Infrastructure? What’s That?

We recently returned from a vacation in the New England area. The trip is estimated at 10 hours by plane, once you drive to the airport, check-in, go through security, experience United’s latest brouhaha, have a layover at a hub airport, arrive and retrieve your luggage.

It’s about the same time to drive, plus you have the joy of driving through New York City traffic, half a dozen or more pit stops, gas stops, and just being stopped in traffic.

Either one is likely to ensure you arrive with a generally bad attitude.

Then there’s the train. Coach seats offer more room than first class on an aircraft. You’ve got 110-volt outlets near the seat and access to the internet—a pathetic access, but access nevertheless. You can also go to the café car and buy a snack or a drink. It’s also less expensive than flying.

All three are dependent upon our infrastructure—the airport and access to it, the highways with their ubiquitous construction zones, and the rails upon which the train rides. Just accept that the deck is stacked against you, regardless of your choice.

We chose the train, drove 30 miles to the train station; there’s a local train station, but only some of the trains pass through Norfolk, necessitating either a bus ride (on a particularly nasty bus) or driving to Newport News. Suffice to say, we drove. The train arrived. We boarded, traveled about 50 yards, were told that due to a derailment in Richmond, the tracks were blocked and our train was cancelled.

Now, you have to remember that Virginia has many unusual laws, rules, regulations, and traditions. This is mainly due to our having had various legislative bodies for over 400 years, giving the politicians ample time to muck up the works. One rule is that freight trains have priority over passenger trains, so when a CSX freight train derailed, Amtrak was entitled to equal inconvenience. In a commonwealth, if you don’t have wealth to share, you share frustrations.

Since we had the car, we made a mad dash to Richmond, hoping to get to the other side of the derailment. We got there after our reconstituted original train had left. To make a long story short, instead of arriving at 7:30 in the evening, we arrived at 5:30 the next morning.

The bottom line? Sooner or later, the politicians are going to have to forego the convention centers, the sports stadiums, and other exotica and spend the money on roads, bridges, rails, sewers, flood protection, and other boring things.

Not a chance.

REPEAT, Repeat, repeat, Reboot

As a writer, I try to come up with something different every time I write. Given my education, experience and persona, that still is going to be quite limited. Nevertheless, I feel that I am doing a better job than the pros.

How many King Kong movies have there been? How many Dracula movies? Unless there is a near-rabid fan base (Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.) remakes, reboots, or recycles just don’t seem to work. Hollywood seems content to dust off an old script, update the slang, change the cast, and expect it to be a hit.

Baywatch, the Movie?

Ghostbusters III?

So, if some of my posts seem less than perfect, at least I’m trying to think up something different.

Who Are You?

A great song by The Who and a great starting point for a discussion.

First, an admission—I have a bias toward St. Francis of Assisi—in fact my middle name is due to him. Francis was born wealthy, a spoiled kid and a great partier until he had a message in which Jesus told him, “My church is broken, fix it.”

Francis was aware of an abandoned chapel nearby that was falling apart, so Francis stole some of his father’s merchandise with the intention of selling/trading it for building materials. His father, a practical and proper businessman, was not happy and brought his son before the local bishop for judgment. Francis’s response was to remove the clothing his father had provided, proclaim that his only father was God, and walk away; fortunately for those in the area, he soon found a castoff brown cloak, a piece of rope to use as a belt, and eventually, sandals.

While his whole life was fascinating, I’m going to skip to one particular aspect. Once Francis had abandoned material possessions, except for the barest of essentials, his followers figured that the rich should be snubbed. Francis saw otherwise. Francis taught that each person should be seen as an individual—regardless.

I try to follow his lead and see individuals.

Unfortunately, we insist on putting everyone into pigeonholes?

Have you ever examined a pigeon hole? A house I moved into had a shed formerly used as a pigeon coop. Pigeon holes? Disgusting!

Why do we take a perfectly good individual and stuff him into the “Polish-German-Catholic” or her into “Scottish-English-Cajun” pigeonholes? What about “Afro-American Baptists” or “LGBT-peanut allergy-clog dancers?” I am quite different from every other person stuffed into my pigeonhole, and suspect the same is true for everyone.

I prefer to do as Francis advised—to see Bill, Mary, John, Joneta, Abdul, Anjali, and Hina each as a person, rather than as part of a category.

And pigeonholes? Avoid them—they are nasty!

How Can You Compete?

As a writer, I tend to empathize with other writers and the challenges they face. For example, if you write technothrillers, how do you compete with the cyberattacks that keep shutting down portions of Ukraine’s power grid? If you write political fiction, it must be hard to come up with a good story line when Russia is putting their thumb on the scale to impact elections in almost every western country.

Even Ian Fleming couldn’t come up with a way to combat a SMERSH leader who kills his adversaries with poisoned umbrella tips or radioactive isotopes slipped into their tea. But, then again, where’s the novelty in throwing political rivals into prison.

Who would believe a story in which democratically elected officials prepare legislation in secret, or who need to vote the bill to find out what is in it? Even George Orwell couldn’t pull that off.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s estate would have to change the quote to “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to disapprove.”

When the world is filled with buffoonery, how can you surprise readers with a comedic twist?

Therefore, I’m focusing on specialized niche markets that haven’t received adequate attention in the 21st century. I offer a humble example:

SEE DICK.

SEE DICK GOOGLE.

GOOGLE, DICK, GOOGLE.

SEE JANE.

SEE JANE SNAPCHAT.

CHAT, JANE, CHAT.

The first-grade edition of a modern-day reading primer. By the third-grade, the plot thickens, and includes stalking, illicit cell phone photos, drive-by shootings, opioid addiction, and FBI agents posing as little girls—just like real life, but in small words and short sentences. All aimed to help children love the wonder of reading.

It’s a small niche, though. My publisher advises me that most schools are satisfied when their students read at the third-grade level, so there is no market beyond that.

Opposites

As I wrote last time, we practiced over the weekend to deal with communications during a major disaster. Dealing with death and major destruction requires a set of skills that, ideally, we’ll never need.

Today, on the other hand, I’m celebrating twenty years of marriage with my wife. Someone I will always need. Between the two of us we have gotten through everything life has sent our way. There have been blessings, especially our children and there have been challenges—like our children’s bedrooms. To which I’m sure every parent can relate.

To quote George Peppard’s character on the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Thanks, baby, for being the glue that made it come together and stay together.

Today Is Field Day

Each year, amateur radio operators around the country simulate establishing communications after a totally devastating storm. They go to a field, park, parking lot, or wherever and starting this morning will set up a high-power communications system able to connect with almost anywhere. Antennas will be strung from trees, power supplied by generators, and in a tent or under the roof of a park shelter will be a number of transceivers, with each connected to a computer, an antenna, and power from a generator, solar cells, portable wind turbine, but not normally the electric grid. At 2:00 PM EDST, they will begin contacting other stations, working around the clock until Sunday, after which everything is removed as though they never had been there.

It’s easy to have confidence in our smartphones, internet, etc., but when disaster strikes, the demand gets so high that the overloaded systems can crash. That’s why Amateur Radio played an important role in Hurricanes Katrina and Matthew, and Superstorm Sandy; when Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri were devastated by a tornado.

Today we test our readiness and then try to improve any shortfalls so we can be ready when you need us.

AMATEUR (HAM) RADIO AND EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS



Whether it’s a natural disaster like a storm or an earthquake, an industrial fire or explosion or even a terrorist act, suddenly the ability to reliably communicate becomes a problem. Amateur radio operators provide communication support to the community, often using their own equipment, and always at no cost—that’s why it’s called the amateur radio service.

The largest disaster response by US amateur radio operators was during Hurricane Katrina. More than a thousand ham operators from all over the U.S. converged on the Gulf Coast.

Subsequent Congressional hearings highlighted the Amateur Radio response as one of the few examples of what went right in the disaster relief effort.

There are about 750,000 ham radio operators licensed today in the United States—more than at any other time. Hams can choose which methods of communication appeal to them—voice, television, over 60 computerized data modes, and yes, even Morse code.

With an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in our schools, amateur radio shows what happens when you take STEM out of the classroom and into the real world.

If you are interested in amateur radio or want more information about emergency communications go to http://w4car.org, http://www.arrl.org, or send an e-mail to emcom@w4car.org.

AMATEUR RADIO—AS HIGH TECH AS IT GETS

Amateur radio operators—often called “hams”— pass a test after which they can design, build, and modify their equipment, transmit with up to 1,500 watts (as compared to 4 watts for Citizens Band); and to have access to a wide range of frequencies to communicate across town or across the globe.

The first amateur radio satellite, OSCAR 1 (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) was launched in 1961. Over the years, nearly 100 satellites have been launched by piggybacking them to a commercial satellite launch. Today there are 12 operational amateur radio satellites, many built by students as a class project, including one that was built by students at a grade school.

The International Space Station has two amateur radio stations—one Russian and one American; both are used for recreation and the astronauts schedule contacts with schools throughout the world to help kids get excited about STEM. On occasion, the amateur radio station has acted as a backup to the regular communications equipment. Obviously, many of the astronauts from all countries are licensed ham radio operators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting Facts about Amateur Radio

  • It’s called “The Amateur Radio Service” because amateur operators cannot be paid for their services.
  • The first radio operators were telegraphers who left their railroad stations and went to sea. Because radios used a spark gap, which could cause a fire, the radio room was a separate structure constructed on the deck of the ship and called the “radio shack.”
  • No one knows why they’re called “hams.” Some believe one of the first amateurs used the call sign “HAM;” others believe professional radio operators used it to show their unhappiness at hobbyists using “their” radio waves.
  • After the sinking of the Titanic, amateur radio operators were directed to monitor for distress calls from ships at sea.
  • Learning Morse code was a requirement for a ham license for many years. Originally it was because telegraphy was the only type of signal ANY radio could send or receive. The requirement continued for decades because ships in distress still sent “S-O-S” by Morse. After the US Coast Guard stopped monitoring for Morse code, the requirement for amateurs to learn the code was removed from license requirements. However, many hams like to work CW (continuous wave—the technical term) because contacts can be made around the world with very little power—as low as a fraction of a watt.
  • Every male with an amateur radio license is referred to as an “old man” or OM, regardless of age.
  • Every female with an amateur radio license is called a “Young Lady” or YL, again, regardless of age.
  • Wives of hams who are not licensed are called XYLs or “ex-young lady.”
  • Husbands of hams who are not licensed have no special title; they just tend to be ignored.
  • When using telegraphy (CW), common expressions often are sent in a special shorthand.
    • Some are abbreviated, such as TNX or TKS for “thanks.”
    • Some numbers have meanings; 73 means “Best regards,” and is often used at the end of a contact the way “Sincerely,” might be used at the end of a letter.
    • Three letter groups, beginning with a Q but without a following U are another form. “QSY?” means, “Shall I change frequency?” Without the question mark it means, “I am changing frequency.” Naturally, these are referred to as Q-Signals.
    • QSL means “I am acknowledging receipt [of your message].” Hams traditionally send a special postcard to stations with whom they’ve made contact; these are called QSL cards.
    • SK, when sent together, means that the station is going to shut down for the day. Deceased hams are referred to as silent (telegraph) keys with their call signs followed by (SK).
  • Guglielmo Marconi made the first transmission across the Atlantic in 1901, and soon individuals were experimenting on their own. By 1912 the United States was licensing amateur radio operators.
  • Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim invented the first portable, fully automatic machine gun. His son, Hiram Percy Maxim was more interested in the goodwill generated by international communications. He founded the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the hobby’s national association.
  • Some of the more interesting techniques include bouncing radio signals off the moon and back to earth or using the aurora borealis to reflect radio waves.
  • Radio waves with short wavelengths, and therefore higher frequencies tend to travel according to line of sight. Longer wavelengths can reflect off the ionosphere, then the earth to make long distance communications possible. The ionosphere changes between day and night, and in conjunction with the eleven-year sunspot cycle. This is one reason why so many different frequencies are needed and used.
  • Amateur Radio has its own patron saint- Saint Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar whose call sign was SP3RN. Early in the Second World War he used his radio to inform the rest of the world as to what the Germans were doing to Poland. He hid refugees (including 2,000 Jews) in his monastery, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. After three prisoners attempted to escape, the Germans chose 10 at random to be starved to death. One of the men blurted out, “My wife! My children!” and Father Kolbe voluntarily took his place.
  • Many interesting people are, or have been ham radio operators:
    • Walter Cronkite KB2GSD (SK)—newscaster
    • Tim Allen KK6OTD–actor
    • Dick Rutan KB6LQS and Jeana Yeager KB6LWR who made the first non-stop,
      non-refueled aircraft flight around the world.
    • Patty Loveless KD4WUJ—country singer
    • James Lance Bass KG4UYY—’N SYNC pop singer
    • Bob Moog K2AMH(SK)—inventor of the Moog synthesizer
    • Joe Walsh WB6ACU—guitarist with The Eagles
    • Howard Hughes W5CY(SK)—billionaire, aviator
    • Nolan Bushnell W7DUK—inventor and founder of Atari
    • Yuri Gagarin UA1LO(SK)—first man in space
    • David Packard 9DRV(SK)—co-founder of Hewlett Packard
    • Pricilla Presley N6YOS—actress, wife of Elvis Presley
    • Garry Shandling KD6OY (SK)—comedian, actor
    • Plus a long list of astronauts, kings, princes, sheikhs, and heads of states

Manifest Destiny Must Be Nice

Every society has good and bad in its history. Sometimes we want to forget the bad, such as slavery and the Confederacy, but there is a risk. It’s amazing to me that even with eye witness testimony, including perpetrators and victims plus meticulous records from the Nazis, there are those who deny the holocaust ever happened.

Probably the most audacious example, though, is when Europeans forced Native Americans off their land—but we use their words to name cities, rivers, and other features. It’s kind of like, “Get out or we’ll kill you, but to make it up to you, we’ll name this area Ahoskie as a tribute.”