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Ham Radio’s Paper Trail

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Ham, or amateur, radio may quietly circumnavigate the ether but it has tangible components as well. There are the radios themselves. There are also QSL cards, which are sort of like business cards for individual ham operators — or more to the point, for their call signs. 

This is a QSL card from Italy
Pen Pal: Where better to begin than with a card from the home country of radio innovator Guglielmo Marconi?

A trove of more than 150 such QSL cards, formerly owned by an operator who went by the call sign W2RP, was obtained by designer Roger Bova. Bova then collaborated with the book imprint Standards Manual (full disclosure: I’ve done some work with the publisher’s parent company, the design firm Order) to collect them into a handsome volume. I’m reprinting some of the images here, with the publisher’s permission.

This is a Byelorussian QSL card, reproduced in the book.
Red Hot: A Byelorussian card reproduced in the book

W2RP, as it turns out, was no ordinary “amateur.” W2RP was the late Charles Hellman, who lived to the age of 106. The cards obtained by Bova are both a visual map and a physical manifestation of the numerous conversations he participated in over what is said to have likely been the longest continuously active ham license, more than 90 years. Hellman first obtained his license at the age of 15. Some historical context: he was born in 1910, one year after the Nobel Prize in Physics went to Guglielmo Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun for their pioneering work in radio. Hellman himself taught physics in Manhattan and the Bronx, and two of his students reportedly went on to win the Nobel in physics. (More on his remarkable life at qcwa.org.)

This shows a page from the book with a Ukrainian card, each bit of information highlighted to explain how the cards contain and express data.
Between the Lines: The book details how to interpret the standard information on QSL cards.

The letters QSL, as they relate to ham radio, don’t stand for anything, not in the sense that an acronym might. As I understand it, QSL is one of many three-letter Q-codes, all beginning with Q, used in radio to transmit information in a succinct fashion. “QAK” means “Is there any risk of collision?” while “QAU” means “Where may I jettison fuel?” Many involve urgent matters. “QSE” means “What is the estimated drift of the survival craft?” and “QTW” translates, ominously, as “What is the condition of survivors?” Others, given how old this form of communication is, are less currently useful. “QTC,” for example, means “How many telegrams have you to send?” 

A card from Poland in the book.

The more I read about Q-codes, the more I wondered about two things: 

First, why don’t people who make websites make cards for them?

Second, why haven’t any of these codes caught 🔥 in social media. I, for one, am going to try to make “QRI” (“How is the tone of my transmission?”) and “QRL” (“Are you busy?”) happen. I look forward to Bandcamp musicians adopting “QOI” (“Shall I send my tape?”). “QRH” and “QRN” are less likely to catch on; they mean, respectively, “What is your wavelength in meters?” and “Are the atmospherics strong?” (And to be clear, the codes aren’t just questions. They can also connote a response, depending on how they’re employed.)

A German card — with a little raccoon — from the book

As for QSL, the Q-code in question: it stands for “Can you acknowledge receipt?” A QSL is, it’s important to appreciate, more than a business card. You send it by mail to the person with whom you’ve communicated. It’s like a personalized receipt for a conversation. This time-honored convention explains the personal notes and markings on the many cards in Hellman’s collection. 

A card from, I believe, France

Now, I’m sure I’ve muddled some of the information I’ve shared here, so if you’re a ham operator, don’t hesitate to school me; I’m here to learn. And if you have some cool QSL cards yourself, please send me some pictures, and (with your permission) I’ll post them in a future edition of This Week in Sound. 

A card from England

More on the book, QSL? (Do You Confirm Receipt of My Transmission?), at standardsmanual.com. (And it’s worth mentioning that a search for “qsl card” on eBay yields nearly 100,000 returns.)

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5 days ago
Toronto, ON
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Cleaning up my RSS feeds via the OPML file

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RSS is not dead, never has been, but in recognition of renewed interest, I decided to have a go at cleaning up my feeds. Not getting rid of them, because there is absolutely no cost to keeping a feed hanging around just in case it miraculously springs back to life. But tidying up.

Newsblur is my reader of choice, and has been since forever. 1 It can sort feeds into folders I define, which is a facility I have made some use of in the past, but badly. That is to say, I created entirely new folders that duplicated the feeds from the unsorted All Feeds, and that is now a problem, because although Newsblur does a great job of importing and exporting the OPML files that describe the feeds I am subscribed to, it does not, as far as I can see, have any useful way to remove duplicates.

My approach has been to go through All Feeds each day, moving unread feeds into a folder that I think fits. Then I read them in their folders. That leaves some feeds unread in All Feeds. Repeat while unread in All Feeds. That works well, the number of uncategorised in All Feeds dropping from 12 to 4, to 4, to 3. Any day now I expect there to be 0, and when that day comes I will get to work on the OPML file.

My plan there will be to remove the duplicates from All Feeds and remove any remaining feeds to a new folder called something like Dormant. Then I’ll nuke all subscriptions in Newsblur and import the cleaned up OPML file. The result, I hope, will be a bunch of folders that I can employ to make keeping up with feeds more efficient.

At last, the problem: do I deduplicate the OPML file by hand in a text editor? 2 Or do I attempt to do it programatically, probably taking far longer and knowing that I am unlikely ever to perform such a cleanup again? I mean, there are only 636 of them.

  1. I do wish it would become more like a social reader. It kinda sorta is, allowing me to share posts I save, within Newsblur, and subscribe to other people's shared posts, but it would be great if it allowed direct interactions with the originating sites.  

  2. There does not seem to be a good online tool to do this with, say, a drag and drop interface. I looked at the exported OPML file in a trial version of Bike and while the title of the feed showed up, I couldn’t see any of the feed details. I need to buy the full version anyway, so should find out soon whether Bike can do the needful. 

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7 days ago
Every day? I do something like this every couple of months, going through broken feeds and seeing if there's a new URL for it, and looking at the "Organize Sites" panel for sites that haven't updated in a while, and deciding what to do about them.

Also, I like the "Today" view in NetNewsWire, that's been a way for me to somewhat keep up without having to go through folders. It's also a quick way to see what feeds are too frequent (I want to make a "best of" for those feeds, which just randomly selects a few per day).
Toronto, ON
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How to Subscribe to a Twitter List in NetNewsWire

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Though the UI doesn’t expose it (we should fix that, yes), you can subscribe to a Twitter list in NetNewsWire.

(Note: this works with iCloud and “On My…” accounts.)

First make sure you’ve added your Twitter account to NetNewsWire in Settings > Extensions.

Then go, in your browser, to the Twitter list you want to add as a feed. Copy the URL. Then, in NetNewsWire, add it as a web feed (not as a Twitter feed). That’s it.

(Note: you can subscribe to other types of Twitter feeds too.)

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21 days ago
Toronto, ON
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Beating Yourself Up

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A common mistake for personal growth newbies is to wrap one’s self-esteem into short-term results. This often leads to self-blame and excess worry when results are below expectations.

If we use the lenses of truth, love, and power (our fundamental growth principles), we can see why beating yourself up for mistakes and failure is an ineffective approach that doesn’t actually help you grow.

The Truth Lens

When viewed through the truth lens, we can readily see why beating ourselves up for mistakes will only make things worse. Since all input serves as a form of programming for our brains, it’s predictable that negative self-talk, especially when it becomes habitual, will serve to lower our future performance. We’re essentially programming ourselves to perform poorly when we use negative self-talk. We behave like a computer that installs a virus to slow itself down.

When you make mistakes, blaming yourself as an individual isn’t a very useful way to address problems. Problems could have been caused by circumstances outside of your control. Even if you made a mistake due to ignorance or poor performance, it’s more intelligent to view such a mistake as a software problem. Something in your thinking or behavior caused the problem, and therefore your best bet is to work on improving your thoughts and behaviors (i.e. your mental software), so you can avoid similar problems in the future.

As a human being with a human brain, you’re a learning machine. There isn’t much value in a learning machine that programs itself to lower its own performance. Trying to avoid mistakes would indeed prevent some mistakes, but mistakes are essential to the learning process. A learning machine that cuts off its ability to make mistakes would eventually become a static machine that’s incapable of further growth.

To continue learning and growing, it’s important to accept that mistakes are going to happen and that this is how you learn. You may have been taught or conditioned to believe from a young age that mistakes are bad and must always be avoided… or that if you make mistakes, it means you’re a lesser human being somehow. As you become more conscious and self-aware, however, you’ll recognize that these were foolish lessons that are out of alignment with reality, and you can consciously choose to discard such unhelpful beliefs. These beliefs are throwbacks to outdated thinking. Today we live in a knowledge-rich age where continuous learning and growth are more important than avoiding mistakes.

The Love Lens

Consider the consequences to your overall happiness if you fall into the habit of beating yourself up for mistakes. Does it make you any happier to wrap negative results into your self-image? What does thinking of yourself as a failure do for your emotional life? More often than not, such thinking will invite negative emotions like fear, worry, and stress.

If you wrap failures into your self-esteem, then you didn’t just fail. You’ve become the failure. You are the mistake. And this means you can no longer trust yourself to make intelligent decisions going forward. You have to expect further failure and therefore further negative impact to your self-esteem. This is a stressful proposition, and it’s going to encourage you to hold back from stretching yourself. You’re probably not going to risk further damage to your self-esteem. The more you try, the more you risk failure, and therefore the more you invite further degradation of your self-image. This will most likely lead you to tighten up when it comes to taking otherwise worthwhile risks. Your rate of learning and growth will slow down, and you’ll plateau.

The lens of love reveals that people grow fastest when their lives are aligned with their desires. Do you want to plateau and live a largely static life for your remaining decades? Is this prospect in alignment with how you’d ideally like to experience this existence? Do you want to play it safe and basically remain stuck till you die?

Also consider the impact on your relationships with other people. If you get into the habit of allowing failure to downgrade your self-esteem, then it will be much harder to take social risks. Socializing is rife with failures big and small. Sometimes you’ll be rejected. Sometimes you’ll behave in a socially awkward manner, and people will notice. Such failure experiences help you to socially calibrate your behaviors, but if you can’t handle failure, then you’ll prevent yourself from achieving social savvy. You’ll remain stuck in that socially awkward phase, and that’s likely to lead to some degree of loneliness and a feeling of disconnection from others. If you aren’t so resistant to mistakes and failure, you can skill-build faster in this area, and you can enjoy the fruits of a rich and abundant social life.

Furthermore, growth-oriented people tend to cluster together, so they can encourage each other and grow faster. In such social networks, people don’t often make room for those who beat themselves up. It’s similar to nonsmokers avoiding smokers, largely because the former can’t stand the smell of the latter. Likewise those who are drop into the downward spiral of low self-esteem will tend to attract social connections that resonate with such patterns, such as abusers and other negative minded folks. Your social network will eventually reflect your neural network.

Like it or not, the social and emotional consequences of beating yourself up for failure can be severe. And overcoming such behavior can feel like digging yourself out of a pit when you’ve attracted a social situation that reinforces your current plateau or downward spiral.

The Power Lens

Beating yourself up for mistakes is disempowering as well. Imagine if Siri behaved this way. What if each time you asked her for help and she made a mistake, she beat herself up, and over time she began updating her programming to try to avoid making more mistakes? Eventually Siri would start to sound like the character Sadness from the Pixar movie Inside Out.

Hey Siri… what’s a good movie to see?

Geez, I dunno. You didn’t like the last one I suggested.

Do you know that Siri will sometimes defend her self-esteem if you try to harshly criticize her?

Hey Siri… you suck!

I’m doing my best, Steve.

Do you forgive yourself so easily? Do you accept that mistakes are okay since they’re a natural part of the learning process?

Isn’t it more empowering to believe that you’re always doing your best? You can continue to learn, grow, and improve, but for right now, why not just accept that you’re doing the best you can? If you could have done better, you would have.

There’s no point in beating yourself up for mistakes. There is, however, much to be gained by extracting lessons from your mistakes and applying those lessons to improve your future thinking and behaviors.

Consider life’s challenges as a form of strength training. You wouldn’t bemoan the weights for being heavy. Heavy weights help you get stronger. They’re supposed to be challenging; otherwise you wouldn’t grow as much.

Growth vs. Self-Blame

Since self-blame is out of alignment with truth, love, and power, the practice will only slow you down. At best you’ll plateau, and at worst you’ll succumb to a downward spiral. To avoid such a pit of despair – or to dig yourself out of one – the solution is to regard yourself as programmable and to realize that your programming can be changed. Stop identifying yourself with the software that’s been programmed into your head. Recognize that just like Siri, you’re capable of learning and growing. You can upgrade your software.

Given the state of your current software, you’re already doing the best you can, and you can’t expect to do any better. Your mental and emotional software is performing as it was programmed. If you want to see better performance, then you’ll need to upgrade your software, and for human beings, this means training yourself with new experiences. This also means inviting more mistakes and failures as part of the learning process.

Can you make some grand mistakes with no loss to your self-esteem? This is a key challenge of conscious growth.

I’ve endured some grand failure experiences in my time. I’ve gone through a bankruptcy and a divorce. I was expelled from college. I was arrested multiple times as a teenager. I was kicked out of my apartment for falling behind on rent. I can come up with plenty of reasons to beat myself up. Yet my self-esteem is still rock solid positive, and I feel terrific about my path of growth. I learned a lot from those experiences, and without them I wouldn’t have the resilient mental software I now have. I understand that if I want to learn and grow, I have to allow room for mistakes and failure experiences.

In the years ahead, I expect to make even more mistakes. I’ll learn and grow from those mistakes too. I have to maintain this attitude in order to keep improving my mental software. What sense would it make to inject a low self-esteem virus into the mix by beating myself up? How could that possibly improve my performance? It could only improve my performance in the same way that being infected by a virus could. I’d learn to overcome the virus and become stronger as a result. This is an excellent way to frame self-esteem challenges – they show up to help you build even greater resilience.

Is this type of growth mindset normal in your life? Do most of your friends think this way? Most of mine do. Otherwise why would I want them as friends? What would be the point of having friends who will make me think that I’m somehow damaged or defective just because I fail now and then? In my life people with such negative attitudes are called “not friends.” 😉

Growth-Oriented Accountability

An important part of personal growth is accountability. When you pursue challenging goals, it can be especially helpful to have people holding you accountable – people who are keeping tabs on your progress. In Conscious Growth Club, we now have monthly accountability challenges where people agree to perform certain actions for at least a month, such as a new 30-day trial. Along the way they share regular progress updates with the group, including daily entries in a Google spreadsheet.

This form of accountability works well for many people. The extra social pressure can make success more likely. But sometimes we fall short. We miss a day. We don’t get as much done as we intended to.

In such cases there’s still no point in beating ourselves up. As we saw above, that isn’t going to help. Instead we need to look for ways we can adjust our programming to improve our performance. We want to analyze our assumptions and behaviors while avoiding the unhelpful practice of self-blame. Beating ourselves up isn’t the answer.

Accountability is a powerful tool, but we must wield it carefully. We need to avoid using it to give ourselves lashings when we fall short of our intentions. I think the proper use of accountability is to add positive pressure to get ourselves into the sweet spot of challenge and to feel strongly motivated to take action. Additionally, when we make mistakes or experience failure, we can leverage the accountability group as our personal brain trust to help us diagnose problems and make adjustments, so we can increase our chances of success going forward.

Accountability isn’t meant to be an additional threat to our self-esteem. The purpose of accountability is to help us learn and grow faster and more effectively than we could without it. It’s a performance tool.

Positive Reframes That Allow Room for Mistakes

When I was learning public speaking, one of the biggest shifts that helped me overcome nervousness was to adopt the belief that the audience is always on my side. The audience doesn’t want me to fail. How would that benefit them? Of course they want me to do well. I’m there to support the audience, and they’re there to support me. We all want the best for each other. If I make a mistake, it’s okay. People make mistakes, and sometimes mistakes are interesting to watch – even entertaining. As long as I recognize that we’re all on the same side, I’m free to relax and do my best.

Another reframe that helped tremendously was to think of myself as an explorer instead of an expert or guru. A guru sounds too perfect. An explorer is going to make mistakes because that’s part of the exploration process. What an explorer shares is always a work in progress because there’s always more exploring to do.

I also see an explorer as being capable of deeper honesty. The label of expert can be challenged, and therefore some might see a need to defend it. Can an expert still fail and make mistakes? It seems harder to create space for failure with this label. If you’re such an expert, then why did you fail? With this label there may be a tendency to cover up mistakes to protect one’s branding (or your own self-image if you start to believe the label yourself). Behind the scenes, experts are just as human as everyone else. They make a lot of mistakes. They procrastinate. They fall short again and again.

I like the explorer label because it feels more aligned with reality. Feel free to adopt it if you like it too. With this sort of label, we’re free to learn and grow, and we can screw up as much as we need to. You can fall off a cliff and still be an explorer. The label doesn’t need to be defended by the pretense of perfectionism. Even young kids can be explorers.

Going a bit deeper, I think it’s especially helpful to adopt the belief that the universe is always on your side. This is a very empowering lens for processing mistakes and failures. Why did life do this to you? Why did you have to go through tough times? It’s all just training to help you learn and grow. It’s strength training for your consciousness.

One of the most powerful reframes you can use is to apply gratitude where you might otherwise have a tendency to think poorly of yourself. Instead of beating yourself up when you fail, try saying “thank you” instead. Thank the universe for bringing you a meaningful growth challenge. Look at the weight that’s right in front of you, and feel some excitement that it’s going to help you grow stronger.

The more mistakes and failure you can handle without loss of self-esteem, the faster you can grow, and the grander and more expansive your growth experiences can be.

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The post Beating Yourself Up appeared first on Steve Pavlina - Personal Development for Smart People.

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22 days ago
Toronto, ON
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I Listened to a Lot of Music in 2022

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Some things have changed since I wrote about listening to albums in 2018, and some things have stayed the same. The two biggest changes are 1) having a much better listening experience thanks to new speakers and headphones and 2) listening to entire discographies (or, sometimes, "essentials" playlists) when a new album comes out.

One of my best purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic, spending so much time working from home, has been a pair of Sonos speakers. They're compatible with AirPlay, so I can play them with any of my Apple devices and they're a huge improvement over wired headphones and laptop speakers of my previous experiences. In April of this year, as a late present to myself after a promotion at work, I bought Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones. I did a bit of research beforehand, and went to Toronto's Bay Bloor Radio. I was one of two or three customers in the store. The WH-1000XM4 headphones were on my list of headphones to try, and the salesman gave me them to try (unprompted) and another brand. The other brand didn't fit, and the WH-1000XM4 were "on sale" for $100 off (I didn't really care), and I liked everything about them. Having good headphones has led to me listening to quite a lot more music than usual, to the point where I believe 2022 is the year I've listened to the most music. As far Last.fm knows, that's definitely true:

A chart showing how much music I listened to since 2005. 2007 was, until 2022, the year where I listened to the most music. The graph shows that I listened to almost double that last year.

Last.fm has been around for 20 years. Wow!

Another change has been to listen to an artist's entire discography when a well-received new album of theirs come out. How can I tell if an album has been well-received? It gets a favourable review in Pitchfork, that's how. That's something that has remained the same over the years. How do I listen to an artist's entire discography? One album at a time, that's how. It can be difficult to track the albums down sometimes, as Apple Music doesn't always have all of an artist's albums, though they sometimes appear on Bandcamp, and, rarely, only on Spotify. Some artists are part of a collective, such as the Wu-Tang Clan, a longtime favourite whose concert I recently attended (minus Method Man, but also plus Nas and Ol' Dirty Bastard's son). They have, collectively, a lot of albums, so I listened to all of their albums from the 1990s (including the year 2000, which belongs to the 90s) and had to take a break. I'm still on that break.

I don't wear out albums like I did in my CD-listening days. Novelty, along with catching up on classic albums (the impetus for that being Pitchfork's Sunday Review series, are my two guiding principles to listening to music. I don't imagine listening to more music in 2023 than I did in 2022, but here's to trying anyway.

Time passes, and since the year flipped over, Last.fm calculated my yearly top artists, albums and tracks:

A photo of hip-hop producer J Dilla at work, next to his album cover for Donuts, next to the album cover for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s 1999 (showing that the top track I played in 2022 was their '1st of the Month' from that album.

The top artist I listened to was J Dilla, and the top album I listened to was Donuts. No surprise there, considering that I listened to his music while reading Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm by Dan Charnas.

You’ll never guess why Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “1st of tha Month” was the top track I listened to in 2022.

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32 days ago
Toronto, ON
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Unbundling Tools for Thought

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Disparate thoughts on personal information management after traversing the hype cycle.
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37 days ago
Toronto, ON
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