Yes, I have kind of fallen off of the face of the Earth, so to speak. This was done as a bit of mental self-preservation, which I’ll get into a bit more below. I know that I have not done a good job in staying in touch with many internet friends, for which I offer my most sincere apologies. Many have personally reached out to me, and I haven’t responded to quite a few of them yet. Allow me to recount a brief history of what has happened in the last 18 months and where things may be going. Please excuse the rambling, free-form nature of this post.
What’s Past Is Prologue
I don’t need to do a deep dive into the world-altering years of 2020 to the present (late 2022 as of this post): we’ve all lived it. What I will do is briefly cover the points that impacted me and my family the most. Sadly, COVID broke many people. You could say it broke a part of me as well. I should be clear that it wasn’t COVID itself that was the primary driver, it was the feckless and/or totalitarian response to the pandemic that did massive damage to society, the economy, and most importantly our children.
Here in Oregon, our schools remained closed for just about the longest amount of time of any state in the Union. The data is there to quantify the awful effects this has had on our schoolchildren, however the damage goes far deeper than test scores. Anxiety is up, emotional control and executive function are down. Social skills have regressed. I see all of these consequences of our elected leaders’ decisions daily.
The Beaverton School District, I can personally attest, did an abysmal job with their remote “learning” at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. I saw what was done, the caliber of instruction that was deployed, and I think it’s fair to say that essentially nothing was learned for a good half of a year. In the summer of 2020, I saw the writing on the wall and figured that with our leadership, we were in for quite a bit more remote school, so we decided to at least try to put our boys in school that had an actual plan for remote learning because they had already been doing it for a while. We enrolled them in an accredited online charter school. This required me to be their “learning coach”, which basically means their backup teacher. I’m grateful that I had the ability to do this for my sons, but it had time requirements approaching that of a full-time job, which greatly took away for my ability to work on Etherkit.
Between that and the massive supply chain problems that we were dealing with, it was just wasn’t sustainable to keep Etherkit going as a business selling hardware. Sales of my existing products were drying up and interest in my SubscribeStar was fading away, which is another gut punch. So I decided to just pull the plug without any fanfare. Some of you did ask about the status of Etherkit, which I appreciate. I apologize for not replying individually to those who wrote to me. I had so many emails piling up in my inbox. The sting of failure and anxiety of a huge backlog of unanswered email was one of the things that kind of broke me.
Even though I received (and still occasionally receive) some quite demanding emails from people asking for hours of free time from me on problems that they were having in using my code/libraries/design files, I still wished that I could have helped as many people as possible. I never imagined that I would make Etherkit a large company, get rich, or anything like that. I had some ideas that I planned to execute and I wanted a way to make them self-sustaining and hopefully bring in a bit of income from them, but I had no illusions of being the next Elecraft or anything like that. Unfortunately, because of a string of events out of my control, I was never able to put the time that Etherkit needed into the business, and I had to watch as others essentially executed the products that I wanted to bring to market. Still, I often think that I could have done more, and the sting of failure is hard to deal with.
Leap of Faith
By fall of 2021, my disillusionment at society-at-large was so great, that I was ready for a clean break. My wife Jennifer and I were in agreement that we wanted to change the course of our family. We decided that we would try to move to a more rural area in Oregon, somewhere a bit closer to our families in the Salem area.
We ended up selling our house in Beaverton that we resided in for 13 years; the only home our boys had ever known. We didn’t have a new house to move into at this time. We purchased a travel trailer and rented a space at a nice RV park in Salem while we searched for our new homestead. After a few months we found a promising 5 acre parcel in rural Yamhill County that was within our budget, but it was undeveloped and would require a lot of work. I could write another long post about the insanity of this process. We were warned that trying to get arrange a construction loan for an undeveloped property for this was going to be very challenging. Those who warned us weren’t wrong. I’ll spare you the details of how painful this has been.
In the midst of this craziness, we decided to adopt one of the Envigo beagles, since we’ve had a dog-shaped hole in our family for a few years now. Our oldest named the girl puppy that we adopted “Noodle”, and she’s been a good girl.
Escape The City
In the early fall of 2022, enough excavation was done on our property that we were able to move our trailer there to live in while waiting for the utilities to be finished and for the house to be built. For a while, we were 100% dry camping: bringing in our fresh water, hauling out the contents of our black tank, and running a generator when we needed 120 VAC. That was rough. We do have Starlink internet, which is the best internet option available to us at this location, so we’ve been actually quite well connected. As of now, we have a well and septic complete, but we’re still waiting on PGE (the local power company) to finish installing our connection to the grid, which is quite a bit behind schedule. Unfortunately, there’s sweet FA we can do about it but wait (ah, monopolies).
Still, being on our property is far more enjoyable to me than living in a crowded RV park. We have an amazing view of the Willamette Valley and Mt Hood to the east (see cover photo), right behind a very large Christmas tree farm (watching them doing harvesting via helicopter these last few weeks has been fun). We’re fortunate to live in the fertile agricultural lands of Yamhill County, the well-known wine country in western Oregon. I’ve built a chicken coop and have been raising some pullets, who I’m hoping will start producing eggs in the near future. Noodle has been living her best life as a country dog; a far cry from her beginnings in a breeding lab and eventual fate as a test subject.
There’s also plenty of room for antennas of all kinds, another huge attraction of the site. With the new solar cycle on the upswing, I’m looking forward to getting back to my roots, and just enjoying some HF ham radio operation again. It would be nice to rekindle that fire that I used to have for radio. It’s not completely gone, but between all of the bad stuff that’s happened, and me not being able to just operate radio for the fun of it, it was in pretty bad shape.
What The Future Holds
As you can probably guess, I have access to almost none of my lab while we live in this travel trailer. I made a very basic electronics tool kit for use when needed (and I have made use of it many times), but 99% of my lab is in storage. This means I have no current way to support most of my open source work. So until at the very least our house it built, my ability to work on supporting Etherkit stuff is nearly nil. Even then, our house will be relatively modest size, and I won’t have much space for a lab. A full lab/ham shack for me is still probably a couple of years away. I’m going to try to do what I can to bring up some kind of space so that I can support Etherkit, but I can’t make any promises as to when that will be at this point.
With inflation running rampant and the expenses of developing raw land like we are doing, I want to find some new supplemental income, but I’m not sure how that’s going to go down. Most likely that’s going to come in the form of temp work in town or something like that, but I wouldn’t mind it if I could find a way to get some remote jobs, although that’s probably a long shot. Because of this and the previous paragraph, I won’t be able to give much of my time to others during this period, unfortunately.
Etherkit is not officially dead, in that it’s still organized as an LLC and I’ve been doing a small amount of non-electronics business under its name. I don’t know if I’ll ever try to resurrect the business as a hardware company, but I would like to be able to continue to provide open source code and hardware designs at some point in the future, even if it’s not an actual business. Or perhaps it would be a business strictly in the sense of providing services instead of hardware, but that’s pure speculation and putting the cart way before the horse.
I hope to be able to be of service to the ham radio and experimenter community again at some point, but I’ve got to get all of the loose ends locked down here first. Once that’s done, my family is in a better position, and I’ve had some time to get some of that radio passion again, I’ll be back at it in some form. Thank you to my friends and those of you who have supported and encouraged me throughout the years.