At our local club’s annual swap meet in September, the technology of all but the first few decades of amateur radio was on display. Vacuum tubes, transmitting coils, high-voltage variable capacitors, quartz crystals, and “boat-anchor” rigs from the 1950s were juxtaposed with software-defined radios, with everything in between in various hybrid combinations. But isn’t all that older stuff “obsolete”? Not on your grandfather’s spark gap!

Is the tuned LC “tank” circuit obsolete?

The thing is, all that earlier technology still works as well as it always has, except I suppose if you think that reducing VFO drift down to 1 ppm over 60 minutes is something you can’t live without. With good ol’ ovenized oscillators and other forms of thermal stabilization, I’m satisfied enough to get on the air without concern over some good, honest drift. If some Barney-Fife operator wants to complain my signal drifts 10Hz per hour, he can kiss my plate chokes, and he’d get what’s coming to him, too.

Not until the twentieth century did “obsolete” enter the everyday talk of ordinary people. Within the scope of what we all call “technology’—all dependent on electricity–change has come at a dizzying pace. In some cases, new developments result in real value added to the human condition, while others only serve to foster dissatisfaction and discontent. And always there’s something else to buy. I’m as fond of technology as the next radio amateur, but I’m more fond of contentment and peace of mind, especially when the proffered advances seem—to me at least—less than compelling.

In gaining some insight into this march into perpetual obsolescence, it’s worthwhile to look at other technologies that have survived the onslaught of the “new and improved.” Painting did not disappear upon the introduction of photography in the middle of the nineteenth century. It’s still alive and well in the art world, and materials for it are available, even at “big-box” superstores. Though typewriters have been mostly supplanted by desk- or laptop computers, pen, pencil, and paper have not. Synthetic textiles are superior (easier to maintain) in most respects to those made of cotton or wool, but natural fibers used before recorded history are still very-much in use. And so on.

Likewise, the technology of the codex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex) was a true advance over the book scroll since a scroll can be accessed only in a fixed sequence, while any page of a codex can be accessed immediately. A synoptic skimming of a codex is no more difficult than flipping through its pages. Not so with a scroll. Well, though our tablets and notebook computers are right up to date, we’re now back to scrolling. Not everything new is unassailably better.

I admit this may be much ‘ado about nothing, and in fact it may be only slightly more meaningful than any other garden-variety navel-gazing and pseudo-intellectual self indulgence. But the old boat anchors and hollow-state gear is still around, the coils and capacitors are still used by some to create tuned circuits, and it can all live side-by-side in anyone’s radio shack. It does in mine. It’s one of the “cool” things about Ham Radio.


Not exactly heaven, but . . .

BancorpmthoodAs I write this I’m upstate in Portland (Oregon). I’ve been here for more than a week, so I’ve had a chance to window shop at some local radio-related suppliers.

For component-level stuff, there’s Fry’s. It’s a chain similar to BestBuy except it caters to both the consumer as well as the professional repair and amateur electronics markets. They carry the full NTE line and *lots* of other components and materials (including enclosures).

Except for hollowstate projects, one could pretty much be supplied for serious work just from there. Back home, Medford is growing big enough that Fry’s ought to open a store there.

Frys_wilsonville_pic1Focusing entirely at the component level is Oregon Electronics, a reincarnation of Norvac. They have a store in Eugene, too. The full NTE line can be found here, too, along with the best selection of connectors of all types one could imagine.

They have a better selection of Arduino and other microcontroller-related items than Fry’s, including a huge array of break-out boards for devices available only in surface mount. These include sensors of various sorts such as temp and humidity, gas ionization, ultrasonic range finding, multi-axis accelerometers, and WiFi connectivity.

OE stands out by having their full inventory (i.e., what they actually have in stock) searchable online. There are enough goose chases in life already so this is great.Oregon_Electronics


The most fun supplier up here is Surplus Gizmos. It’s a warehouse-sized wonderland of almost anything having to do with electricity. Some is surplus and some is salvage. I’d say some was obtained by dumpster diving, but I don’t have smoking-gun evidence for it.

If you can’t find something elsewhere in town, the chance is SG will have it. They had the RG-174 I was looking for! The guys at HRO (see below) sent me there. Much of what Surplus Gizmos has is also available from their online store.

http:// www.surplusgizmos.com/


Nice_storefront_2013_smallerThough useful for lots of ham-related paraphernalia, Ham Radio Outlet on Hwy 99W does not cater to the DIY or homebrew community. They do carry a good selection of the latest and greatest rigs; they’re all set up along one wall and one of several antennas on the roof can be used for a test drive. They also have a good stock of MFJ accessories, a nice selection of antennas and antenna-related gear by several manufacturers, the full Heil line of mics and boom sets, and a decent stock of coax and ladder line. cn85ok-hro-0926

HRO is definitely the place to go for “plug n’ play” or “turn-key” ham radio. The folks behind the counter are real Hams, and they’re easy to deal with, too.

http://www.hamradio.com/ locations.cfm?storeid=11.

There are more suppliers up here that I’ve not visited yet. I’ll give you a report on those on the club reflector. If you’re going to be up this way, plan some time to check-out these suppliers. I’ll leave it to you whether or not you leave your wallet back at the hotel.