Hobbies and near obsessions.

What person doesn't have a hobby? Nearly everyone has one or two things that keep the mind going strong. I for one have a few hobbies that could be called strange and some that could be called near obsessions.

Other things I do for fun and profit

Amatuer Radio

I started ham radio in 1976, Actually, my father was the one who started all this nonsense. For him, it started with a cheesy Air Force billboard. (Who says they don't work?) We spent a couple of hours one night copying and deciphering the message, which was just as cheesy as the billboard. Back in those days the FCC required that an applicant had to learn Morse code at the rate of 5 wpm. No code, no license. Learning Morse is like learning another language letter by letter. Yes, it is very tedious and maddening, but if you stick with the task at hand, it will soak in, just like water into dirty laundry, but not quite as messy. It just took my dad a year and a half to get up to speed. Meanwhile, I was in charge of asking the questions that would be on the written exam. I was just an innocent bystander who just happened to get caught up in the madness.

Since I was about as popular as a pork chop in Mecca with the women of my high school, I usually spent my nights listening to Dad's shortwave. I mean it beat what was on TV and some of those foreign broadcasts were pretty interesting. I still had no ear for the code or desire to get my license. One day in 1977, the license appeared and dad was happy. He promptly abandoned all the morse learning stuff and went back to learning about air conditioning systems.

To each of us, a ham license means different things. To my dad it meant an almost divine commandment to paw through every swap meet within a 250 mile radius from our home/station. Hams call home "the station" once the license is granted. Swaps also offer the opportunity to sharpen one's skill as a camel trader. No one ever pays full price but some do, but that goes against every law of nature. While Dad was a shrewd trader, I was even better, and today I am quite good at ferreting out a bargain. We won't be revealing any secrets here. Someone has to pay retail. Might as well be you.

When my dad died in 1979, the ham thing got put on the back burner with a fire so low it wouldn't produce heat. There was still something there, but I really didn't want to bring up old memories. One day, I decided that I wanted a scanner for police calls. I have a morbid interest in the seamier side of life and some people really get a lot out of listening to thier scanners. I found the local radio shop and located a few crystals. On one of the blackboards was an announcement for the local ham club's demonstration night. Coincidentally, it happened to be that very night and since I really had nothing planned, I went and discovered that ham radio was still there and just as boring as it was when Dad was doing it.

There was something new here. Packet radio. Packet is essentially what we do with the phone when we connect with the internet, only packet employs radio. It is a very cool mode. Dad would have liked it a lot. This got me hooked and I just had to get the license. I asked one of my new friends if the code requirement was still in place. I was told it was. So much for that idea. While I was a whiz at the theory, the code was something I just couldn't handle.

Ironically today, I am now an Extra class ham. That's the highest one can go in the license structure, and usually takes about 25-30 years of casual study to attain my level. With some concentrated effort, one can do it in about a year. I did mine in about 2.5 years and that was after teaching myself the basics of calculus, algebra and trig, not to mention the 20 word per minute code requirement.

In the nearly 10 years of being licensed I have started a Volunteer Examining program in Ann Arbor. I have had lot of fun with radio. I have contacted 15 countries, and 35 states, most of it via Morse code.

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I own 9. Soon to be 10. Perhaps it is the tinkerer in me. I swear sometimes I was born in the wrong decade. I think I would have been happier in the 20's owning a Model T. In a sense it's the 20's all over again and the Model T's are the PC's that everyone has on their desks. Who sez that history doesn't repeat itself? You have a Model T.

The reason I called your PC a Model T is that Old Henry Ford used to sell Model T's complete with a black paintjob and a toolbox. He expected people to tinker. They did. Ever added a card to the PC? How about that CD drive? Or the modem? If you didn't do it, someone did and it usually wasn't the one who originally built it. I put my own things in.

I began with computers the way everyone does. Drooling at them through a store display. For me, it was the Commodore 64, and that store was K-Mart. I never said that I had taste. I didn't like it, so I sold it for a fraction of what I paid for it. Not exactly living by the code of the camel trader, but I was rid of it, and I was glad that I was.

One night at a ham club meeting, a friend of mine asked me about computers. I told him that I had no desire to have one in my house since I was sure that my brain was still functional. He then spoke the one word that makes me pay attention every time. The word Free Oh, yeah. Free computer. All I had to do was stop by his house and pick it up. What could I lose?

The next morning, I stopped by his house and collected my quarry plus the obligatory 9000 pounds of books that came with it. I was embarking on a new chapter in my life. To make a long story short, I'm sitting here at 4 in the morning writing the second edition of my web page on a used 486 that I bought for $200. I'm hooked. Hobby? perhaps. Obssession? perhaps. Am I happy? Yup, and that's what counts.

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From the dawn of time until 1620 something, man was uncivilized. Then an Englishman named John Suckling devised a game called Cribbage or Nob, then man was just a little more erudite. It is a card game between 2 people, using 1 deck of cards, a cribbage board, a table, and 2 chairs. You can sit on the floor and play, but that is boorish and should be avoided at all costs.

I began playing this game seriously, and by that I mean learning the strategy and all the ins and outs of what not to do and what to do when the opportunity presents itself. Cribbage only looks simple. I assure you that the 5 minutes you spend learning will pale in comparison to the time you will spend 1) learning how to count hands, 2) looking for a suitable partner, and 3) finding the perfect deck of cards. Don't worry, Even though I've found 2 of the 3, I know I will never find a suitable partner.

Cards are like beauty; in the eye of the beholder. What I think is ugly might not matter to you. I for one use Bee's or Bicycle. I don't know why, but it is perhaps because I've been using that particular brand since the Nile was a trickle on an Egyptian plain. Actually, I have not come across a better deck than the ones made by US Playing Card. I think it has something to do with the way they shuffle.

Enough with the ads. I am told Cribbage is dying out. However, my computer is content to provide me with all the practice I need. I have lost so much money to the computer its not even funny. We play for $1 a point. Cribbage is one of those games that can shift on you. You could be having the worst luck when suddenly the tide turns and you get a great hand. Reminds me of another game that I play for recreation when I'm not playing Cribbage. I forget what it's called.... Oh, yeah it's Backgammon. We won't be going there anytime soon.

Cribbage 101

Other Things

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Other things I enjoy doing:

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