An ensemble and an old violist

It was the day of the string ensemble practice a couple of days ago. It was held at a public hall 1.5 hours of drive from here. After a few months absence due to the coronavirus epidemic, it has started again a month ago. I was not feeling very good in the morning. I know it is due to a bit acting up sleeping pattern. I could not be fully active in morning hours. I still put cello into my car and headed for the hall as if going for a religious ritual.

An hour before the ensemble started, I had a promise to practice Elegy by Faure with a pianist for the first time. I was getting nervous because I haven't played that piece for years and it was the very first rehearsal with her. Even though it has been a favorite piece for me since student days, it still remains like a high mountain to get through. For the first trial, however, we could make it without any accident, even if the performance was not perfect. I was really pleased and excited at it. She was not a hard hitter nor solistic pianist but would listen to me before expressing herself with piano. Mybe a natural chamber music pianist. I was pleased to hear what she was telling with her piano while doing with my own part. What a joy to communicate in performance!  

It was the 2nd meeting since the last practice in Feb before the coronavirus turmoil had started. We have used the same public hall for the past couple of years. We were sad that we should give it up for a while. It is still problematic to gather for ensemble like we do especially when the epidemic was flaring up again. But our enthusiasm has overwhelmed with the risk. Of course, we have done much for precautions. The conductor was using a small amplifier and a speaker to instruct us not in order to avoid splashing droplets to the others. 

It was located at a quiet place in a suburb of Tokyo. We could see banks of a river through the window. When I entered the room, taking certain distance between them, all the members were sitting around the conductor in a half circle. 

The members were mainly in the middle to old age generation. Being held in the daytime of a plain week day, it had mostly house wives as participants. They were craving for a chance to enjoy ensemble. Six violinists, one violist, sometimes two including one switching her violin to viola, one cellist, that is me. A small, intimate and comfortable air flows in the ensemble.

The violist, the eldest in the group, a retired guy told us he had had hearing dysfunction. He was hesitating to join the group due to his problem.  

He plays it accurately. It sounds mellow and gentle as real viola always does. He told me he had started it in his university days. I don't know what career as a violist he has gone through. No doubt he was an experienced violist. The only problem was that he could hardly hear what the conductor said. It might be overcome if the conductor came close to him and told her instruction to him. Even with such a small trouble, his existence seemed more valuable than his quitting. I believed his presence in the ensemble was important not only to us but also to himself. I have told him that. He complained, having a couple of hearing aids, one for music and the other for conversation, he could not exchange them frequently while practicing in the ensemble. They seemed to be tiny simple models put into an ear canal. He should use a big one with complicated circuit and have it fit to his hearing abnormality. He told me he could hardly hear the pitch of D, which might be a deep dip in his audiogram possibly. He was aware of that and wanted to get a audio pattern of his hearing aids. But nothing was given to him. I told him to consult to an ENT neurologist and to ask him to prepare a better hearing aid to fit his problem. He was first reluctant to go for consultation but later seemed to have made up his mind to do so. I was afraid I had forced him to do so. He was, however, glad to have my advice. 

Hearing problem and regression of motor function are inevitable to us, aged people. But we could resist such aging process if we want to. Of course, we may go downhill little by little. If we have done what we could, we won't regret of our lives. This violist, always smiling, seemed to live that way. Hopefully, I would go after him.

This group might be the last one for me in my life. I would enjoy each practice with them until I have any health issue which prevents me from attending it. Life is short but is always providing us much pleasure.


What CW is to Wayne N6KR

Today, I have received an e mail as follows from Wayne N6KR. I have met 
him on CW once 2 or 3 years. Not too often. But every QSO has always 
been very impressive. 

As everyone knows, he has been responsible for the technology and 
development division in Elecraft. Once, years ago when the band often 
opened to the West Coast, I ran across with him testing a prototype of 
KX3 running only 5W on 15 meters. He was using a long wire hung on a tree.
He is an excellent CW operator and seems to develop 
new product emphasizing its function on CW. I believe that is why Elecraft 
products have been supported by many CW operators.  

Maybe, young CW operators should sing tune with Di and Dah at their 
music class at school.


Hi Shin,

I also love CW and wish more new hams would try it. I write about this

I got many replies to the article below, which will be in our next new
sletter. Some OMs told me they had tears in their eyes.

If you like the article, feel free to share it. However, I don't know 
how well it would translate for a Japanese audience.

By the way, I am also a musician (acoustic guitar and vocals), and my 
son plays cello. Music and ham radio seem to go together, at least for
 CW ops!

Here's a funny story. When I was in college I earned a music minor. Th
e final rhythm exam was a long series of eighth notes, dotted quarter 
note,s and eighth note rests. That is, it had the same timing as Morse
 code. I asked the instructor if I could sing it in "di-dah" form for 
the exam. He said yes. I got a perfect score :)


* * *

"On second thought, I'll take the stairs."

by Wayne Burdick, N6KR

I have a friend about my age who got into amateur radio only a few years 
ago. Like many of us, he was enthusiastic about the technology. Intrigued 
with DX. 

I showed him my station; we talked endlessly about gear. Later, I helped 
him put up a simple wire antenna.

Then, when his license arrived, he dove straight into FT8 and didn't look 
back. Within days, he'd worked all states, then DXCC. He'd bag a few 
rare ones over a light lunch, then pat his laptop on the back and congratulate 
his software app for its near-mythical ability to extract weak signals out 
of noise. 

Within weeks, he'd mastered everything there was to know about this glorious 
new hobby. 

Point. Click.

In this new world order, those of us who took the longer, slower path 
to ionospheric enlightenment -- and who still occasionally enjoy making 
waves by hand -- often fail to explain why. 

I had failed to explain it to my friend. Even as hints of his boredom crept 
in, creating an opening, the best argument I'd made for trying CW was 
that he could do it without a computer. Coming in a weak second was 
the notion that CW was the original digital mode. For obvious reasons, 
I didn't bother with the classic argument about CW's signal-to-noise 
advantage over SSB. 

I had all but given up. 

Then, in a moment of delayed clarity, I decided on a different approach. 
I invited him to a weekday brunch. A bit of an escape. He willingly took 
the bait.

On the appointed day, arriving at his workplace, I bypassed the lobby's 
glistening elevators and climbed the four flights of stairs to his office. 
I insisted we take the stairs down, too. 

"Why?" he asked. "And how'd you get up here so fast?" 

I pointed out that I always chose stairs, when possible. That's why I 
wasn't out of breath. We hustled down, jockeying for position, and emerged 
on the ground floor invigorated by the effort.

"So, where are we going?" he asked. We'd been to every overrated twenty-dollar 
burger venue at least twice.

I replied that we'd be going someplace we'd never tried. My kitchen. 

When we arrived, I put him to work chopping onions and broccoli and 
squeezing oranges while I whipped eggs into a froth and grated Swiss 
cheese. We ate our omelettes outside, in full sun and a cool breeze. 

"What's for dessert?" he asked. "Isn't there a frozen yogurt place a two-minute 
drive from here?"

I had something else in mind. Back in the kitchen, I handed him a water bottle, 
then slipped on a small pack I'd prepared earlier. 

We walked a mile or so through my neighborhood, admiring the houses' varied 
architecture, ending up (as planned) at a local park festooned with blackberry 
bushes. The most accessible branches had been picked clean, but with 
teamwork and persistence we were able to gather several large handfuls 
of fat, ripe berries, which we devoured on the spot. 

We'd been poked and scratched but didn't care. 

"Doesn't brunch usually end with champagne?" he wondered aloud, admiring 
his wounds.

Not this time. I pulled out two bottles of craft beer that I'd obtained from 
a neighbor in trade for repairing his ancient home stereo. Carlos had spent 
years crafting an American pilsner to die for, sweating every detail, including 
iconic, hand-painted labels. 

My friend accepted the bottle, then tried in vain to remove the cap. Not 
a twist-off.

"Opener?" he said. 

I handed him a small pocket knife, an antique without extra blades. He
 soon discovered it could not be used to remove the cap directly. He looked 
at me with a bemused expression, no doubt wondering what I had up my 
sleeve this time. 

I pointed out that we were surrounded by white oaks, a species known for 
its hard wood. He got the message, smiled, and began hunting. Within 
seconds he'd collected a small fallen branch. I watched as he used the 
knife to fashion a few inches of it into a passable bottle opener. 
We popped the caps, toasted his new-found skill, and traded stories of
misspent youth.

"Oh, one more thing," I said.

I pulled a KX2 out of my pack, along with two lengths of wire. Of course 
he knew everything there was to know about Elecraft, and me, so he 
wasn't surprised when I also pulled out the rig's attachable keyer paddle. 
We threw one wire in the closest tree and laid the other on the ground.

He didn't have to ask whether I'd brought a laptop.

We listened to CW signals up and down 20 meters, open to Europe at the
time. As he tuned in each station, I copied for him using pencil and paper. 
He'd learned Morse code, but only at very slow speeds. 

After making a contact, I set the internal keyer speed to 10 words per
minute and dialed power output to zero, for practice purposes, then showed 
him how to use the paddle. He smiled as he got the hang of it. Sending the 
full alphabet was a challenge, but he got there. The KX2 decoded and 
displayed his letters, providing confirmation. 

We'd blown through his allotted lunch break by a factor of three, so it was 
time to go. We coiled up the antenna wires, packed up, and walked back. 
As I drove him back to his employer, we made plans to get together again 
for a weekend hike.

I could have just dropped him off, but we went back into the lobby together. 
Out of habit, he stopped in front of the elevator. We watched the illuminated 
floor numbers flash: digital and predictable eye-candy.

"OK," he said. "I get it. This CW thing. It's slow, doesn't always work, and 
takes years of practice."

"Like hunting for your own food, or carving your own tools," I added.

"Or cooking from scratch. Or brewing your own beer. Or building your own 
radio. But you use more of your senses. Not just your eyes, but your 
ears. Your sense of touch."

I nodded. Listening; feeling. That was the radio I'd grown up with.

"Of course it's harder to work DX with CW than with FT8," I reminded 
him, playing devil's advocate.

"Is that what matters, though?" he asked, with a sideways glance.

A longer discussion for another day.

"Your call," I said.

He gripped my shoulder and smiled, then aimed a forefinger toward the 
elevator's glowing, ivory colored UP button, gilded in polished brass.

The path most taken. The easy way.

Point. Click.

"On second thought," he said, "I'll take the stairs."


Jim KF7E

Yesterday, before sunset here, I have met Jim KF7E, an old friend of mine since '80s, on 40m. The band was a bit noisy with OTH radar. His signal was, however, quite readable like in '80s. 

Several days ago, he kindly emailed me on his first grandchild's birth. He often told me on his daughter since her student days. That made me pleased a lot to hear of her uneventful delivery and birth of her son. In the beginning of the QSO yesterday, I dared to call him "grandpa Jim".

We often made QSOs when he was commuting to or from the office especially in night shift. Not very loud but really talkative. A lot of fun seeing him from his mobile. Many years have passed since then. The QSO yesterday was good enough to remind me of those days. 

We have joined FOC almost at the same time, in '88 for me and a year or two later for him. Ever since, we have made even more frequent QSOs. Eight years ago, we met first time face to face at the FOC gathering near Seattle. He was always smiling and was a prudent person. Probably, our incapability in English conversation has made him quiet, I don't know. I felt we had been a real good friends for a long time at that time. 

This was taken at the luncheon at W7GKF. The guy with red shirt is Jim while yellow one is Alan AC2K, one of the hosts of this gathering. Red K5ALU and his wife Linda are on sitting on the back. They are young and vivid on this photo. A gorgeous and happy time with people well known to me.

I believe Jim has successfully retired this spring. He has had a chronic health issue and should be very happy to have retired. Last night, he was anxious about Martha who visited their daughter's family and was on the way back home. The COVID19 is worst in Arizona. The flight from Utah to PHX could be hazardous as he told. Martha has had a few risk factors. I really hope she would make it uneventfully. 

Thus, we, though Jim is 4 years younger than me, could spend a bit more time together with blessed health. Even in this unstable and risky circumstances. 

The QSO with him yesterday has brought me back to good old days. 


How I am getting along lately

It's been some time since I last updated this blog. Pulling the weeds and mowing lawn keep me busy while, in the rainy days, playing cello has occupied me. There are still many things I should be involved with.

Weeds are so nasty that they grow too vigorously for me to do with it in a few days. It is literally a whack-a-mole game. Fortunately, the back pain which has occured with me after too diligent work in the garden is subsiding little by little. At the worst, it was hard for me to walk. Avoiding leaning forward in a sitting position and walking a bit, I am feeling better. It would be a bit of time left for me to enter a nursing home.

This place is a property my mother's ancestors have owned and my old aunt has managed a small sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in poverty. When I complain of how tough it is to maintain this place to my sister and brother, they say, while thanking me for that effort, I should go on working for the land for the ancestors in the past. Yes, I know what they mean. I would. My my health be kept for this hard work in the summer!

In the meantime, I am still going on cooking. At around 4PM, when I finish the work in the garden, I start cooking dinner with a glass of beer on one hand. It is a fun. A bit tiring but still an enjoyment. I try to cook 2 or 3 dishes at the same time in the shortest time I could. Planning the procedure of cooking and executing it are really a work for an intelligent person! Hopefully, this work will keep me away from senile dementia for a while.

This was pork with vegetables seasoned with miso. Pretty good. But, when I finished cooking it and found cabbage already cut behind me, imagine what disappointment I had. It should have been put in this dish. Since more veggies were added than the recipe said, it tasted pretty good, though. I find myself committing such errors from time to time. I should be more careful not to do that.

A new vaccine under trial

It is a good news that a vaccine trial has confirmed its safety as well as immunogenicity for the virus. It is remarkable that it has caused both humoral and cellular immunity against the pathogen. Since it is directed at the S protein, the antibody should have neutralizing characteristics.


The only concern about this work might be that S protein could mutate if not so frequently as N protein. Such mutation not only could weaken the efficacy of the vaccine but also even cause the antibody dependent enhancement of infection as  the vaccine  of Dengue fever could elicit.

We could not be too optimistic for the future of vaccine development. But we should eagerly wait for a vaccine which recognizes the common structure of S protein of the virus and could work for any mutated virus.