Welcome to my homepage. I became blind at birth from retinopathy of prematurity. I developed an early interest in computers and radio. I use Linux, MacOS, and iOS. I have an extra class amateur radio license. I practice Qigong daily. I consider myself a Taoist. I don't eat meat, and have a genetic sensitivity to gluten. For the rest, you'll have to read my articles.

I Got my Extra!

March 16, 2024

I passed my extra class amateur radio license exam on Saturday night! I took the exam remotely. It took almost a year of study. I feel so happy.

Ham radio requires a license, like driving. Our signals can travel around the world or into outer space. When I started at age twelve in 1989, we had five license classes: novice, technician, general, advanced, and extra. We now have three: technician, general, and extra. Each class gives you more frequencies you can use, and other privileges. The exams get progressively harder. Most people could get their technician class license. The general requires more knowledge, but it opens up the world of HF, the high frequency signals which travel around the world. Both of those require taking a 35-question multiple choice exam. The extra exam has 50 questions. You need to get 74% to pass.

I remember when I touched and heard a ham radio for the first time. It happened at the Franklin Institute Science Museum, which had a radio room at the time. I pleaded with my parents to get me a ham radio on the way back home. They explained that I needed to pass a test. That didn’t phase me, since I took tests all the time. I got some four track tapes for the blind called Tune IN the World, and listened to them constantly.

A few years later I got my novice. I remember the VEs, the volunteer examiners, came to my house. They gave me the test, including tactile block diagrams, and I also had to pass a 5 WPM Morse Code test. Somehow I did.

A few years later I wanted to upgrade to technician and general. I went to a radio camp run by Handiham in Malibu, California. I had a wonderful time relaxing with ham radio friends in the sun. I failed.

The next year they had another radio camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. I remember flying into Minneapolis. I had to take a terrifying plane flight in sub zero temperatures, and landed in an airport the size of a kitchen. I passed.

Sadly I got out of the hobby when I went off to college, but I didn’t let my license expire. I got back into ham radio in 2019 as part of my healing journey. I needed my hobby back. I brushed up on my technician and general theory, and got back on air.

I knew that I wanted my extra. I made a few starts. Finally last May I started in earnest. I went back to my old friend, Gordon West. He does an entertaining audio presentation. I used his tapes during childhood, and bought his CDs when getting back into the hobby so I wouldn’t sound like an idiot when I got back on air. I also purchased the No Nonsense Study Guide from Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, after working him on 40 meters. It really helped, especially when it came time to cram and take practice exams. I also used ChatGPT. I chose ChatGPT because I started studying in May of 2023. Better alternatives may exist now.

Learning from an AI really did feel like living in the future. I saw its potential and its limitations. I struggled for years to understand exactly what happens when I hit transmit on my radio, and how that results in sending out an electromagnetic wave. I got it in one night with an AI. It still makes mistakes. For example it told me that a half wave antenna for 60 meters measures 56 feet. My primitive human brain didn’t immediately know the exact number, but I knew that it got it wrong. A half wave antenna for 40 meters measures 66 ft. A quick calculation revealed the right answer of around 87.5 ft. It got a lot of stuff right though.

I finished Gordo’s audio course a little over a month ago. I started taking practice exams. I tried a few tools, and settled on the Exam Review tool from the ARRL. It lets you suppress questions with images, an exemption which blind people can request. I began using the No Nonsense Study Guides a lot at this point. My score started improving. Once I started scoring 90% I decided that the time had come to bite the bullet and take the test.

I belong to the Phil-Mont Mobile Radio Club. They administer testing sessions, but I didn’t feel like going out to Willow Grove. I decided to try a remote exam. They became popular during the pandemic. I heard good things about the Greater Las Angeles Amateur Radio Group, so decided to try them.

I emailed the AD4VE testing team, and asked if they could accommodate a blind applicant. I got a quick reply from Dave that they could, and he suggested using my iPhone for video and a desktop computer to share the screen to take the exam. He couldn’t attend live, but assured me that I would have a strong team

I made the appointment for the next night. I felt nervous but confident. I hadn’t taken a test in a long time. I thought about how far we’ve come. When I got my novice in 1989, we didn’t have practice exams. You had to study, then hope for the best.

I woke up on Saturday feeling OK. I didn’t have any signs of a migraine. I took a practice exam, and got 74%, the minimum passing score. That made me more nervous, but I reminded myself that I needed to get my brain going. I tried one later in the afternoon and got 90%, more like what I had hoped for. I had taken all the practice exams I could take. I had dinner and prepared myself.

I had Zoom ready on my iPhone and on my Mac. I had my photo ID, which they require for verification. I had a bottle of water. I joined on time. They greeted me.

“Someone named Art is already in there. He says he knows you.”

I didn’t know which Art he meant, as I’ve contacted a few, but should have.

“Well! You didn’t want to go to Willow Grove, but you ended up with me anyway!” I recognized the enthusiastic voice of Art, N8BLK. He belongs to both Phil-mont and Holmesburg, two local radio clubs. I felt even more at ease. The three volunteer examiners introduced themselves.

“We are going to need more light.” The sudden words froze me. I turned on the light switch, but the bulb must have burned out, and of course I didn’t notice. I started to panic, but kept it under control. I brought over a 15 Watt red salt lamp, but that didn’t really do it. I thought about apologizing and rescheduling in embarrassment, but they persevered

One of the volunteer examiners said, “Art, if you can verify that that is Austin, then we are OK with that.”

“Oh, that’s definitely Austin!” he proclaimed. He saved me. World’s greatest hobby!.

I battled with Zoom on my phone. I had VoiceOver focus issues sharing a web URL, so switched to the Mac for the exam. I shared the screen. Art asked me why I had an Emacs window open. I said that I would use it for its calculator. He laughed. They asked me to hold the phone up to the screen of the Mac. I had the monitor hooked up to my Linux machine. I apologized again for the weird situation, and started crawling under my desk to unplug the cable. I heard them calling me back. They decided not to worry about it. They did ask me to slow down my speech so they could understand it. Finally we had video on the iPhone, the shared screen with Safari on my Mac, and slower speech. Suddenly I found myself taking the exam.

I filled out the form without any issues. Each question had four radio buttons for choices. At one point I began to get thirsty. I felt scared to make any moves after everything that had happen, so asked if I could drink some water.

“You can drink all you want!” replied Art happily. I made my way through the questions and felt good about my answers.

“Of course, you can always go back and edit any of your choices.” he said, but I didn’t want to change a thing. I took a big breath and hit the Submit Exam button.

The page loaded, but before I could begin reading it, Art said, “Well, now you can annoy everyone on Holmesburg and Phil-Mont by calling yourself KA3TTT/AE!!!” He referred to the rule that if you have upgraded your license and received your Certificate of Successful Completion (CSCE), you can append /AG or /AE to your call for General or Extra until you get your license.

“I passed?” I asked. I still couldn’t quite believe it.

“You passed!” they all confirmed. I scrolled down and saw my score. I got 45 questions correct, for a score of 90%!

“Those were five that you don’t need to know.” said one of the examiners. “Now comes the fun part.” I had to fill out the form to submit to the FCC. Everything worked fine until I got to the electronic signature. VoiceOver only read the signature area as an image. Unfortunately screen reader users often have issues with electronic signatures. We tried on the Mac using the Magic Track pad, but then Art suggested trying it on my iPhone. I battled again with Zoom to share the web URL, and after several attempts I made a line in the field. The submit button undimmed. They excitedly yelled for me to hurry and submit it before we had another focus issue. I quickly hit the button. It asked me to confirm my submission. “Hurry! Hurry!” they yelled again. This had become the final test. I hit the submit button. It went through.! We cheered.

I felt so happy. They thanked me for not giving up on them. I said that I wanted to thank them for the same reason. They assured me that they would have found a way to make it work no matter what. They had more good news.

“Everyone in tonight’s session passed.”

I asked how many.

“Only seven.” That amazed me. Remote testing has really opened things up, and GLARC does great work. After more congratulations they moved me to the exit room. I heard them congratulating a new ham. They then congratulated me. Someone suggested that I become a volunteer examiner, since extras can do that. I hadn’t considered it.

“You can’t see to verify if someone is cheating, but there is plenty to do.” I asked if they knew of any blind VEs.

Art responded, “KS3X.”

“Of course.” Enoch lives in Philadelphia and checks into the net which I run.

“And there was Carl Owens, W0CPR, formerly WB0CPR, but he passed.”

“Carl passed away?”

“Yeah. He moved to Michigan to live with his brother, and passed about two years ago.”

The celebration stopped for a moment. I knew Carl during middle school and high school. He gave me stern guidance, but also loved to laugh. He made sure my license didn’t expire. One time I gave him a broken laptop, the first Keynote talking laptop for the blind. I don’t know what I had done to it, but I believe it involved battery acid. I complained about the broken machine.

“Of course you broke it. You’re a kid.” he stated. That hurt, and I held it against him for many years, until my younger sisters trashed the family computer with spyware. They infected it with a nasty virus which altered the BIOS. The machine barely ran. They cursed at it and called it slow, and told Mom that they needed a new computer instead of this broken one.

“Of course you broke it. You’re a kid.” As the words left my mouth I heard Carl’s voice echoing through time, like in a movie. I instantly forgave him. I never got to tell him as an adult. He would often end our conversations by saying, “Keep a smile.” I found his obituary.

I left the session with a strange mixture of emotions. I felt happy I passed, though still couldn’t believe it. I felt annoyed about the lighting issue. I felt sad about Carl. I felt relieved that I wouldn’t need to study anymore for the exam. Getting an extra class license feels like the Return of the King – the grand third installment of a trilogy which explains everything.

I had to work a station. Luckily we had a contest going on. I quickly found Bud, AA3B, in the extra portion of 80 meters. He spoke at Holmesburg, and I worked him many times. This time I answered sending KA3TTT/AE. I had made my first contact as an extra.

I want to thank everyone for making this possible. Gordon and Dan made excellent study guides. ChatGPT helped me understand concepts, and showed me the potential of AI in education. Everyone at GLARG went above and beyond to accommodate me. See you on the extra bands!

Good Luck in the Contest

July 15, 2023

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.”

How to Tell a Driver You are Blind

June 16, 2023

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

Language Translation Pronunciation
Spanish Soy ciego. Soy cee-ay-go
Mandarin Chinese 我是盲人。 (Wǒ shì máng rén.) Wo shi mang ren
Hindi मैं अंधा हूँ। (Main andha hoon.) Main and-ha hoon
Arabic أنا أعمى. (Ana a’ma.) Ana a’ma
French Je suis aveugle. Je swi aveugle
Russian Я слепой. (Ya slepoy.) Ya slep-oy
Portuguese Eu sou cego. Eh-o soo se-go
Bengali আমি অন্ধ (Ami ondho) Ami on-dho
Punjabi ਮੈਂ ਅੰਧਾ ਹਾਂ। (Main andha haan.) Main and-ha haan
Japanese 私は盲目です。 (Watashi wa mōmoku desu.) Wa-ta-shi wa mo-mo-ku des
German Ich bin blind. Ich bin blind
Vietnamese Tôi mù. Toy moo
Turkish Ben körüm. Ben kor-um
Polish Jestem niewidomy. Yes-tem niewi-domy
Dutch Ik ben blind. Ik ben blind
Greek Είμαι τυφλός. (Eimai tyflos.) Ee-mai ti-flos

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!

Traffic Handling

June 06, 2023

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.

Roll-up J-pole Test

June 08, 2022

I recently purchased an Ed Fong Roll-up J-pole. I wanted something to give me more gain than my rubber duck while on the roof deck. This antenna has already exceeded my expectations. I love it.

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.


Everything performed flawlessly! The roll-up j-poll passed the test. I knew it would.

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