Is (New Technology) is Killing (My Hobby)?

<tl;dr> Betteridge’s law of headlines applies, “No.” </tl;dr>

In the ham radio communities, a rash of posts are going around about how FT8 / the Internet / Millenials / Nobel-prize physicists are destroying amateur radio:

Every one of my hobbies has these discussions about newcomers and/or a technical innovation leading to a decline in the perceived enjoyment their of a long-time group.

  • Cooking: Use of a microwave, Zojurishi, or Instant Pot to help speed meal preparation.  I am not going to forgo hummus awesomeness until tomorrow (to soak chickpeas overnight, boil for a couple of hours, cool, then make hummus) when I can plop dried chickpeas into Instant Pot, having it ready in 35 minutes.
  • Cycling:Electric assist!  Recumbent riders!
  • Geocaching: Cell phone users!   A lot of folks who started in the aughts (2001 – 2009) had access to a dedicated GPS unit, typically a Garmin, but sometimes a Magellan or Delorme.  The market for handheld GPS units is relatively small, so the innovations have been meh.  For example, the Wherigo player hasn’t been updated in over ten years.  However, thanks to phone users, there have been more published through third-party utilities, and some of them are excellent.

    “New” Last update: over ten years ago
  • Programming: Java/Swift/Scratch!   When I was an undergraduate, our department was not well-organized as evidenced by a different programming language each quarter (Pascal, assembly, Modula-2, C, Fortran, APL,  C++, and back to C).  While it cured me of any fear of reading the manual, there are much more productive ways to learn than RTFM.

I would assert that if your enjoyment of a hobby depends on everyone doing it the same way, forever, you’re the one who’s not doing it right.

Fruit and Vegetables

Over on Facebook, several of my friends were posting this meme of ten favorite albums, “no explanations.”  The “no explanations” aspect of the record meme made it just a bunch of random covers someone posted.

Since I have an eclectic, arguably terrible music tastes, I started my own un-meme using fruits an vegetables.  I’m also going to add some recipes and original photos (except for the cartoon):

Day N of Y days. In no particular order, Y all-time favorite fruits and vegetables that really made an impact and are still in my daily diet, even if only now and then.

After laboring to post it, I was thinking how the content gets lost because there’s so much stuff on Facebook.   Fuck that.   I’m going to be back-posting stuff I should have put here in the first place, and then maybe post more than once every nine months.

But back to the fruits and vegetables:

Green beans: Wash and pat dry. Toss with a little bit of oil and schmancy French grey salt, roast at 400F (200C) for 20-25 minutes.

Heirloom tomatoes: Slice thick and alternate with fresh mozzarella and basil. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic. Sprinkle French grey salt and fresh pepper to taste.

Caprese with yellow and red tomatoes.

Beets. Golden, orange or red, as long as they have greens. (Not. Canned.) Wash them well, remove inedible parts, and cut into halvsies. Heat 2T oil, juice of one lemon, a chopped green onion, 1/2 teaspoon dill weed, 1/2 teaspoon tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a clove of crushed garlic in a pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add beets, greens and 1/4C water. Cover and steam over medium heat until tender.

Remove the tough parts, scrub
Roasted, with pomegranate seeds

Cherries! During peak season (late June – July), Bing and Rainier cherries are sold along roadside or the farmer market*. The only way my rate of pitting can approach consumption is through specialized kitchen gadgetry.

The cherry dutch baby: 3/4C flour, 2T granulated sugar, 3/4C milk, 3 eggs, 1/4t salt, 4T butter, 2C of pitted, Bing (*not Google*) cherries, and powdered sugar. Preheat oven to 425F. Combine flour, sugar, milk, eggs and salt in a blender until smooth. In a 12″ cast iron frying pan, melt the butter. Add the pitted cherries and cook 2-3 minutes until warm. Pour in the batter. Bake 18-20 minutes until puffed and golden. Dust with powdered sugar.

Or just make a delicious fruit salad.  Too busy eating to judge!

(*Despite working a block from Pike Place, I still adore my local farmer’s market.)

Bananas. They’re delicious, full of carbs, available year-round, and also facing the bananapocalypse.

Blue Banana cafe, Lostine, OR. 2008 Cycle Oregon 🙂

 

 When overripe, you can freeze them for smoothies or bake them in breads.  Or leave hidden messages to help the next person waking up have a surreal day:
Banana vandalism

Or worse:

Just say C3P-*NO*
WIth squash friends like this…

Winter Squash are awesome enough that they would merit their own 10-day meme, but I’ll spare you that. Uchiki (red kuri) squash make great pies. Below are photos of the Tamal Pie (https://wapo.st/2Khz8I2) made over Thanksgiving. Somewhat easier to make is the Khoresh-e kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morgh, learnt during a PCC demo class last fall.

Butternut squash cream supporting pork tenderloins.
Kuri squash pie

Broccoli (mini-trees) goes well in soups, while Cauliflower (zombie brains) can add depth (and fiber) to macaroni and cheese. Both roast exceptionally well and are essential ingredients in one of my favorite staples: Hippie bowls.

Comic by Jim Benton

Lemons, sometimes known in the more polite geocaching circles as “absolutely not a durian,” add a wonderful tart flavor to desserts, keep guacamole and apples from turning brown, provide 99.97% of the flavoring in lemonade, and, in much smaller quantities than shown in the photo, can even be used on pizzas.  Avoid the mistake I made in my youth of not knowing how the zest could be flavorful (a zester is inexpensive ).  They’re also great with Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.

Lemon and parsley pizza

Hippie Bowls

Hippie Bowls are roasted vegetables over a grain, topped with a lemon-hummus sauce.  It’s become a once-a-week dinner because it’s sooooo easy to make and I love the tastes involve.

Hippie Bowls:
2 heads-worth of broccoli florets
1 head-worth of cauliflower florets
2T olive oil
Two pinches of grey salt
Parsley to garnish
1C quinoa

Sauce: 
1 1/2C chickpeas (fresh or 1 can)
2T tahini
2T extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
Juice of large lemon
Grey salt, to taste

Roast the veggies: coat florets with oil, garlic and salt. Place mixture on a rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan. Cook 35-45 minutes at 400F, stirring about halfway in.

All your vegetables are roasting to us

Quinoa: Toss 1C quinoa and 1 1/2C water into the Zojirushi* (or Instapot) and let it work its magic.

Add all of the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add water, 1T at a time, to get the consistency as you like.

In individual bowls, place veggies on a 1/2C of cooked quinoa, add sauce. Top with parsley and pepper.

The final product, assembled

 

*The Zojirushi is an amazing rice (and other grains) cooker, and was our go-to-gadget before acquiring the Instapot.  We still rely on it heavily for making rice and quinoa, because it always turns out perfect.  (And hey, an appliance that starts off its cycle playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star must be happy, right?)  It also manages to keep the rice warm for an hour afterward.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

The original recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, and is a pretty tasty diversion from the standard buttermilk pancake.  To offset the weight of the ricotta, you fold in extra, whipped whites.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

Lemon ricotta pancakes (original source Cook’s Illustrated)

1 C all-purpose flour
3/4 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 C whole-milk ricotta
3 large eggs, separated
3 egg whites (to offset the weight of the ricotta)
1/2 C milk
1 1/2t lemon zest
6t lemon juice
3/4 t vanilla extract
3T melted butter
3/8 C sugar

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center.
Add ricotta, egg yolks, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla.
Stir in melted butter
Whisk the (four) egg whites on medium low until foamy. Increase speed. When there are billowy mounds, gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until glossy, soft peaks form. Transfer 1/3 into the batter and whisk. With a spatula, fold in the rest.
Cook pancakes!

Aash-e-Reshteh

Janet and I took the Persian Cuisine demo cooking class at the local hippie grocery store last week.  I reproduced two of the recipes: Khoresh-e kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morgh (Braised butternut squash and chicken stew with prunes and walnuts) and Aash-e-Reshteh (beans, fresh greens and noodle soup).

Aash-e-reshteh (beans, fresh greens & noodle soup)

Aash-e-reshteh (beans, fresh greens & noodle soup)

Serves 4-6, preparation time: 30 minutes, cooking time: 50 minutes

2T olive oil
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1t salt
1/2t pepper
1t turmeric
1t cumin seeds
1t ground coriander
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 can white beans, rinsed
1C lentils
6C no/low-salt beef or vegetable broth
2C water
2C fresh parsley, finely chopped
1C fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1C scallions, finely chopped
1C fresh dill, finely chopped
6C fresh spinach, finely chopped
8 ounces linguini (break into thirds)
sour cream to dollop on top

In a large pot, saute the onion, garlic and olive over medium heat for ~5 minutes. Add the salt and spices, stir 1 minute. Add beans, borth, water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook 30 minutes on medium-low heat.

Add chopped fresh herbs, spinach and noodles. Gently mix and cook an additional 15 minutes or until the noodles are cooked

Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

 

Koresh-e Kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morg (Braised butternut squash and chicken stew with prunes and walnuts)   Serves 4.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

3T ghee (I used coconut oil)
1C walnuts
1 medium butternut squash, cut into 2″ cubes.
1 onion, sliced
4 chicken pieces bone-in and skin-on (I used two large chicken breasts)
1t cinnamon
1/2t turmeric
1/4t cloves
1t salt
1/2t pepper
2C unsalted chicken broth
2T sugar
juice of one lime (and lime zest, because zest is too good to throw away)
1C pitted prunes (mine were pre-chopped; would do this with halves next time)
pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 2T hot water

In a dutch oven over medium heat, saute the walnuts in 1T ghee for 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.
In same pot, add an additional tablespoon of ghee and sautee the butternut squash for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pot again, add 1T ghee and lightly sautee the onion and chicken pieces for ~5 minutes. Add the cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, salt and pepper. Saute for a minute. Pour in chicken broth. Cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.

Once the chicken is tender, add usgar, lime juice (and zest), prunes and the sauteed butternut squash. Cover and cook over low heat for an additional 30 minutes.

(At this point, I pulled out the chicken breasts to remove the skin & bones; I chopped it into chunks).

Pour in saffron water, stir and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle walnuts on top.

Khoresh-e Kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morgh
(Braised butternut squash & chicken stew with prunes and Walnuts)
Work in progress

Setting up FT8

First, download and install the latest distribution from the WSJT-X project page. The documentation is well-written and useful.  The second release candidate features decoding improvements (a priori decoding) that increases the ability to work with weaker signals.  It seems to work awesomely.

Second, verify your system clock is set accurately. Seriously. The FT8 cycles are 15 seconds, of which 12.6 seconds are transmit, 0.5 – 1 seconds of decode & lookup, and the rest left up to you to make a response. On Mac, this is done via command-line:
sudo ntpdate -u time.apple.com
On Windows, use Dimension 4

Edit the preferences. In the General tab:

FT8 – General Settings

1. Enter your call sign.
2. Enter your Maidenhead grid.
3. This is optional, but if you choose your IARU region, it’ll help set up your frequency list later.
4. I like the program off by default as a reminder to set my system time.
5. There is some automation in place such that when it sends the “73” (“Best regards”), it’ll stop transmitting until you reenable it again.

The Radio tab is going to vary depending on what you own.
For my Elecraft KX3:

FT8 – Radio

1. USB device for the control cable.
2. I prefer having the computer control it rather than using tones (like my HT does).
3. This tells the radio to use data mode, which disables compression, the RX/TX EQ, and uses a low error-rate ALC.

From the KX3 manual

My Mac lacks a microphone, so I use an external USB dongle for both in and out.  Generally, you want to use as little volume as necessary to avoid overloading the card.

FT8 audio

Generally, I run with ALC (Automatic Level Control) — the ALC gain on the radio -showing 4-5 bars.  Some radios will require this off. Sound out from the radio (and into the sound card) is kept at a minimum.  See below.

The reporting tab has two items of interest:

FT8 – Reporting

1. When you detect a station, upload it to this (free) spotting service

PSK Reporter – used to help identify good/bad propagation

This is very useful because it lets you see that your station is being received.  The light purple arc is an estimate of where I’m being well-received.

2. There are supplementary utilities that can listen to the connection and automatically log for you. For example, I have JT-Bridge act as a layer to do lookups then instruct MacLoggerDX to upload them to QRZ.com. (Yes, this is overly complex.)

Finally, the first time you use wsjtx, or if you update, you’ll need to load in frequencies. Right-click on the main window and select Reset. I skim through these to remove bands my radio doesn’t support (e.g., 2200m, microwave frequencies):

FT8 – Frequencies

Right click and save these just in case you want to start over.

Okay, now that that’s set up, in the main window, there are three areas of interest:

FT8 – Main

Select the “Monitor” button to start listening.  The waterfall should start showing activity if there are users on.  Once a full 15-seconds has elapsed, you should start seeing those signals being decoded.

On the bottom, left is a meter showing input levels.  You want it to be in the green, ideally around 25-30db.  If it’s too quiet, the bar will be red meaning you’re not getting enough signal.  If it’s too loud, the bar will turn yellow indicating oversaturation.

The other two tick boxes are assistive automation.  Auto Seq will progress through the calling sequence on each cycle.  It’s necessary on FT8 because of the rapid cycle times (and my lack of cat-like reflexes).  The Call 1st is used when you’re calling CQ – it will automatically select the first response (either by time or, in the event of a tie, the sub-frequency you’re monitoring followed by the order of sub-frequency).

The standard messages, on the bottom, right, are automatically generated when you respond to someone (by double-clicking on their CQ) or someone responds to you.

So now, here’s how a sequence works.  The top quarter and bottom half of the graphic below are WSJT-X.  Sandwiched in the middle is a third-party listener, JT-Bridge, that does lookups of people and lets me know if they’re in a geographic area of interest.

First, I have the Monitor button (in green) selected, so it’s listening.  On the waterfall graph, outlined by the red rectangle are 15-second bursts of transmissions from NA4M calling CQ.  To response, I double-click on the CQ at 02:05:45.  (With JT-Bridge, I can also click on the one with the little number “3” next to it).

That action does the following things:

a) Pre-loads a set of standard messages (shown below) for the exchange.
b) Enables transmit (the Enable Tx button, currently off, because I’m doing this post-exchange)
c) Populates the Rx Frequency side with what’s happening on my receive frequency.

You’ll see in step (2), I respond, but he doesn’t acknowledge.  He repeats his CQ 30 seconds later.  I respond in step (3).  When he acknowledges me with my signal strength in step (4), the line turns purple to let me know that someone’s talking with me.  At that point, I return back to him with R-09 signal strength.  At step (5) he acknowledges receipt, and then exchange regards.

Buckle up, this goes faster than you’d think…