A Requiem for Amateur Radio

Electronics have always fascinated me. Not electronic gadgets themselves (those usually just irritate me), but the engineering and design behind them.

The how of their circuits, more than the what.

I took a very basic electronics course in high school, but until a few years ago, I hadn’t felt a need to really dig into circuit theory and understand how it all works.

And when that need struck, I decided the best “excuse” I could have to learn and practice this stuff, was to get an amateur or “ham” radio license.

There’s a huge number of ham radio enthusiasts who get their kicks from designing, building, and operating their own equipment. And there’s an equally-huge body of free or cheaply-obtained documentation and “HOW-TOs” out there, many of which will teach you the theory, and walk you through practical projects.

So, I studied up, took a couple of exams, and obtained my license. I also started hanging out with a local ham radio club filled with friendly and helpful people. Unfortunately, within a few months of obtaining my license, I learned there was a flaw in my plan: doing electronics, particularly radio-frequency stuff, is crazy expensive.

This sounds strange, at first, since if you search about online, you’ll see a plethora of detailed plans and parts lists for simple radios you can build for around five bucks worth of components. You can even get full-fledged kits with all the components and boards you need, starting at around fifteen bucks.

And that all sounds super cheap. The problem, though, is you need tools. Tools like a soldering iron. And an oscilloscope. Oh, and a spectrum analyzer would super helpful. Or you can use a fully-assembled, factory-built radio for testing.

Oh, you do have a well-lit, well-ventilated work area large enough to accommodate all of these things, don’t you?

As the months wore on, and I learned more and more about radio-frequency electronics, I also learned that those five dollar projects really only cost five dollars if you already had a twenty-thousand-dollar electronics lab.

So that sucked.

Still, I never really gave up thinking about it as a hobby. I kept it up on a high shelf of my mind, and every once and a while I’d take it down, dust it off, and see if there was a way to make it work. Then I’d put it back on the shelf for another day.

Now, though, I think it’s time to just pack it up and throw it in permanent storage. It’s an interest that might have made sense once, but I can’t see me doing anything at all with it now, even if I did have a spare $20,000 laying around.

Besides, given the luck I have with technology, I’d probably end up burning my house down anyway.

The Project Diaries – Shifting Gears

So, that novel? Yeah. Turns out that’s not happening.

Yet.

As I mentioned before, my friend Shawn and I have been working on something I’ve taken to calling “the Project.” And while I’ve hesitated to write about it before–and still can’t give you a lot of details–there are some things I can safely mention.

More importantly, I think there might be some value in doing so, too.

For the most part, production diaries for large, multi-year projects are either written after the fact (as a kind of postmortem for other industry types), or only started once everyone’s sure of what’s happening, and know that they can pull it off.

Given that, why not put on display some of what’s been going on “behind the scenes” with this thing? If you’re struggling with your own flailing and far-too-massive creative undertaking, perhaps this and future posts like it will make you feel better about yourself.

The Project?

Essentially, the Project is a setting, a “science-fiction universe,” that we intend to use in variety of different media–with fiction, and a paper-and-pencil role-playing game being the Big Two we’re most interested in. And, minus a few breaks here and there, we’ve been steadily developing it for the better part of the last three years.

This includes writing the history of our universe, creating the major characters, and detailing the major locations–each requiring all sorts of brainstorming, long phone calls, and writing.

Lots, and lots of writing.

At a guess, I’d say we’ve got over 100,000 words of notes, in various states of well-thought-out-ness, and even more still in our heads to get down.

Which Comes First?

The novel I’ve been working on is part of the “fiction side” of Project (and about 30,000 words of its own so far), but a few weeks ago we made the decision to hold off on doing any more work on it until after we’ve released the RPG, which is a lot closer to being complete, and probably makes more sense as a first product.

Here’s where I have to get a little vague.

See, the nature of our setting is such that any single novel or short story won’t really capture the essence of what we’re trying to do. It’d be showcasing just one facet or side of a much larger, much more complex polyhedron. And even though novels and short stories are absolutely things we want to put out there, it’s much more important for our opening salvo to show what we’re really offering.

The whole, as opposed to the parts.

The Upshot?

I’m disappointed.

Well, a little disappointed.

I was really digging the novel. And one of the reasons I shifted my own work over to the fiction side–and away from the RPG–was because I got kinda sick of writing about the setting, as opposed to writing within the setting. I wanted to take some time to actually tell stories in this universe we’ve built, instead of laying the foundations for others to build upon.

Of course, the reason I could make that shift in the first place was because the RPG seemed pretty far off. Shawn’s been handling the rules or “system” development, and it looked like we were still several months away from having something he thought worthy of play-testing.

As it turns out, he’s gotten through a ton of the system since the first of the year, so we can start beating on the thing next week.

That means my part of the RPG–writing and editing the text–needs attention again.

lot of attention.

And once we’re confident that the basic rules and text hold up, it’ll be time to start the long slog toward publication–typesetting, art design/production, printing.

And that’s, like, a lot of work, too. I’d say about a year’s worth, if I had to guess.

Going Forward

I’m going to try to write a post about the Project once a week–explain what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what’s coming up in the near future. Hopefully, it’ll be interesting for you. Mostly, I’m hoping it will be cathartic and cut down on my therapy sessions.

Ultimately, though, you should probably think of it as a cautionary tale.

Walking

I’ve been walking a lot.

Now that winter seems well and truly behind us, and we’re getting the occasional, sunny day, I’ve tried to spend as much time as I can outside. Walking around the neighborhood, walking up the road, even getting dropped off somewhere else in town and walking around there—whenever I can, I’m trying to exercise and enjoy the outside.

When the weather’s crap, I turn into a total lump. The cushions on the couch, the seat of my chair–they slowly adopt the contours of my derriere and my body goes to hell. More aches, more pains, less sleep.

Especially in the winter.

Especially this last winter.

I don’t think I can point to any other four-month period of my life when I had so many muscle and joint problems, or had so many colds and bugs, as I did from this past November through February.

And that was pretty much the last straw.

This spring, summer, and fall, I’ve decided that I’m getting into shape or die trying. Not to run a marathon or go white-water rafting or anything like that. No. My goals are simple: sleep through the night, and not have to gasp for air while climbing a gentle hill.

Exercise has always, always helped me sleep better. And as for that whole “breathing” thing: it’d be a lot better if I quit smoking, but losing a solid 50 pounds and doing some cardio won’t hurt, either.

Besides, it gives me a great excuse to drag my camera out every day.