Monday, October 24, 2016

A New Ham’s Take on Pacificon 2016

I’m a morning person but even 4:30 AM is early to me. But I wanted to be on the road at 6AM for the almost two hour drive from Fair Oaks, CA to San Ramon for the 2016 Pacificon hamfest. It was my first one since becoming licensed (General) nine months ago. I was stoked.

I took the advice of a ham friend and went down highway 99. I was told that going the “Google Maps” way via 80 and 680 could or would be a nightmare. That was a mistake because the fog in the Stockton-Tracey area made driving difficult around dawn. But the traffic was not bad, I made good time, and I arrived around 7:30.

So where would I park? Even at that early hour the hotel lot was packed. I think I got the very last space before they closed the lot and shifted everyone else over to a garage about a mile away… and I heard several complaints about it and the lack of close-by parking.

I didn’t plan to attend any of the sessions, I just wanted to see the exhibits, perhaps pick up on a bargain or two… especially a mag-mount antenna for 2 meters.

The registration process was painless, mainly because so many people pre-registered (and saved $5) so the line was short.

The exhibits were housed in different rooms and the hallways zigged and zagged such that lots of people (including me) were continually lost in trying to find their way around. Bottom line, this convention was just too large for this hotel. I heard a bunch of hams say that the Santa Clara venue of past years was much better… both for parking and for direction-finding.

I love shows where there are lots of exhibitors and this was a good one...but I had a couple of disappointments.

I was surprised that Kenwood did not have a booth, especially considering that they have just brought out a new $650 D-Star handheld. What’s the matter with their marketing people? You know the saying “You can’t work ‘em if you can’t hear ‘em?” Well you" can’t sell ‘em if you don’t see ‘em!”

ARRL was there but were not selling any books… only taking new memberships and giving books away to new signups. I was hoping to get a “show special” on the Extra Class license book (especially the spiral-bound.)

The major radio vendor whom I found had the most knowledgable sales people as well as the best set-up was Icom. They arranged the radios in a wall ‘rack’ so it was easy for newbies like me to push buttons and turn dials and tap touch screens (i.e. the 7100 which I am planning to buy right after I win the lottery.) The Icom booth-people, especially a young woman from Indiana, knew their product line and were happy to answer dumb questions from know-nothings like me. I was really impressed with how Icom did the show.

The most popular product at the show was the Icom 7300. They put it on its own shoulder-high podium and there were always hams gathered around it pushing the buttons and looking at the display. Everyone was raving about it. There is no doubt that Icom hit a home run with this radio (and Kenwood has its work cut out for it!)

Yaesu had their radios on a somewhat low table in bad lighting so that you had to bend over to play with them, much less to see them. But the real surprise was that they brought the same radios that they have brought to a hundred previous shows and they were all scratched and just looked like beaten-up used equipment you’d see at a swap-meet. It was a poor presentation. I noted that the Icom stuff looked out-of-the-box new.

The busiest booths were a tie between HRO and Elecraft, both of whom took about 40 feet of space. Elecraft had people two or three deep trying to see and touch their beautiful radios…. they were the ‘stars’ of the show, for sure.

HRO brought a lot of equipment and was doing a land-office business as they had some radios that they were selling at ‘show special’ prices.

One of the busiest booths was the guy making personalized name-badges and license plate holders. I would have bought a badge but didn’t want to wait on line.

There was one vendor who had a rack of Comet mobile antennas but I didn’t know the difference between them and they didn’t have enough people to handle their booth traffic so I never got a chance to ask, even after waiting for over five minutes.

There was a vendor selling linear amps. I’d never seen one before and was surprised to learn that I could buy one of these big $800 boxes and attach my little Kenwood HT to it and have a 600W station! I don’t know who would want to do that, but it was an interesting display to see.

I was surprised that none of the Chinese radio manufacturers were at the show. Powerwerx  was showing the Wouxun as well as a radio called the Tera which I’d never heard of but there seemed to be a lot of interest in it.

The Flex people took a large booth and were showing off color computer screens with charts, graphics, and other data I had no idea about but there seemed to be a lot of interest in their stuff.

I got to briefly meet Dr. Ed Fong of the j-pole antenna fame… and he was selling them like hotcakes there.

I had lunch with Gordon Fuller WB2OVH and his wife. Gordy lives about two miles from me and is one of my two unofficial Elmers. He has been licensed since the dinosaurs roamed the valley! The conversation was great… but the lunch was horrible. The hotel had catering tables outside. The $7 hamburgers which had been cooked three days prior were overpriced by $6.95. The smart hams were the guys who left the hotel and walked two or three blocks to Whole Foods and the other eateries in the shopping center near the hotel.

I saw a number of call signs I recognized and got to meet and talk with with Armand WB2ZEI (of swap-net fame.)

I wanted to learn how to solder in the kit-building area but it was always filled up… sometimes with younger people which was a good sign.

The overall age of the show was… gray! Where were the young people (you know like in their 40s!!!) I think the hobby (perhaps via ARRL) needs to do a full-court-press in getting younger people interested in the hobby or it is going to die (with dignity) when those of us in their 60s and 70s… which was easily 95% of the attendees... become silent keys.

I’ve not been in a large group of hams before and one thing I immediately noticed is that hams as a group are NOT all that much into fitness. A lot of guys need to spend a bit less time in the shack and a bit more time at the gym!

There are two things I liked about the hams I met at the show. The first is that no one is on the fence about anything radio related. Ask a ham about his favorite radio… and he or she won’t hold back. Everyone has an opinion about everything… both radio-related and political. The guys I talked to were eager to tell me about their radio, their opinions on digital transmission (from what I was told, D-Star is NOT the wave of the future… but that is hardly a scientific poll!) and a lot of the guys are supporting Trump (I didn’t see anyone there with a Hillary button or t-shirt!)

The second thing I liked about hams was their genuine congeniality. They love to answer questions no matter how stupid (I’m the king of stupid questions) and no matter how many times they have been asked. I hung around author/speaker Gordon West’s booth for about five minutes and he must have been asked twenty times “What’s the best way to study for the General” and he politely answered everyone’s question with a smile. And it was the same with guys I met at the booths who were looking at radios. I’m somewhat of an extrovert (working as a Medicare insurance agent all these years has trained me well… and I’m used to talking to strangers. Every ham I met was happy to converse. (Don’t ask any ham whether digital radio it ‘real’ radio because you will be in for a long lecture… pro or con! Ask me how I know!)

It was a good show… and a very educational experience for me, as well as a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to next year when I may stay the night and attend some of the sessions… as I’ll know more radio theory and technology by then… perhaps have my Extra. Also perhaps my first, current, and very expensive XYL (that’s one XYL, not three!) will be licensed and will go with me. (It might be the only way I’ll ever get a K3S!)

My suggestion for the club that puts on the show is to move to a larger venue. The Marriott was simply not large enough to handle the crowd… and the parking. Other than getting Kenwood to attend, I can’t think of anything else they should do differently next year.


Alan N. Canton
Fair Oaks, CA

A.N. Canton Insurance Services - Medicare Only
Fair Oaks, CA
CA Lic # 0F31110

Monday, May 23, 2016

BEA Diary 2016

By Alan Canton...  with invaluable editorial assistance from Mayapriya Long
[Note: Click on any pix to see it enlarged.]

Dear BEA Diary:

I can't believe this was the 20th BEA that I've covered. While I'm missing some of the earlier ones, the last fifteen years or so are at the end of this electronic fish-wrap. And almost all of those earlier BEAs were held in Chicago, just as this one was. However, there was a difference: Size!

But I'm ahead of myself here.

Do you know how cold it can be in Chicago for someone from sunny California? How cold is the North Pole? The answer is "warmer than Chicago was last week! And what is this rain all about? It does not rain in California in May (not that we couldn't use it!) I found myself standing in freezing drizzle waiting for my car service to show up at the airport to take me to the hotel I booked (Hilton Garden Inn.)

I guess everyone outside of California knows to bring a warm coat to Chicago! So if you don't have a warm coat, what is the next best thing? Good booze.

As usual, I come to the BEA to cover it for other media we contract with (mostly Asian and European) but to also prowl around looking for web clients for our NewMedia Create web design service. This year we are rolling out a new platform called "Less is More" which are shorter, less expensive websites for authors and publishers. These sites go up in a day or two.

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I took a quick shower, grabbed about an hour of ZZZs, threw on some clean clothes and headed off to the annual IPPY party. But wait! How would I keep from freezing to death before I could get a cab to pick me up? Well Chicago is prepared for that because on every block there is a least one official warming center... and on my block was the Rock Bottom Bar.

When you order two shots of straight whiskey in most bars the bartender looks at you like you just landed from Planet Zardo. Well I came from drinking stock, not sipping stock. How this country went from twelve year old Scotch to 'a glass of white wine' I'll never know but I think it has contributed to the continuing downgrade of our county from world leader to world wus... but that's another story.

The first shot of Maker's Mark was not really for me... it was for my old, dear friend Dan Pointer, the man who virtually invented the 'small press.' Dan passed to the other side a few months ago. We had a drink at every one of the past BEAs... all twenty that I attended.

I put the shot glass on the edge of the bar, held up the other and toasted my old drinking buddy from those BEAs long ago. I said quietly, "Say hello to Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Salinger for me in the Russian Tea Room, wherever you are!" I could see Dan sitting there next me with his infectious smile.

As the booze warmed my body I saw the level of the bourbon drop in the other glass and I knew I was with my old friend for one last time. It was our last drink together...  there would be no others.


People need closure. I wiped away the tears in my eyes, took the glass from the edge of the bar, downed what was left, and walked out into the cold to hail a cab. When you feel sad you don't much feel the cold.

Good-bye to an old and dear friend, Dan Poynter

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I've known Jerry Jenkins almost as long as Dan Poynter. He's always been a trusted friend. Jerry's company had their annual IPPY at the Willis Tower this year (aka Sears Tower.) It was good to see Jerry again and meet with some of the IPPY winners.

The author (left) and Jerry Jenkins 

The view from the Willis Tower was incredible... and even better after a little more warming tonic. At one point the fog rolled in and we were above the clouds. We could see the stars but not the buildings and streets below.

View from Willis Tower close to sunset

It was not a long party... over by around 10 PM and I was pretty tired (but not feeling much pain.) I didn't see any cabs in the area so I used the Uber app. A car came in about three minutes. It's a great service... if you have not tried it you should.

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The BEA convention hall seems like a million miles from the hotel district so they run free buses back and forth. And usually the busses are packed by the time they hit the last hotel for a pickup. My hotel was the last pickup and I expected I'd have to stand for the entire ride. But the bus was half empty (or half full if you are trying to 'spin' this!) Well, that's not how it is supposed to be. Something was amiss.

I found out when I arrived. The crowds just were not there. Where were they? I didn't know. Maybe they would come later or the next day? All I know is that I didn't have to wait in line to get my BEA badge because... there was no line!

I was still half asleep so I went to get some coffee and whom do I run into? It was my old friend Brian Jud who runs a terrific organization for publishers involved in non-bookstore (special) sales called APSS. Brian is a master bookseller and the information he provides his members is priceless. If you sell to niche markets this is the only organization you ever need to join.

Brian Jud of Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS)

In past BEA's a well-known porn publisher called Ellora's Cave would have a large booth with busty babes and  beefcake biceps, but this year they decided not to exhibit. The only other erotic publisher I came across was Cleis Press. I liked the sign; I thought it was an upcoming book but it's not. Anyway you should check out their list if you are into sex (is anyone not?)... they cover it all... straight, gay, kink, S & M... you name it they have a book on it.

Stephanie Lippitt of Cleis (no, not Cialis... but same concept!)

I didn't see a lot of religious books this year. In the old days there would be a ton of Christian publishers and even a few non-Christian belief foundations at the show. Not this year (are you starting to see a theme here?) I did see one interesting book. Buddha’s Light Publications offers quality translations of classical Buddhist texts as well as works by contemporary Buddhist teachers and scholars. They say they embrace Humanistic Buddhism, and promote Buddhist writing which is accessible, community oriented, and relevant to daily life. I'm more into Krishna Consciousness myself, but I've always found the Buddhist approach to life rather interesting.

Ven. Miao Hsi for Buddha's Light Publications, USA

There were very few small press booths this year... for good reason... most small presses can't afford BEA space rental. So instead there was a section of tables for small publishers, and it was right up front (as opposed to being in Mongolia as in past shows.) There were only a dozen or so of them and most were novels like this one from Vanessa Leigh Hoffman. I have no idea what it is about because she didn't put anything on her website about it.

I'm not sure what it is about but I liked the cover

Some authors just perplex me when their website is not in English yet they are exhibiting to an English-speaking audience at BEA. Yolanda Ledesma made great use of her booth by having a life-sized pix of herself. If anyone can figure out what her book is about let me know!

She only had a table, but it got a lot of attention. 

I don't usually spend much time with kiddie books... I find most of them the same. But this one by Wild Ivy Publishing had a good message. Caring, compassionate Billy wants to help a friend buy a backpack to stay organized for school, but how will he get the money? This book teaches children social responsibility and kindness while showing that kids can earn money by WORKING!

Ivy Pate shows one of her books.

When I think of kids these days I think of them playing mindless video games. Well not twelve year old Thomas Aaron. I don't know what Magyka is about because again here is an author without a web page. However, it looks like a Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of book. I thought the cover was terrific. Honestly, how many twelve year olds write books? It gets a mention here for that alone!

The young author of Magyka

Not only were fewer publishers represented but the crowds had also vanished. Normally aisles are, if not elbow to elbow, at least rather full with visitors looking at new books. Not this year. I don't know why but Reed (the folks who put on BEA) did get out in front of the issue and stated their Show Daily publication that the this year had 20% fewer booths than last year. I noticed that a lot of publishers and distributors bought half the space that had purchased in New York in previous years.

Were where the people? They were not here in Chicago, that's for sure!

In previous years all of this space would have been sold. 

There are lots of interesting booths at BEA, but a few are way more interesting then others. Some people put a lot of work and imagination into their little two day sales "office" and one of the best was Oblation Papers and Press of Portland Oregon. They call themselves "a 19th century print shop designing wedding invitations for the 21st century, offering fine papers, artful cards and ephemera." Their products were beautiful. I will buy from their online store.

Jennifer Rich of Oblation Papers

Every journalist who attends BEA is a sucker for someone in costume. This year I saw very few authors willing to go 'all in' and dress as their character. Mario Garnet is the author of The Wizard's Handbook and really enjoyed the roll he was playing.

Not exactly Harry Potter!

There were a few small technology booths this year, most of them selling digital book conversion services. But there was one that was very unique. They could take a book and couple it with an iPhone app to make it somewhat interactive. Unfortunately I didn't get the name of the company that did the app as I was so taken with the demo. I thought I'd find out by looking up the author and book, but no luck.

Albert The Confused Manatee is the book by Christopher Straub that is also an app.

There are always off-shore printers at BEA, but most are from China. This year one of the larger booths was from Turkey. I've never known anyone to ever have their book printed there... which is probably why Turkey came to BEA!

Nice booth... no one in it.

I was surprised that there was so many adult coloring books this year. The folks at KaiserCraft also sells a kit with terrific glitter-ized gel inks. They are from Australia and have a large assortment of craft products. These pens are really cool... try them out if you get a chance.

Tahli Smales of KaiserCraft

Again, another coloring book. These from Stuff2Color were also nice, but I was captivated by the huge sign they brought with them. You could not miss this booth!

Lacey Hornecker showing her books. If you are going to have a sign, have a BIG one!

Just as there were fewer publishers, there were fewer marketing consultants at this show. Digital Natives looks like a one-stop shop for everything related to digital media... branding, social media, apps, etc. They have done some nice work and seemed rather personable. Don't they look like the perfect, young, newlywed couple? I thought so but they are not related. I asked!

Ben Guttmann and Ellie Eckert of Digital Natives Group

Librarians have always been a part of BEA, if for no other reason then to score free stuff for their library. However, this year I saw many more of them than I've seen in NY the past few years and I'm not sure why. BEA was not a big draw for book buyers... but the library folks came out in droves!

A lot of librarians attended BEA this year

There are always a lot of kids books at BEA, but I rarely see books targeted to parents. The Whole Child program covers all aspects of child development: cognitive, social, environmental, creative, health, etc. It's a series of program-books for parents. Looks like a good idea if they can get some press and distribution on it.

Kasey Beinlich, Valeriya Kratsova, Kalya Bachman of Whole Child

There is always an impersonator at the BEA. In past years it was the Pope, Obama and the First Lady, Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc. Well this year we got The Donald.

He's everywhere!

Each year the New York Times comes to BEA with yet another new idea to boost the number of paid subscribers. I always try to help them out because I truly believe that each community needs a local paper to do investigative reporting and that the nation especially needs the NYT. This year they are going into the virtual reality (VR) biz via an app on the iPhone that is placed in a cardboard box you hold up to your eyes. It was a video of a porpoise swimming in a pool. Big deal. Had it been a girl in a bikini maybe they would have had more interest in the offering!

The NYT is going into the VR market... with a porpoise... and good luck with all that!

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. They say their mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain their efforts. They collect all of the books that publishers don't want to ship back and then sell them to raise funds. It's a great idea.

Merril Spec, Bookstore Manager of Housing Works

Each year someone brings their entire store to BEA via a bus or a truck or (one year) a covered wagon! This year we had both a bus and a truck. They got a lot of traffic. I guess that if you exhibit at a lot of shows this is a cost-effective method of doing it.

A company called Quarto.

A children's publisher called Readbrightly owned by Random House

Even the autographing area was often devoid of people. In previous years this area would be packed with book lovers (most often librarians and store owners) seeking to get free books or to have a few words with a favorite author. Where was everyone?

Do you see lots of empty space? Yes you do.

This has to be the year of the adult coloring book! The concept is that coloring will help you relieve stress. Maybe it is true, but for me it increases stress because I become unglued when my pencil strays beyond the lines. We were taught to keep within the lines!  I swear it seemed as if every other booth at this year's BEA was a coloring book? Who has the time for this? Not me, that's for sure. No doubt this is yet another 'flash-in-the-pan' that hits the book biz every so often. Anyway, I loved Blue Star's booth.

You just have to love the backdrop here.

The large publishers usually have large posters if they have their booth along a main aisle. I really liked this graphic and I was not the only one as a lot of people were taking pictures of it. What was strange is that in the booth I could not find a copy of the book! Chronicle is a very good West coast publisher.

I love cats. So sue me!

Sometimes a cover and title just go so well together... but you don't often find it from a first-time author/publisher. "Two small-town Alabama boys, Aleks and Adam, grow up in the midst of Civil War reenactments at the Fort, but when they discover a time window in the backyard of The Griggs House, their real-life 1860s adventure begins." YA's (young adults) love historical fiction and this will be a winner.

Author Sheila Slavich. Great cover, great title

This was the most interesting book I found at the BEA this year. Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. Atlas Obscura revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden, and the mysterious. Every page expands a sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. And with its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, maps for every region of the world, it is a book you can open anywhere. But with caution: It’s almost impossible not to turn to the next entry, and the next, and the next. This is a great book from a great publisher

Liz DeBell showing off what I thought was the most interesting book at the show.

According to their web-blurb "BookBub is a free service that helps millions of readers discover great deals on acclaimed ebooks while providing publishers and authors with a way to drive sales and find new fans. Members receive a personalized daily email alerting them to the best free and deeply discounted titles matching their interests as selected by our editorial team. BookBub works with all major ebook retailers and devices, and is the industry’s leading ebook price promotion service." I'd never heard of this but I'm going to check it out.

Briana Duff and Caitlin Ellis of BookBub

So-called 'sidelines' (non-book stuff sold in bookstores) used to be a big thing at BEA... there would be aisle upon aisle of them. But with the demise of retail outlets the vendors have moved over to the gift shows. I was happy to meet the people from Green Toys which are 100% made-in-the-USA out of recycled materials.

Amy Shoemaker of Green Toys

A high-end Chinese printing company named Artron was showing this HUGE and amazing picture book. It was not for sale. If it was you would need a crane to lift it! It was terrific and I enjoyed looking at it. I tried to get more info but the reps had limited command of English and could not figure out why I was taking a pix of the book!

The reps from Artron Printing

You always see great graphics at BEA but I thought The Good Dog was 'best in show' for artwork. An 8-year-old boy named Ricky finds a puppy on the side of the road and decides to adopt him without his parents’ permission. Mom and dad agree to let the puppy, Tako, stay under one condition: he must be a good dog and always follow the rules. Tako wants to stay with the family more than anything; but when a competing businessman sets out to secretly sabotage the family’s bakery, the only way Tako can protect them is to break the rules. Ultimately, Tako and Ricky’s family discover sometimes you have to be a little bit bad to be very good. It's a good story with super graphics.

Jessica Salans of Coralstone Press

I've never figured it out. Every year there are tons of remainder companies who take booth space at BEA and every year their section of the hall is devoid of visitors. It is no secret that used bookstores are doing well... they can buy a book for a quarter and sell it for $2.00... a pretty good markup. So where are all the used bookstore buyers?

Always at BEA... never a crowd

The London Review of Books had a small booth at the show but it had one of the best crowd-draws in the building. It was an old typewriter that had been modified to capture sign-ups on an iPad for their newsletter. Everyone wanted to try it out and if you did you also got a well-made tote bag. It was a hit.

The best sign-up gimmick I've seen in a long time!

As I was getting ready to leave the show I tried to come up with a song-title that summed up this BEA. Then I turned a corner and I saw the Beatles and it came to me...  the movies A Hard Days Night and Help!

Or maybe "The Long and Winding Road?"
I thought it was a good show. There was a good mix of publishers, even if some of the majors decided not to come (like Houghton Mifflin.) But the show really needed some help... perhaps a big-name author or some other personality. Thus, for the vendors that I spoke with it was a "hard day's night."

Reed did one major thing right this year. They made it slam-dunk easy to get a press credential. In the past years they made journalists like me and Mayapriya Long jump through a ton of hoops to be approved.. we had to show tear-sheets of published material that was specifically about the show. You had to be re-vetted each year! It was a PITA and each year some of my media friends basically said "screw it," did not want to deal with Reeds process, dropped out and didn't come.

This year, Reed took the position that anyone who was vetted last year would receive a press credential by just asking for it. Wow. What a difference. I saw a lot more writers covering the show than in the past, so I'm guessing that they have liberalized the credential process for first-time writers. Of course, as I've said many times over the years in this electronic fish-wrap the BEA has become more of a media show than a selling show so it makes sense for Reed to encourage media attendees... and that has not been the practice in the past.

I think Reed worked their buns off to put on a good show and I was sorry to see the attendance so low. Judging by how the aisles were not packed and how there were no lunch lines, my bet is that there were no more than 10,000 attendees. One bright spot for Reed is that they said there were a lot of first-time attendees mostly from the midwest who would not spend the money on the NY show.

Reed Exhibitions is the prima donna of impresarios. I don't think anyone on the planet can plan, organize, staff, and bring off a large trade show better than Reed. I go to a number of them and Reed outdoes them all.

The move from New York to Chicago was a gamble. Reed took the bet that publishers would find Chicago less expensive and would be eager to meet book-buyers who would not travel to costly NYC. Well, they lost that bet because in the first place Chicago is not less expensive and in the second place for New York publishers it was a major hassle. As mentioned there were many first-timers at the show, but I don't know if they were buyers. Anyway...

The best way to judge if a show is successful is to see how much space is bought next year. I hope that with the extra "sales' day of BookCon (which we didn't cover this year because we did not have a media outlet that would pay us to) maybe BEA can return to its former glory. I've always thought that if the show were held in a less expensive convention town like Orlando or Vegas or Atlanta or Dallas, where Reed could charge less per square foot for hall floor space and where lodging was more reasonable perhaps the show would attract more exhibitors and attendees. 

Thanks for reading this... a lot of work went into it and I hope your time was well spent. Below are Diaries of previous shows, should you be interested.

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You MAY (and are encouraged to) share the link to this piece or reprint any part of it without prior permission so long as you use the following attribution:

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner
New Media Create
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA

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Per usual, if you have comments or corrections, please send them to bea-diary at adams-blake dot com

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A 50th High School Reunion: No One Took My Picture

Every generation must go through an awakening and I suppose ours is no different.

You wake up and realize that we have more good days behind us than ahead of us and it becomes most apparent when you attend your 50th high school reunion. The good and the bad memories flow back to you and if you are lucky you can't tell the difference... they will all seem good.

Most of us are not that lucky.

Earlier in the day of the reunion I visited the high school as they opened it for the alumni. Same walls, same floors, same smell, and for the most part even the same colors. If you are looking for ghosts, this is where you will find a few.

One of my activities in school was the theatre club, called Junior Players. When I walked on to the stage in the auditorium I felt the same excitement the first time we had a production... Tall Story... I was just a stage hand with another guy and we were in charge of door-backings.

Being backstage, doing something rather unimportant, out of sight, part of the background...well, it pretty much summed up my high school experience! My only regret is that I didn't know then what I know now... a common regret I'm sure.

I went upstairs to the classroom I had 11th grade algebra in, taught by Mrs. Jablonski, a witch of a woman who hated me. I sat at the desk I was sitting at when around 2 PM the announcement came on the PA system that JFK had been killed. It all came back. Some things you never forget and some feelings never go away. We all aged into adults that day, at that hour.

I don't know what others felt when visiting the old school, but for me it was a re-living of the trials, tribulations, and pains of growing up. But I'm glad I went. If you have the choice, make the visit. It's a learning experience... pain and pleasure.

I looked into the room where the yearbook group worked. One fact that came back to me after all these years is that beyond the obligatory senior headshot, no one ever took my picture for the yearbook.

The town of Great Neck, NY had changed a lot in the past fifty years since I left... but that was to be expected. I saw faces that looked familiar, but with names I didn't remember, walking around the village streets looking for a store, any store, that remained from our salad days.

There was only one that I found... a place that made broiled chicken for take-out. Who would have thought that the memorial to my generation would be a chicken take-out place... not a record store, not a teen pizza hangout, not an Archie comic 'malt shop'... but chicken. One thing is for sure. I know there are no pictures of me in the chicken place.

In an earlier missive I wrote about Janice, the girl I took to the senior prom. I drove over to her house and parked in front as I had so many years ago... I remembered the prom, the beach, and thought a bit about the road not taken. I wonder if she will go to her 50th reunion a few years from now and think about me. I kind of doubt it. She never took my picture.

The hotel where the reunion was being held was on a site that used to be a lumber yard, now long gone. My room was in the back, about thirty feet from the venerable Long Island Railroad tracks. Every half-hour two trains, one from New York City and the other from Port Washington on the way to the city rolled past.

We all took the train about a million times when growing up. It never dawned on me or any of us that the sound of the cars clacking down the track would bring back so many memories... the first time our parents let us go to the city... the times we took dates to a Broadway show... and the trips we made to our summer jobs in the city when we came home from college. There was also the train ride to the 1964 World's Fair... which we all went to a thousand and one times with our Super-8 movie cameras or a Polaroid. No one ever took my picture at the fair that I can recall.

What do you wear to your 50th reunion? Do you dress as the hipster you never were (and still aren't?) Maybe a suit with a vest... the Brooks Brothers "my-son-the-lawyer" uniform our parents all hoped for us... or perhaps the California designer-jeans and t-shirt (maybe tie-dyed) that we sort of invented?

The women had it easy. They were going to show their old bling and their new boobs in a dress that says "I bet you can't afford this" or perhaps "I bet you wish you had the work done so you could fit this."  

Men? Decisions, decisions. I put on a pair of gray slacks, a blue blazer, and a fashionable tie. I hadn't worn a tie since my father's funeral ten years earlier. Literary guys wear ties, at least most do and I thought someone might take my picture.

I stood in front of the full-length mirror assessing just how much age had changed my looks... and I was pleased. All in all, I looked pretty good... slim, fit... younger looking than the sixty-seven winters I've weathered. 

Do you remember the ads in the teen magazines and comic books where the muscled-up guy on the beach is kicking sand in the face of the skinny kid with bad skin... while the girl in the bikini with the Jane Mansfield body is looking on? It was an ad for barbells... the 'Joe Wieder system' or something like that. In high school I was that skinny kid and there was no way anyone would take my picture at the beach!

It was when I was around 24 in grad school at William and Mary that I decided I didn't want to be that kid anymore, getting the sand kicked in my face (by girls!) so I quit smoking, quit using certain illegal substances and started working out, running, and eating well. In about six months of weight training I was the guy able to kick the sand... and still can (to anyone eighty or older!)

And then there was hair. Hair was really important to us in the 60s... we wore it short like the Beach Boys or long like the Beatles and it was a never-ending bone of contention with our parents, to say nothing about our bosses (or school principals in my case as I started out as a teacher in West Virginia... and taught the entire 8th grade in an 8-room schoolhouse.... like out of Walton's Mountain!)

I looked in the mirror. I had most of my hair. Of course, the year of using Rogaine probably helped a bit, but all in all I looked good and I felt good. Too bad there was no one to take my picture.

I ran the lint-roller over my jacket to get the rest of the dog hair off of it, made sure my fly was zipped (hey, we're old... we forget things!) opened the door, took a deep breath, walked to the elevator and went to the reunion dinner.

The line outside the ballroom was pretty long to check-in to get your name badge... with the picture of your yearbook headshot on it. It was awkward standing in line next to someone you know you knew but could not remember... and until we got our nametags, no one recognized anyone.

People were already taking pictures of each other, but no one took my picture.

"Good grief, everyone is so old," I said to the guy checking us in. "Who are these people (and who are you)?" He just smiled at me and handed me my nametag. I got a feeling that everyone asked him the same question!

One of the things about being a shy, wall-flower in high-school is that you become a great observer... which was actually good training for the literary career I chose in later life. And so while I knew almost all of the names, few people knew mine. It was obvious that I would be more of an observer at the event and less of a participant. Since I was one of the few men wearing a coat and tie, and since I was standing around looking very nonchalant, I'm sure most people thought I was a member of the hotel restaurant staff... probably the head waiter!

Facts are facts. To the vast majority of the 150+ people in the room I was the "nowhere man" right out of the Beatles song... just as I was in high school. It was as if I were a ghost... any of you remember Cosmo Topper? I stood there while people just walked and talked through me. No one knew me. I thought that maybe I was dead. No one asked to take my picture.

As a youth I was cursed with a scrawny frame and a funny face... but I was blessed with an incredible memory. Once I saw everyone's name-tag I remembered everyone's 'resume.' It wasn't that difficult if you take into consideration that many of us knew each other from elementary school all the way through high school... all 500 +/- of our graduating class.

In front of the double doors to the ballroom was a easel with a large poster-board on it with a long list of names. These were the names of people who would not be attending the reunion... not because they didn't want to... but because they were dead.

For those who had not met their mortality face to face before, reading the board of names was their wakeup call. I knew every name... some well... David, Wally, Steve, Ginnie, Lois... it was a long, sobering list. For sure, no one was going to take their pictures either.

I spoke to a few of the men standing around... they faked knowing me... offering big smiles and asking the "Weren't you in Phys Ed. with me?" question... which was a good bet since Phys Ed. usually had 50+ guys in it. I smiled and said they were probably right and reminded them how much we all hated the Nazi coaches and the tortures they visited upon us. Talk about instant camaraderie!

There were lots of pictures being shown of us when we wore younger clothes... but there were none of me.

While I was a shy, frightened, pathetic kid in school, I grew out of it in adulthood when I learned that good looks are transient, but stupid was forever... and realized that I was not stupid... actually I was pretty damned intelligent (even though they had to almost burn down the high school to get me out!) I learned to not be afraid to walk up to people and introduce myself... and I rather enjoyed seeing the looks on their face when they tried so hard to convince me that they knew who I was (although a few did from my books and writings over the years.)

I saw the "leader of the band"... of our high school local rock group who actually cut an album... they were well-known in Brooklyn, but nowhere else. He was an arrogant you-know-what back then, as all musicians tend to be, but I immediately noticed that he had mellowed in his adult years. We were in elementary school together, he lived up the block from me but I might have been living on the moon seeing that I was never good enough for his crowd. Still, I said hello, and while he was cordial he had that vague look on his face of "Who is this guy and WTF am I talking to him for?" I got that a lot that evening... but didn't take offense. As a writer and journalist I'm comfortable talking to strangers... these folks weren't.

I walked over and spoke to the beauty-queen of our era... she was not just a cheerleader but one step beyond... a member of the exclusive Kilties... the elite of elite of cheerleaders. Everyone knew her and unlike her friends of the time she never developed the snobbery that cheerleaders of the era were famous for. She came from major money and married a guy with more money... he even had his own jet fleet. But recently he traded her in for a new model... it made us all sad to hear about it. I felt badly for her and wished I had some consoling words. Like an idiot I told her to get a good lawyer... yeah like she didn't know that already? She's smart and attractive and wealthy... she will survive just fine ... and she looked so lovely in her designer dress and Tiffany jewelry that I would have liked to have had a picture of her and me.

Remember the guy who was everyone's All-American? He was the guy who shaved in 9th grade and whom girls would drop their pants for. (Actually that's just a metaphor because back then no one went much beyond second base... but not me as I was always thrown out at first base... even years and years afterward!) Anyway, in front of me was the guy who in 1965 had the Paul Newman looks and the Robert Redford smile and the Elvis hair and the body of Fabio and who could bench-press 200 lb., hit a softball 250 feet, and throw a perfect pass fifty yards. He was now sixty pounds overweight, jowly, sported an alcoholic red nose, wore coke-bottle glasses, was totally bald, with a face like thirty miles of bad road. I wish someone had taken a picture of the two of us so that for the rest of my life I would be reminded that on some level there is cosmic justice!

I remember Driver Education taught by Mr. Ring. In those days we actually went on the road... five of us per car (including the instructor... remember cars were much, much larger then.) One of my car mates was a small, thin, shy, blonde girl with a nice smile and who was unusually smart (for a girl :-) ) I got to know her fairly well in my senior year sitting in the back seat while others took their turn trying to not get us killed on the Long Island Expressway. She was a terrible driver... I mean the worst. She was afraid to go more than 20 miles an hour... and if you do that while getting on the LIE you should have a ramp on your car as they will go right over you! She could not drive... scared the crap out of us... I think she flunked Driver Ed... but she flew the NASA Space Shuttle.... twice! I asked her why she could pilot a space craft but couldn't drive a car? She said she learned to fly before she learned to drive! I wish I had a picture with her!

It was great to see the radio-boy again. In school most of the guys envied baseball players and the girls envied movie stars... but I envied the radio-boy... actually his dad. He and his father were ham radio operators and had this huge antenna at their Great Neck Estates home. He would invite me over and we'd talk on the radio to Europe and Mexico... and I was bitten by the radio-bug. I thought radio-boy was about the coolest kid in school! He still looked fit and young... and he had a hot new wife whom I think was about half his age. I thought she was his daughter. He turned a hobby into a career and made zillions putting up sophisticated antenna systems for the government and others. To me, he was still the coolest kid in the room!

There was a dinner buffet, but no one ate much... well at least the popular kids didn't eat. Most people were wandering around the tables, seeing old friends. You are not supposed to eat at these things... because... everyone knows...  it was the class losers who were the ones sitting (usually) alone at a table eating. I was a class loser... and actually kind of proud of it (now)... and I was hungry... so I ate dinner! I wasn't one of the popular kids back then and I wasn't going to be now... and honestly... the food was quite good.

How did people look? The honest truth... with a few notable exceptions... the men looked like crap. Few of them kept in shape and most have aged badly... some looking like they had never seen the sun... spending most of their lives in their offices under fluorescent lights, breathing stale air, drinking too much Scotch, and eating way too much fast food. It was evident that most of the men never renewed their Vic Tanny membership!

But the women... the women without an exception looked terrific... no sags, no bags, good butts, and better boobs (than when we were in high school... and believe me all the funny-looking, nerdy guys like me noticed boobs!) The women were radiant... and beautiful. I've been married for 35 years (some of them happily!) but if any one of them had made a pass at me I'd be hard pressed to turn down such a proposition. Of course at these kinds of events, the past is prologue and few of them noticed me, much less talked to me... and not one of them took my picture.

Back in school most of us guys never had much (if any) romantic interaction with the girls in our class as they almost always went out with older boys, and the senior girls had college boyfriends. There was one girl in our class whom I had a terrific crush on but was always afraid to ask her out because I was sure she would say "I can't go out Saturday because I have to give my cat a bath" and when you hear that you kind of know how you stand with the girl. I heard it a lot. We were just friends and stayed friends over the years. About four years ago she had some major financial issues and I sent her $1000. She was appreciative and said she would pay it back when she can. I told her it was a gift. It was good to see her radiant and happy and if I helped in some small way it was money well spent.

Now here is a coincidence. There is this classmate of mine who is a master jeweler. We have the same first name. We went to the same summer camp. We went to the same university. We look somewhat alike. We lived in the same city, San Francisco, for a while. We were never friends in camp, high school or college and didn't connect until many years later. It was good to see him again... obviously a brother in some parallel universe! A picture would have been good.

We had three guys in our class whom today would be called bullies... I'm not sure what we called them back then... because there really wasn't such as thing as a Jewish bully... their mothers would not allow it! These are the guys you knew would push you against a wall and throw your books all over the hall... and enjoy it. I (and others) got pushed around a few times, one of them actually beat me up... but it wasn't something we talked about back then. You just sucked it up, kept quiet, and moved on... but the damage went beyond a few bruises and a broken ego... way beyond.

Now I'm not exactly Bruce Lee here, but I've kept in shape... For the past thirty years I walk three miles a day and run one, and work out with light weights three times a week. Years ago I also took elementary martial arts classes. I'm not proud of saying the following, but I was hoping that all three of them would show up so that I could have a 'few words' with them, maybe in private... perhaps make them an offer they couldn't refuse? They didn't show, and I guess it is probably for the best... I still carry the wounds... and the fantasies. One day their karma will catch up with them and I won't be shedding any tears, that's for sure. I'll be looking for their obit pictures.

After dinner there was music and dancing. I'm a terrible dancer. I'm fairly coordinated and somewhat athletic. I can drive a golf ball 250 yards, I can hit a 70 mph. baseball in the batting cage, I can rope a steer from a horse (it's true,) but I can't dance... I just can't. I like to dance... but I'm terrible at it. That put me at somewhat of a disadvantage in school because all the cool kids were also good dancers... Mitchel's Dance Studio made a fortune on our generation. The studio expelled me as hopeless! I mean if you can't even do The Twist, what chance do you have with the Lindi Hop? (Hell, I couldn't even do the Bunny Hop!)

At every reunion there is that girl... who never aged... she looks and acts much as she did in school. She was striking back then... and is striking now. She is still the teenager on the outside that most of us feel we are on the inside. It is usually the girl who marched to a different drummer... who was an original... who didn't care what other said or thought... almost the prototype counter-culture girl... whom you expected would be an artist living in Sedona.

Our reunion had that girl... not an artist but a psychologist from Aspen... who wore a low-cut, backless, form-fitting, spaghetti-strap little dress that no one could take their eyes off... and she being she... no one was surprised she wore it... because she really could wear it! I loved her back then. Everyone loved her back then.

I was standing around the dance floor watching the popular kids dance to The Rolling Stones Satisfaction ("I Can't Get No Girlie Action" was my theme song fifty years ago!) when that girl walked over, grabbed my arm and dragged me on the floor. OK, now I said earlier most of the men looked like hell, but there were a couple of guys there who still dripped sex-appeal... like the tall, wealthy guy with great hair from Florida who owned everything in the state with a nail in it. But that girl picked me. Me. Not him... me! There are events in the universe that I will never understand. I would give anything for a picture of us on that dance floor.

As the evening wore on and the small talk wore thin, people started to drift out. Some went to the lounge in order to prolong the ecstasy of better times... and the agony of lost youth.

I went upstairs as I had to catch an early flight to Virginia the next morning to see my business partner in our web design company. She also is a world-class book designer.

For the vast majority of the attendees the evening was a huge success. I had an enjoyable evening... and while it probably does not sound like it from this electronic fish-wrap I'm very glad I came and I'm glad I got to see everyone... even though most had no idea who I was.

But for me (as well as a few of us I learned later) there was also a sadness about the reunion that as a writer/observer I was expecting but which I thought I would be emotionally able to handle better than I have.

The bottom line is that this is last time we will get together as a formal group in our hometown. Why would we meet again? What would be the point? All that we could say has been said... and all that can be remembered has been remembered.

The 50th reunion is a milestone to be sure... it signifies that we've come a lot of miles to get here... but it also foretells that there are not that many miles ahead of us. Yes it was (somewhat) a celebration of our life, our generation, our 'culture,' ourselves... but there were the elephants in the room... old age... sickness... death.

There we were, some of the best minds of our generation (to use one rather trite phrase) all gathered in one place but somewhat lost in space (to use another trite-ism) trying to roll back the years and hold in the tears (ok, trite and trite again!) In the near future we won't be getting wedding invitations and birth announcements. We'll be getting emails about funeral arrangements and we'll be reading obituaries. Yes, I felt a sadness.

But I felt joy too.

We came, we saw, we heard, we remembered.

I was pleased that the evening was not about showing off the status of occupation or the pride of children or the results of fortunes made (or lost.) This event was not about bragging rights. This was not about the material world. To our credit, it wasn't any of those.

For me it was about the joy in our souls, the uplifting of our spirits, and the final opportunity to partake of the camaraderie and good fellowship of our old friends (and some old enemies) who helped make us what we are today (for better or worse.)

It was a final chance to say "Look where we came from" and a chance to say "Look where we are." We indulged in probably our last chance, a final opportunity, to talk about how it all happened, and maybe figure out "why."

So many people contribute to a life. We have spouses (often more than one), and we have children (often many) and we have colleagues (long lists of them) but we only have one set of collective individuals who shared our childhood and early youth... who experienced what we experienced and whom have a special commonality with us.

Some of us have already passed on. Some of us will pass from this life soon, and some a bit later. But one thing is certain: we are in the twilight of our days, in the autumn of our years. If a life is a play we are all in Act 3, but this act won't run as long as Act 1 and Act 2. And when the curtain comes down and the show closes, it won't reopen again.

This reunion was a chance to push back time, if only for a weekend... to if not be young again, to at least feel young again through the shared smiles (and some tears) of our youth and from the memories of our town, home, school... our past... and even our better selves.

Knowing that sickness and death are not that far off, it was good that we availed our collective selves of a chance to re-live and enjoy a weekend defined by youth, vigor, optimism, in what Thornton Wilder would call Our Town; long ago, in what we all probably feel was a better world than the one we will leave.

There are still good days ahead, although not as many as there are behind.

A weekend with old friends in the one place we all call home was an event I and most others will cherish and one we will remember.

There was joy to be had there. There was happiness that was shared there. There were memories to remember, and songs of the heart that were sung, and feelings of youth that were again felt.

It was our 50th reunion. It will never come again. For most of us it was the last chance to remember and re-live good times, better times, and important times... providing much for us to savor... as we pass into the ages.

No one took my picture.

But I have the memories.

Alan N. Canton, Publisher
Adams-Blake Publishing


Sunday, March 06, 2016

I Am Now KM6AAI And It Only Took 55 Years!

(Note: Since posting this I have passed the Extra exam, changed the call to a shorter one... dropping the "M"... becoming K6AAI... here is how I decided on the call. I also wrote this piece on tips and tricks to help pass the Extra (or any) ham exam. I hope it helps.)

* * *
It took a lifetime, but I finally did it.

Ever since I was in my early teens I wanted to accomplish a specific goal in life.

In the early 50s our family was wealthy. My father ran a dress business with my grandfather (who started the business.) They manufactured what were called "cotton frocks"... basically cotton house-dresses for woman... the kind of thing a woman wore around the house and nice enough to go to the grocery store in.

It was the kind of dress Donna Reed and June Clever wore (June wore pearls with it because we know that all housewives of the era wore pearls when they were dusting!) and you still see these thin, cotton dresses worn by some women in the southern states.

We had a thirty-foot boat which was docked in a marina not far from our Long Island, NY house. On the boat we had this huge Zenith multi-band radio. It not only had the marine stations for weather, but you could hear Europe and the amateur (ham) bands. It was portable (weighted a ton) and was so much fun to listen to. Here is a pix of the model:

In the late 50s the business failed... factories went to the South and women started wearing slacks and jeans... and my father just didn't change with the times.

We were broke.

My parents got divorced when I was 11 and as part of the settlement my mother got the radio, which she gave to me and I put it in my room where I spent hours listening to Europe ("BBC Calling", "Radio Moscow", etc.)

But what I loved more than anything was listening to the ham radio stations talk to each other... often across the nation and to Europe as well. I was fascinated by radio and wanted to get MY ham license (there is no age limit.)

I would also visit Elliot Gross's house. He had been licensed when he was around 10 years old and I was amazed at how he could talk to people all over the world in his father's ham 'shack.'

Back then the entry license from the FCC (called the Novice class) required that you take a written test that was fairly easy... and you also had to be able to send and receive Morse Code at five words-per-minute. It was not hard, even for me.

But it wasn't the entry license that I wanted. That one was limited to low power transmission which basically worked for "around the block" communications.

I wanted what was called the General class license because that allowed you to 'work' the "DX" (distance) bands and talk to people across the country and throughout the world.

The General license required you to pass a (more) difficult written exam and be able to send and receive thirteen words-per-minute of Morse Code. That was a super-high speed (for me!)

But there was a problem.

I simply could not receive the code at that speed. I could send it, but receiving just didn't work. If dit-dit-dah was sent I might hear dah-dit-dit.

It was not until years later that I learned that I had a minor audio dyslexia issue. I always wondered why someone might say "That's a large dog" but sometimes I heard "That's a dog large.”

Anyway, it was never much of a problem and it was random, usually triggered by stress, and I was not bothered by it... music sounded fine... and although I might have heard some of the sounds a bit differently than others, it was no big deal. But it was (obviously) a big deal with hearing code at higher speed... so I had to end my quest for getting the General ham license.

I recently learned that several years ago the FCC dropped the code requirement and so I started studying for the "new" entry level (now called the Technician License) which is rather easy and I passed that a few months ago (January 2016) and was assigned the callsign of KM6AAI.

Then I started on my real quest... learning the more difficult material for the General exam.

How many of you remember how to compute the square root of the  reciprocal of a sum of reciprocals:

                           1   +     1    +    1
                          ---       ---       ---
                           x         y         z

or can figure out the answer to this... even after studying?:

What signal source is connected to the vertical input of an oscilloscope when checking the RF envelope pattern of a transmitted signal?

A. The local oscillator of the transmitter
B. An external RF oscillator
C. The transmitter balanced mixer output
D. The attenuated RF output of the transmitter

This was not an easy test and I had to re-learn a lot of college algebra.

Yesterday (March 2016) I took the exam, only missed one question and achieved a life-long goal... and now... 55 years since my 13th birthday... I am the proud recipient of the Amateur Radio General Class FCC license.

Just a small thing to most... but a huge thing to me.



Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner
NewMedia Create
Fair Oaks, CA

Alan Canton
Fair Oaks, CA