Archive for January, 2009

Contest Blues

January 18th, 2009

I got on for the CW version of the North American QSO Party last weekend for about 45 minutes.  I did all S&P, although some of it was the fatiguing two-radio S&P.  For some reason, it wasn’t the same for me as it was last year.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t prepare much in advance.  Or perhaps it’s the fact that my favorite 930 is dead.  Shoot, it could be that I’ve patched my antennas so many times that they’ve changed SWR minima from the CW end to the phone end of the bands!  Whatever it was, I didn’t feel the rush of the contest this time.

During SS CW, I suspected that this moment might be coming.  Am I getting old?  Tired?  Lazy?  Or just disinterested.  I don’t know.  Maybe some sunspots would help?  Maybe I should liquidate all of my aging hardware to buy a K3 or an MP and tickets to the Caribbean in February and November?

Perhaps it’s a more personal thing.  Why spend so much money on something that takes me away from my family (wife right now)?  Certainly, it is a social event among friends to get on the air and make some noise.  But, I can do that with one radio and a wire in the trees.  Do I need to keep the KT-34XA’s I plan to stack?  The T2X to turn one of them?  The 402BA-S?  Will I ever be able to spend what it takes to put up a tower that can hold that stuff with a clear conscience?  I used to look forward to having a dominating signal and pushing the state of the art in receiving.  I’m not sure any of that is too important to me today.

I think I’ll wait to see where we land next year before I make any decisions.  But, I may be cutting back.

» Read more: Contest Blues


January 18th, 2009


The astute follower of my blog (Does such a person exist?) has no doubt discovered that I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” I was quite keen to read it after having read “The Tipping Point” and “Blink” previously. Although it was released in November, Sarah and I finally got our hands on a copy during a recent trip to the library.

Gladwell is a good storyteller and, like the two before, this book is quite compelling. But, for the first time, I was left wondering, “Has anyone written a critical rebuttal to any of his books?” Maybe I’m resisting some of the stereotypes he makes. Perhaps the greatest one is the young man brushed aside by his professors. I was indignant that a university, or in this case, two universities, would casually let someone apparently so bright, fall between the cracks for such trivialities as re-arranging a course schedule. I suppose this has to do with building prior rapport with the faculty, which is related to Gladwell’s point that middle- and upper-class children are frequently brought up to engage authorities to shape their relationships. But, I digress.

The other point that I hope is not lost in the talk of lucky breaks and heritage is the idea that success comes from hard work. Opportunities seized produce success.

When I worked in the cleanroom at Minnesota, I remember one of the other members of my research group telling about the dogged determination of some of the other students. They would produce failure after failure until they got something working. This sort of Edisonian tenacity is highly-prized in Asian cultures. In fact, when I was interviewing with some potential faculty advisors at Illinois, Milton Feng told me, “Ah, you are a country boy. I like farm kids. They work hard.”

How do we structure our learning environments to make hard work a joy? Math, science, and engineering are learned, much like everything else as Gladwell argues, by putting your time in. Certainly, there are some things like birthday cut-offs and population trends, that we have less control over. But, we can make ourselves and our students more successful by making the journey more rewarding and interactive while retaining the rigor that invites exploration and hard work. Can we reach out to talented students whose background differs from the “successful norm”?

The verdict: it’s a thought-provoking book interwoven with enough subtly obvious ideas to help you feel good about your understanding and what he’s saying. I would love to see an equally well-written rebuttal, though.

» Read more: Outliers

365 Photographs

January 14th, 2009
Vanity Plate

Vanity Plate

For those who read this via RSS, you’ve probably missed the new sidebar on the web site.  I’m endeavoring to carry a camera with me almost wherever I go this year.  You never known when a great opportunity for a snapshot or photograph will occur.  I have decided to post one photograph per day in 2009, taken on that day when possible.  These photos are hosted at home for now:

You can subscribe to them via RSS by pasting the following feed into your reader: I build the posts and feed statically (and off-line) using two Perl scripts to reduce the processing requirements on my embedded server at home.

If you read these blog posts as Facebook notes, please consider subscribing via RSS since Facebook only lets me syndicate one personal RSS feed.  I plan to switch the feed from the blog to the photos soon, maybe tomorrow.

» Read more: 365 Photographs


January 1st, 2009
MAP Refinery

MAP Refinery

Our holiday travel schedule took us past the Marathon Ashland Petroleum refinery in Canton, Ohio.  It has been a landmark on our trips to visit Mom’s family.  I wouldn’t have bothered to photograph it except Dad took one on the way up.  Since it was taken just before dusk on a cool, damp, winter day, it seems even more industrial.  The flame near the center of the image burns almost perpetually.  As a child, I always wondered why they just burned it off.  It seemed as if it were burning, somebody could at least use it to fuel something, even if it was waste.

» Read more: Landmarks