Sunday, 18 September, 2005

Hacking the hardware: Antennas

The thing that interests me most about ham radio is building antennas.  Sure, it's cool to get on the radio and talk to people from all over the world, compete in contests, and participate in emergency preparedness exercises.  Those are interesting and challenging endeavors in some ways but they don't supply the intellectual challenge of hacking the hardware.  Since I don't understand enough about electronics yet to tinker with my old tube radios and modern solid state computer-controlled radios might as well be magic, I gravitated towards tinkering with antennas.

Antenna design and construction is a very broad field.  Antennas themselves can be as simple as a piece of wire stretched across the ground, or as complicated as a phased directional array designed for bouncing signals off the moon.  Antennas for some bands are over 500 feet long and for other bands only a couple of inches.  There are special receiving antennas, directional antennas, loops, dipoles, verticals, and about a gazillion other types.  The ARRL Antenna Book is 1,000 pages of antenna theory, design, and practical advice.  It just scratches the surface.  There's plenty to learn about antennas.

Ham radio is beginning to replace computer programming as the hobby that I pursue.  Perhaps I got burned out on programming after more than 20 years of doing it as a job and as a hobby.  I'm rediscovering the joy of learning something just because I want to, rather than looking for the next article topic or development project.