I just read this op-ed piece in the Jan 2011 QST Magazine (p. 82). Hilarious–and so true! KL7AJ begins with:
I have, at last, identified the one glaring difference between my generation of Amateur Radio experimenters and the current batch of 2 meter obsessed appliance operators.
In our day, it was our job to create emergencies. The new EmComm oriented hams are intent on “fixing” emergencies.
Although I didn’t become a ham until I was in my late thirties, I was an experimenter by the time I was ten. My parents detected the “mad scientist” gene in me at an early age, and foolishly nurtured my tendencies by giving me a chemistry set. Remember, this was back in the 60’s, when chemistry sets hadn’t yet had all the fun extracted from them by product liability lawyers. Mine had an alcohol lamp, glass test tubes, and plastic bottles of a variety of chemicals whose names I couldn’t even pronounce–the potential for both fun and disaster was thrillingly high.
I set up my “laboratory” under the stairs in the basement utility room (shared by the laundry and my dad’s workshop) and proceeded to wring as much chaos out of that set as I could. The stink bombs, and my cleaning my test tubes with bleach in the laundry sink, drove my mother nuts at times, but I never burned down the house or otherwise forced its evacuation. But I certainly had the potential, and that’s what mattered to me.
Then I graduated to electricity. We had an old model train transformer that powered many of my experiments and gadgets. My older brother showed me how to build electromagnets by winding wire around nails, and I was soon building my own telegraphs, burglar alarms, and anything else I could think of. Sparks definitely flew on occasion.
About this time one of my uncles gave me an old Knight Ocean Hopper shortwave receiver, introducing me to the wonderful world of alternating current. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the AC plug had to be plugged into the outlet in the proper orientation to avoid experiencing an unpleasant tingling sensation when I touched the metal front panel. This radio had a separate coil for each waveband, and the front panel regen controls gave you no way of knowing what frequency you were listening to. Of course, it didn’t matter anyway, as I had no idea of where to listen for different types of signals. My antenna was 20 feet of wire strung along the ceiling of the basement–hardly optimal, but I still managed to experience the occasional foreign language broadcast. Way cool when you’re twelve years old.
I knew about ham radio at that time but I didn’t know any hams, and I couldn’t afford to buy any ham equipment anyway. It was probably just as well, as geekery gave way to sports and other things as I grew older. My “mad scientist” side went into hibernation, awakened again when my wife gave me a shortwave radio for Christmas when I was in my thirties. That gift recalled the days of my youth, and I realized that I now had the knowledge and resources to become a ham. I’m not sure whether the “mad scientist” side of me has fully emerged again, but now that I have all sorts of electronics, tools, soldering irons, torches, and power supplies, all the pieces are there for once again raising the potential for emergency household evacuations. As KL7AJ put it at the end of his article,
I want to leave this hobby with eyebrows smoldering and ears ringing.