EMDRC Hamfest 2016

Sunday was the annual EMDRC Hamfest. I had a table with David VK3KR.  It’s the second time David and I have shared a table at this event and on both occasions we were individually clearing out saleable shack stuff that had been previously liked, appreciated and admired, even loved, kept for a rainy day, cached to be dug up acorn-like in our antipodean equivalent of a snow storm… in our hour of homebrew need.  Of all our accumulated goods this was stuff which had passed the interest threshold. None of it was without some kind of appeal and most items had a potential use.  But all of the items had fallen down the priory list relative to other stuff.  In a ham’s middle years there is a dawning that ones’ days as an active key (as opposed to a silent one) will not go on forever, and that there are more potential shack projects than one mortal life will allow one to complete.  On that basis, some items just have to go.

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David VK3KR at our table.

My contributions to our sale table included the following… two (yes two) identical external VFOs (FV-901-DM) for the Yaesu FT901 series transceiver. I bought these in the mid 1980s when Dick Smith got out of Yaesu equipment. It was an early harbinger of the consumer electronics focus that would make the chain a retail success but equally would re-position it into a highly competitive consumer market, in which it would ultimately collapse. The VFOs cost me $99 each and gave me a synthesised tuning knob and digital frequency display to control my homebrew 80 and 20 meter receiver. I used them extensively. They added a touch of modernity and luxury to the minimalist homebrew experience. When I unpacked these old tuners, it dawned on me that the old FV901s were big enough to house an entire HF transceiver.  Now they are not-so-ancient boat anchors, left behind by the flood of AD9850 cards and SI5351 Arduino shields. Nobody need put up with a faceless drifting VFO any more, and the antidote comes on a board considerably smaller than the ubiquitous Altoids tin.

Then there was my old TS430s. This old box had problems from the day some 8 or so years ago that it arrived from an eBay seller. It had had a rough life. The front panel was chipped and worn. Worse, it had intermittent and persistent faults.  It was sold as fully working. I contacted the seller and complained. He acted dumb, assuring me it was working fine when he last used it. I paid too much for it.  I was duped. And by a fellow member of the ham radio fraternity. I vowed to always be scrupulously honest in trading ham gear in the future. So on Sunday at the Hamfest I was, and my honesty cost me hundreds of dB. To sell it gave me closure on an unsatisfactory episode. A lesson learned the hard way.

Another of my bargains was a 25 year old HP frequency counter. Another eBay purchase, this one worked as expected. But the Chinese $12 frequency counters out perform it in every respect. So too the HP counter yielded to the tsunami-like power of mass production and globalisation.

All this selling got me thinking about the meaning we attach to stuff. Why do I offload one piece of radio junk but keep another?  To an onlooker my keeps and discards would look almost random.  Dedication has something to do with it.  Robert Pirsig said:

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in…  When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

Perhaps we keep things because we perceive in the object a personal challenge to the craftsman within.  Am I skillful enough to turn this 1980s digital VFO into a fully functioning HF transceiver?  Do I have the radio fabrication skills, the intellect to debug it when its modules fail to work , the perseverance to get it all finished, the ‘gumption‘ to stay dedicated (one of Pirsig’s favourite terms).  Will this endeavor return a sufficient degree of satisfaction and enjoyment to make all that effort worthwhile?  If we doubt ourselves on any of these tests, the part is as good as gone.

When you decide to hold on to something you get to keep an idea alive. Offloading that thing results in a kind of death… the death of a potential project.  It is a little piece of hope gone forever. Offloading stuff can only be done when the pang of conscience you feel from this little loss is sufficiently dulled or outweighed by the relief in not having the item in your life.  Even if it is on a high shelf or in storage.  It is a complicated, nuanced and personal evaluation, done on a case by case basis, and subject to the whimsiest of influences.

In balance, offloading some of my stuff at the Hamfest did me some good.

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