Thursday, October 30, 2014

PIRATES OF THE IONOSPHERE

Pirates: the name evokes images of peg-legged men in strange clothing and wearing eye patches. To computer aficionados, it means the people who illegally copy software and sell it. To radio listeners, pirates are altogether different.

To one extent or another, there have been radio pirates for more than a hundred years. In the beginning, there were no regulations. You could just build a transmitter and find a free frequency to broadcast on.

Then the government decided to step in and end the confusion. It wasn't long before frequency bands were set up for specific types of broadcasts or point-to-point transmissions.

As with any rule, there are those individuals willing to break it. The most famous of the pirates set up stations on ships in international waters off the coasts of Britain during the 1960s. Because the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) refused to broadcast rock music, enterprising disk jockeys filled the void. Most of these pirates ended their transmissions when the BBC relented and started playing what teens wanted to hear in 1967.

Even so, people still liked to buck the system in the UK as well as the rest of the world. Even in supposedly regulated countries such as China, pirate stations pop up on the FM dial. It appears to be the most popular band for these illegal stations due to the quality of the FM signal and the ease of hiding antennas.

The only problem with FM is that its coverage is limited. That's why some pirates broadcast on shortwave. The sound quality is not as good but a single station can blanket a continent with its signal. Since they seek to evade the government radio spectrum enforcers, they never turn up on the same frequency or have regular broadcasts. Peak times for these broadcasters are during holiday evenings and Saturday night.

Last Halloween, I spent the evening finding and taping pirates with my shortwave radio. I was able to identify half a dozen of these pirates, plus there were many more which I never found out their names. If all goes well, I hope to tape even more of these broadcasters. After all, I find it exciting to hear these pirates of the Ionosphere.

Radio has played a large part in my life. It was my lifeline to the outside world when I was at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. I wrote about how special it was to me in Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School. I also mentioned my citizens band and amateur radio hobby in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Read more about this compelling testimony of God's providential care at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell's Books.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

GETTING A BANG OUT OF CAPS

What a pity our society has become so jittery when it comes to guns. I understand about the horrific mass-shootings which have happened during the past few decades. Even so, almost all gun owners are responsible citizens who wouldn't even think of pointing a gun at anybody.

Boys like me had tremendous fun with cap guns and their ammunition. We never grew up to be assassins and mass-murdering sociopath's like many child psychologists suggested. We knew the difference between pretending and reality.

I fondly remember the fun my friends and I had with caps. One afternoon in Jericho Hill School's intermediate dorm, I let Michael fire my cap pistol. As he did so, it jammed. Then the paper tape protruding from the gun caught fire. I couldn't help laughing at Michael standing there with a flaming pistol in his hand. Talk about a heater, eh?

My friend Brian gave me a wonderful suggestion one afternoon when I was still in the junior dorm. "If you scratch those black dots, they'll fizzle," he confided. Then he showed me by scratching the tape with his thumb nail. Sure enough, a tiny pink flame flared up from it. To my delight, I was able to do the same thing as him.

Another time, Brian suggested we bang the paper tape with rocks to make them explode. We both rushed to the parking lot, picked up a pebble each, and proceeded to hit each dot on our cap rolls against the curb. The small explosions amused us greatly.

But banging and scratching caps didn't look as brilliant during the day. While having been volunteered by our supervisor to carry the dorm's laundry to the laundry room in another building, I noticed an empty, windowless room. It was nice and dark, just perfect for what I planned to do. Before heading back to our nasty supervisor, I knelt down and began scratching those spots of gunpowder. Right in the middle of my fun, a deaf boy noticed me. He ran to Sachi, the woman in charge of the laundry, and informed on me. In her best broken English, she ordered me out of the building. Though I liked her, I resented the fact that she thought I could set the building on fire with my caps.

Children can't have that kind of fun today, unless their parents, guardians, caregivers, or supervisors let them. I've heard so many ridiculous stories of school officials expelling little children for even pointing a finger like a gun. What they don't understand is that it isn't the weapon that's at fault. Overwhelming empirical evidence proves that mentally-disturbed people are the ones who go on shooting rampages. Those are the folks who should be dealt with appropriately, not little boys being little boys.

You can read more boyish mischief stories in my Deliverance from Jericho memoir. I'm astonished at all the harmless trouble I caused. Additionally, you'll enjoy the little victories we had against the system which held us captive in that residential facility.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

THE JOY OF FEEDING WILDLIFE

I well understand the concerns of certain folks regarding feeding wild animals. Bears and raccoons can become a problem if they learn that humans mean free food. Sadly, some of these animals are exterminated because of human foolishness. Even so, it can be pleasant to feed birds and small animals.

In the autumn of 1975, I lived at the CNIB headquarters in Toronto. While I was there, I took courses in independent living. While in the cafeteria one evening, a friend told me that there were squirrels living in the forest behind the institute. That news gave me incentive to explore the grounds.

While walking behind the buildings comprising the CNIB, I discovered a park bench. I had seen the occasional black squirrel foraging in the grass for food and wished to get a closer look at them. On a shopping trip, I purchased a large bag of unsalted peanuts. The next afternoon, I sat as still as I could on the bench after having scattered peanuts around it.

Sure enough, the squirrels quickly learned that a feast of delicious peanuts was to be had whenever I was there. It soon became part of my daily routine to feed them and enjoy their antics.

As with all good things, stupid people seek to  ruin the enjoyment of others. I ran afoul of a CNIB staff member who figured she was the boss. As I entered the building where the dorm rooms were located she stopped me. "You shouldn't be eating those peanuts, you know. They're ruining your complexion."

"I'm not eating all these," I objected. "I'm feeding them to the squirrels."

"You shouldn't be wasting your money like that. You should be going to movies or dances."

I felt so angry that I clammed up. After all, it seemed the safest thing to do when confronted by nosy and opinionated people. That woman's criticism also strengthened my resolve to feed my fluffy-tailed friends even more.

Before supper one day, I was about to go to the cafeteria when I saw a squirrel in the distance. When I dropped a peanut, he or she bounded right up to me and ate it fearlessly. The squirrel didn't even flee when I took out a camera I borrowed from a friend and snapped a picture. I felt so touched that this wild animal felt safe in my presence. No amount of movies and dances could ever give me the emotional boost I received from that rodent.

My love of small animals permeates all three of my memoirs. View the first two at Bruce Atchison's books. How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powel's Books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

FLYING HIGH BUT ONLY IN MY DREAMS

Isn't it just the way it goes? The folks who love flying don't get as many opportunities as those who dread boarding a plane. If I had good vision, I'd love to have my own aircraft.

This isn't a new desire of mine. As a child, I dreamt of piloting my own plane. In fact, there was a period in the autumn of 1968 when I kept dreaming night after night about soaring high above the land.

The plane I piloted was like the one in the above photo, though it had a yellow body. In each dream, I felt great affection for my aircraft. I also felt a sense of freedom which I lacked in my waking hours at Jericho Hill School.

I've heard that dreams of flight are a subconscious manifestation of a wish to be free. In view of the dreams I've had, I can well understand that theory. Jericho was oppressive to me. For the first seven years of my life, I was a free person. Mom let me and my sister play wherever we felt like. As long as we came home for lunch or dinner, she was happy. Even when I went to public school, I still felt free.

Then came that dreadful shock in 1964 when I found myself five-hundred miles from home and no possibility to return until Christmas. I also lived with a dozen blind boys in a sterile dorm ruled by a supervisor. We were marched down to a rickety dining hall three times a day like prisoners and the food there was terrible. I couldn't even play wherever I felt like since the supervisor made us stay in a group.

For that reason, and a few others, I treasure my independence. Only on God do I want to rely. Never again do I want to be in a highly structured environment like Jericho. The ability to eat what I want and go wherever I can is a precious treasure. So is eating whatever I feel like and going to bed when I want to. Even wearing whatever clothes catch my fancy in the closet is a thrill.

To better understand how suddenly being plunged into the alien world of an institution at a young age is like, purchase Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School. Not only do I describe life there in a matter-of-fact way but I relate the mischief we got into. It was harmless foolery but the authorities didn't think so. Sometimes, we even got away with things when temporary supervisors were there.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

CHEEPER BY THE HUNDRED

I love audio cassette tapes. Though they've fallen out of favour with North American consumers, this venerable medium still has its plusses.

One of my pet peeves with digital media is that most CD players won't resume playing at the point when I stopped the track. Cassettes and their players have no such problem. They resume at the same place when you've stopped them.

CDs and DVDs are fragile. One little scratch at the beginning and the whole disk is ruined. My mom discovered that fact when she scratched her name into the metal coating of her disks. Cassettes, on the other hand,  can take moderate abuse. Even if the tape snags in the machine, it can be carefully extracted and wound by hand back into the shell. The sound at that point is garbled but the whole recording isn't ruined.

Many third world people still use cassette players and recorders. I'm in contact with a retired minister who puts out a cassette magazine for blind subscribers. As many seniors find digital media, especially accessing it on computers, to be confusing to them, cassettes are still ideal for providing their entertainment.

My minister friend also sends cassettes overseas to missionaries in Nigeria and Philippines. Since he doesn't know how to use a computer, I tape good Christian programming from web sites and send the cassettes to him. He then sends them to blind subscribers of his Vision Tape Ministry and to missionaries. Some episodes of UNSHACKLED!, which I send him, are translated into local languages by missionaries. I've heard that the people they work with are delighted to read the stories in their mother tongues.

Thanks to National Audio Company, I have an ample supply of brand new cassettes. They even have some on sale from time to time. I was able to buy two-hundred C-62 leaderless cassettes for only twenty cents each. Now I have plenty of tapes to record good teaching programs on from my computer.

I've also been able to buy used tapes from local folks and reuse them for spreading good Bible teaching. Two women even gave me some commercially-produced music cassettes of varying lengths to recycle. This is helpful when a sermon isn't long enough to put on a C-62 tape.

In my heart, there's a soft spot for the tape traders of the nineties. Independent musicians found that the cassette was a good medium to reach audiences with their music. People often traded those tapes or made compilations of underground bands' tracks. I treasure those home-made albums. The photocopied graphics give them a unique quality not found in slick commercial tape productions.

I wrote about my own music in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powel's Books.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

THE VERY CROSS OF CHRIST

I'm amazed how much we depend on coffee. People, including myself, become crabby and tired without a morning caffeine fix. Christians are no different.

I can remember a few times when somebody forgot to start the coffee pot at church and the Sunday school members grew mutinous. Some people even began pacing until the coffee was ready.


I find this doting on coffee to be rather amusing. Our morning cup of Joe is as necessary to us as water was to the Israelites. I also think it's wonder full how people perk up, pun intended, once the caffeine kicks in.

Back when I attended a house church, based in the home owned by two women, I learned of a humorous situation which happened each weekday morning. They owned a coffee pot that made a sighing noise as it brewed the coffee. Each woman assumed the other was sighing until they were in the same kitchen and the machine gave out its human-like expression of resignation. I couldn't help but laugh when I heard the machine for myself.

I often was chided for my sense of humor by humorless Christians. Many of those incidents are recorded in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Read more about this wondrous testimony of God's providence at Amazon (where you can order coffee) as well as Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

BUT I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT I'D SEE HER AGAIN

My sister Diane was a huge part of my childhood. In fact, she was the only one who really liked me back then. Neighbourhood kids threw stones and called me names so I didn't have any boys as pals.

I remember how we were free to walk all over our neighbourhood and even to stores in Fort Saskatchewan. We had no worries about perverts snatching children off the street. Neither did Mom need to constantly supervise us. We explored the creek, the golf course, and we even played by the water tower.

Diane also liked to teas me but in a friendly way. One of our play-fight arguments was our birthdays. For a few weeks, she was the same numerical age as I was. It was a running joke with us because I used to deny she was exactly the same age but she'd refute that. It was all in fun and nobody's feelings were hurt.

Diane also used to brag that she shared her birthday with John Lennon. Nobody famous that I knew of back then had the same birthday as me. Even so, I took vicarious pride in my sister and her birthday.

That idyllic state of affairs came to a sudden end when I was sent 500 miles from my home and family to Jericho Hill School. I was only allowed to visit home at Christmas and summer holidays. I was also allowed to visit my home for Easter three times. Diane was still fond of me, and I of her, but she found new kids to play with.

I still find it odd that Diane has been dead for more than ten years. I assumed we'd live far into our retirement years. God apparently had other plans when my beloved sister died of a rare liver disease. Paraphrasing the line in James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" song, I always thought that I'd see her one more time again.

Diane also was mentioned in all three of my memoirs. The first two are featured on the Bruce Atchison's books page. How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers until the end of October 2014.