A little like Christopher Columbus no doubt felt on stumbling across America, I had the thrill of discovering something new the other day.
Amateur radio. Now at this point many of you may be scoffing at my ignorance, because, apparently, more than two million folk worldwide do this as a hobby. But I had never heard of it before.
Unlike Columbus, I made my discovery not by ship but on foot.
Taking advantage of a fine Bank Holiday Monday evening, I went for a stroll and, at Fairhaven Lake, came across a small group of parked cars, each with a long aerial attached to the roof.
Never one to walk past when it looks like something interesting is going on – or, put another way, I’m incredibly nosey – I stopped to ask what was going on.
“Amateur radio mate,” said a pleasant-looking fella with long hair and a baseball cap.
He told me there are societies and clubs all over the world, including two on the Fylde coast, in St Annes and Thornton and Cleveleys.
Essentially, these folk have equipment which enables them to use a designated radio frequency to talk to people all over the world.
Much like some of us play five-a-side footie or go to Zumba, it’s a hobby – something to do of an evening.
“I was having a chat with a fella in New Zealand the other day,” baseball cap fella told me.
I wondered out loud why, in this age of mobile phones, all this was necessary? How do you get your kicks out of it?
The chap looked at me witheringly before explaining the buzz of making contact with a fellow amateur radio enthusiast.
He showed me the gear in his car, pressed a button, and after several moments of crackling and static, a man’s voice sounded.
“He’s from Norfolk,” said my baseball capped guide, peering at a digital display with some odd numbers on it. “I had a chat with him the other night.”
My first instinct was to think of these people as a little strange but, on reflection, I find myself completely understanding the appeal.
It’s nothing like a phone call. With that, you know who you are calling. Hooking up to a radio frequency and talking to a random person 6,000 miles away... how exciting is that?
On the internet I came across the Radio Society of Great Britain website.
It was most exciting, containing lots of mysterious sentences like “airborne transmissions are legal from compliant equipment operating on the 5.8GHz band with a maximum power of 25mW EIRP. The best technique is to use a medium gain receiving aerial (10dBd or more) and a sensitive receiver.”
There are also occasions when it’s more than a hobby. In times of disaster, when regular communication channels fail, it can be a lifesaver. During the 9/11 tragedy, for instance, the amateur radio community helped New York City agencies keep in touch after their command centre was destroyed.
I’m not going to rush out and join a society, but it is nice to know there is a secret little group of folk using old-fashioned techniques to have conversations across the oceans with complete strangers.
Over and out.
No G-whizz for the G-Watch...
According to the experts, we’ll be walking down the street soon with a big square digital thing strapped around our wrists.
Called the G-Watch, it will be available later this summer for a mere snip – £180.
It is a wristwatch capable of flashing up “anything from traffic updates or the weather forecast” and may one day replace mobile phones.
The people behind this expect to us to be excited, but I feel nothing but sadness.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting old and increasingly miserable. Actually, it’s definitely because I’m getting old and increasingly miserable.
But is all of this really necessary? And at what price to human interaction and making us better people?
There are gadgets for every single thing these days. Sat navs in cars so none of us get lost. iPlayers and Catch Up to ensure we never miss a single TV programme. Social network sites like Facebook mean we no longer have to see our friends.
All incredibly impressive from a technological point of view, but it is sapping the fun and improvisation out of life.
Neither, I fear, is it making us better human beings. Because everything is done for us at the touch of a button, we are getting lazier and more reliant on our computers and phones.
We’ve got things easier than ever these days, but whether that’s ultimately a good thing for mankind remains to be seen.