Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Learning things

I have heard it said that everyone learns differently.  That is most likely true; but I am living proof that even one single person can learn things in different ways - namely the easy way and the hard way.

The weather today in NJ has been really cold.  When I woke up this morning, it was 15F (-9C) outside.  As I returned home from work tonight, it was 16F (-8C).  It's a very clear night with the Moon and Jupiter shining brightly in the sky. I will not be surprised if we get down into the single digits tonight.

Why do I bring this up?  Because of a lesson learned the hard way.

When I was a kid, I spent my summers at the grocery store that my Dad and my uncle owned.  It was a small, family owned "Mom and Pop" kind of place.  The entire width of our store probably wouldn't amount to more than three aisles in a supermarket of today.

We sold groceries and meats.  My Dad and my uncles were butchers as well as grocers.  From the age of 7 and up, I worked most of my summer vacation time at our store, stocking shelves.  When I got to be a teenager, I wanted to graduate from shelf stocking to butchering.  My Dad was reluctant and was never thrilled with the idea; but I bugged him until he taught me.  My last several summers of working at the store involved stocking shelves; but I also got to cut cold cuts, make chopped meat, bone out cuts of beef, pork and veal for kielbasa stuffing, among other things.  But perhaps the toughest job of all was when chickens came in.  We were a dealer for Perdue chickens - fresh chickens that were packed in ice - never frozen.  When the whole chickens came in, I was given the delightful job of removing the livers and necks.  They came packed in wax paper inside the chickens, exactly the same way that giblets and necks come delivered inside your Thanksgiving turkey.  But imagine if you will, removing the livers and necks from many dozens of ice cold chickens, all in one sitting. After a while, I couldn't even feel my hands as they were numbed by the ice cold chicken flesh.  And of course, it had to be done this way, because you couldn't let the chickens warm up.

My point?  I had to learn the hard way, what my Dad tried to tell me.  Stick your hands in cold meat for a long enough time and you're going to develop arthritis in your hands.  By the time my Dad retired, his hands were pretty disfigured.  He never removed his wedding band, but even if had wanted to, his knuckles were so permanently swollen and his fingers were so crooked, that it would have been an impossibility.  And now, when it get this cold, MY hands feel like two giant toothaches, even with Thinsulate gloves on.  I didn't butcher meat for anywhere near as long as he did; but those 5 - 7 summers were enough. Now I will suffer with "mildly" arthritic hands for the rest of my life - a lesson learned the hard way.

But, I'm not hopeless!  I can learn things the easy way, too.  And I was reminded of that when I read Jim W1PID’s post on AmateurRadio.com this afternoon – “Around The World for Morning Tea” and I was transported back to my youth.  It was stories similar to this that reinforced my desire to become an Amateur Radio operator as a kid.

Travelling the world from a room (in my case, my bedroom) had an appeal that did not fade with time.  A seed was planted that grew to fruition in my very early 20s, when I earned my Novice ticket back in 1978.

I am very glad for that Novice ticket, because it turned out to be learning "the easy way" (relatively speaking).  My intention from “the get-go” was to get on the HF bands.  The Technician class existed back then, too; but held no appeal to me.  For me, Amateur Radio meant getting on the air with the possibility of communicating anywhere around the world.  Whether what actually occurred was communicating down the street or around the state didn't matter, as long as that possibility also included talking to far away places on the globe remained.  The Novice ticket filled the bill, and thanks to good Elmers who taught me, I was able to procure my license with the least amount of frustration.

I am very grateful for the Novice sub bands that existed at the time.  There were very small slices of 80, 40, 15 and 10 Meters where we were allowed to prowl.  Of course, it was CW only but that and the frequency limitations were our only limitations!  There was plenty of DX to be had and I got my share.

I worked Hams of just about every license class that visited our Novice sections in those days. But of course the majority of other stations worked were other Novices.  We “grew up” together, we learned together, we made the same mistakes together, we honed our skills together.  For most of us, upgrading was our reason for being. And, most importantly, when we upgraded and discovered that VHF/UHF wasn't the end all and be all of Amateur Radio, we had our HF skills to fall back on.  We were literally eased in to the operating habits and skills required by the higher class licencees.

I often wonder how the loss of that introductory Novice class has affected Amateur Radio in the United States.  I suppose I could research trends and numbers that have occurred since.  But in my heart, I think the impact has not beneficial.  Thankfully, we have a lot of good Elmers out there who are willing to pass on what they have learned, whether by teaching classes, or producing learning materials and software, it is still possible to learn how to be a Ham "the easy way" - not stumbling around by yourself in the dark.

But I still wonder if having the Novice ticket and the Novice sub bands (or something like it) might be an effective tool to avoid the problem of new Hams who find themselves in that "VHF/UHF rut", and get tired and disenchanted, only to never bother to further explore the varied possibilities of this wonderful hobby.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. I'm confused. The current Technician Class licence allows CW-only operation on sub-bands in HF (80,40, 15M at least), and SSB on a narrow slice of 10M.

    I got my licence four months ago, and I think this is a terrible arrangement and a dis-incentive to get on HF, but what you seem to long for is, in fact, reality.

    My experience has been that there are some real first-class jerks on HF CW that demand perfection and speed. I gave up on HF.

    Aside from from the need to learn a dead language, there is the need for a large aerial and much more expensive equipment. All of this to communicate with snobs who treat you as unworthy. Forget it.

  2. Todd,

    Sorry that you gave up on HF. It really is a wonderful part of the hobby. In Ham Radio, like the rest of life, you will find your share of jerks. It's sad, but a fact.

    My experience has been that there are a lot of superb people out there on HF CW. A lot have come to be very good friends - and I get turned off by snobs, too. So I assure you that there are a ton of good folk out there who are every day Joe's, just like you and me.

    If you should ever get the hankering to give it another go, if you can operate around 7.110 MHz, there are a lot of slower speed CW ops who hang out in that area - just like in the old Novice days.

    Sorry you consider Morse Code to be a dead language. Dead or not, there are a great number of people who have a ton of fun using it - and after all, that's the point, isn't it?

    So if you feel it's not for you, that's fine too. Have fun doing whatever it is in Ham Radio that gives you the most enjoyment. In the end, that's what it's all about.

    73 de Larry W2LJ

    Oh - and congratulations on getting your license! I wish you many, many good years of fun.