Amateur radio, Computers, News, Shortwave

Technology Marches On


technologyTechnology Marches On

For the past month or so I have been involved with two major projects (neither of which are finished), and neither are radio related. at least not directly. But I was contemplating things a bit this morning when I realized, yes, they are connected indirectly to radio through the advancements of technology.

Allow me to explain.

I have been a computer “geek” in the past, going all the way back into the early 80s. Through the 90s I would keep abreast of the developments, have definite opinions on software and hardware (such as AMD vs. Intel chips – I liked AMD, rebel that I am), and built most of my computers.

I knew Windows inside and out, hardware specs and settings (remember those IRQ settings in the BIOS?!), resolved memory and IRQ conflicts, and other “nerdy” things. I was a die-hard IBM OS2 fan until IBM threw in the towel on their excellent alternative to Windows, adopted Windows NT for years, as well as built boxes for and experimented with Linux.

For the last 15 years or so I have not kept up much with computer technology other than what was absolutely necessary. I have an XP computer I bought back in 2004 which is still going (although fairly slow when it comes to Internet things). Funny enough it still handles word processing and other duties faster than I can type, and works with a lot of radio software which, since a lot of that software even today still runs through a serial port, works just fine. That machine is 12 years old and I have had to do very little to it to keep in running other than put in a new rear fan and a graphics card along the way.

I have another computer which is about 7 years old (geesh! where does the time go!) which started life as a Vista machine only because Windows 7 was delayed. Free upgrade to 7, and it has run happily all those 7 years. Just upgraded it to Win10 with no real difficulties (hey, it was free!), and I added a USB  3.0 card to it a while back. This has been the extent of my keeping up with technology. At the time it was a pretty speedy machine since Dell accidentally offered a great rock-bottom price on an AMD quad-core processor before they were popular. The machine disappeared from the catalog for a while then came back much more expensive!

I am currently in the process of a major computer build, major because I have not built my own for at least 15 years. My how the technology has changed! I have spent many hours researching parts, boards, chips and the new technologies running on them such as M2 SSD drives, wildly updated graphics cards, USB 3.1, Thunderbolt drivers/accessories, and UEFI/legacy bios offerings. Not to mention new chipsets, graphics standards and connectors, six-core/12 threaded processors, PCI-E cards, varying SATA speeds and scads of other smaller details. It’s a real education!

To top that off I am now learning the Unix operating system FreeBSD for an upcoming work project. Even though I have some experience with Linux and servers (from years ago), this is a rather steep learning curve. As you might expect, these two projects have kept me from doing much radio recently, and I miss it. And I feel a bit guilty, as though I am neglecting a friend. Necessary, but not desired.

But as I was contemplating these things this morning I also realized there really is a connection to radio in all of this, and it relates to the march of technology and the need to always be learning.

One of the things I enjoy most about the radio hobby is how diverse it is and how there are always new things to learn. A part of that learning process involves technology, like it or not. Sure, you can stay operating an HT on repeaters all your life as a HAM, but most of us want to branch off into other areas of the hobby.

If you are shortwave radio listener  chances are you want to also listen to utility broadcasts, digital modes, maybe some numbers stations along the way, and a myriad of other listening opportunities. It takes as much technology to listen as it does to operate these days if one wants to explore anything beyond broadcast stations, and there is always something new to learn. SDR technology, computer integration, electronic logging, research, remote listening, esoteric digital modes and on and on.

The great thing about the radio hobby is, it is a hobby, not a job. It is there for us as we want to enjoy it, relax with it, or accomplish challenging projects. It allows for creativity, design, planning, building, tweaking and advancing our knowledge, all things which help us interact with the hobby rather than simply be spectators in life. We meet interesting people, share common interests, and learn from each other. And we get to experience the world in a way like few others. All in all, anything which helps us do this is a good thing in my book!

Here’s to hoping you find the hobby as interesting and rewarding as I do, and even when you have to be away from it for a bit, the absence makes the return that much more enjoyable! Cheers! Robert



  • Reply Ron 07/13/2016 at 6:22 pm

    Hi Robert:

    I’m in a similar situation. I went back to school in 1993 and studied electronics and computer hardware. I bought a computer with my severance pay from my former job. It was a primitive machine compared to what is available now. it was a 386SX with 4 megs of memory and a 104 megabyte hard drive running DOS 5 and Windows 3.1. Over the years, I pieced together a few computers,building them myself. I did know all the different types of hardware and kept up with new developments.

    In the early part 0f 200, I slacked off of my computer hobby and started exploring ham radio. I was using Windows 98. I still think that was a great operating system.

    Now days, I just can’t keep up with the technology. I must attempt to start researching again. But, in my honest opinion, I think that the major companies have taken the hobby out of computers. My funds are low at this point, as I’m now on a fixed income, but thinking about slowly building a new system.

    At any rate, thanks for a great article. Ham radio and computers are related for a lot of obvious reasons.


    Ron – KD8AFH

  • Reply Robert 07/13/2016 at 8:54 pm

    Hi Ron
    Thanks for the nice comments. I agree – there is not nearly as much hobby in computers as there once was. I remember the days of DOS and batch files, assembly language tweaks, and manipulating that 640K memory barrier with ram disks and memory utilities, and TSRs. I was thrilled when QEMM came out and you could peek and poke memory stuff and see a real difference in your speed etc. Fun times!
    No doubt it is how older hams see modern rigs – no real tweaking capability, and few opportunities to build something yourself. Then again, we can always go back to old plans and build a tube rig . . . . Cheers, Mate!!

    • Reply Ron 07/16/2016 at 10:41 pm

      Remember that we put a man on the moon with only 64 kilobytes of memory.

      • Reply Robert 07/17/2016 at 12:46 am

        Yes – I wouldn’t want to try that with today’s technology – just had to return a bad motherboard and waiting on a new one. Never remember having a bad board back in the early days of home computers. Ah well, starting to sound like an old-timer!

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