We were sitting on the veranda listening to the speaker we had wired out from the shack. There had been the odd six-meter opening, and this season we had taken an interest in 50 MHz. Six countries so far. It had only taken us three months of scanning the band every waking moment! Things were pretty quiet this afternoon . . . not even any TV beacons.
One of the local QRPers came beating his way around the bend and pounded his way up the hill, puffing and sweating in the early fall sunshine. He didn't waste any time and reached over and flicked off the speaker. "Whoa!" we snapped at him, "What are you doing? There just might be an opening to the Caribbean!"
"The Heck with the Caribbean!" he retorted, wiping the sweat from his upper lip and glaring at us. "Besides, you never work anything on that band anyhow. I've got an idea to get some life back into Ham radio. A new idea that will help everyone. And it is a sure fire way to up your DXCC totals too!"
We were immediately interested, because some days we got the feeling DXing was losing a bit of steam. "What's up?" we asked. The QRPer looked at us carefully. "OK, now this has to remain confidential until I get the bugs worked out, but I know I can trust you. It's a new way to encourage the DXers in those rare locations to get on the air. It'll only count for RTTY, and of course, Mixed DXCC, but it's better than them playing with the Internet." We looked at him with a puzzled stare. He continued on, "It's a new mode called HAMSTER. I thought up the name myself!"
It sounded like a rodent to us, but we put forth an interested look and he ploughed ahead. "You heard of this Napster thing, right? You know, the Internet program where everyone can connect their computers together with this software package and trade songs? Those MP3 things?" We nodded slowly and asked, "Yes, but isn't that illegal? Isn't there some lawsuit going on that isn't looking too good for the Napster company? What's that got to do with DXing, anyhow?"
"That's where all the DXers are!" he responded, waving his finger at us to drive the point home. "They're trading songs with their computers. Even the rare ones seem to all be on the Internet. And if the courts rule against Napster and shut it down, these guys will still want to trade MP3s. So we let them do it with HAMSTER!"
We should have kept quiet, but we asked anyhow, "What's HAMSTER?" The QRPer looked around cautiously and then continued on. "I got it almost all figured out. Remember I took a computer course last summer?" We nodded in agreement, for more than once this same QRPer had been up the hill to tell us of his newfound knowledge of computers. And we had just as stubbornly resisted getting a computer!
"OK, here's how it works. I'm just finishing off a program that converts MP3 binary files to MIME format." We held up our hand. "Isn't a mime an actor who performs without words? Just using gestures and paints his face all white? What's that got to do with DX . . . or with computers, for that matter?"
"No! No!" The QRPer said in an exasperated tone. "No, MIME is a computer format that converts binary files to plain characters so you can send them as simple text. Then you can convert them back to binary on the other end. So here's how it works. Once Napster shuts down, I'm going to turn HAMSTER loose! All those DXers with MP3 songs can convert them to MIME, and we'll grab 14.070 to 14.080 exclusively for HAMSTER. The heart of HAMSTER is PSK-31, which is a form of FSK, and thus counts as RTTY, right?" Having no idea, we just stared at the QRPer as he rolled on.
"Everyone connects to a central computer database using PSK-31 and publishes a list of their MIME MP3s and the frequency on the HAMSTER sub-band where they are listening. Then they can exchange them! Now, while doing so, they have to be making what counts as a two-way RTTY QSO. Even the rare guys will have to play the game if they want to continue to collect MP3s. So all I have to do is publish my list of 2500 MP3s using HAMSTER and the DX will come to me!" He smacked his fist into the palm of his hand and beamed with pleasure. "Imagine! I'll be just sitting on 14.075 MHz and an A5 or a VU7 will connect to me and take an MP3. And as soon as he does, I'll send off to him for a RTTY QSL! I figure I can work 250, maybe 300 countries without doing anything except logging the stations that connect to me! And the beauty of it is, everyone can do it! It's the new wave of DXing in the 21st century! HAMSTER IS!"
And with that, he ran off down the hill and around the corner. We just watched him go, scratching our head and wondering what he was talking about. Usually when a QRPer doesn't make any sense, it is wise to listen a little closer. Now and then they do hit upon something. Somehow, though, we couldn't see the folks at Newington getting too excited about QSOs involving mimes and hamsters. We gave it a bit more thought, and then we flipped the speaker back on. Sometimes it is best to leave things alone! DX IS!
73/DX Paul VE1DX (EX: VE1PMD, VE1UK, VE0UK, CJ1UK, etc.)
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