I had a chat with a welcome visitor, Hiram, just the other day. He was en transit on an extended vacation. He and i had corresponded for many years over a shared interest in Ham Radio and Hams themselves.
Between false lights of his "ol' pipe" and his fatherly reminiscences of other "young squirts" like me who had "ideas without handles", he said some things i'll likely not soon forget. Ahh, but Hiram does not ken the likes of such phrases as "cutting edge", so may i take the liberty of paraphasing for him? I know he would hate that.
Sorry, Mr. H. . . .
"Cutting Edge" is where you find it", says he. "and usually you find it where you last put it. "
I'm a big one for moaning that all the excitement already happened. I call it the "George Eastman Syndrome". George gave us acetate film and the first "everyman's" camera. George founded the largest camera operation on earth, Kodak. But he put a bullet in his own head because, according to the note he left, there just were no more challenges to take on! He just could not see beyond the glare of his spectacles.
Welcome to what has apparently become yet another tradition of Amateur Radio: the sense that all the excitement is over, and for the average tinkerer and home experimenter, there is no more "frontier", no more untrekked territory, no more trails to blaze.
I read letters about how Ham Radio lost that pioneer "frontier" relevance in the QST's "Correspondence from Members" of the early 1960s. All the while this little guy called "Oscar" was happily bleeping "HI" all over the ether.
I remember moaning about how i wish i were born around 1900, so i could get in on "the ground floor". Hiram would respond "Ground floor of what? We're always on the ground floor! "
In the 1970's i bemoaned the reduction of tube usage, all the while 73, QST, HR and CQ magazine were spitting out some of the first BASIC algorithms written by hams to replace the old satelite tracking protractors, animations on 286 DOS systems that would not only compute but produce animated video representations of apogee and perigee. Slow scan was shifting over from the Robot 48 line scans on phosphor tubes to VDTs. Right under my nose.
I wasn't looking, i was busy wishing i were on the 1930's cutting edge when Grammar and Lamb were busting loose with innovations. While i was wishing i had an old Klineschmidt, Ascii communication modes, Packet Radio and PSK were "happening".
"Aww, that stuff don't count, it isn't the same thing!" i lamented to my visiting friend. "That stuff all comes from engineers with the military and Nasa these days. The era of 'kitchen table' cutting edge discovery and development is finito. Done. Over!"
"Cutting Edge, Hmphh!" snorted The Old Man as he re-lit the last embers of his cavendish. "Seems to me you have so many cutting edges you need to carry a styptic pencil! " I noticed that he had my 2002 ARRL Handbook face down in his lap. He was reading about digital signal processing, i think. Hiram gravitates to new things unless it involves clothing, duck hunting or common sense.
"Hiram" i responded, motioning at the Handbook, "that's not exactly the frontier these days, either." I could sense his irritation. You see, the Old Man also gravitates toward optimism, unlike myself. Optimism kept him relevant. It fought off the years.
"Son", says he, setting down his pipe "You don't seem to understand what a "frontier" is. Our forefathers were not pioneers because each one merely hacked down the most remote tree in the woods, or put up the outermost stockade. They were pioneers because they chose to live in that place. " -- and well he knows, for his own lineage harkens to the old Bay colony -- "Hams are not pioneers because they necessarily push back the frontier boundaries, either. Rather, they take it's essence in their own hands and do with it as propriety and necessity demands! They can be called 'pioneers' because they choose to live there."
"This "Cutting edge" you refer to has precious little to do with the presence of technologies, but everything to do with what you do with it!" he continued.
"And don't you think for a minuite MacMillan wasn't every bit the pioneer "cutting edge" character with all his newfangled radios and airdrops and electric generators and medicines as he bit into the frozen arctic with 'WNP' that of any Mayflower pilgrim or spanish swashbuckler ever was!"
Hiram sat back in my easy chair once more and gazed up at the crown moulding above the living room entertainment center. I think he was looking at something far more distant.
" I made an electric car once. In fact i was responsible for quite a few of 'em around Hartford. They call me an automotive pioneer, but son, i didn't invent them! In fact, i didn't really do much in the way of developing them. But i did traffic in them."
- he waited for my chuckle, but i was lost in thought.
"You didn't say anything about the Silencer . . . "
"I won't, either!" he cut me off. Putting the hardbound handbook on the endtable, he turned to me.
"You have a bunch of undone projects out there in that catastrophe you call a radio "shack"! Much as i wish you'd finish them, i admire the fact that you boys are lighting the old torch and melting solder. Sure, you might be using circuits ages old, but you ARE USING them, innovatively, using the ol' noggin. Learning new ways to apply them. Improving on the mistakes of us ol' "pioneers". Your work with our "old ideas" make them worthwhile. Never forget that. Never. It's not the 'inventor' that creates the so-called 'cutting edge', you see, but those who give those inventions feet and hands".
The Old Man settled back into the easy chair and leaned back, resisting that persistent cough he picked up on his rail lay-over here. His pipe was now cold. It was time to retire. He was leaving tomorrow, early.
And here, i close my narration.
The frontier, the cutting edge is where you find it. You find it usually at the intersection of Passion and Talent. And you never know just where the next "Cutting Edge" might crop up. From what Hiram says, you might be on one . . . . . . right now! Carry that styptic pencil, my friend.
I invite you to join Hiram and myself, in our optimism regarding not only Amateur radio and it's traditions, but also it's relevance. Cutting edges are still to be found in Amateur Radio, i am quite sure.
gary // wd4nka