radio thing is going to get expensive.

The rig I was looking at — the Yaesu FT-8900R — appeared to be considerably cheaper than all the other multi-band units. It appears that it’s FM only, which is rarely used on the HF bands. The considerably more expensive FT-857D is the cheapest unit that will do 10m/6m/2m/70cm, which I reckon is pretty much where my interest lies.

Then there’s power supplies. Yeah, these beasts need external power supplies. Great big honkin’ 13.8V DC power supplies; about $200 for a rig of this size. Yet more desk space taken up; more cables, more clutter.

If that weren’t enough, there’s the antenna issue. I appear to live in a Faraday cage surrounded by overhead TX lines. Something’s going to have to go on the roof. Well, actually two somethings, as the chance of getting an antenna to work even roughly well on HF and VHF (unless I splash on the expensive and fiddly looking Maldol HVU-8) is close to nil.

So basically, I’m looking to drop a couple of grand on this. Eep.

In better ham news, last night I received my first radiogram, welcoming me to the hobby. Thanks, Paul (VA3PB)!

the silence of the hams

It’s highly likely I’m doing something wrong, but I’m getting nothing on the 2m & 70cm bands in eastern Toronto of an evening. After a week of dedicated listening, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of nets (one of which I briefly participated in), heard one morning commute chat, noted a couple of dudes talking about power supplies in Portuguese, and managed to key up a repeater which said hello back to me. That’s it.

I’m not expecting the airwaves to be crackling with witty repartee all the time, but most of the time there seems to be no-one out there. Calling CQ on simplex VHF might as well be shouting into a hole.

I know I have a cheapo rig and a flimsy aerial, but I must be able to contact people within the neighbouring kilometres … must I?

a ham i am!

I just got my amateur radio license. If you’re unlucky enough to be on the 2m and 70cm bands around Toronto, you may just find me as VA3PID. The 3 is, of course, silent …

I guess that (so far unsuccessfully) futzing around with the small digital transceivers with Arduino made me look up some radio things, then I read this article on MetaFilter. It made me realize that unless new hams get on the air, the hobby will die, and the radio spectrum will be reallocated.

Passing the test wasn’t that hard, but did take a bit of dedicated reading. No morse code is required for the Basic Amateur Radio Operator Certificate, and if you get more than 80% in the multiple choice test, you can use the HF frequencies below 30 MHz. Since the pass mark is 70%, I thought it worth the extra effort.

I slightly overbought on the study materials. I got:

While it’s possible to download the question bank from Industry Canada, or use the quaint Windows-based examiner program, I thought I’d work from a book. Both will likely do pretty well, but neither is perfect:

  • Both books need to work on their proof-reading.
  • Mathematical symbols, superscripts and subscripts are easy to typeset these days. Don’t miss them out.
  • They need to be fully metric, as trying to remember weird factors to convert fractions of a wavelength to feet is annoying. I’m a mid-career engineer, and I’ve never had to use anything but metric.

I passed the exam on Tuesday night, and had my callsign listed by Friday. I have a cheap but adequate Wouxun dual band HT. This should be fun.

Quaint, huh? Industry Canada's Windows-only examiner software

2010 contenders

Dammit, is it really December? Anyway, this is what I listened to this year:

  • Albemarle Ramblers — Gentleman from Virginia
  • Amanda Palmer — Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele
  • The Apples in stereo — Travellers in Space and Time
  • Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
  • Bart Veerman — Some o’ Mine and Some I Like (2003)
  • Basia Bulat — Heart Of My Own
  • Belle & Sebastian — Write About Love
  • Ben Veneer — Ben Veneer
  • Bertrand Belin — Hypernuit
  • Bill Holt — Dreamies (1973)
  • Brett Dennen — Brett Dennen (2005)
  • Brian Wilson — Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
  • Broken Social Scene — Forgiveness Rock Record
  • Calvin, Don’t Jump! — Under Bridges
  • Caribou — Swim
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops — Genuine Negro Jig
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg — IRM (2009)
  • Chris Coole & Ivan Rosenberg — Farewell Trion
  • Colleen and Paul — Colleen and Paul
  • The Corin Tucker Band — 1,000 Years
  • Dan Jones — Dan Jones and The Squids:Live 09
  • Dan Jones & Peter Wilde — My Name Is John Smith
  • The Delgados — The Great Eastern (2000)
  • Dum Dum Girls — I Will Be
  • Eels — End Times
  • Eels — Tomorrow Morning
  • Elf Power — Elf Power
  • Entertainment For The Braindead — Roadkill
  • Final Fantasy — Heartland
  • Forest City Lovers — Carriage
  • Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People — The Sacred Prune Of Remembrance
  • Frightened Rabbit — The Winter of Mixed Drinks
  • Frontier Ruckus — Deadmalls and Nightfalls
  • Germans — Elf Shot Lame Witch (2008)
  • Goldfrapp — Head First
  • Gonja Sufi — A Sufi And A Killer
  • The Good Right Arm Stringband — The Good Right Arm Stringband
  • High Places — High Places vs. Mankind
  • Hold Your Horses! — 70 Million
  • The Hungry Moment — Phantom 45
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff — Young Blood Blues
  • James Blackshaw — All Is Falling
  • Joanna Newsom — Have One On Me
  • Jónsi — Go
  • Kyle Creed — Liberty (1977)
  • Ladies of the Canyon — Haunted Woman
  • M.I.A. — Maya
  • Macy Gray — The Sellout
  • Major Organ And The Adding Machine — Major Organ and the Adding Machine (re-release)
  • MGMT — Congratulations
  • Miles Kurosky — The Desert of Shallow Effects
  • Mojave 3 — Ask Me Tomorrow (1995)
  • Nana Grizol — “Ruth”
  • Nesey Gallons — Southern Winter by Smouldering Porches
  • The New Pornographers — Together
  • of Montreal — False Priest
  • Old Man Luedecke — My Hands Are On Fire and Other Love Songs
  • The Open Letters — Bicycle EP
  • Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps — Outertainment
  • Peter Stampfel & Zöe Stampfel — Ass in the Air
  • Pocahaunted — Make It Real
  • Princess Pangolin — Princess Pangolin
  • Raymond Scott — Soothing Sounds For Baby (1963)
  • Robyn Hitchcock — Propellor Time
  • The Ruby Suns — Fight Softly
  • Smoosh — Withershins
  • Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin — Let It Sway
  • Stereo Total — Baby Ouh!
  • Suckers — Wild Smile
  • Sufjan Stevens — All Delighted People EP
  • Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz
  • Sunbear — Moonbath
  • The Superions — the Superions
  • The Tallest Man On Earth — The Wild Hunt
  • Tune-Yards — Bird-Brains (2009)
  • The Turtles — The Turtles Present The Battle of the Bands (1968)
  • Vampire Weekend — Contra

Must be getting old; two of the albums (Bertrand Belin and Brett Dennen) I bought because I heard tracks on the radio. Consequently, I predict Lawrence Welk in my best of 2011.

Robyn Hitchcock Live at Dancebase on 2001-08-22 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive

Robyn Hitchcock Live at Dancebase on 2001-08-22 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.

Robyn Hitchcock
Dancebase, Edinburgh
2001-08-22
Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 Andy Kershaw show, 2001-08-24

FM-Radio > SB-16 > WAV > CD-R
CD-R > XLD > FLAC-16

Sound is occasionally slightly buzzy, but generally pretty clear.

Setlist:
     1	Gene Hackman
     2	Cheese Alarm
     3	Arms Of Love
     4	Surgery
     5	I Often Dream Of Trains
     6	Autumn Is Your Last Chance
     7	Freeze
     8	(Interview with Andy Kershaw)

Support was The Bhundu Boys.

Recorded and transferred by Stewart C. Russell - scruss.com
(who also has a mono AUD on minidisc of this - enquire if interested)

CBC Radio 1 Bandwidth: It’s a Banjolution!

CBC Bandwidth had a good show yesterday on the many banjo players and styles in Ontario. It features, amongst others: Jayme Stone, Jeff Menzies, Chris Coole, Chris Quinn, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, Andrea Simms-Karp, the Barmitzvah Brothers, Jenny Whiteley, Sheesham and Lotus, Feist and Elliott Brood.

If you missed it, I saved a copy of the stream here: http://scruss.com/music/banjodwidth-20080322.mp3 (25 MB).

There’s a faint click in some of the audio (I always seem to get it from CBC’s streams), but it’s not too noticeable.

How to dismantle an nuclear power station

… [the] process is only projected to be completed by the end of this century, as it is not considered safe to start dismantling the highly radioactive core until the 2080s

 — BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Tackling the UK’s nuclear legacy

An evening with Mr Gosse

I’ve just been listening to BBC Radio 4‘s dramatisation of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. It’s rather good.

I think I can safely say that this household knows more about Edmund Gosse than any other in Scarborough. Catherine‘s PhD was based on on the Gosse family, and I’ve read the book and proof-read the thesis. I suspect we’re also the only household in Scarborough that relates episodes from the young life of Edmund Gosse as if they were family anecdotes.

I know, we must get a life …

Ivor Cutler: Glasgow Dreamer

I’ve archived an MP3 copy of Arnold Brown’s Radio 4 programme here: Ivor Cutler: Glasgow Dreamer. It’s a good introduction to Ivor Cutler’s work, and it’s a bit more accessible than the RealAudio format I had to convert it from.

masters of bandwidth

philips ae6370 pocket radio

I found my little Philips pocket radio again today. I bought it on the 11th of September 2001, when radio was the only news medium I could get to that wasn’t overloaded.

On FM stations, it sounds incredibly clear and sharp. But switch it to AM and detune it a little, and the world becomes a whole new electronic soundscape. Walk by a fluorescent light, and feel the massive fat buzz. A pocket calculator chitters away like an old adding machine. Luminescent panel displays chirp like crickets, wall-warts hum in harmony. My CD player is a waterfall, my mobile phone a galloping horse.

But my computer is a totally different world. [Not so] bright antennae (on the wireless router) bristle with the energy. The printer is an angry beast, howling away even when it’s idle. But the CPU box just drowns everything else out in flat white noise. Nothing else competes.

And all this I found in a quiet little house in Scarborough. I wonder what the rest of the world sounds like?