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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Manassas Hamfest

Elisa heroically accompanied me to the Manassas Hamfest on Sunday.  We had fun.  I thought they had a good turnout of vendors and tailgaters, and it seemed like the sellers of real ham stuff were winning the battle against the encroaching computer people.  I saw many interesting old boatanchor radios, including two R-390A receivers, one HT-37, an HW-101 and several other Heathkits.

As for NEW technology, the fellows from the NOVA LABS maker space had a very interesting table, and their web site has a very kind acknowledgement that hams were "the original hackers, who organized build groups and hack labs similar to modern day makerspaces—back before people called themselves “Makers” and long before it was “cool.”  They had a 3-D printer that was doing its thing in a very impressive manner.  They also had some quadro- and octo-copters built by a group called DC Area Drone User Group.   Very cool.  Want one.

Inspired by Nick Kennedy, I have included in this post a picture of my purchases from the hamfest.  As you can see, I controlled myself.  But I couldn't resist the humungous flashlight!  I got a bunch of .1 caps (should have bought more!).  Got a Bud-box (maybe for an Arduino DDS project?)  The little circuit board with the IF cans is interesting.  I bought it (1 dollar!) for the 365 pf variable  cap, but I later realized that it is probably a complete All-American Five receiver on a single board.  I'm not crazy about tubes on PC boards, but this one may have some possibilities.  The roll of tape is supposedly coax sealer.  I also got a little 35 mm slide viewer, and a 12 volt wall wart.

I wore the "Real Radios Glow in the Dark" T-shirt that Elisa got me (on the recommendation of Rogier).  I got more positive comments on that shirt than on any other piece of clothing I've ever owned!

And we saw our first Cicadas of this 17 year cycle. 

Our book: "SolderSmoke -- Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics" http://soldersmoke.com/book.htm Our coffee mugs, T-Shirts, bumper stickers: http://www.cafepress.com/SolderSmoke Our Book Store: http://astore.amazon.com/contracross-20


  1. I saw Elisa gamely pimping books to everyone who passed from a card table. But no sign of Bill, so I guess you were shopping at the time. Since I already had a copy I stayed out of range so she could focus on new customers :)

    The weather was nice and yeah, the Cicadas were emerging. I had my 11 year old son with me and it was his first viewing of them. Up where I live in MD they haven't emerged yet.

  2. Ah, fooey. I should've come to the hamfest. We were doing the tourist DC thing and staying with friends in greater metropolitan Aldie. As for the Cicadas, it sounded like a couple of F-16s at idle.. I thought there was an air base close by. :)

    Maybe next time!

  3. I find "make" fairly offensive. When I was a kid, of course technology was cool to me, but it was a pretty small crowd that was interested, and it was the sort of thing you got beat up for.
    It was great because it was learning away from school and when I started reading the hobby electronic magazines, and a few months later the ham magazines, it was like entering an adult world. I got my ham license at age 12, about the last week of grade six. What different viewpoint it gave me to view the world. It was exciting because it was the adult world, yet it was something I was doing on my own.

    "Make" is so much about an orgasmic collective experience, with hard details less obvious. Buy a small board computer and use it to flash lights, anyone can do it, but it actually costs money for that board, and if you learned something you could actually do it by wiring a few components together.

    And then instead of just telling about amateur radio, everything has to be referenced from the "Make" universe, such as "makers before there was make".

    The funny thing is the so called movement hasn't existed long enough for people to have started from scratch, which means the "leaders" have to come from the world that existed before.

    Someone here got gung ho about organizing a "minimaker fair" here, actually the mother of a young teenager.

    They even got press, it's a long time since I've seen anything in that newspaper about ham radio. But it acted like the "Make" world was new, that nothing existed except for their world.

    So the ham clubs weren't there, the model boat builders weren't there, the model train people weren't there, no amateur astronomers with their home made telescopes, and so on. They could have done so much better by contacting the existing groups, getting them involved, rather than trying to build up some image of some new brand of "Maker".

    I love the magazine, but also think it's a failure. It expects people to follow exactly, which is great for the beginner, but doesn't lead to innovation or substitution, because it's not about teaching. There's way too much fluff, and increasingly it's about people who make things, preferably professional, than about making things.

    It even throws the word "hack" around way too much. It's used to tell people they are cool. But I would argue that "hacking" is experience based learning. The MIT hackers were learning by doing, they weren't breaking into computers, they were exploring, learning because they were experiencing the computer rather than reading about it. It was map-making, not following a map. Small children do it too, since all they can do is experience, they don't have language or reading skills to be instructed. Seymour Papert understood this, from studying small children, and the hackers at MIT. He thus created "Logo", not a "simple computer language" but a "learning/play environment that happens through experimentation". I was spending a lot of time with a small child at 25 years ago. I saw her hacking the world. INdeed, I was "hacking" her, making small gestures to begin with, learning through feedback and getting good at it. I watched, her, I studied her, I didn't read books ahead of time.

    It was precisely how I learned about electronics and radio, reading the magazines and trying to build projects (that never worked) but then finally I got things working, ironically by using parts taken from existing equipment. By then I'd learned enough to know what I could and could not use.

    But the thing is, I learned about learning, something ultimately more important than the electronics.

    Only people who use "hack" to be trendy would think it's specifically about technology.


  4. >> but it was a pretty small crowd that was interested, and it was the sort of thing you got beat up for.

    Tell me you don't miss that. Is that what you want for our kids? I don't want it for mine!

    >> and if you learned something you could actually do it by wiring a few components together.

    Yup. Often that is true. I see people complain about that in the comments over on Hackaday all the time. Arduino this, Arduino that, why are you using a whole Arduino just to blink a light on and off.
    On the other hand, often if one reads the article more carefully the original problem was more complicated than it first appeared so the hardware made sense. Or.. it was only meant to be a beginner's project to use the hardware in question and not meant to be an example of an efficient solution to anything.

    But, yes... sometimes it's just because as the saying goes, when the only tool you know is a hammer...

    Hey, nothing is perfect!

    >> But it acted like the "Make" world was new, that nothing existed except for their world

    Doesn't every generation do that? Imagine a marketing campaign, "Be just like you parents, build stuff!"

    >>... the ... clubs weren't there,...

    That is genuinely too bad. I don't know where you are but I don't think your local mini maker faire is representative of the rest in that regard.

    I attend the AnnArbor mini Maker Faire and the Detroit Maker Faire every year. Arrow (the AnnArbor ham club) is a fixture at their mini maker faire. Ham Radio is always represented at the Detroit one too although admittedly it isn't a huge part of it. They work hard to publicize the event though and anyone, ham or not is welcome to set up a booth!

    I also am accustomed to seeing other groups which predate the 'Maker Movement' such as various robotics clubs, metal working groups, etc... I first learned of both Maker Faires when the leader of the local hackerspace showed up at a GoTech, which is a local 'show and tell' group that meets and people show all sorts of things they have built including electronics, radio, metalworking, cnc, etc... everything goes. Anyway, he was there not just to invite us to attend but to look for volunteers, people to make booths and show the stuff they had already been doing!

    Perhaps the organizers of your local event were just ignorant of the fact such local groups existed. Hopefully, with the media coverage they had more people will be involved next time and bring those groups into the fold. Better yet, maybe you could even help the process along! A simple email written to the organizers and carbon copied to each of the clubs might be all it takes! If they aren't interested in community input then they aren't much of a Maker Faire!

    >> But it acted like the "Make" world was new, that nothing existed except for their world.

    I can see your point. On the other hand you might not be their target audience. We seldom are! When explaining an idea that is new to your audience one must define it in terms of ideas that the audience is already familiar with. It doesn't matter what came first, it matters what your target audience already relates to. At least 'Makers' before 'Make' acknowledges that something did indeed come before.

  5. >> I love the magazine, but also think it's a failure.

    Well... I have only read a handful of issues myself. Comparing them to the old electronics hobbyist magazines of old is a little 'apples and oranges' because Make isn't nor does it claim to be an electronics magazine. It's a mishmash of computers, mechanical stuff, electronics and more.

    Yes, it's kind of 'beginerish'. Honestly though... I think that's what the world needs more right now, something to get them started along the path of making things much more so than guides for experts to perfect their specialties. There is still plenty more available for the non-beginner now than there ever was when all we had was the local library plus mail order. You might be surprised how many people out there can’t even use a hammer! What might be steps that are too rigidly spelled out for a long time hobbyist might actually be inspiring and eye opening to a beginner.

    Does Make not encourage experimentation (compared to the old magazines)? I don't know... I remember most of the really interesting projects being built around some part that could only be obtained from one source (often the author). So long as you were ordering it you might as well break down and get the PCB too.

    >>Now... could take parts out of old things, substitute parts, etc...

    Sure! But If you succeeded it was because you had a lot of outside knowledge that you did not get directly from the magazine, that was for sure! Or maybe you had a really good elmer!

    It was really up to the reader to determine if they were going to build the project exactly as described or go off experimenting on their own. It was up to the reader to learn how to recognize the problem when that random transistor with a proprietary part number on it that they pulled from some old tv and substituted for the one the magazine calls for and the Rat Shack doesn't carry is the problem or if it's something else. I remember a few articles telling me I could find and re-use parts from junk and substitute it in but none that actually gave me enough knowledge to even begin to do so.

    I don't see how Make is so different, or how it should be held to a different standard.

    Most of the projects I have seen in Make use things available in the local hardware stores or Ikea. Reading about projects in Make and in similar online has made me look at things differently and see more potential non-standard uses for things in those stores than I ever had before.

    >>He thus created "Logo", not a "simple computer language" but a "learning/play environment that happens through experimentation"
    I remember Logo. It was how I first was exposed to the concept of programming. Then I learned Basic. Then I learned that I could not possible make a program that other people wanted to use because there were no compilers available on a kid’s budget or even at a reasonable price for a parent to buy. Anything I wrote would be slow and require an understanding of how to use the interpreter. Today’s kids have things like Processing and Arduino to cut their teeth on. Also, there are still versions of Logo and BASIC available for free which we as their elmers are free to teach them if there is an advantage to it. I’d rather not teach anybody about things like goto and gosub though. Not ever! Why bring more ‘evil’ into the world? Anyway.. once the kids are ready to move on they have something we didn’t… really good compilers! Available for free! Today’s kids can not only make something, they can make something relevant!
    I don’t see anything to miss in the old ways there!

  6. >> Only people who use "hack" to be trendy would think it's specifically about technology.

    I'm sorry I just can't even begin to imagine where you are coming from on this one. Really, Where does this statement come from?

    First, hack started as a computer term. It was about as much 'technology' as it gets.

    Second.. the way Make and all the other parts of the nebulous thing called the 'Maker Movment' use it is about the most general I have ever heard the term.

    Hack as it's being thrown around now can be about anything from sewing to building a radio to programming a computer. Sometimes it's just about how to re-use some piece of would-be trash to hold something in place or some other useful thing

    This, in my opinion is one of the greatest things about the current 'Maker Movement'. We always had electronics hobbyists, wood workers, metal workers, crafters, artists etc... Now everybody is getting exposed to everybody else's hobbyist areas. The lines are getting blurred, hobbyists of different kinds often come together and work together on the same project! Electrons are great but they are even better when they are made to move something!

    I suppose that really all of those things ARE technology, even the simple ones. Maybe you want an even more general definition for 'hack'? What would you want to refer to as 'hack' that isn't technology? Anything made is technology.


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