The Kroch


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(Being not a collection of culinary gems, but random thoughts from The Kroch, VK3KRO)
"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it !" (Voltaire)
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I should explain at the outset that this is not a collection of tried and trusted family food recipes orally transmitted down the generations (although, if the demand is there this, too, can be arranged). This is a collection of random thoughts on current issues of interest to radio amateurs that have occurred to me, mainly in the shower or on my walks around the local park.

The Krochwaffle

Perhaps the culinary concept of a Krochwaffle is a good starting point, as it serves to illustrate the difference between involvement and commitment. To make a waffle (or, as this example often runs - an omelette) you need two participants : a chicken on the one hand, and a pig for the omelette or a crocodile (or a Kroch, if your taste runs to this) for the Krochwaffle, on the other hand.

Now, when you make one of these culinary wonders, the chicken is involved, but the other participant is committed. That's the difference.

What relevance has this to the amateur radio community, you may ask ? Well, it is my humble observation that most of us in the amateur radio community (and in our so-called "civilisation", for that matter) like to be involved, but not committed. The result can never be a good omelette, just a bunch of waffling. We are each good at different things, but unless we are prepared to put in, we should not criticise. More on that under the rubrics below. It comes down to a case of "put up or shut up". Oops, I swore. That's not allowed in amateur radio, but what the heck ? This is the 'Net !

After the WIA, Then What ?

Before I go on about this issue, I need to point out that I have absolutely NO affiliations with the Institute (other than being an ordinary, fee-paying member, like lots of other amateurs). They have NOT paid me to argue a case for them. The ideas below are totally my own and, I believe, are the same logical conclusions which any objectively thinking sentient being would arrive at, given that emotional issues are ignored.

If I was asked (which I have not been) to comment on the structure and functioning (anatomy and physiology) of this venerable institution, I could only observe that I am probably the worst person in all of VK-land to ask. What I do know is that the WIA, functional or not, structurally elegant or not, is the ONLY body we have, to represent the supposedly 15,000-odd (sometimes *very* odd !) radio amateurs in Australia. What I also know is that most of the work in the WIA is carried out by volunteers. What I also know (having heard it with my own ageing ears) is that there are people slinging off on air about the Institute. I personally find all of this very sad. If the demise of the Institute takes place as predicted by some, then exactly who will represent radio amateurs at IARU conferences and the like ? Exactly who will put forward justifications as to why our generously apportioned spectrum slices should not be allocated to some paying bidder ? All is fair in love, war and business. I run a business, and if I have the choice between being charitable to someone by giving away my products or resources, and making money for the company by selling those same resources, I know what I would be obliged to do. It is actually legally incumbent on me to get the best deal for the company, since if I do not, I will be failing in my duty of looking after the interests of the company as a director, and I could be held personally liable. There are plenty of parties who would love to pay to get their hands on our spectrum space. We are very lucky not to have lost this space already.

If I thought that I could be useful in improving the structure or function of the WIA, I would offer to help. As it is, this is not my forte. Maybe my function is to jog someone reading these notes to do the right thing. All I know is that the WIA doesn't need abuse - it needs help. Yes, some of the personalities currently involved may be abrasive; some may be obnoxious; some may be incompetent. That's not the issue. The issue is that, if amateur radio in Australia is to survive, it needs effective representation, not sniping from the sidelines. That's all I'm going to say on this topic.

The Dreaded Diddli-Dahs

Here's an interesting topic. I'd say that, in all the issues of AR I've ever read (and Radio & Comms. and its predecessors as well, for that matter), the majority of reader feedback space has been taken up with endless argument about The Dreaded Code. My humble view on this is that it's horses for courses, what the hell does it all matter, and let's get on with some practical usage of the bands instead of endless bullshit ! (I'm allowed to say that on the 'Net !)

Yes, I've passed my 5 wpm. Yes, I'm struggling with 10 wpm. No, I'm not going to give up, even if it does not come easily to me. No, I'm not going to ask for this requirement to be deleted. And, indeed, I *may* never use code again when (not if) I pass the test. The point is, whether we like it or not, it's a requirement right now, and it will not go away until the next millennium, when the IARU is due to next consider the issue. So why whinge ? Yes, I know it is really next to impossible for some people to do code at all. But we just have to accept that there are some things which are beyond us, and learn to live with the consequences. Anything less is childish wilfulness. If you're an amputee, you're not going to insist on being given accreditation as a tightrope walker, are you ? I agree that perhaps access to the HF bands might not need to be tied to 10 wpm capability, but there is also the consideration that the people who DO make the effort need to be rewarded with something. Otherwise, why bother ? And I would have thought that even the privileges which attend Novice qualification are pretty useful.

One thing that really strikes me is that we are living, more and more, in an age of instant gratification, and a loss of appreciation of lasting values (God, I'm starting to sound like my Grandfather !). Bullshit aside, it remains true now, as always, that effort is required to achieve great things. It is also true, in my experience, that we do not really value things that come too easily and, conversely, that a true sense of achievement comes when our most strenuous efforts are rewarded by results. Yes, I would have loved to waltz into the office of the (whatever they are currently called), sign two forms and be given a full license, and also to be allowed to operate 1 KW on any band I want. Then what ? Is that what's called achievement ? As an engineer I have fixed lots of tricky problems over a 30-odd year career to date. The ones I remember are not the quickly recognised faults, no matter how technically complicated they were. The ones I remember most fondly are the "dogs" that keep you wondering for a week, while you check one possibility after the other, only to finally realise it was a really simple thing all along. (Like a multi-million dollar mine winder I was working on in Mt. Isa, which did some very nasty things on account of an open-circuit resistor in the feedback circuit of the Megawatt motor. Scary to see one of those take off because of lack of negative feedback. The resistor was an extremely high quality, high power, German-manufactured ceramic resistor and showed no external evidence of distress. Took a while to find this one). I can't fully describe the satisfaction that comes with solving those problems. I'm sure that it was this feeling which resulted in the series "The Serviceman That Tells" in Radio, TV and Hobbies (EA's predecessor, for those of you old enough to remember). To want to eradicate Morse code entirely from amateur radio is to deny oneself a very rewarding experience.

Many other justifications, from real life, have been quoted so often to make a case for Morse Code that it's tiresome. I don't want to add to that chorus here, but I do feel obliged to at least briefly recap the case of WA6INJ, who was trapped in his overturned jeep in bitter winter weather after it went over a cliff, to find his fingers rapidly getting numb. He was unable to speak because of the extreme cold, but found that he could just activate the PTT button on his rig. He was able to send a signal which resulted in his being saved. True story ! (For this and several others, see "Morse Code - The Essential Language" by L. Peter Carron Jr., W3DKV, ISBN 0-87259-035-6). And there are any number of similar real-life stories which are regularly published in QST and other sources. The point is that, although I hope this never happens to any of our readers (anyone out there still ?), a basic knowledge of the code is still an asset, even in this high-tech. age. Don't disparage the code !

CB or not CB, that is indeed the question !

I recently learned a statistic that shocked me a bit. And I'm not so easily shocked. I've heard people slinging off at CBers, somehow regarding them as lesser people, and blithely disregarding the fact that some of the most capable people in the ranks of the amateur radio fraternity have actually come from the ranks of CBers. CBers (and, for the record, I'm not one) may not have passed the same tests as radio amateurs, but that does not mean that they are ignorant. Far from it, some of them know more about the technical side of radio than a dozen randomly selected amateurs. Now, the statistic that shocks me is that there are an estimated 500,000 CBers in Australia, compared with a paltry 15,000 amateurs (of whom a small and diminishing fraction belong to the WIA). When I say estimated, that is because of the class licensing system which does not require CBers to register, but I do not doubt that the actual number could be of this order of magnitude.

These days, the main thing everybody talks about is the imminent demise of amateur radio in the face of modern technology. (And that's another whole issue). If that demise is on the way, and our ranks are thinning, wouldn't it make sense to try to recruit some extra numbers ? Even if they happen to be CBers ? To be sure : yes, there are some mindless morons among the CBers. There are also some mindless morons among radio amateurs. I know. I've heard some of them. On air. Recently. They are a minority, and that's not the issue. Take a large enough random sample of humans anywhere on Earth, anytime, and you are sure to include the odd moron or two. You'll also be including the odd Einstein or two. That's what makes life so interesting. The issue is that CBers are *interested* in radio. So half the battle has already been won. Unlike total newcomers, you don't have to convince CBers that radio is fun. They already know. Perhaps instead of rearranging deck chairs on the "Titanic", we should be taking a longer, more objective look at our hobby. And remembering it's just a hobby, too. Some of us get very serious about this whole business, and feel that our entire livelihood is threatened if anyone disagrees with our views that the WIA must be destroyed, Morse Code should be eradicated, and CBers should be burned at the stake. In any case, the bottom line is : Money talks, Bullshit walks. What will YOU do to improve amateur radio ?

Thoroughly Modern Milliamps

Is modern technology going to cause the imminent demise of amateur radio ? This question seems to be on everybody's lips. My guess is : don't bet on it ! When was the last time you picked up your mobile and dialed a random number on the other side of the Earth, to make a new friend with similar interests ? Yes, I've got one of those beasts, too, like everybody these days, but I wouldn't dream of it. But I've made lots of friends through amateur radio, and *when* I do my 10 wpm, I am going to work some DX. I'm looking forward to it.

There was a rather nasty tornado in Jarrell, Texas on 27 May, 1997, which was reported in QST ("Tornado !" by Martha Underwood, N2VRF, Pp 28 - 30, QST January 1998). (Actually all tornadoes are rather nasty. I worked in Texas, and when you hear those howling sirens that tell you there's a tornado on the way, it doesn't exactly improve your day). According to the article, this one was pretty strong, and spawned some babies that, between them, did a lot of damage : a steam train was overturned, cattle were lifted into the air and transported some distance, dozens of houses were torn off their cement slabs, and 28 people were killed. Wind speeds were 250 to 270 mph, and asphalt roads were even torn up, and bark stripped off trees. Well, guess what the first thing was that went on the blink ? The marvels of modern technology. The entire phone network went out, so mobiles and landlines instantly became useless. In addition, the 800 MHz emergency network went dead as well. The emergency service people were passing urgent messages by "sneaker-mail" (ie face to face) ! It was the local radio amateurs with ARES (their equivalent of WICEN) who came to the rescue. Just goes to show, doesn't it ?

And, of course, we've got the 'Net. Even with voice links (which are currently still very slow and chunky), the 'Net will never approach the excitement and immediacy of live radio. Besides, just wait until timed charges and steep download fees are introduced for telephone calls. That is only a matter of time. Then there will be a gnashing of teeth !

Whatever happened to "Homebrew" ? I know that's a word which is now considered nastier than the word "bullshit". I mean, who in their right mind would forego the button-pushing, dial-twiddling joy of a black box transceiver ? Well, I can't deny the joy of that : I, too, have several black box things in my shack. But I also fondly remember some receivers, transmitters, and test equipment I've built in my time. (Including the lovely superhet I built when I was 15. It worked really well until I decided that the coils would look nice with that new metallic silver spray on them). And I've got some "boat-anchor" restoration projects on my drawing board. Just as there is no thrill like the thrill of solving a tricky problem, equally there is no thrill like finally getting something to work that you have built with your own hands. Thankfully, amateur radio, despite all those black boxes, is still one hobby which allows its adherents to do such a thing. Anyone tried building a PC from scratch lately ? No, I don't mean plugging cards into a motherboard. I mean *building* a motherboard. From scratch. Thanks anyway, but I'll pass on that. And I'm someone who *has* built a computer from scratch. Front panel toggle switches. Program each step in binary. But not these days. However, a crystal set, a superhet, or a transmitter : now you're talking. Or a new type of antenna. That's something I can be sucked into. Easily. I hope you will find that you can, too. It's just as much fun as the black box.

Lest We Forget Ourselves

The Remembrance Day Contest will be upon us again shortly. This Australian contest is held every year on the weekend whose Saturday is nearest to 15 August. This date has a special significance, as hostilities in the South-West Pacific area during World War II ceased on that day. In particular, this contest honours those among the ranks of radio amateurs who met their demise during one of the periodic episodes of generalised insanity and mutual destruction that seems to characterise our "civilisation". An honour roll of those radio amateurs who made the Supreme Sacrifice is read during the opening ceremonies. It is an aim of the contest to encourage friendly participation.

It seems that, as humans, we have this strange need to utterly destroy not only the being, but even the possessions and all traces of memory of those we feel we cannot get along with. Often, we feel that we cannot get along with someone simply because they are different to us, and with our limited intellect and experience we are unable to understand them. Our immediate assumption is that ours is the better way to exist, and their destruction will somehow magically solve everything. We refuse to acknowledge the fact that, in their destruction, we diminish our own stature. Of course, there is the "self-defence" situation, but the whole syndrome always starts somewhere, and it takes two to tangle. Be that as it may, it is certainly a fact that there is no more heroic and greater deed in this life than for one person to lay down his/her life in order to save another. As the survivors of various episodes of madness, it is incumbent on us to be grateful to those who made our survival possible.

When it comes to preventing future episodes of generalised madness we, as radio amateurs, are in a very privileged but often underestimated position. There are few hobbies which span continents, and which engender a polite and understanding approach to fellow hobbyists, in the way that amateur radio does. It may be true that the real political decisions in this world are often made between top political executives on a golf course, far from street demonstrations and the like. However, it is also a curious fact that a spiderweb of human influence covers the Earth in such a way that a local action has a global effect. It is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon jungle can cause a tornado in Oklahoma. Human actions have similar consequences. There is a film, entitled "Six Degrees of Separation", which apparently illustrates this beautifully, . (I have not seen it, only had the contents described to me, and it sounds a chord with some long-held beliefs of mine). The basis of this film is the principle of the spiderweb of human interaction. Consider, for a moment, your circle of best friends. We'll call this Level 1. Now, for each of them, if you can, think about his or her circle of best friends other than you. We'll call this Level 2. This is probably already a sizeable group of people. Now do that exercise again. Do you realise that, by the time you get to level 6, you have very likely spanned the globe ? Think about what this means.

What it means is that, if you step on someone's toes, the "ouch" will resound around the World. If you do something nice, it can be your contribution to World Peace. This is the message of the Ancients. As radio amateurs, our actions have a much wider effect than those of the average person. We should use our powers wisely.

More soon.

de Mike, VK3KRO

The following material is not my own waffling, but someone else's for a change.
I found this text to be quite thought-provoking, and wanted to bring it to a wider audience.
I hope that you will enjoy these words as much as I did.

Reprinted with kind permission from February 1999 QST, copyright ARRL.

Author : Steven J. Meyers, W0AZ


Please forgive me. I'm in the middle of a book--writing one, not reading one. It isn't the first, and I hope it won't be the last, but it is one I've been struggling with for some three years, and it has made me just a tad introspective. While many in the amateur radio community find themselves working in science or engineering, designing or repairing radios, making airplanes fly, helping to land instruments on distant moons and planets (I have read of their wonderful exploits in these very pages), my work is a bit more prosaic. I write. I write books about small town life, about hunting and fishing, about the loss of loved ones. About grief. About healing. About nature. I'm an essayist, and I'm allowed the luxury of scribbling about the things that matter most to me.

What struck me just now--slipping into a consciousness made receptive by all the recent talk about "restructuring"--is not the sameness of healthy communities, but their radical diversity. I was struck with the quite obvious but sometimes overlooked fact that it is this very diversity that allows communities to thrive. And I was struck, too, sitting as I sometimes do in a spectator's seat (the essayist's prerogative), with the incredible beauty of this delightful cacophony, this heartfelt, passionate debate.

In my lifetime Amateur Radio has twice found itself in tremendous turmoil over issues relating to licensing. I well remember the hard feelings that surrounded the "incentive licensing" controversy. In the past few years the matter of CW and how it will be regarded after "restructuring" has generated much heat. Lately, there has been ample discussion of the debate's divisiveness. Let me be counted among those who celebrate its beauty!

There's a lot of truth in humor. Surely, you've heard the one about the three Frenchmen who constituted four political parties? Nobody has ever accused the French of lacking passion; nor, would anyone familiar with French contributions to the arts accuse them of being a people lacking a profound appreciation for beauty. Might these notions, passion and beauty, be inextricably linked? I say yes, and I say we amateurs are every bit as passionate! It's time we recognized the beauty of our ardor for things related to radio. I say, show me three hams, and I'll show you a fistful of deeply held, radio related convictions--and CW, pro or con, isn't the half of it!

I live in a part of the world that is home to a wonderful ham magazine that espouses the value of the valve, that shouts "AM forever!" It is the voice of one of ham radio's many constituent groups, a periodical that lovingly and ardently expresses the wish that all radios should now and forever glow in the dark. Last evening, I spoke with a retired engineer at his summer cabin in upstate New York. He ripped along in flawless code, faster than anything I'd copied in years. My adrenaline was pumping, even though the conversation was cordial, and I found it easy to believe in that moment that all men everywhere would benefit, as my new friend insisted, from a healthy dose of good CW!

Last month's issue of QST showed Dale Clement, AF1T, standing behind a microwave rig that was pointed down into the valley from the gray summit of a New England peak. He stood smiling in the cold, gray shiver that was the mountain top, content, and at peace with the world, confident, I surmised, in his understanding that microwaves carry more joy than any other form of electromagnetic energy. Internet gateways gather digital data off the radio and turn it into E-mail; somewhere, there is a ham who finds pleasure in maintaining the system that provides the service, one who might well argue that only a fool sees the demise of amateur radio in the coming of the Internet. Rag-chewers chew, and contesters contest, each secure in his or her knowledge that chewing or testing are why old man Hertz elected to discover those wavy old Hertzes in the first place. QRPers work DX with milliwatts, while QROers grab rare ones even when the sunspots are hiding.

Contentment comes, in one case from barely perceptible motion on the wattmeter, and in the other from meter-bending kilowatts. We argue vociferously about what spectrum should be allocated for what purpose. We are equally happy as appliance operators or homebrewers. Some dedicate their ham lives to public service, some use the radio only to maintain contact with family and friends. We either lament the loss of the good old days, or we decry fuddy-duddies who hold radio back. In any case, from all positions, we hurl ourselves passionately into the debate. We continue to argue, we continue to operate in an atmosphere of healthy diversity and strong opinions. We are drawn by wildly varying temperaments to one mode or another, by our life experiences to one position or another on the complex issues we confront, and as long as we remain civil, which, remarkably, we largely do, only good emerges.

From all the discussion I have read, from all the debate I have heard, only one fact that is indisputable appears: for all the many difficulties and decisions we face, nothing is more evident than our life. The air is humming not with portents and omens of radio's decline; but rather, with abundant signs of it's gloriously raucous life! And few things are as beautiful.

The above was written by Steven J. Meyers, W0AZ

Reprinted with kind permission from November 1995 QST, copyright ARRL.

Steven J. Meyers, AA0QF


Several years ago one of the most moving events in my Amateur Radio experience occurred. I was tuning across the low end of 20 meters when I heard a tentative CQ. Those who do not know and love CW will find what I am about to say hard to believe : I could hear in the fist a sadness that troubled me. As the QSO unfolded, I learned that the ham with whom I was speaking had a daughter in the hospital. She was not expected to live the night. He had gone to the radio hoping to find someone to talk with about his fear and sadness, someone to talk with so he would not feel quite so helpless and alone. Weeks later, I received a QSL card in the mail with the wonderful news that his daughter had survived and was on the road to recovery.

Radios have saved lives in time of disaster. Radios have informed distant families about the events in their loved ones' lives. Radios have performed so many critical functions over the years, it would be impossible to list them. Yet, I can't think of anything a radio has done that was more important than what our radios did that night ! And I am convinced that the conversation never would have occurred without the Morse code. Such a conversation would have been embarrassingly raw on sideband. On CW it seemed natural and appropriate.

During the years I've been involved with Amateur Radio, no single issue has created more discussion and strong opinions, as well as more hurt feelings and divisiveness, than licensing requirements. I vividly remember my own anger when I learned that "incentive licensing" would reduce the privileges I once enjoyed as a General class licensee. I remember thinking that the proponents were just a bunch of good-old boys who had paid their dues and felt the rest of us should have to do the same - whether it was good for Amateur Radio or not. I remember many who predicted the defection of hams at a furious rate, the demise of Amateur Radio, and the end of civilization as we knew it.

Now the debate centers on CW and its validity as a requirement for obtaining a license with HF privileges. CW is a mode of communication that is either hailed as elegant, reliable, and accessible to hams at any income level or, berated as an archaic and useless mode of communication. Those who hold the latter opinion question why hams should be required to learn CW.

I do not believe CW should be allowed to pass into oblivion. Does that mean I'm rigid in my support of current licensing requirements ? No, I believe there are many changes that could be made, but please indulge me momentarily. Allow me to be one-sided. Let me state clearly my heartfelt convictions regarding CW.

I believe that CW is more elegant than phone. To me it's like the difference between cuisine and fast food. (I can't afford most of what passes for "cuisine", but I can afford CW; this is a very democratic sort of elegance). I don't require that everyone feel as I do. I simply enjoy being on the air from time to time with others who also appreciate the elegance of CW.

I know that learning CW is difficult for most people. Very few have upgraded without a great deal of work. But that is why eliminating the requirement is an insult to those who struggled mightily with the code, to those who eventually succeeded in upgrading.

I am convinced - especially after listening to the buzzing, humming, clicking, and badly drifting signals that I hear coming, for example, out of Cuba - that many hams who live in poor nations would be prevented from communicating with the world if CW were abandoned altogether.

I believe that all hams, but especially young hams, should experience that joy of homebrewing a simple, low power rig. This requires the existence of others who will speak with them, in CW.

I know such arguments, and others like them, will not continue to be made forever. At some future time, radio will move on. Our code keys will turn into computer keyboards (or direct voice to digital systems). Years down the road, when enough hams become convinced that the CW testing requirement should be abolished, nostalgic old-timers (among whom I will probably count myself!) and officials at the various national and international regulatory agencies will have little choice. CW will go the way of the horse cavalry. Reenacters will don vintage clothing and stage CW demonstrations, but few will take CW seriously. This is the nature of life, the nature of change, the nature of progress.

The fact is, there are fewer rational arguments for requiring CW today than there were 50 years ago. Today there is no compelling case for or against CW. It's a toss-up. But we remain a community of radio operators with roots in the past, and it is our community's sense of what is proper that determines our rules. At the present time, the majority of amateurs worldwide wish to retain the CW testing requirement for access to the HF bands. It's not going to change tomorrow. I'm not sure it will change in the next 10 years. Today, anyone who is hopeful of getting decent privileges on HF has only two choices : Lobby for change and wait, or somehow, some way, pound down the code. This is the pragmatic argument, at least for now, for learning CW.

More compelling than all of this, to me, is my firm conviction that the most meaningful QSO I ever had would never have occurred without a shared love of CW. It brought two hams together in a moment of need on the low end of 20 meters. I will deeply lament the loss of such moments when the time, inevitably, comes.

The above was written by Steven J. Meyers, W0AZ

Contact Details
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