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. To comment on what you read here, visit Disboardia, my bulletin board system.
The time has come to upgrade my Android phone. Two and a half years ago I got an Essential Phone. I enjoyed the stock Android experience, but the company went out of business. Major operating system updates stopped, and my battery has begun to lose its charge. Say what you will about Essential, but they addressed every accessibility issue. I use TalkBack, Android’s screen reader for the blind, so this meant a lot.
I read a number of reviews of the leading Android phones as of July 2020. Critics consistently recommended the OnePlus 8 Pro. It runs their own version of Android called OxygenOS. A quick search turned up a Stack Exchange post telling sighted people how to turn off TalkBack, so I knew that the built-in accessibility gesture would work. I decided to opt for the OnePlus 8 because I didn’t need the better display or wireless charging.
It arrived the next day from Amazon and I began setting it up. I found one or two unlabeled controls during the installation, but nothing which stopped me. I did not like having the fingerprint sensor in the glass so I could not feel it, and OxygenOS did not provide any spoken feedback. I found that Face ID worked more accurately in many environments, but neither worked perfectly.
I transferred all of my information with OnePlus Switch. I even got my music and ringtones. I appreciated the full sounding stereo audio. I talked to some friends using Signal and TeamTalk, and they all said that I sounded better than I did on the Essential Phone. I instantly saw the appeal of the three-position ringer switch. I found the shape of the phone ergonomically pleasing. I began to love my OnePlus 8. Then I got a phone call.
TalkBack told me to swipe up with two fingers to answer, but it did not work. I tried several times, getting more frantic with each futile swipe. I only had a blank screen and a ringing phone. I could not find any controls to activate. Nothing worked. The phone stopped ringing, and I got a voicemail message. I called voicemail and brought up the keypad. The buttons did not work! I found an unlabeled button at the bottom of the screen which I hoped would hang up the phone. Luckily, it did.
I used another phone to make more calls and had the same result, and with it the same terrible realization: I had purchased a shiny new smart phone which wouldn’t let me answer the phone! Clearly they had done no accessibility testing. It felt like a slap in the face.
A web search turned up a post on their community about the inaccessible swipe gestures], and another specifically about the keypad issue. Obviously they never resolved either. The path of least resistance became clear.
I returned the OnePlus 8. It currently sits downstairs, waiting for the UPS courier to bring it back from whence it came. I learned my lesson. I will stick with stock Android from now on. I wonder which phone I should buy.
I recently saw my friend Meg. I began paying her to drive me shortly before the pandemic began. I like not needing to deal with a stranger for my transportation during these times. When I got in her car, she said that she had something to give me, and placed an object in my hand.
I turned the mystery object over in my hands, and felt a straight key! Ham radio operators use a Key to send Morse Code. Straight keys date back to the beginning of telegraphy. This one had a wooden base and a plastic arm. It had some adjustment screws and a headphone cable to connect to the radio.
I felt stunned. I had begun thinking about buying a portable straight key to bring up to the roof deck. I imagined something light weight, maybe with a wood base. I now held the object I had visualized in my hand.
“It’s a straight key!” I exclaimed.
“Do you like straight keys?” asked Meg.
“I love straight keys!”
“Do you have one?”
“I have two!”
“Do you want this one?”
Of course I said yes.
I need to tell a quick aside. Last year Meg had a science fair, and asked me to have a ham radio table. At first we set up in the basement, but my KX3 emitted a sad whine, so we moved up to the parking lot near the pizza truck. Donna made pizza which i couldn’t eat, but she remembered that her science teacher taught them ham radio. She sounded delighted when I found him on QRZ, KC2JJ, silent key.
Our friend Becky helped me the whole time. Meg and Becky with a few others have what they call a science band named Mystery Lab Bag. At some point they bought the straight key, but didn’t know what to do with it. This explains how I ended up with it.
Later Meg sent me more information about the key. She identified it as an MFJ-553 Deluxe wood base Telegraph Key. It makes a fine portable key. I just need to get an adapter to make it fully connect to the Elecraft KX3, which requires a stereo plug. For now I can put it half way in, but I prefer firm connections.
I told Meg that the Straight Key Century Club would have their Weekend Sprint, and that I intended to use her key. I headed up to the roof deck on Saturday to do just that. I decided to try my Buddistick with a shorter length of coax. It tuned to an SWR of 1.6:1, but I didn’t make any contacts. I came down for dinner and came back up. I tried again and this time it would not tune at all. I felt annoyed and switched to my trusty AX1. I made 3 QSOs and had a great evening.
I went back up on Sunday and decided to use my AX1. I made two more QSOs, including Randy, KB4QQJ. He made me a cable for my KX3, so I like to work him when I hear him. To my delight he gave me a 579, and I had the AX1 resting against my canteen’s plastic cap. I still need to find something for the wind.
I came down for a snack, and when I returned my trusty AX1 would not tune. I appeared to have the same problem I had on the previous day with a different antenna. I could not figure it out and decided to call it a night. Clearly I have some testing to do.
In all I made five fun QSOs with my new straight key. It performed as expected, and it survived its first trip up to the roof deck. Thanks Meg! Imagination becomes reality.
I have had weekly Qigong lessons for over two years. My teacher Iris Kitagawa-Rainey would come every week and we would go in my building’s yoga room, or Qigong room as I started calling it. Then the pandemic happened.
We didn’t see each other for two and a half sad months. My practice continued uninterruptedly. Qigong truly showed its value. As things started to ease up a little we began talking about meeting again, but they had closed the yoga room.
We have a park down the street, and I wondered about going there. Iris thought it sounded like a great idea. They say that optimally you should practice Qigong with your bare feet in the Earth. We picked a day with pleasant weather and finally met.
We walked to the park, basically a straight shot. I showed Iris how to find a shoreline - a constant guide for use with a cane. We made our way to a tree and began class. I couldn’t remember the last time my bare feet had touched the Earth.
It felt wonderful! Wind blew through the leaves of the tree above me. My hands would occasionally brush against them. The sun streamed down. Birds sang. Even the noise from the traffic and the others in the park felt welcome.
I felt the stress of the last few months begin to wash away. A little bit of normalcy had returned. We have returned to my Qigong tree a few times since then. The pandemic forced us to find it.
Some time ago I worked my first DX contact with a long distance station. I forgot to reduce power from 15 Watts to 5 Watts, so it didn’t count as true QRP, defined as 5 Watts. On Sunday I had some time to work the CQ WW WPX DX CW contest. In this special event you can score points for making Morse Code contacts, with bonus points for long distance stations. I thought I would go on 20 meters in the last few hours, closest to twilight. I previously had good luck working the gray line. The contest ended at 08:00 PM local time.
I worked a few stations in Canada, but mostly worked America. I tried a few DX stations. I heard their calls and would circle around between them, trying to get through with my little QRP signal. I landed on DL6FBL for the second or third time. His call’s prefix of DL6 told me that he came from Germany. I decided to call.
He responded! I always get a little rush when I hear my call come back to me, and this time I could hardly believe it. We completed the exchange of information and I logged it. It took me a few minutes to fully experience the realization of what I had done. The QRZ app shows the distance as 3803 miles, a new personal best. Not bad for 5 watts into a magnetic loop!
Ham radio has provided a lot of joy during the pandemic. Firstly, I had the strangest Easter I have ever had, though not the worst. Our family could not have dinner together, so I joined in the SKCC Weekend Sprint. I worked five stations during the relaxing weekend. A special highlight came when I worked the KS8KCC bonus Egg station right at the end. I plan to volunteer as an Egg station next year.
That brings me to this weekend. We finally had a nice sunny spring day in Philadelphia, so I packed up my Elecraft KX3 and went up to the roof. I always bring the AX1 antenna, but I decided to bring the Buddistick to give it a try. I had no idea what I would find when I got up there.
I opened the roof deck door, and some people greeted me. I had walked into a party. A few guys drank beers and chatted. I explained that I wanted to set up my ham radio, and asked if they would mind. Quite the opposite. They got right into it - asking questions about the antenna, how radio waves interact with the atmosphere, and what I can do with the radio. I told them about my contact to Costa Rica.
I tried setting up my Buddistick, but could not tune it to an acceptable SWR. I got down to about 3.5:1 or 3.2:1, but you really need it below 2:1. SWR stands for Standing Wave Ratio, the amount of radio waves which reflect back and cancel out. A ratio of 1:1 means all of your radio frequency energy goes out the antenna.
I straightened the coax, though perhaps not enough. I adjusted the length of the counterpoise and coil tack. Nothing seemed to do the trick. The guys didn’t care. They enjoyed watching me try to get it working. One works as a mechanical engineer, and helped me tighten a bolt. He appreciated the DIY spirit of the hobby.
While rummaging around in the Buddistick’s case, I heard something fall onto the ground.
“It’s this box thing.”
“Oh, my ferrite fell!” I replied, and picked it up.
“Your what?” he replied with a note of concern. “Your ferret fell?”
“No, my Ferrite! A mixture of metals we use to keep the cable from acting like an antenna. We use them to eliminate radio frequency interference.”
. At this point I just wanted to get on the air. I vowed to come back to the Buddistick later, and connected the AX1. Elecraft makes this antenna to work with the radio, and it tuned to a 1:1 SWR on the first try. The AX1 saved the day!
We had several QSO parties going on throughout the weekend. A QSO means a ham radio contact, and a QSO Party refers to a contest in which you try to work as many stations in a state or area as possible. Within a few minutes I worked W7AI, the Oro Valley Amateur Radio Club in Tucson, Arizona, 2056 miles away! The guys loved it. They wondered aloud about the physics involved in sending a signal that far. I invited them to additionally consider that I did it using 5 Watts of power, or QRP. The magic of radio still amazes me.
They went back to their party and I went back to my radio. I yelled out each station as I worked it and they cheered.
All of these contacts took place on 20 meters starting around 06:00 PM. I went down to get dinner and returned at 09:00 PM.
I switched to 40 meters using the AXE1 extender for the AX1, and found the New England QSO Party in full swing. The guys came back to party a little more as well, but said good night as I got back into the radio. I had a strange dystopian Coronavirus moment as I sent Morse Code alone in the night from the roof of my building while wearing a mask and sunglasses. At least this time it happened during a party. I worked five stations within a half hour. I finished with the NE1QP bonus station and called it a night.
I woke the next day with a low grade headache, but felt determined to get back to the party. I did some Qigong and got on air around 03:00 PM. I didn’t feel like going outside, so stayed in my shack using the Alpha Loop. Sending and receiving high speed Morse Code doesn’t exactly complement a headache, but I kept the sidetone low and the AF gain (what we call the volume) as low as possible. The static and the sounds of radio soothed me, but my brain had to work quickly.
I have a positive association with New England, especially Boston, because I went there for my eye appointments all through my childhood and into high school. We would often go on family car trips around the area while there. I had fun going on a radio trip around New England. By the end of the QSO party at 08:00 PM I had worked twenty-one stations in total. All of my contacts with New England happened on 40 meters. Both antennas performed well. I felt content despite the headache.
A few days later my family returned to the roof deck to celebrate my nephew Demian’s fourth birthday. My family hadn’t seen each other in a few months due to the pandemic. As Demian’s birthday approached I thought about the party over the weekend, and suggested the roof deck as a location. Everyone loved the idea, and we all had a great time. I think Demian would make an excellent ham! He already understands that the Earth orbits the sun.
I would like to close this article with a response to a joke. A friend sent me a tweet which said that we have not invented a vaccine for social media. I would like to suggest that actually we invented one over a hundred years ago. We call it ham radio. Every time I go on social media I feel like running back to my radio as quickly as possible. The vaccine works!