Microwave Journal

All Aboard, Y’all

Taking the Northeast Regional to IMS

August 14, 2019

This column was first published in The Roanoke Times on July 27, 2019. Photo from Amtrak.

Recently my wife and I rode Amtrak from Roanoke to Boston, where the International Microwave Symposium (IMS) was held this year. For the microwave industry, my industry, IMS is to microwave as the Oscars are to the movies.

By microwave, I’m not referring to ovens. IMS promotes the technology that, among other things, enables cell phones, Wi-Fi and your personal drone. Fortunately for you, this piece is not about technology. It’s about the journey. If you want to know more about the technology you will have to pick up a copy of Microwave Journal.

Among the 650 companies promoting their products at IMS was Fincastle-based and NASA-funded Micro Harmonics (MHC). Representing MHC at IMS was their founder, one of their five employees (Brittney), their business development consultant (me) and the consultant’s wife. My wife was invited because she provides a voice of sanity in the company of the wild and crazy nerds that populate this industry — not including me, of course. She demonstrated this trait during her three days of minding the MHC booth at IMS.

MHC’s participation was supported by CIT (Center for Innovative Technology) and RAMP (Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program). For more information on these and other Virginia-based economic development initiatives, check out www.cit.org, ramprb.tech and www.vedp.org.

If you are wondering, MHC makes Faraday rotation mmWave isolators and circulators. Their technology exploits a magneto-optical phenomena. But, again, this is about the journey, so MHC’s technology overview can be found at www.microharmonics.com.

Amtrak 176

Amtrak’s 176 begins its daily trek from Roanoke at 6:20 a.m. and arrives at its terminus, Boston’s South Station at 8:25 p.m. Amtrak’s moniker for the 176 is the Northeast Regional, which accurately describes its destination but ignores its origins. Oh, well.

We arrived early at the Roanoke station platform, joining a few others waiting for the conductor’s “All aboard!” Instead, at the appointed time, an attendant appeared and casually said, “Y’all can board now.” We settled into our surprisingly comfortable seats, picking up passengers at stops along the way, until the train was near full when we arrived at D.C.’s Union Station.

While waiting for the engine to switch from diesel to electric, my wife continued her crash course on MHC’s products. I asked her about the insertion loss of MHC’s FR34. She smiled and simply said, “Best of the best!”

One of the stops was NYC’s Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, where we decided to spend the night, just for the adventure. And an adventure it was. Penn Station felt more like a circus than a train depot. It definitely was not Roanoke. After several attempts, we found our way out of the maze and at the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th Street, a short block from our hotel. The doorman greeted us and called for the elevator to take us to the 6th floor lobby. Very civilized.

I went online to figure out how to navigate Penn Station. I am glad I did. A sense of relief came over us the next morning when we successfully staged ourselves in the proper waiting area. We were soon again on the train to Boston. Still, I learned I prefer this manner of travel to racing the trucks up I-81.

At Boston’s South Station we stepped out of the 19th Century neoclassical structure and arranged for an Uber ride to our hotel. There, we met up with our MHC colleagues, who elected to fly in.

For the next several days we all did booth duty. I spent some time at the booth, but mostly wandered the floor connecting with legacy industry colleagues. At some point the James McMurtry tune, Just Us Kids, began running through my head.

On each side of us were companies from Shanghai, China. Over the three days, we all became friends and made sure we would be positioned near each other at IMS next year, in Los Angeles.

My wife and Brittney made a great team. Word must have been out on the exhibition floor, because the MHC visitor log went on for page after page. My wife was especially proficient at explaining that all the pertinent technical information was on our give-away thumb drive.

On Friday morning we boarded the southbound Northeast Regional for the 14-hour journey back to Roanoke.

My wife’s 106-year-old aunt often mentions the importance of learning something new each day. I learned how to navigate Penn Station. My wife can now explain Faraday rotation mmWave isolators.