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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

Why am a Maker and Ham

Russell Conner (KK6MDB) on August 8, 2014
View comments about this article!

A recent article here on eHam.net gave an interesting take on the Maker culture. I had planned a short response to that article, but the idea soon expanded well beyond a short response. The article revealed that the Maker culture is misunderstood, and perhaps unknown to the Ham culture. It is unfortunate, because there is a significant overlap and mutually beneficial relationship here and understanding the Maker culture would provide three major benefits to the Ham community.

First, what is a Maker, and why are they called that? Well, the second is easier to explain, it is a gerund of the verb “to make”. Makers then, make things. It came, I suspect, from Sci-fi, where futuristic robots and androids refer to their builders as “Makers”. A slight conceit, but it fits because of what they are about.

“Makers” represent a wide range of Do-It-Yourself interests and domains: everything from robotics/electronics/programming, to restoration work, and even artistic combinations of all three. 3D printing is a big part of the culture, allowing fast prototyping and reproduction of hard or impossible to get parts. Vintage motorcycles being one example.

Starting to sound familiar? While there definite differences, there is the same basic drive as the Ham community: To make something, and make it better than anyone else, or at least best suited to their needs.

I mentioned three benefits, so here they are:

Maker Spaces:
Many larger cities, including my own in Sacramento, have Maker Spaces. What are Maker Spaces? I am glad you asked! These are buildings to small warehouses that have been converted and fitted with a wide range of tools many of us would love to have, but have neither space or money. For example, my local space has: wielding gear, standard metal and wood working machines, paint booths/power coat oven, CNC lathe, 3D printer, plastic and metal, a computer controlled laser cutter, and people to show you how to safely use them. They generally have meeting space too, for clubs and other small events. My local Maker Space costs $40 a month, and I don’t have to subscribe every month. I have taken out 1 month passes to do motorcycle work, like Powder coat and cutting/wielding, and just planned around getting it done in a month. Can’t find the right knob for that classic radio? 3D print an exact copy, machine one, or design one that is better to fit your skinny/long/stubby/fat fingers. Custom portable radio case with your call sign cut in as the vent holes? can do! Custom plates to affix to other hardware? Yep. Almost anything you can think of can be fabricated from stock in a Maker Space. How is that for a powerful incentive?

Community:
The Maker community is about giving and sharing. There will be young guns that can show you the newest way to do things…. and they will also be listening about how it has been done in the past. Maker Fairs will put you in contact with people that can make or sell a wide range of things you might need for your projects, even if they are not Hams. If you have a project or design you want to make and don't have the skills, chances are there is a class or an “Elmer” in that skill like TIG wielding or 3D printing that will help you out gladly. Beer and coffee are often the lubricant for breaking the ice, and are cheap to put in the hand of someone as a thank you. And of course, when they come to you about building a J-pole or a tube amp...you can replay them in knowledge too.

Future Hams:
Makers are fascinated by technology, and many are even more fascinated by OLD technology. Many will be excited by how they can use the Arduino or Raspberry Pi platforms to do Ham work. Others will be excited by the tube amps and other old school gear. Many of them have the general technological prowess to be great future Hams and the skill sets necessary to help maintain, design and build repeaters and other complex Ham projects. Show up, give a class and demonstrate CW or the “magic band” and they will be hooked.

What they need is someone to show them the why and how of Ham radio. And that is where we come in...

Embrace the Maker Community and show them the Ham know how and ingenuity, in the end both communities will benefit.

BIO: KK6MDB is a new Ham, but has been fascinated with the Ham culture since being introduced as a teenager. With more time on his hands these days, he has finally entered into the Ham world after a 20 year hiatus.

Member Comments:
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Why am a Maker and Ham  
by W0WCA on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I LOVE this! I want to move to Sacramento!
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KY6R on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks very much. I work in San Francisco as the Director of Technical Support for a software company and can vouch that the young people are very much into the Maker scene, and that I have seen Arduino and other small circuits on peoples desks. They are very proud about learning electronics - it sets them apart from just all the other programmers. Some - like at Twilio have put together special circuits that works with their SMS cloud based system (which I use with Zendesk). They learned about these little circuits at Maker's Faire's and other Maker get togethers.

I very much want to try 3D printing to make special antenna insulator parts - that no one makes - but which fits my antenna designs (mechanical designs of tried and true antennas in the ON4UN and ARRL Antenna Books).

So - the crossover is perfect. And Maker also goes way back in time in other languages - way before ham radio, and variants of the English word Maker translate as part of peoples names, i.e "Shoe Maker", etc.

Your article is right on - thanks for writing and posting it!
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KK4MRN on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
A co-worker introduced me to Arduino which got me into electronics. This led me to looking at radio circuits. This naturally led me to ham radio. I thought I get my Technician License to learn more about radio electronics. Built a few simple radios. Got my General. Got my an HT to get me on the air. I thought I would mostly listen and not speak much, but I actually speak a lot now. I have had Elmers (yes multiple hams) help me repair a Heathkit HW-101 and power supply to get me on the air with HF. Got it working as a receiver. I was happy. Got it working as a transmitter, I jumped up and down I was so I excited I made my first contact on HF from Virginia to New York on 40 meters - directly from one radio to another and back. I've made many friends along the way. Going to Field Day last June was fun. Still lots to learn - learning CW, building/alignging a MFJ Cub and other electronics circuits like code practice oscillators, and studying for my Extra. I have gotten a 900 Mhz radio from some hams who reprogrammed it. It is actually busy in the morning.
 
RE: Why am a Maker and Ham  
by K4PIH on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Very timely write up! I consider myself a maker as I make everything I can. Been doing it since I was a kid, mostly for economic reasons. This hits the nail on the head when I refer to appliance operators. Nothing wrong with having the means to buy what you need, but I think a lot of hams have no technical ability and it shows. Of course I can't make a high-end modern equivalent like Icom or Kenwood, but I can and did resurrect some old tube gear with parts taken from other old radios. I make all my antennas, cables (put on the connectors) speaker enclosures, anything I can or don't have the funds for. It keeps your brain sharp and you can have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself, not Amex or Visa.
 
RE: Why am a Maker and Ham  
by AI4WC on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
A "feel-good" article! There is a "Maker" in each of us. Your setup in Sacramento sounds wonderful. Just think what could be done if all of us radio fans, car buffs, airplane nuts, boat builders and others had such a setup! We all should try to foster such places; I know I will. Thanks for the breath of fresh air!
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by AE5QB on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Its a good and timely movement. I think people in general these days long for the gratification of "making" something. Gardening is coming back, painting, pottery, etc. all represent interests that result in internal gratification. I teach 8th grade science and tell my administrators, and anyone who will listen, that our students don't lack self esteem as we say. They have more self esteem than they know what to do with. The problem is they lack self-worth. Building something with your own hands and having it work, even if it is just a microprocessor blinking an LED, gives one a sense of accomplishment and gratification. I use robotics, ham radio, arduinos, and raspberry pis, to motivate and challenge my students. I get my gratification by "making" my students into "makers." If you want to feel good, get involved with a local school and help them start an after school ham radio/robotics/programming/maker club. Hope to work a school near you in October's School Club Roundup. Good article. Look around, California is not the only place in which maker spaces exist.

Tom/AE5QB
 
RE: Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KB2FCV on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Cool article. I think a lot of us are 'Makers' already. The Maker space sounds great! I have a lot of things I'd love to build for antenna work but simply don't own the tools or have the space for such tools. It sounds like some great things going on in the maker community. I think the main thing is it draws people into any sort of electronics. Luring people from that community into ham radio is a big plus.
 
Why I am a Ham  
by AI2IA on August 8, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
You just need to be a ham, that's all. All hams put together things, and most hams like to same money and customize something ham related by doing it themselves.

If some find this article encouraging, well and good. Frankly phrases like "ham culture," "maker culture," etc.
turn me off. It's too much like undergrad talk, educator talk, starry eyed young journalist talk.

I suppose that the world's best "makers" are American small farmers, and if you can find American small farmer hams, well, you've got the best.

Don't get me wrong. If this article encourages and it probably does, it is a good contribution to eHam.net. Still, if you are proud to call yourself a Ham, then you don't need to pin on the handle "maker."

Just some thoughts from an old time PL-259 soldering ham.
 
RE: Why I am a Ham  
by N4CQR on August 9, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
May I post your article on our local Community web site with proper credit given?

Regards,
Craig N4CQR
 
RE: Why I am a Ham  
by N3MIR on August 9, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Many of us Build kits modify old Motorola and GE gear for repeater use restore boat anchors for 75 meter HiFi AM.As well as homemade antennas , preamps,antenna tuners ext.This is what I call hands on knowhow not only do you gain understanding of circuit design but you become a better ham doing these things

Dave
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KC8YHN on August 9, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I enjoyed the article but I am not a maker, I am a builder as a ham.

I understand the community/art sprite of the movement, I've been following it for a number of years now and go to Maker Faires when I can. I think it is great it is there for everyone to participate but I cringe when someone says 'You're a Maker'.

However to explain what I mean, being old school, a maker is someone who is a craftsman and perfected his skills to the point that he is a professional. Sorry that this goes against the popular notion of being a maker, it is how I was brought up with skill trades people around me. Even a car company making the claim seems off to me - they build cars, not make them.

I am working on a number of projects that use a number of skills, from metal work for tube amps to SMD to winding my own transformers - all of which take some skills so I am just a builder.
 
RE: Why I am a Ham  
by WB6DGN on August 9, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"You just need to be a ham, that's all. All hams put together things, and most hams like to same money and customize something ham related by doing it themselves."

Don't know too many hams that have tools and facilities like those mentioned by the OP for electronics, much less for all the OTHER disciplines mentioned.
I'm not aware of anything like that here in Northeast Ohio but I will be looking harder. It doesn't surprise me that Northern California would be a leader in the trend but, given time, I hope it spreads to other areas as well, or, at least, becomes better known.
I share interests in many of the areas mentioned and I would think I died and went to heaven to have access (and TRAINING) in so many areas.
Tom
 
RE: Why I am a Ham  
by WB6DGN on August 9, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"May I post your article on our local Community web site with proper credit given?"

Me too?
Tom
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KD6MDV on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Where in Sacramento is this group located? I am local and would be interested in working with prospective Amateurs.

de

Tim, KD6MDV
Custosodis Signum
 
RE: Why am a Maker and Ham  
by N4UM on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
AI2IA - "If some find this article encouraging, well and good. Frankly phrases like "ham culture," "maker culture," etc. turn me off. It's too much like undergrad talk, educator talk, starry eyed young journalist talk."

What about "ham talk?" I thought it was an excellent article and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was convinced that no one would have anything negative to say about it - but I was wrong.
 
Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by AI2IA on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Yes, you were wrong. My criticism of the article was more about the choice of words than the content. Any balanced person can see that by reading my original comments.

I make the point that to be a ham in the fullest sense is simultaneously to be a person who puts together ham related things. I maintain correctly that there is no need to append new jargon to what we have been doing since the earliest days, and I have every right to say so. I also maintain that if the word choices in the article encourage some to build, then all well and good. Only a would be despot would insist that everyone approve the article in its entirety.

My approval is conditional and I have made it very clear as to why. Now it's your turn to accept it politely, like a real ham should.

Vy 73,
de Ray, ai2ia
 
RE: Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by K9MHZ on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
This is getting esoteric to the point of being ridiculous.

If you want to "build", "make", "homebrew", whatever....who really gives a hoot what call it? Are people really so shallow and narcissistic that only that perfect title will do?

Just have fun, people. Good grief.
 
RE: Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by N4UM on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
AI2IA

So you've told us that you don't like KK6MDB's choice of words and that I'm unbalanced in addition to being a would be despot. If I'm a would be despot then you are a master of the irrelevant ad homonym. You prattle on about what a ham "in the fullest sense" is and you maintain you have every right to say whatever you want. No one has questioned your right to say whatever you want. Sometimes all that does is reveal a lack of judgment. . You tell us "that to be a ham in the fullest sense is simultaneously to be a person who puts together ham related things." Well, so long as we're arguing about style, what does that statement mean? What is "the fullest sense?" Simultaneously with what? What are ham-related things?

Clearly, jargon is a sore spot with you so I suspect you never use terms like "QTH" or "rig" or "work someone" while you're going about being a "ham in the fullest sense." Perhaps you should "get over it" and just "deal with it." Just "suck it up" in "the fullest sense." Face it, you may "have issues."

N4UM
 
RE: Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by WB6DGN on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
N4UM,
+1
Tom
 
Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by AI2IA on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Tim, N4UM, you will never be aware of it, but as I customarily do to types like you, I have just turned the big knob on you.

Have fun all wrapped up in yourself.

Bye, bye!

Ray, ai2ia
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KD6MDV on August 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Well is thread went to the dogs in a hurry....
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by N7KFD on August 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
So getting back on subject -

Russell, I really liked your article. I personally just finished building a hand held dual band satellite antenna and am in the process of building a tri-band yagi for 6, 2 and 70 CM, all from recycled TV antennas. I put together several kits over the years and enjoyed every one of them, I encourage people to build kits or their own equipment just to get that indescribable sense of accomplishment of using something you built yourself.

If there is anything like you described in my area I'm not aware of it, I'll have to look into it though. I think that would be a great place to spread the word about ham radio and maybe get some people licensed if they were interested. Thanks for taking the time to write this article and spreading the word about maker communities.

Keep you soldering iron tip clean and hot.

Jim
N7KFD
 
RE: Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by N4UM on August 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
AI2IA - "Tim, N4UM, you will never be aware of it, but as I customarily do to types like you, I have just turned the big knob on you.

Have fun all wrapped up in yourself.

Bye, bye!

Ray, ai2ia"
=============================
Ray:

"Big knob" sounds like jargon to me. You seem a little tightly wrapped... but then again, I suppose you'll never see this. Have fun with your big knob.

Tim, the despot


WE NOW RETURN YOU TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING
 
RE: Why am a Ham and need no further title.  
by K3RKU on August 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article. I never heard of the Maker facilities and drool at the equipment there. From many of the comments here we must are be all old time hams used to making some or all of our equipment. New hams I meet in our club couldn't even make a dipole antenna. They have no idea of the length or parts required. They know how to talk on an HT but don't understand repeater split or simplex. What questions are on the exams now?
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by DL8OV on August 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
The Maker movement is alive and well in Europe. At Friedrichshafen they ran a 'Maker Faire' at the same time as the ham radio event and one ticket got you into both events.

As for the local movement we have a maker workshop here in Darmstadt but they are not open all that often. They were however quite happy to 3D-Print 32 replacement control knobs for my shack graphic equalizer in return for an equipment donation.

Peter DL8OV
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by JOHNZ on August 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
@K3RKU

In a way, you answered your own question. Hams that can't make a dipole, can't explain repeater off sets, and use CB style jargon are incompetent, despite having passed a so called "exam."

Simple memory questions and exam fraud are continuing to turn these incompetents out in large numbers, made possible by the self-serving ARRL Yankees. 10-4?
 
RE: Why am a Maker and Ham  
by WB6DGN on August 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"Well is thread went to the dogs in a hurry...."

Only if you let it. OR...you can continue to add to the conversation as you have previously.
Tom
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KD2FAR on August 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I like the part of the maker movement that encourages people to do things for themselves and enables that by providing tools which might otherwise be unavailable. What I dislike about the maker phenomenon is the mindset that necessitates it.

For example, building a transceiver one might reach a stage where one needs an oscilloscope for testing or alignment. A maker might respond to that situation by paying a fee to some particular collective and thereby gain access to the required oscilloscope. Someone else might simply jump on their local repeater or attend a club meeting and ask if there is anyone out there who wouldn't mind a visit from a new ham who needs an oscilloscope (and a hand) finishing a build.

It's different sort of personal interaction depending on the course one takes and although some may prefer the business like transaction provided by the maker community it seems to me fundamentally at odds with the personal touch and long tradition of one on one instruction enjoyed by Hams. After all one can't exactly have a maker-space full of equipment for an Elmer.
 
RE: Why am a Maker and Ham  
by WB6DGN on August 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"Someone else might simply jump on their local repeater or attend a club meeting and ask if there is anyone out there who wouldn't mind a visit from a new ham who needs an oscilloscope (and a hand) finishing a build."

I have a pretty complete and well equipped electronics shop but, speaking for myself, I would be very reluctant to allow another person to use my equipment; even someone who claims to work in the field. Modern electronic test equipment can be damaged to the tune of four figures in the blink of an eye, even with an experienced person "supervising". From previous employment, I know this first hand. A beginner can move so quickly and catch one off guard and the damage is done.
Adding to that, the liability issues, even if the injury is caused by the visitor's own equipment and, what should be a pleasurable experience, turns into an hour or two of tension for the "teacher".
My opinion is that the fees charged by such facilities are a bargain when compared to the alternatives.
In years past, when our world was not so litigious and labor was not so costly, I had no problem letting my experienced ham friends use my brand new Cushman CE-3 and all the other stuff that went with it. Sadly, though, times have changed and, today, one needs to insulate oneself from losses any and every way they can.
Tom
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by KC2QYM on August 14, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Is this another one of those "We are a separate sub culture within another sub culture with superior capabilities" articles? To all you home electronics hobbyists with great technical skills that love to create, make, build then that's fantastic. To all of you who just want to get out there and blab away and just need the basics to operate your stations then that too is fantastic. Elitists always need an excuse to differentiate themselves from the rest of the masses. Therefore the talk of the 'Maker Culture' as if it is some superior breed of supermen destined to rule over the untermensch drones. You want to make..make, you wnat to build..build, you want to talk and not waste your time making or building...Buy.
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by N4AAB on August 17, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I have 4 arduinos and Raspberry Pis. I plan on using them for both sci-fi costumes and in my ham shack.
 
RE: Why I am a Ham  
by KK6MDB on August 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Anyone can repost this, credit or not...

The Sacramento Maker Space website is:

http://hackerlab.org/

A google for "maker space $YOURCITY" should work for other communities.

Sacramento is about a half million in size, so medium sized areas may have a similar organization.

For what it is worth, what prompted me to write this was seeing there was a misunderstanding of the Maker culture in an article by AA0PO.

This article was written to bridge the gap: HAMs, hackers, and makers are all basically doing the same thing.
 
Why I am a Maker and Ham  
by N4AAB on August 20, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I see myself as both a ham and a maker. I am using arduinos for both sf costume and radio ideas. I bought a Raspberry Pi and a Beagle Bone Black to see what I can do with those.
 
RE: Why I am a Maker and Ham  
by K4KYV on August 25, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I have "made" just about all my own transmitters from scratch since I first got on the air back in 1959. But I prefer to use authentic ham radio jargon and call myself a "homebrewer".

I am not a HAM either... I'm a ham.
 
RE: Why I am a Ham  
by KD6MDV on August 29, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Russell,

I have been in contact with the Sacramento Makers Space and we are in negotiations for doing a Technician class this fall/winter. They were very excited to be contacted by an Amateur Radio Operator about doing a class. They have a metal fabrication area and an electronics lab. Thanks for the article, hopefully this will be a beneficial collaboration.

de Tim, KD6MDV
 
Why am a Maker and Ham  
by W3LDR on August 29, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
$40 a month thats a greta deal. I was a little confused when you mentioned wielding. I assume you ment Welding. As a professional welder I never heard of TIG wielding but have done plenty of TIG Welding ;)

W3LDR
 
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