Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The kindness of strangers

I sent out a call for ham radio operators to help me with material for an article on creative and innovative home brewed radio rigs. They answered generously and quickly, offering me free access to their photos. They also answered all my questions quickly and with lots of detail. I am going to have a great article for the newsletter, and all on short notice. The guys have been wonderful and a few new friendships have been struck. I look forward to chewing the rag with them online when I get my ATS-3 built and running. (chewing the rag is ham speak for a communication, or QSO)

The projects they have put together are basically from the same group of kits, the AT Sprint, designed by Steve KD1JV Weber, the soldering iron and low power (QRP) rig king. What makes these projects different is the ingenuity in taking a little motherboard and enclosing it in different materials. The enclosure is necessary in order to keep the motherboard and circuits clean and free of dust and static electricity that can degrade the parts and damage the circuit board. One guy built a graphite enclosure which would have been a dull and uninspiring matte black, but he took an old tie and glued it to the outside. The tie was really ugly, from what I have seen of it, but it makes a nice little design for the enclosure. There are the ubiquitous Altoids tins but even those have been changed by adding paintings and graphic designs and lettering on the outside. One guy even enclosed his rig in clear sheet plastic because it is light and durable and because his wife said the surface mounted parts on the board that is the heart and brains of the rig looks like jewelry and should be showcased. In a way, she's right and the picture doesn't really do the reality justice, but it comes close.

In all the years I've been interviewing and writing about people the one thing I have learned is that strangers tend to be more open and generous with their time and resources than friends and acquaintances. I don't know if it is because they are just open-hearted and eager to help or because they are flattered that someone is interested in hearing their story and learning about them. Every time I have asked someone if I could interview them they invariably tell me they aren't special and don't do anything worthy of note. By the end of the first awkward moments as I begin to ask my questions and listen they open up and talk, realizing they are interesting and have something worth talking about. It's hard to get them to shut up sometimes but I have learned how to turn off the faucet as easily as I turn it on.

One of the best parts of being a writer, especially a journalist, is the opportunity to meet and learn new things about ordinary people. I have met many extraordinary people in my life, especially since I became a journalist, and each one of them has enriched my life and taught me something I still carry with me. No matter where I have been or where I will go in the future I am sure interesting people will cross my path. There are many I wish I could have spent more time getting to know and become friends and friends I have known who have taken a different path. I wish them all well, even those who have chosen not to be friends or remain friends. For them, I keep a light in the window and a special place in my heart. The place in my heart may never be filled but my heart will never be empty. There are always people to fill those empty spaces, and even one person who fills all the empty spaces in my heart long after he has walked away. Some things can never be taken away or retrieved. The objects may be gone but the meaning and the feeling behind the objects remain.

Like those strangers who helped me with my article for the newsletter by giving so freely of their time and experience their gifts remain and will be remembered, and the words are a monument to their generosity, ingenuity and creativity. They make life interesting.

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