Is Technology Making Us Dumber?

I rarely delve into the philosophical here, but I’ve just run across a couple of articles that I find interesting. I think it’s appropriate to comment on them here because amateur radio is a technical hobby

The first article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, ran in the July/August 2008 issue of The Atlantic. It’s not aimed at Google as much as it is at Web culture in general. Carr says:

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet.

The second article is “Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds” by Damon Darlin. This article ran in the September 20, 2008 issue of the New York Times. It’s a response to The Atlantic article. Here’s a key quote from that article:

It is hard to think of a technology that wasn’t feared when it was introduced. In his Atlantic article, Mr. Carr says that Socrates feared the impact that writing would have on man’s ability to think. The advent of the printing press summoned similar fears. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Is the Web changing the way we think and do things? Yes, probably. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it all depends. Llike all technology, it depends on how we use it. Darlin goes on to note that when the HP-35 scientific calculator came out in 1972, “it was banned from some engineering classrooms. Professors feared that engineers would use it as a crutch, that they would no longer understand the relationships that either penciled calculations or a slide rule somehow provided for proficient scientific thought.”

Has the calculator hindered engineering progress? Hardly?

As if that weren’t enough to think about, read this blog post, “Google…Integrating Lives.” This is from a blog called Notes From the Digital Frontier, and it’s written by a dozen college students and young professionals. These kids have always had computers in their lives. That’s amazing to those of us who only dreamt about personal computers when were kids.

Since they’ve grown up with them, they know how to use them. Or, at least the successful ones will know how to use them. I don’t think that we have to worry about technology making us dumber.

How does amateur radio fit into all this? Well, I’m not sure, exactly, but I know it does. Perhaps it’s this. Kids (and adults, too, for that matter) who get involved in amateur radio will have a better appreciation for the technology (mainly electronics) that now run our world. I think that’s a good thing.

ARRL Membership for the Visually Impaired

Now that the ballots are in the mail for the Great Lakes Division election, I’ve been sending out e-mails to ARRL members in the division. I’ve had some interesting replies, including this one from Joe, N8ATB:

Hi Dan,

A very thoughtful email. I wish you the best of luck in theelection.

Amateur radio has been an incredible hobby for me AND a learning experience that shaped my career.

As a retiree now, I find myself nearly blind and unable to do most of what I WANTED to do in retirement BUT still do as much as I can with ham radio.

I wonder if the low membership of disabled hams might be improved by somehow (not sure how0 getting the word out that visually impaired membershhip is only $8 per year without QST…. but since the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides –FREE OF CHARGE — QST on audio tape through participating local libraries. I know that few people at HQ even knew that QST was available in that form.

I still pay full membership to get “hard copy” so I can have my wife read the ads (not contained in the audio form), and then I pass on the mags to newly licensed local hams, encouraging them to become members.

Sorry for the long note … I was just impressed by your email and am also concerned about the “graying of the hobby.”

Good luck …

73, Joe N8ATB

Taking Your Show on the Road

Grant, KC0VTY, posted this to the ARRL Public Relations mailing list, but since we’re in the process of setting up our station/display at the Hands-On Museum, this struck a chord with me:

While this marketing professional’s tips about display booths don’t apply to a club’s budget, there are good points made. But you say you’re visual-design-challenged? Seek out people in your community who are design-inclined and willing to do resume-building work for reduced cost.

Fortunately for our museum project, we have the luxury of having the museum’s professionals design our displays. Your club is probably not so lucky, but if you’re going to go through the effort of putting together a special events station, you still want it to have as much impact as possible.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU/KD8ABX

This was a great weekend for ham radio!

First thing Saturday morning, ARROW held their monthly breakfast at the Old Country Buffet. We once again had a couple dozen members show up, and we talked about all kinds of things, including aviation, the upcoming presidential election, and even some ham radio.

Afterwards, I was supposed to head over to the house of KD8ABX to help him with an antenna. He got busy with some other things, though, so that left me free operate. There were two events going on Saturday afternoon—the Texas QSO Party and the Blue Ridge Bonanza. They were both fun.

I made about a dozen contacts in the TX QP, but it was even more fun to operate the Blue Ridge Bonanza. The Roanoke Valley Amateur Club (VA) and The Forsythe Amateur Radio Club (NC) sponsored this event, which spanned the length of the Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a 469-mile highway that runs from the Shenandoah National Park at its north end to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at its south end. In between, is some of the most beautiful country in the USA.

Before I got back into ham radio in a big way six years ago, I used to bicycle quite a bit. I’ve biked the northernmost part of the Parkway, from mile 0 to mile 45.6, and part of the southern part around Asheville, NC. I’d still love to go back sometime and bike its entire length.

For this event, there were thirteen stations set up along the Parkway, nine in Virgina that used the callsign W4CA and four in North Carolina that used the callsign W4NC. The Roanoke Valley ARC operated five stations in Virginia, the Forsythe ARC operated two stations in NC. Several other clubs participated in the event to man the other stations.

I managed to work nine of the thirteen stations, aided by the fact that band conditions were excellent between Michigan and VA/NC Saturday afternoon. I especially enjoyed working the Buena Vista station. I stayed overnight there once on a 1,300-mile bike tour.

On Sunday, I drove over to the QTH of Zoltan, KD8ABX, to help him get his 40m dipole back up in the air. I say “back in the air” because we’d done this once before in the spring, but it came down several weeks ago in a wind storm. For some reason, we never got around to testing it when we put it up, and Zoltan got busy with other things (mainly raising his cute little daughter, Kinga), so he’d never gotten on the air at the time.

This time was different. We replaced the bit of rope that had broken and hoisted the antenna back up into the air. There was some interference from some tree branches, but that was quickly taken care of with the branch trimmer, which I zipped home to retrieve.

Next, we connected it up to his antenna analyzer (the Autek that I sold him after buying the Palstar) and determined that it was a bit long. At first, I guessed at taking a foot off each side, but had second thoughts, and only shortened the antenna by 18 inches. I should have gone with my gut. 18 inches got the resonant point into the band, but way down in the CW portion of the band.

No worries, though. Zoltan had an antenna tuner that I’d lent him. I showed him how to use the antenna analyzer to tune the antenna, we hooked it up to Zoltan’s I-735, and we were off and running. We’d set the antenna tuner for a 1:1 SWR at 7225, which just happened to be the frequency for the Blue Ridge Bonanza mile 0 station. There was a big pileup there, so I tuned downband a bit and found WA3GDH calling CQ. Gerd was our first QSO with the new antenna.

After a short QSO with Gerd, we did work W4CA on 7225 and 7230 (the mile 45.6 Buena Vista station). Finally, I called CQ around 7217 and had a nice chat with W4AXT in Lebanon, TN. Band conditions were really great—all of the stations we worked were S9+, and we got similar reports.

We did have one disappointment. About a year ago, I’d purchased an AT-150, the antenna tuner companion to the IC-735. We tried getting that to work with the rig, but it didn’t seem to want to play. We’re going to have to work on that.

At any rate, KD8ABX is on the air. Look for him on 40m SSB and on 40m PSK. He has a cute, little SignaLink USB interface, and he’s hot to get on PSK. In the future, look for him on CW as well. I’m going to work on him to learn the code.

DX on 40m
But, wait, there’s more! I had a lot of fun working all these domestic stations, but there was quite a bit of DX to be worked as well. Saturday evening, I worked 4X4FC on 7007, and on Sunday evening, I worked TF/DL2RJM/P. F3NB also answered one of my CQs. Andy, F3NB, and I must have some kind of pipeline between us; we’ve worked almost a dozen times now on 40m.

Free Beer

Well, it’s not free beer, but it is a free membership to the Croatian Telegraphy Club (CTC). The CTC invites all telegraphy enthusiasts to become members. If you apply by e-mail—just send your name and callsign to—and membership is free. If you apply by mail—and I have no idea why you’d do that, especially if you’re reading this on the Internet—the cost is 5 Euro or 8 USD cash in envelope which is a contribution towards postal charges. Membership in the Croatian Telegraphy Club also includes membership in the European CW Association.

For more information, visit the CTC website.

I just sent in my e-mail application.

Two Net Links

Got these two links from the latest Electronics Development e-mail newsletter:

Tips & Tricks for Digital Logic Circuit Design
Digital logic circuits are widely used today, from simple circuits consisting of just a few logic gates to complicated microprocessor based systems. Get some hints and tips on designing and using digital logic circuits in this free tutorial! You’ll get guidance on decoupling, earthing, layout and unused inputs. Learn what the most common mistakes are and how you can avoid them.

Calculate Inductance for Toroids & Solenoids
Make your inductance calculations easy with these two calculators. They calculate the inductance of toroids and solenoids based on the values entered.

FM Tutorial Online

TechOnline presents a basic tutorial on FM with descriptions of multiplex (MPX) signaling and noise improvement techniques, such as stereo-mono blending and soft mute. This paper was written by Lawrence Der, an engineer with Silicon Laboratories. Accordingly, it also introduces Silicon Laboratories’ Si4700/01 FM Tuner ICs.

I’m a Web Star

Monday evening, I did something I’d never done before. I gave a talk to more than 400 people. And, I did it from the comfort of my home office.

This was a very cool thing. Bill Edgar, N3LLR, the director from the Atlantic Division, has a webinar account with that allows him to produce an unlimited number of seminars over the Web (hence the term “webinar”). I got hooked up to Bill via Jim Weaver, K8JE, the Great Lakes Division Director. He thought my talk on kit building would make an interesting presentation for a wider audience, as well as give my candidacy for Vice Director a nice shot in the arm.

It really couldn’t have been simpler to do. All I had to do was to sign on the the CitrixOnline website with the URL given to me by Bill. The website recognized immediately that I was one of the “panelists.”

When the time came, Bill, who was the webinar moderator, made me a “presenter,” and this allowed me to share my screen with everyone who was attending the webinar. On my screen, I had my presentation displayed and was able to page through it as I talked. I was also able to switch back and forth to a Web browser to highlight a particular kit vendor.

One thing that turned out to be important is that I had a headset with microphone that I could plug into the computer. One of the other panelists tried using the built-in mike and speakers of his computer, and there was definitely feedback between the speakers and microphone. It sounded like he was in an echo chamber. CitrixOnline suggests a USB headset/mike combo, but mine is just an analog set, and that seemed to work just fine.

Bill, Jim, and I signed in early to get things in order. We were able to talk amongst ourselves without any of the attendees hearing us, which allowed us to talk about the agenda for the webinar and clear up some last minute details. When the clock turned 8pm, Bill threw the switch and connected us with our audience.

After some introductions, they passed it to me, and I launched right in. It was almost as if I were speaking to a club, except that I was doing it from my home office with a headset on. Another big difference was the size of the audience. Bill mentioned before the talk began that 450 had signed up to take part in the webinar, and that at least one or two of those were planning to use my presentation as the presentation for their club meeting that evening.

I talked for about 45 minutes, and then we asked for questions from the audience. They submitted their questions using a form on the website. Bill, as moderator, fielded those questions, chose the most appropriate ones, and then posed them to me. There was some very good questions, such as the one about using lead-free solder, and I have incorporated that information into my presentation.

Several other participants informed me of some kit vendors that I missed. These are also now part of my presentation.

Unfortunately, there were some technical difficulties. For some of the attendees, the audio was of such poor quality that they were unable to really get much out of my presentation. My theory is that the Citrix servers, while supposedly able to handle up to 1,000 attendees, was simply overwhelmed.

That being the case, we are going to do this again on Monday, October 6, at 8:00pm EDT. To register, go to N3LLR reports that Citrix has been notified of the VOIP problems and is fixing them.

Overall, it was a lot of fun for me to reach so many people. I also see the value of this kind of service. It would be a way for me to reach so many more people over the Internet than I am able to do in person. More use of this technology is definitely in order.

MI Section Publishes First Youth Newsletter

MI Assistant Section Manager Simon, KC8DYZ, has published the first Youth Radio in Michigan newsletter. Included in this issue are articles by out SM Dale, WA8EFK; Corey, KD8BOQ; and Simon himself.

Another interesting part of the newsletter is a proposal for creating a website just for kids in ham radio. I like this idea a lot. Not only would it be great for kids who are hams in Michigan, but perhaps for kids all over the country.

Online Textbook Explains Semiconductor Principles

Want to know how a MOSFET works? The online textbook, Principles of Semiconductor Devices, covers that and more:

  • Review of Modern Physics
  • Semiconductor Fundamentals
  • Metal-Semiconductor Junctions
  • p-n Junctions
  • Bipolar Transistors
  • MOS Capacitors
  • MOS Field-Effect-Transistors

One interesting feature of the book is that it includes several short videos that visually illustrate various principles. That’s kind of cool.