The Amateur Amateur: Manic
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
I cleaned my shack this morning. Okay, that might not even be physically possible, but I certainly made a serious dent in the clutter. I removed everything that was keeping me from opening my file cabinets. I extracted a bunch of junk from behind them and moved them back so that there was more space in the shack. I untangled the mass of cables and wires that was spread all over the floor and stored everything in labeled bins. But the most dramatic thing that I did was to haul a bunch of I’m-sure-I-will-use-this-someday items out to the trash container.
You see, it was a Manic Day. No, that doesn’t quite cover it. It was THE Manic Day.
By nature, I am a fairly low-energy person, always have been. I was never into sports. I’m not athletic. Other than Amateur Radio, my main activity is lifting the television remote control. I watch Animal Planet, especially when they have shows about slugs. Or sloths.
But periodically, and unpredictably, there will be an alignment of the stars. Or maybe my bio-rhythms converge. Or perhaps it has something to do with mood stones. Whatever the cause, I will have what I call a Manic Day. I wake up and I have boundless energy.
The thing about Manic Days is that I’m aware that they're happening. I have enough cognitive function to know that I should use all that energy to do something productive. I ignore Animal Planet. In fact, I don't go anywhere near the television. Instead, I look at my to-do list and start taking care of items on it. Enthusiastically. I rip through one job and go looking for another, enjoying the sensation of getting things done for a change. I feel that I could conquer the world.
That usually lasts for a few hours, and then I sit down to take a break. And never get up again. The world is safe.
But this morning was different. When I got out of bed I knew that it was going to be a Manic Day, but I didn’t know that my elevated energy state was going to last as long as it has. Oh, cleaning up the shack was just the start. Now it’s late afternoon and I’m still the Energizer Bunny. I’m not only writing this much-delayed column, I’m writing two of them! More than that, this morning I took on tasks that I’ve actually avoided in the past. Today they just seemed to be no trouble at all.
Mood stones and bio-rhythms aside, I’m sure that it has to do with my medication. I’m an old guy, so naturally I take a lot of pills. They work, but good heavens, sometimes they do have side-effects. And I think that today there was a confluence of those side-effects. I believe they created SuperManicMan. Sort of like The Hulk, but with a to-do list.
Since it was a Manic Day -- and since most of the things I’d put off had to do with Amateur Radio -- that's where I decided to focus all my boundless energy. Oh, not operating on the air, just handling the multitude of things that I hadn’t gotten around to doing. Cleaning up the shack was the first item. Cleaning up and rearranging. And filing. And storing.
All that was followed by button-mashing.
You see, I make promotional buttons for our ARES group that say When All Else Fails -- Amateur Radio. They are popular at hamfests and such, and I’d promised Steve, our ARES Emergency Coordinator, that I would make some for Field Day. Since it’s a labor-intensive task -- and I’m not particularly keen on labor -- it simply didn’t get done.
This morning I made 100 buttons. And to keep my mind busy as well as my hands, I did something else that I rarely do: I tuned in the HF bands. I listened to some sort of contest on 20 meters for a long time and even considered participating (I didn’t -- I never have figured out the proper logging procedures, too tedious -- maybe I’ll work on that during the next Manic Day).
Energetic or not, mashing 100 buttons will make your arms and shoulders pretty sore, so I didn't try for 200. I switched to folding ARES promotional fliers instead (I’m not going to tell you how many I did).
After that I moved my APRS station (Automatic Packet Reporting System), checked for APRS software updates and spent a lot of time staring at beacons on a computer map. We APRS fanatics do that sometimes. There is something soothing about it.
Then I got back to work straightening up the shack. I threw away more useless items, including two mobile antennas.
I know, some of you just clutched your heads and screamed out loud. But these antennas were early experiments, used Radio Shack mobile mounts designed for activity way outside the hams bands -- and besides, they never worked well at all. But do’'t worry, there are plenty more mobile antennas adorning the shack. I did, however, move them out of eye-poking range.
While I’m at work, I play classical music on the radio. While driving, it’s jazz. And, of course, while in the shack, it’s whatever is on the air. And since the morning started with thunderstorms, I tuned in to see if SKYWARN had been activated. Nope.
This also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I tuned the dial to see if I could pick up W0S, the special event station working out of Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri. No luck there, either.
Playing with the radio didn’t seem to be satisfying my urge to get things done. I looked around the shack to see what else I could accomplish.
I checked the various emergency lights in my shack. Some of them didn’t work. Corrosion (never buy cheap batteries). I cleaned them out and installed better batteries.
What else needed to be done?
Aha, the newly freed file cabinets. They looked promising. I picked a drawer at random and opened it. It contained files, naturally, but also CDs, hard drives and assorted computer items.
Half of it went into the trash.
Next drawer. Files on ARES exercises.
Oops. That was a reminder of something that wasn’t on any of my to-do lists, but should have been. Our ARES group plans to do a message-handling exercise. The exercise director asked for any documents about similar exercises that had been done in the past. I sent him everything I found on my computer, but completely forgot about these physical files.
I pulled the files and took them upstairs to scan them.
Well, that turned out to be a futile effort. After carefully going through the files I found that everything was obsolete. We’d changed our procedures quite a bit since those early exercises. Not very satisfying, especially since I couldn’t even cross it off of a list.
I paced around, trying to figure out what else I could do.
My wife Nancy had been watching me carefully all day. She had, of course, seen me like this before, but she knew that this wasn't a typical Manic Day. She worries a lot about my health. When she’d convinced herself that I wasn't going to collapse -- or explode -- she suggested that we walk the dog. I eagerly agreed.
I took my handheld transceiver with APRS capability along with me. Once we returned home, I wanted to look at the computer map and see where we’d been. Like I said, there is something hypnotic about staring at those maps.
Well, the day is almost over now. Not all of my manic energy was directed at ham radio. I did a repair job in the kitchen and removed sticky forsythia buds from my dog’s fur. But most of my time was spent on ham-related projects. Finishing up this column will be my last activity of the day. I could probably keep going, but my body isn’t used to the sort of activity and it’s starting to complain.
I’m quite sure that tomorrow will be a sleep-late day. But if there’s a bit of residual energy left, I could climb on the roof and install Nancy’s new weather station…
Editor’s note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He’s been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column’s name -- “The Amateur Amateur” -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related website. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail.