Computer Journalism in the Dark Ages

I’ve recently been reading Brian Bagnall’s book On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore. It’s a good read, if a little rough in places and perhaps in need of more judicious editing.

But while reading it, I’ve also kept some source materials by my side. Thanks to modern technology, I have my iPad with a collection of Byte magazine from the late 1970s sitting next to the book, and it’s been fun to go find the original articles that Bagnall sourced for his work.

This morning I was reading about the launch of the Commodore PET 2001 at the 1977 National Computer Conference in Dallas. The segment in Bagnall’s work mentioned a positive review in Byte by Dan Flystra, so I looked it up. What struck me immediately was the date. The computer was ordered by Flystra in June, 1977. The review was written in October, 1977. And at long last, it was published in March, 1978.

This seems remarkable now. From product purchase to review in subscribers’ hands: nine months, the length of time it takes to make a human being. Even disregarding the long lag time between order and delivery (vaporware is timeless, after all), we’re left with five months between review and publication. In an age of Twitter and Facebook, this seems incredible, absurd. Yet, I remember these times. They occurred within my lifetime.

That makes me feel old.

How far we’ve come. Think about it the next time you watch an unboxing video of some new gadget on Youtube that was filmed an hour earlier, and just two days after the order shipped direct from Shenzhen, China.

New Call Sign

Well, I finally have my new call sign. It showed up in the FCC ULS database on Friday, and I’m still getting used to it. Say hello to NF6Q!

It definitely feels a bit weird to have a new call sign. But I’m pleased to have a call that’s easier to say and much more friendly to DX.

Now I’m working on a new QSL card. I got a very stock card for KJ6HZC, so I’d like something a bit nicer for NF6Q.

Going Mobile

My home location is unfortunately very poorly suited to ham radio. That’s a subject for another post, but suffice it to say that if I want to get on the air I need to go portable. A lot of the time I adore going out and setting up on a park bench, putting on the headphones, and making QSOs. But other times I’d like to be able to just turn on the radio and get on the air without all that setup and tear-down fuss, you know?

Well, that’s where Going Mobile fits in, I hope. Since my only HF radio at this time is made for portable and mobile use anyway, I’ve decided to do a proper mobile installation in my Honda Element. I’ve been inspired by KI6ZHD’s excellent mobile install that bypasses the main car electrical system except to keep the radio batteries charged. I’ve just ordered a TG Electronics N8XJK voltage booster and West Mountain Radio Powergate PG40S to handle power distribution and charging. Once the wallet recovers a little, I’ll head down to Ham Radio Outlet and inquire about the Little Tarheel II mobile HF antenna and a good mount.

Hopefully by the end of October I’ll be getting on the air with a /M after my call sign. It’s not exactly the DX-ing wonder of a home ham shack that I’d like, but it’s a heck of a lot better than not being able to get on the air at all!


I spent a rather silly amount of time agonizing over what vanity call sign to pick. In the end, I chose a 2×1, and some backup 1×3’s. I won’t say yet what they are, but I should know in a few days which one I’m likely to get. To be honest any of them would be great, and they’re all much less tongue-twisty than KJ6HZC is. Will I have a new call sign before Pacificon on October 15th? Maybe, but only three weeks to process a vanity application is pretty optimistic. Wish me luck!


After a couple of weeks of solid study, I drove to the Saratoga Fire House this morning and took the Amateur Extra upgrade exam. Boy was I nervous! After all this time, I still sweat every test like a Freshman in college. But I didn’t have to worry. I got all 50 questions correct, didn’t miss a single one. So as of 10:05 AM this morning, I’m KJ6HZC/AE.

Once my new license class shows up in the FCC database, I’m going to pick out a vanity call. Back when I started this whole process, I thought I’d be perfectly happy with whatever call the FCC gave me, but as it turns out KJ6HZC is just plain hard to say. Almost everybody gets it wrong the first time they come back to me on the air. And I don’t blame them! I had trouble with it myself for about two weeks after I got my General. So it’s time to get something short, sweet, easy to say, and DX-friendly. I’m thinking a 2×1, since 1x2s in 6 land are rarer than hens’ teeth.

But for now, I’m just happy to get on the lower parts of the bands for the first time and see what’s out there.

Time to Upgrade

I have such a knack for ignoring this blog, haven’t I? Well, nothing like a new post to help me break out of the habit.

These past few months I’ve been having more and more fun with amateur radio. Why on Earth didn’t I get into this sooner? Well, I’ll be honest, when I was younger I didn’t have any interest at all in ham radio. It’s not that I was un-intereseted in it. It’s more that it simply didn’t enter my mind. I gave it no thought. So of course I wasn’t a ham. It wasn’t until I indulged in a desire to pick up a short-wave radio in 2008 that the idea popped into my head to check out this ham radio thing.

I’m glad I did, of course. I’ve been enjoying the hobby tremendously since getting my license in May. In July I bought a Yaesu FT-857D radio and a Buddipole antenna, and I’ve been operating from a local park almost every weekend. Some weekends I make no contacts. Some weekends I only make three or four. But it’s always fun!

There are three amateur license classes in the United States. The first, Technician class, grants quite a lot of privileges on VHF and UHF bands, but only very limited access to the HF bands. The next level up is the license I currently hold, the General class, which grants full privileges on a lot of the HF spectrum too. It’s certainly good enough to do some DXing (that’s what we hams call talking to folks in other countries), but it doesn’t allow access to all frequencies, including some of the most used ones.

Well, now that I know that I’m here to stay, I think it’s time to upgrade to the highest level license, Amateur Extra. It allows the most access to every amateur radio band. I’ve been studying hard, and I’ve finally picked a date. On September 18, I’ll take the exam and, with luck, I’ll pass on the first try. It’ll be nice not to have to keep triple-checking to make sure I haven’t accidentally let my VFO wander down below 14.225 before I transmit!

Next up is finishing the other task I’ve been working on for the past few months: learning CW (morse code). It hasn’t been a requirement for the license since 2007, but it’s not fading away. In fact, it seems to be regaining some popularity. There’s no doubt that it’s still incredibly useful, and one of the very best modes to use when doing DX! I can’t wait until it’s second nature for me. Unfortunately, for the time being it’s still “painfully slow” rather than “smooth and easy”.

Wish me luck!

Ham Radio

Last Saturday I drove down to the Saratoga Fire Station and took the FCC amateur radio license exam. Well, actually I took two of them; one for the Technician class, and another for the General class. On Wednesday, I got my call sign, KJ6HZC.

I’m still surprised at how fast it went. I first got interested in ham radio in 2008, on a whim. I bought the ARRL Technician class exam study book and read the first two chapters, but then put it down when life took a couple of left turns. It wasn’t until April of this year that I picked it back up and decided I really wanted to study and get my license. Within a few weeks I was comfortable enough with the Technician and General material to schedule my exam session, and just four days after the exam, my call sign was in the FCC database. Remarkable! I understand that in the “Good Old Days,” when exams were given at FCC field offices by disinterested bureaucrats, it could take three months or more to get a license after the exam. That’s right, it may be hard to believe, but apparently the Government is actually more efficient now, at least at the FCC.

I’m just dipping my toes in the water at this point. My only radio is a Yaesu VX-6r handheld (or HT, for “Handy-Talky”) with a Diamond SRH77CA 2m/440 antenna, so I’m not going to be doing any DX’ing any time soon. But I do hope to pop up on some of the local 2m and 440 repeaters and talk nets from time to time.

Here we go again

It has been almost five years since I maintained a weblog on anything like a regular basis. My attempts since then at making regular observations on day-to-day life have been spotty at best, and all have been aborted before they had a chance to grow.

I hope that this time, finally, I’ll achieve the kind of momentum I need to keep writing. Will it work? Only time will tell.