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 identify as 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.

My First DX

May 05, 2020

I worked my first DX during the ARRL Inter DX CW contest in February. DX means a long distance station. CW stands for Continuous Wave, Morse Code. I didn’t think I had very good chances of actually making a contact. After all, what chance did my little QRP station have against one of the big guns? I tried throughout the weekend, but couldn’t break through any of the pileups. I began to feel a little discouraged.

At the same time I tried my hand in the AM QSO Party. This contest allowed a low power station to have a maximum of 25 Watts, since AM requires more power than Morse Code. I cranked my KX3 up to its maximum of 15 watts, but didn’t have any luck. Despite this I still enjoyed listening to the interesting vintage equipment used by many in the contest. One guy used a transmitter repurposed from a submarine in World War II from 1943.

Back to the Inter DX contest, as things wound down I heard TI7W calling CQ from Costa Rica, a distance of 2119 miles. I tried a few times, and to my pleasant surprise he responded to my call! I had worked Costa Rica using a magnetic loop antenna sitting by my window sill. Incredible!

The QSO happened around sundown, and this got me researching Gray Line Propagation, a fascinating matter. The ionosphere cools upward from the bottom as the sun sets, which affects the way radio signals behave. A low power signal like mine can travel a greater distance with no attenuation. The gray line tends to go from north to south, which would also explain why I got Costa Rica. I love ham radio!

I realized after the contact that I had forgotten to reduce power from 15 Watts down to the usual 5 Watts, so it does not count as a valid QRP DX. I will let you know when that happens.

Rediscovering Radio

March 17, 2020

As the Coronavirus situation unfolded, it became clear to me that I needed to buy a new radio. It seemed strangely absurd to me that I had all this fancy ham radio equipment, but nothing to receive commercial AM/FM radio. Recently Handiham featured the Sangean PR-D17 talking radio especially designed for the blind. I know the brand so decided to buy one.

When it arrived I received the notification on my door, then shortly afterward the super-attendant knocked on my door.

“A package for you! You ordered a radio?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“Oh, it’s just the box.”

And he meant it. He handed me the box which held the radio - no outer box or other packaging of any kind. I opened it and took out the radio, then nervously washed my hands and cleaned it.

The radio itself has some positive points and a possible negative. It lives up to Sangean’s standards. It had no problem receiving all of the local AM and FM stations from my condo. I easily hooked it up to my stereo, and had no problem configuring it or setting the time manually or using RDS. The built-in speakers sound big and wonderful. It pleasantly surprised me that the radio has an Aux-In, so I could connect anything I want, such as a cell phone or even a ham radio. It takes 6 C-cell batteries, and I predict that this radio will spend some considerable time on the roof deck this summer.

I wanted to address one possible negative. The frequency reads every time you turn the tuning knob. Of course I would prefer smooth analog tuning, but I will put up with digital tuning on the commercial bands. Hearing the frequency at each step renders this far less useful. It takes away the experience of scanning through the dial. If a way exists to turn it off then I haven’t see nit. The manual made no mention.

In summary, average non-radio blind people will love this radio. You can easily scan through the dial and program in five presets for AM and FM. It sounds great and you can take it with you. More radio-oriented blind people will not like the constant readouts as you try to scan through the dial manually. Sighted people should probably choose one without the voice announcements altogether. Check out the PR-D17 for yourself!

Radio died sometime around 1992, and I have not really listened to terrestrial radio in about twenty-five years. I got it more to receive local information during an emergency. I quickly found WOGL 98.1 FM, and had a surreal experience listening to it again. While growing up I listened to WCAU 98.1. One day I woke up, and heard oldies. I thought my radio had broken, but the station identified itself as WOGL 98.1. My Mom explained that radio stations change formats, and read me an article in the newspaper about the change. That experience stayed with me.

Now time has passed and things have come full circle. WOGL plays the 80s music I grew up with. I made my own 80s playlist and prefer it, but listening to a local station gives a sense of community. They periodically give local news and weather. I just wish I’d hear more human voices during this time of social distancing. Automation has taken its toll. On the other hand, I enjoy knowing that others listen to the same song at this moment.

Welcome Back to the World

February 07, 2020

Welcome to my new upgraded web site! This marks the completion of a long migration to a new server. The last two years have changed me. The song Through Being Cool, by Devo perfectly expresses how I feel.

I have decided to stop doing freelance accessibility consulting so that I may focus on my own work. Note the backwards compatible switch from austinseraphin.com to austinseraphin.net. This does not mean that I will never do any professional work ever again, it simply means that it will not happen on this domain.

Get ready for a lot more Qigong and a lot more ham radio.

QRP for Apartments

January 16, 2020

I run a QRP (low power) station from my Philadelphia condo. They do not allow outdoor antennas, so I use a magnetic loop. It sits on a tripod by my window. I chose QRP partly because I did not want to cause interference to the 53 other apartments in the building.

Last night I got one of my neighbor’s packages delivered to my door. She messaged me on Facebook, and I left it by her door. I figured I may as well tell her about my ham radio station. I worried that she would respond with something like “Oh, you’re the reason I hear that weird buzzing and muffled speech!” Instead, she replied that she hadn’t noticed anything.

I said that I participated in a contest (the CW NAQP) for ten hours on Saturday, so if she didn’t notice anything so far then I don’t feel worried. I thanked her for the confirmation and said that it means a lot, and it does.

Stay safe with QRP!

Neuroscience-based Pain Reduction

January 06, 2020

When I began practicing Qigong last April I had severe eye pain. Moving my eyes took effort, but Qigong immediately began to help.

A number of weeks into my practice, my Qigong teacher told me that one of her students named Helen Rice specialized in something called Neuroplastic Pain Reduction. I emailed Helen and she replied, but I felt in so much pain that I couldn’t deal with it. Two weeks past and she followed up. Her empathy and understanding of my condition impressed me, so I scheduled a free consultation.

After five sessions I had the tools to approach my pain in a whole new way. The brain responds to emotional stress in the same way as it does to physical stress, and an emotional pattern has a physical trigger in the body. I will give an example I don’t mind sharing. When going to school I had to carry several bags of heavy technology. In time this caused shoulder pain. I literally had too much on my shoulders. Now as an adult, if I take on too much responsibility I will still get the pain in my shoulders, but without carrying the bags. Carrying the heavy bags as a kid created the neural pathway which activates as an adult when under that particular type of stress.

This process caused me to go back through all of my emotional patterns, back to my first memories and even before birth. At times it felt like such a hard path, but ultimately it has led to a greater level of self awareness. I understand why I made the mistakes that caused everything to come crashing down two Thanksgivings ago, causing me to have so much eye pain that I had to stop working. That will never happen again.

If you can find someone in your area who does neuroplastic pain reduction then I recommend at least trying a consultation. If you decide to go for the process know that it will take all of your strength, but you will ultimately know victory if you stick with it. It compliments other modalities wonderfully. Between this and Qigong I feel like a whole new person!

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