Welcome to my home page. I became blind at birth. I started programming computers at a young age. I also earned my general class amateur radio license, KA3TTT, a hobby to which I have returned with great joy. I practice Qigong and consider myself a Taoist. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. I eat gluten-free vegan meals. For the rest you'll have to read my blog.
By Austin Seraphin, KA3TTT and ChatGPT 4 In the Style of Douglas Adams
In a typically nondescript laboratory, somewhere between the international dateline and the price of tea in China, a group of scientists were contemplating an extraordinary event. They had picked up an extraterrestrial radio signal. This was momentous, revolutionary, the crowning achievement of human endeavor. Also, it was a Tuesday, and there were fresh scones in the break room.
After numerous caffeine-fueled nights, the team had managed to decode the signal. The room was electric with anticipation as Dr. Humphrey Jones, a man of considerable intelligence and less considerable hair, prepared to reveal the decoded message to the world.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, his voice echoing off the sterile white walls, “our new extraterrestrial friends have sent us a message that reads… ‘CQ TEST’.”
“CQ TEST?” queried Dr. Samantha Lewis, her eyebrows inching up her forehead with skepticism. “That’s it?”
“That’s it,” Jones confirmed, feeling an uncomfortable itch he attributed to existential disappointment.
Mystified, the scientists turned to their most powerful radio transmitter, dubbed “The Mouth of Humanity” (to which the janitor retorted, “More like the backchat of humanity”). They transmitted back, asking the question that has plagued humans for millennia, “What is the meaning of life?”
After a pause long enough to create an anthology of uncomfortable glances, the response came: “TNX FER QSO. UR RST 599. PSE QSL.”
“What on Kepler-22b does that mean?” Samantha blurted out.
“It seems,” Jones sighed, “that we have not made contact with a wise and ancient alien race. Instead, we’ve stumbled upon… alien ham radio contesters.”
The rest of the week saw the scientists fervently trying to hold meaningful conversations with the aliens, who were more interested in signal reports, confirming the contact, and generally boosting their contest scores.
“What about the mysteries of the universe?” pleaded Samantha in one transmission. “What’s out there?”
“PSE QSL VIA BURO,” the aliens promptly responded, completely uninterested in deep philosophical discussion. They wanted a QSL card from Earth - a veritable trophy given the planet’s rarity in the contesting scene.
With a final “GL IN TEST, 73 ES HPE CUAGN SN,” the aliens stopped replying. They had moved on, no doubt, to collect more QSOs from distant, exotic parts of the universe, leaving the scientists in their radio-silent wake.
As the echoes of the alien’s final “good luck” faded into the ether, the scientists could only look at each other, bemused and somewhat hungry.
“Tuesday,” Jones finally remarked, “scones in the break room.”
“And maybe,” Samantha added, “a bit of humility for dessert.”
Ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber have a problem. Many times, a blind passenger needs to tell their driver that they cannot see, but the driver does not understand due to the language barrier. At best it will work out. At worst it can present a physical safety issue. The blind have no other way to communicate.
Recently, I had an idea. I asked ChatGPT 4:
I am blind. Often when I get a Lyft I get an immigrant who cannot speak English well, and does not understand the situation. I would like you to make a table of how to say “I am blind.” in all of the languages commonly used by drivers from other countries. The table should include the language, the text, and an approximate pronunciation for American English speakers.
In less than a minute it had produced the following table. In another fifteen seconds it rendered it into Markdown for my blog. Welcome to 2023
|我是盲人。 (Wǒ shì máng rén.)
|Wo shi mang ren
|मैं अंधा हूँ। (Main andha hoon.)
|Main and-ha hoon
|أنا أعمى. (Ana a’ma.)
|Je suis aveugle.
|Je swi aveugle
|Я слепой. (Ya slepoy.)
|Eu sou cego.
|Eh-o soo se-go
|আমি অন্ধ (Ami ondho)
|ਮੈਂ ਅੰਧਾ ਹਾਂ। (Main andha haan.)
|Main and-ha haan
|私は盲目です。 (Watashi wa mōmoku desu.)
|Wa-ta-shi wa mo-mo-ku des
|Ich bin blind.
|Ich bin blind
|Ik ben blind.
|Ik ben blind
|Είμαι τυφλός. (Eimai tyflos.)
I would like to see ridesharing companies do more to train their drivers to better accommodate people with disabilities. Until then, I hope this table will help. I just hope it doesn’t end up like Monty Python’s Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook sketch!
I have started handling traffic for the Philadelphia area. Hams have passed messages like this for over a hundred years. It works like a human powered internet. For a long time it provided a free alternative to commercial telegrams. Now it seems almost obsolete in a world where you can send a message around the world in seconds. So why do we still do it?
I remember after i upgraded to general, around age fourteen. I stumbled upon the Maryland Slow Net. An adult might listen for a while, research what they had heard, and maybe send an email. A kid won’t care, and will just send their call. I did exactly that. Despite the fact I had no idea what I stumbled into, and despite the fact that I live in Pennsylvania, they acted very friendly to me. They took me off frequency and kindly explained to me how a traffic net works. They began training me, and sent me some information in the mail, which my Mom had to read since I can’t see. Sadly I got out of the hobby when I went off to college.
When I got back into ham radio in 2019, I remembered the people and groups which treated me well, and the ones which didn’t. Getting on 80 meters (3.5 MHz) took some work, but I considered it well worth it. I knew I wanted to get back into traffic handling. Most traffic nets happen on 80 meters because the band offers reliable regional communication.
Two years ago, I took a class in traffic handling offered by the Pennsylvania Traffic Net. I learned exactly what I needed to know to check in and handle a radiogram, though it would take practice. Last year my brother put up a stealth end-fed antenna, which improved my performance on 80 meters. My friend Dan, W4GMN, swapped my AFCI breakers for regular ones. They did not like 80 meters, and would constantly trip. Now I could finally get on air.
Ham radio has so many wonderful facets, but a few months ago I started checking into the Pennsylvania Traffic net regularly. It meets on 3585 kHz at 07:00 PM local time. I practiced by copying the traffic sent on the net, and began an email dialog with Roger, N3GE, and Tom, KC8T. They answered all my questions, and finally I felt ready.
On may 20, I received my first message from Tom:
All messages are good practice including this one. 73.
73 means good luck and best regards. I made an error, but after another email exchange I knew what I did wrong
That night I also copied my first non-practice message. It congratulated a ham on his license upgrade. It had a wrong telephone number, so I couldn’t deliver it. I notified Roger, who sent a copy in the postal mail.
A few days later I copied another message. It welcomed a new ham to the hobby. The message came from Kate, K6HTN. It originated in Pasadena, California. From there it made its way onto the regional and state net, up to the national net, down to the eastern regional net, down to the 3 area net (area 3 includes Pennsylvania), then down to the Pennsylvania Traffic Net, where I coppied it using Morse Code.
Nervously I dialed the phone number, prepared to hand deliver this message of welcome over the human powered internet. I asked for the person by name.
“Well, I am his father.”
came the reply.
“Oh! Is he a young ham? I got my license when I was twelve!”
I had to repeat myself, probably because I felt so nervous and excited. The message asked for a reply, so he suggested texting it to him, and he would pass it onto his son. I immediately did. I haven’t heard back. I hope I didn’t freak out his father too badly. I remember getting similar messages and my Mom calling me to the phone.
On May 24 I sent message number 1 thanking Kate for my first QSP (relay). Since then I have exchanged a few messages with friends, and continue my training
As for why we still do it, I can think of a few reasons. Most importantly, it can still provide a way to send messages when all else fails. That last happened after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017. Additionally, it makes a great way to welcome new hams to the hobby. I can also tell I will have fun sending out radiograms to friends and random contacts. I recently heard a guy in a Philly row home who returned to the hobby after ten years. I sent him one to say hi and welcome him back. I could relate.
I like handling traffic in the Philadelphia area. Perhaps I will deliver a message to you one day.
I found the antenna easy to assemble, and would consider it very blind friendly. It has a length of twin lead wire, which hangs vertically from a little loop. Another loop of wire fits between the two leads and also hangs down. The top end of the twin lead has a zip tie for suspending the wire vertically. Thebottom end of the twin lead has a BNC connector with included adapters for SMA and reverse SMA. Some time ago I saw a random video about working satellites from a former Ham Radio Outlet employee. He said that most HT failures come from a worn out SMA jack, and recommended switching to BNC connectors. Given that Kenwood has discontinued the TH-D74a I want to do everything I can to prolong its life, so made the switch immediately.
I went up to the roof deck for the first test. I had no idea how I would hang it. Nothing would give me quite enough height and keep me close enough to the antenna. I decided to try holding it up with my fingers and checked in to the Drive Time net. It worked, but I got a small RF bite on my thumb when it touched the wire.
I realized that I needed a small mast. I remembered the mast and the table clamp that came with my Buddistick. I ran down and grabbed it. The mast fit on the clamp, and the zip tie on the end of the J-pole fit into the hole on the top of the pole. It gave me just enough height, and I could throw it in my backpack. Perfect!
I put out a call on the Phil-mont repeater. As it happened someone else also needed a radio check. He sounded fine, and he said I sounded loud and clear on 5 Watts. In my apartment I need to run 10 Watts into a Diamond X50A. I wanted to see how low I could go. I went down to medium power, around 2.5 Watts. Still fine. I went down to low power, 1 Watt. To my surprise, I still sounded fine. Even more surprising, I made the repeater with a lot of static at extra low power, 100 mW. Amazing! The Ed Fong Roll-up J-pole had exceeded my expectations.
On Friday, May 20, I put it to the ultimate test. Philadelphia County ARES took part in the Eastern Pennsylvania Simulated Emergency Test. A powerful nor’easter has struck the area, rending power and communication useless. Hams have sprung into action, delivering messages between Red Cross shelters and the authorities.
Luckily this didn’t really happen, but we had a tremendous storm on Friday afternoon, which gave the exercise a taste of realism. We had test messages to deliver, but I couldn’t read the images. We used the standard ARC-213 form. I sent our emergency coordinator Cliff, KC3PGT, a note, and he transcribed the test message for me. I believe that emergency service should have accessibility as part of its design. After all, a powerful nor’easter won’t wait for a sighted person to come on air. Thanks Cliff!
That night I packed up my gear and returned to the roof deck. This familiar location would still offer the same challenges as going to a remote location. I had the test message in an email on my phone. I held it up to my ear and repeated what I heard into the radio.
THE SEPA RED CROSS SHELTER IS OPEN AND OPERATING IN PHILADELPHIA COUNTY. THERE ARE SIXTY-EIGHT RESIDENTS. SHELTER REQUIRES FIVE HUNDRED MEALS FOR NEXT FORTY EIGHT HOURS. RADIO OPERATOR IS your name, your call.
Everything performed flawlessly! The roll-up j-poll passed the test. I knew it would.
The nice days have come again! For me, this means going up to the roof deck of my building, usually with a ham radio or two. Elecraft, the manufacturer of my HF radio, makes a portable key which connects to the radio. I really liked the concept and the way the key screws into the radio, which provides the base, but I could never get it sending just right. At the end of last year I knew that I needed to buy a new portable ke. I decided on the Begali Adventure Mono. It exceeds my expectations, and I would highly recommend it. For the non-hams, we use a key to send Morse Code.
The K1USN Slow Speed Test happens on Friday afternoon and Sunday evening. It provides a fun hour-long event where we make simple contacts, containing the name and state abbreviation. For example, I would send Austin PA. Last October I went up to the roof deck for the final time. I wanted to give the KXPD3 key a final chance. I sent Austin PA and it dropped the first dot of the P, turning it into a G. The other station thanked me for GA. I knew I needed a better key for next year.
Many other users of the Elecraft KX3 recommended the Begali Adventure, so I decided to make the purchase. Begali makes both a double paddle and a single paddle version. I started on a double paddle key, but ever since I switched to a single paddle key I cannot go back. Plus, I can use it both as an electronic key and as a mechanical key for doing SKCC work. I set the PF1 programmable function key on my KX3 to let me select the CW keying mode. The key took a month to arrive from Italy, but I didn’t mind. I ordered it well in advance for just this reason. I also ordered the base and a steel plate to mount it on, if I wanted to use it in the shack.
The weather had not warmed enough, so I first tried it in my shack with the base. It performed beautifully. It did not miss a dot or a dash. It has one knob to adjust the tension on both sides of the paddle, which I appreciated especially for field use. I looked forward to its initiation on the roof deck.
Today we had a lovely day with temperatures in the low 70s. I got a haircut, and made it back just in time for the Slow Speed Test, feeling good and ready. I unpacked everything, and tuned up my AX1 antenna. I had started later than I wanted, and of course the first time of the year meant untangling wires and testing things. Still, I worked two stations, one in Illinois, and one in Oklahoma. I felt good, but not great. I had worked both stations before from my shack using my Alpha Loop. I wanted something more.
I checked in to the Drive Time net on the Phil-mont machine, a fun local net. The temperature had started dropping, and I also had to think about dinner. I decided to tune around 20 meters one last time before going back downstairs. I tried a few stations, then heard YL3CW calling CQ and working stations.
In ham radio parlance, we refer to all men as OM, which stands for Old Man, and all women as YL, which stands for Young Lady. CW means Continuous Wave, the way we send Morse Code over the air, so clearly this call belongs to a woman who loves CW. I hoped that she loved it enough to pick my little QRP (low power) signal out of the noise.
I sent my call, and she heard the 3. I slowed my speed and tried a few more times, and finally she got it. KA3TTT! We exchanged signal reports and names. She gave her name as Val. I gave her a signal report of 569, and she gave me one of 449. A signal report contains the readibility, signal strength, and tone, abbreviated as RST. I gave her a perfect readibility and a pretty good signal. I had almost perfect readibility, and a signal 2 S-units less than her’s, which I consider respectable given that I made the contact running 5 Watts into a loaded whip. The AX1 continues to impress me. We completed the exchange and ended the contact.
After it ended I looked up where I had just worked – Latvia, 4300 miles. I had gone on my first Begali Adventure! I wonder where my next one will take me.