All posts by Tom

This may turn out to be a long and disjointed post so be forewarned.

At this time (mid-September 2010) Jan and I should have been well into our visit to Australia.  I’ve always, since I was a teen, wanted to go there and when we learned the 2010 Worldcon was to be held in Melbourne, we decided that we would go whole-hog and attend the convention, and then tour Australia.  All plans were made well in advance and we were set to go.

Then Real Life™ intervened.   In April I learned that my lymphoma had returned and I began another course of chemotherapy.   The conclusion of that process was a round of high-dose chemo followed by a bone marrow transplant.  Needless to say, the Australia trip had to be canceled.

Countless friends provided tremendous support both for myself and Jan during all of this. I received  cards from all over and even more emails with good wishes and encouragement.  On August 10th I was able to return home after 28 days in the hospital.  Even after coming home, my friends continued to provide support and encouragement.

In particular members of the  on-line community,, were a constant source of support.  A number of them are part of an organization called The SFWA Musketeers which I have been involved with for a number of years.  I have worked as an ‘Auxiliaryand assisted them in their charity fund-raising activities at various SF conventions.

All this is a way of explaining the wonderful gift I received in today’s mail.  To help cheer me up and partially make up for the missed Australia trip, they sent me this:

For those of you not in on the scheme, it was a plush toy Platypus (Mortimer Gervias Platypus) who is dressed in a costume like those the SFWA Musketeers wear for their performances.  In addition  it came with an extra special bonus, a one-of-a-kind booklet, “The Platypus Diaries“, which explains how Mortimer came to Iowa.

Needless to say, I’ve been grinning from ear to ear since this arrived and I’m looking for the perfect place to display this treasure.

So first let me thank everyone who was thinking about me through my recent ‘adventure.’  I can’t say it enough, but all the cards, emails and even phone calls helped me get through everything with a positive attitude.  And special thanks to those who were responsible for Mortimer.  You know who you are!

I have a friend who lives in Bozeman Montana and every once in a while she sends me clippings from the Police Reports section of their local paper, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.  Why, you ask?  Well these reports can be strangely unusual, hilariously funny or just plain offbeat.  Who ever selects and writes these items has to have a lot of fun doing it.

Here is a typical selection of items from the latest batch my friend sent.  There are also some annotations by her which may or may not be legible in the scan.  You’ll need to click on the image to get an readable enlarged version. Enjoy.

Got the new antenna working yesterday.  There were a few problems with the cables to sort out but that only took a short time.  Then there were several repetitions of RTFM before I finally figured out how to configure the control box.

Turns out that I had to enable the option for 80M in order for any band to work.  The instruction book did not even hint at this.  SteppIR needs some help writing their manuals.

Once it was all working I made contact with stations in Greece and Italy.  Not major DX but pretty good for early afternoon.   At least it proves the antenna is working.  I’ll be playing with it some more today and get a better feeling for its performance.

Antenna Transplant

Warning – Ham Radio Geek-Speak Ahead!

For quite a few years I’ve used a Hy-Gain DX-88 antenna when operating on the 80, 40 and 30 meter amateur bands (3.5, 7 and 10.1 MHz).  It’s been a very good antenna but suffers from one major problem – it has a very narrow bandwidth, particularly on 80 meters.

If I set it up for 3.55 MHz, the CW (code) portion of the band, then it will not work well at 3.85 MHz in the voice section of the band and vice versa.  The adjustments necessary to change the frequency are rather complex and the antenna is over 250 feet from the house.  I have to have a very good reason to change things and in bad weather it is not worth the trouble to make adjustments.

A few months ago I started looking around for a replacement antenna that didn’t suffer from these bandwidth limitations.  Finally I settled on the SteppIR BigIR vertical.  This antenna is unique in that instead of being a fixed length it adjusts its electrical length based on the operating frequency chosen.  This means that changing frequencies is as simple as pushing a button.  In fact, for many brands of radios the frequency change will automatically track the frequency the radio is tuned to.

Assembly of the antenna is fairly complicated and the installation requires additional cables to control the antenna.  In my stetup I have a 2″ diameter , 250′ long polyethylene pipe buried between the antenna site and my ham shack.  I (with Jan’s help) had to pull the new cable through this pipe.  This posed some difficulty due to tangles, stuck wires and an error in where to route the cable in the maze of other wires for other antennas.  Who ever called radio “wireless” has never seen a ham radio installation!

The next step was to take down the old DX-88.  This wasn’t too difficult as it only weighs about 18.5 pounds but, as it is 28 feet long, it is a bid awkward to handle.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this operation as there was no one available to take pictures while we worked on it.

With the old antenna down it was time to put the new one up.  This had the same problems of awkwardness made a little worse by an extra 5 feet of length.  Again, no pictures were taken of the ongoing process for lack of photographer but there are before and after shots.  Installing the new antenna went smoothly and it only took a short while to get the guy ropes adjusted and tightened up.

All that is left to do now is to check out all the cabling to be sure all is wired correctly.  After that I will start on-the-air checks and see how it works.  I’ll make an addition to this post once all that is complete.

In a weak moment several years ago I let a friend talk me into signing up for Facebook.  After a few days I realized that Facebook was like the high-school social whirl; petty, childish and shallow.  As a consequence I did very little with my account.

Recently, there have been much news of Facebooks poor control of members information.  Just Google “Facebook Privacy” and you’ll get over 2,000,000 hits regarding the problem.  It is scary and I feel sad for so many people who are deeply involved in Facebook.  Maybe they don’t care about privacy…

For a good summary, go to this link.  May 31st has been designated Quit Facebook Day and you can learn how to delete your account here.

As a follow-on, Facebook is now deleting people’s posts (on FB) concerning privacy and links to the page (above) concerning how to delete your account.

It’s up to you, but you won’t be finding me on Facebook.

Current Events

матрациI don’t want this blog to turn into the ramblings of some news junkie, echoing what you can find a thousand places on the internet, but lately there have been a number of stories that I just have to comment on.

1. The Market “Crash”  Some moron types “b” when he meant “m” and Wall Street goes into a death spiral.    Why is such sloppiness allowed in such an important occupation?   What is wrong with the system that allows that to happen?   I sure am glad that the controls for our ICBMs have better safeguards (they do don’t they?)

2. The Gulf Oil Spill.  Don’t these people test things?  Even the smallest backwoods school has fire drills and safety inspections.  How could something as important as a cut-off valve not be ready to be used?  And they had to wait until after the accident to fabricate a containment device.  Were none of them Boy Scouts and learned “Be Prepared?” I wonder what the powers-that-be at BP would think if their BMW/Mercedes/Hummers were so poorly maintained.  Bet the mechanic would be looking for a new job.

3. The Time Square Bomber.  First, the only way this was discovered was when a street vendor saw smoke in the SUV.  Where were the “authorities”?  Second. the alleged perpetrator should turn in his terrorist license.  Any high school  chemistry student could build a better bomb.  I mean – firecrackers!  He could have at least gotten some decent aerial shells – the kind available all over dozens of states.  He should also learn that to make ANFO you need a certain type of fertilizer – just dumping oil on Rapid-Gro isn’t going to do much.  Lord help us if there ever is a smart terrorist.

4. The Arizona Immigration Law. I hope Arizona has a lot of police officers to spare.  Let’s see – I’ve heard 12,000,000 illegals.  If one cop can check the papers of 5 of them every hour then that’s 2.4 million man hours.  If you want to get the job done in a year (assuming 8 hour shifts) that’s  822 officers doing nothing but checking papers.  And that’s just to find the guilty.  It doesn’t count all the perfectly legal people they need to be checked along with the illegals.  Even if as many as one in 10 is illegal (which I doubt), Arizona needs 8220 new officers to find them in a year.  And don’t forget, the population of illegals is not static.  Plus there is the problem of not remembering who has been checked and who has not.  Maybe they need to make all those suspicious looking legals wear a yellow star to show they have been checked.

5. The Iceland Volcano Just goes to show that no matter how big your bank account, you can’t argue with Mother Nature.  And the “big” volcano in Iceland is still over-due to erupt.  If you have plans to go to Europe, book a ship and take a dust mask.

6. The financial “crisis” in Greece.   Greece is an nation of tax evaders.  It’s no wonder they can’t pay their debt when everyone there (at least those with money)  blatantly avoids paying taxes.  Of course, the US is going the same route, but we do it differently.  Instead of lying about our income and wealth, we elect sleazy politicians to give the rich tax cuts.  The result is the same – not enough money to run the country,  but the US rich can then still claim they are law abiding citizens.

You will notice that the majority of these stories have their basis in the same thing.  “People not doing their jobs properly.” In the future, take a look at the big stories in the news and see how many of them, at their root, involve sloppy, lazy, incompetent people who just don’t want to do the job they are hired for.

How to Rob a Bank in Latin

Catapultum habeo. Nisi pecunium omnem mihi dabis ad caput tuum saxum inmane mitiam.

(I have a catapult. Give me all the money or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.)

— Unknown Author