Ham Radio Circa 1975


My dad earned his amateur radio license in 1950 when he was 10 years old. His first station consisted of a Collins transmitter and receiver into a long wire antenna. From the QSL cards that survived, he worked the world with those radios. The hobby led him to being a radioman in the US Navy after high school.

During a recent trip home, I took possession of what is left of dad’s radio station, the one I remember as a small boy.

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Now I am stepping back in time to see if I can get the station back on the air. There has been no power applied to anything since the late 1980s. The electrolytic capacitors probably are dry as bone. The tubes probably are tender too and will require a lot of TLC and a variac to get them going again.

Yaesu FT-101B HF Transceiver

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This is one rugged radio. Without an amplifier, it will drive 260 watts sideband voice, 180 watts Morse code, and 80 watts AM voice. I’ll have to re-learn how to tune this radio because nothing on the market today works the way these radios did.

Yaesu FL-2100B Linear Amplifier

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Probably an illegal power amplifier today only because it will operate on Citizens Band. For legal Amateur Radio use, it’s a 1,200 watt linear amplifier. It will generate 800 watts AM voice. Beast Mode.

Yaesu SP-101P “Landliner” Phone Patch and Speaker

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Before satellite carried phone conversations across the oceans, there was the phone patch. My dad used this one to connect soldiers in Vietnam to their families back state-side. A friend wondered how many guys talked to their loved ones for the final time across this radio.

Astatic Model G “Grip-to-Talk” Desk Stand Microphone

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I just love this microphone. It’s nickname is the Lollipop, for obvious reasons.

There are a few missing items, a MFJ CWF-2 CW Filter, MFJ CMOS-400 Electronic Key, and Dad’s Hy-Gain 5BDQ Multiband Trip Doublet.

If I can get all of it on the air, it will be a party like it’s 1975.

Hiking the Shabbona Trail


My longest hike of the season so far has been the 16 mile Shabbona Trail between Channahon and Morris, Illinois.

The Shabbona Trail is in the heart of the 61-mile long Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.

The Chief Shabbona Historial Trail was established on July 30, 1960 by Boy Scout Troop 25. The trail is nationally approved by the Boy Scouts of American and follows the paths that Shabbona was known to have walked. By 1963, over 10,000 scouts hiked the trail. Along the trail, you will see full-sized replicas of canal boats, locktender’s house, working stone locks, and fully restored stone aqueducts.

The habitat ranges from open prairie grasslands to dense woods. The Illinois River provides panoramic views in many areas. The trail is shaded in most areas by a variety of trees including walnut, oak, ash, maple, sycamore, hawthorn and cottonwood. You also see beaver, muskrat, mink, raccoon and deer from time to time.

Channahon State Park (Trail Head)

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The Channahon State Park is the official trailhead of the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail. It became a state park in 1932, one year before the canal officially closed. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corp restored Lock 6, Lock 7 and the Locktender’s House.

McKinley Woods (Mile 3)

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McKinley Woods is a 525-acre preserve operated by the Forest Preserve District of Will County. It is a diverse habitat of forest, prairie, wetland and riverfront. It is a favorite site for bird watchers, kayakers, and geocaching enthusiasts.

Dresden Lock (Mile 6)

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The Dresden Lock is one of the most impressive man-made features along the Shabbona Trail. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lock and dam complex includes an arced gravity dam, a spillway, nine Tainter gates, 18 headgates, and a section of fill dirt connecting the headgates to the embankment of the canal.

Aux Sable (Mile 8.25)

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The Aux Sable access point contains three pieces of history right in the same area: Lock 8, the Locktender’s House, and the rebuilt Aux Sable Creek Aqueduct.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources maintains a primitive camping ground for approximately five tents. There is water and restroom facilities within walking distance.

Evergreen Cemetery (Mile 13.5)

Shabbona was a member of the Ottawa tribe before he became a chief within the Potawatomi in the 19th century. He died in Morris in 1859 at the age of 84. This granite boulder was placed on his gravesite in Evergreen Cemetary in 1903.

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Stratton State Park (Mile 15.5)

Named after an Illinois governor, the William Stratton State Park was developed in 1959 as a boat access to the Illinois river.

Nettle Creek Aqueduct (Mile 16)

This may be the only time I get to see this aqueduct. Originally built in 1847, the state intends to demolish and remove both the bridge and aqueduct after a flood seriously damaged the site in 2012.  I wasn’t able to get a good photo because the place is a real mess.

Gebhard Woods State Park (Trail End)

Because the Nettle Creek Aqueduct was destroyed, I could not make it to Gebhard Woods.

The park belonged to the Grundy County Rod and Gun club, who purchased the land from the Gebhard family in 1934 for $1,500. The Rod and Gun Club developed a fish rearing pool on the property before donating the land to the state a few years later.

Distance: 16.51 miles
Total Time: 5:45
Average Pace: 21:15

How Chinese Students Navigate American English


I really respect the Chinese students I encounter in grad school. Thousands of miles from home and struggling to grasp the crazy way we use the Queen’s English here in the States.

This little tool is one way they cope. I call it the Bumblebee.

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When someone says a word a Chinese student doesn’t understand, she types it into the Bumblebee. The software grabs information from across the Chinese-language internet and gives her a quick explanation as to what the Hell we just said.

It’s a product of dict.cn, another go-to tool for ex-pat Mandarin speakers.

Advice to a Younger Me


I had lunch with a friend’s son recently. Like most recent college graduates, he is actively searching for his first real job.

Since we both have degrees in Economics, he was looking for advice. Unlike accounting majors, jobs for econ majors don’t stick out. There are no “Staff Economists” or “Junior Economic Analyst I” job titles, unless you want to work for the Federal Reserve. But there are jobs out there for people with solid skills in statistics and math.

During the course of our conversation, I could almost hear myself talking to the younger me with the lessons many of us learn during our careers.

Develop Your Network Now

You have a mafia. It’s your alumni association. They can help you with introductions and career advice simply because you share a common bond.

If you pledged Greek, you have another mafia that can help.

Cultivate those connections. Use them and then give back. That is how it works.

Have a Long-Term Goal and a Plan to Get There

You have a passion. It may not be what you will do in your first post-college job, but you have one.

My ideal job would be in Humanitarian Relief, working to help those in crisis caused by man or nature. What skills do I need? How can I get there?

Develop your passion. Nurture it. Learn what it takes to get there, pick up the skills necessary to get there, and work towards that goal.

Consider the Quality of Life You Want to Have

How are you spending time with the people who will cry at your funeral?

If you want to run a marathon before you are 30, take steps now. If you want to have a family and live on a ranch in Montana, take steps now. If you want to teach, study now.

Identify Your Weaknesses and Improve Them

In the next decade, people who will do best in the workforce will have two skills.

They will be good in statistical analysis, and they will know how to write code.

My weakness today is a lack of coding skills. I learned BASIC, Pascal, FORTRAN and C++. Not much use for those today (except C++), so I am learning Python.

What skills will you need to have the career you want?

Build Your Personal Board of Directors

You are the CEO of your own business: the business of your career. Like a Corporate Board of Directors, Personal Board brings diverse perspectives and skills to the table. Here is my essay on how to Building a Personal Board of Directors.

I think the advice holds up. What would you tell the younger you?

Crossposted at LinkedIn.

Why Preppers Should Have a General Class Ham License


A trend among Preppers and Survivalists is to use amateur radio to communicate during a crisis. Given ham radio’s rich history of service during disasters, it’s a natural place for people to go when they want to prepare for the unexpected.

There are lots of articles encouraging people to get their license. And that is great. I think that the Prepper movement, and the proliferation of inexpensive Chinese hand-held radios, has contributed to the growth of licensees in the United States, especially with the entry-level Technician Class license being the most common.

If you’re studying for your Technician, go on and earn the General Class license.

Here’s why.

When you search for “Prepper Radio Frequency List,” you’ll run into this list that covers GMRS, CB, Ham, and even Marine Maritime and Search and Rescue.  This list is meant to be a standardized “watering hole” for Preppers during a crisis.  (I hope that you have licenses for all these services and can transmit legally, but that is a different topic.)

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The ham radio section includes four HF frequencies used by the American Preparedness Radio Network (TAPRN), a group of preppers who meet on the air regularly to communicate and share information. But there is a problem.

If you don’t have a General Class Ham License, you can’t participate.

TAPRN frequencies are in the voice section of the HF band.  You must have a General Class license or above to transmit there and participate.

  • 3.818 MHz
  • 5.357 MHz
  • 7.242 MHz
  • 14.242 MHz

Also, every state has a state-wide communication net for emergencies. Most are located in the voice section of the 80-meter or 40-meter band. Again, you must have a General Class license to transmit and participate.

If all you want to do is communicate locally, the Technician is fine. You have local repeater coverage until a storm knocks out power. At that point, you’re no better off than if you had a bubble pack FRS radio from Wal-Mart.

With a General Class license, you can communicate locally or across the world. International Relief Agencies, the military, and ships at sea use shortwave to keep in touch. If it’s good enough for them during a disaster, it’s probably good enough for most Prepper scenarios.

Lessons from a 10 Mile Hike


The plan was to hike about 12 miles from Channahon State Park to the Theodore Marsh. I expected to complete the course in about three hours and be home in time for lunch with my family.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. This hike taught me a few lessons that I will carry forward on future hikes.

Illinois & Michigan Canal

The I&M Canal was the first complete water route from the east cost to the Gulf of Mexico. It connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by way of the Illinois River. Today, the canal is a popular outdoor trail and follows the old towpath where mules and horses pulled barges until 1933.

This is what most of the canal looks like on the trail.

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Except for mountain bikes and a stray runner or two, I had it all to myself.

About 2:15 into the hike, I left the I&M Canal and started a half-mile, 75 foot climb on paved road to the Rock Run.

Lesson 1: Heavy Snacks Weigh You Down

I knew the climb would be difficult, and planned to take a break at the top. I packed a PROBAR Meal, something I carry in my Red Cross GoKit. This particular PROBAR is a meal substitute, and, as I discovered, not something that gives you a quick energy boost. It sat on my stomach like a beached whale.

Lesson 2: Exposed Paved Paths are Not Your Friend

Back on the trail, I planned to bypass the leg that went behind Joliet Junior College. Not only would it shave four miles from my hike, going straight down Houbolt Road would get me back under the trees quickly where I could finish the hike.

For some reason, I stayed on the Rock Run Greenway (which isn’t green at this point). By the time I realized my mistake, I could feel my energy level plummet.

The next three miles were brutal. I had no shade and was chugging water at a rate that would leave me empty with miles to go.

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It was at this point, I had had enough. I called my wife, who came and retrieved me.

Lesson 3: Use a Live Tracking App

Although I left a map, had a cell phone, and carry a hand-held amateur radio; had I fallen into trouble in a more remote part of the trail (it’s really not a remote trail, but parts are not easily accessible), it would be difficult to find me. Having a live GPS tracking app on my phone would be useful.

I’m going to experiment with different apps to see what works best.

Distance: 9.82 miles. Total time: 3:28. Average Pace: 21:16. Total Climb: 370.

Here is my RunKeeper activity log.

Stair Workout at Swallow Cliff


This beast is Swallow Cliff Falls near Palos Park, Illinois.

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It’s a 100-foot high bluff formed 12,000 years ago when glacial meltwater carved out the Sag Valley, leaving behind steep walls and a varied landscape of morainal hills and pothole lakes.

The Civilian Conservation Corp built 125 limestone stairs in the 1930s that lead to the top of a toboggan run. It’s a popular exercise destination for fitness buffs and casual walkers.

And it owned me as I spent 90 minutes over two days hauling myself up and down it for stair work.

Day 1 was tough. I made it up and down seven times with a 10 pound backpack. I don’t know what was worse about the experience: the two Polish supermodels who frolicked like gazelles, always passing me; or the three year old toddler who did the circuit 3 times with him mom.

My legs were wobbly when I stopped.

Day 2 was tougher. My calves were already tight and sore from the first day, but I pushed myself up and down 10 times with the same backpack.

It was awful; and I did it.

On Saturday, it’s a 5 hour hike along the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

Ham Radio Can Bring Morse Code Back to the High Seas


For more than a century, Morse code was the language of ships at sea. This simple code communicated messages ranging from the routine to the life-saving.

Morse code slipped under the seas in 1999, replaced by satellite communication. It’s demise left amateur radio operators as caretakers of an art form first demonstrated to Congress by Samuel Morse himself in 1844.

Recently, the FCC granted amateurs access to a portion of the historic maritime radio band where most Morse code communication took place. This grant means that people will once again communicate regularly using Morse code around maritime channels at 472, 476, and 478 kHz.

In a way, this makes amateur radio operators curators of a living museum on the air.

But Amateurs can do much more that be caretakers.

How? The FCC can still issue ship licenses with radiotelegraphy privileges.

Part 80 Rules defines a voluntary ship as “any ship which is not required by treaty or statute to be equipped with radio-telecommunications equipment.” Amateur radio operators who own documented vessels in the United States, such as a sloop or a yacht, can apply for a ship station license. And pursuant to 80.13(b), you can receive authorization for radiotelegraphy and narrow-band direct printing (fax).

With maximum power up to 2 kW.

Amateurs Have the Skills for the T License

To operate a ship station, amateur radio operators need to earn the FCC Radiotelegraph License, also known as the T License. This ticket gives you the authority to operate and maintain a radiotelegraph station on a ship or at a coast radio station, such as KPH near San Francisco.

Outside a few differences in the rules; the radio theory, antenna principles and operating practices are nearly identical to material most hams already know.

In fact, many amateurs already hold the General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) with Element 1 (Maritime Rules). By passing Element 6 (Advanced Radiotelegraph) and two Morse code exams at 16 and 20 words per minute, the FCC will issue you the commercial Radiotelegraph License.

Keeping Maritime Morse Code Alive

Every July, the historic RCA coast station KPH returns to the air in commemoration of the closing of commercial Morse code in the United States. The station communicates with other historic maritime stations and ships using Morse code. Unfortunately, there are just a few stations left…mostly museums themselves.

Many yacht-owning amateur radio operators already outfit their ships with radio equipment. By adding a ship license for radiotelegraphy, amateur radio operators have the opportunity to keep Morse code alive on the maritime bands.

Memorial Day at Chain O’Lakes


We spent Memorial Day at Chain O’Lakes State Park on the Illinois and Wisconsin boarder near Antioch, Illinois.

Normally, we like our camping adventures more secluded and laid back, but I have to admit it was a great weekend.

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Horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, fishing, and plenty of good camp cooking.  They also offer archery, bike trails, and hunting.

I recommend this State Park for any Boy Scout Troop, including Webelos.

Radio Buoys Operating in the 160 Meter Amateur Band


The Federal Communication Commission has elevated the Amateur Radio Service to primary user status between 1,900 kHz and 2,000 kHz.  In its decision, the Commission asked for comments about U.S. commercial fishing fleets who are using end-of-net radio buoys under the false assumption they are legal.

I filed comment on this question earlier this week, and it appeared in FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System today.  You can read my comment here.

Radio Buoys Operating in the 1,900 to 2,000 kHz Band (PDF)