Posts Tagged ‘OpEd’
Some things are BFDs and some things just aren’t. What are BFDs? Well, son, this video might help you out. BFDs would include passing healthcare legislation, your first kiss, discovering plutonium, or your parachute not opening. There are two news items in amateur radio right now that, despite all the hubbub, aren’t BFDs.
Remote operation from anywhere is now allowed for DXCC awards. ARRL will now allow contacts from remotely-operated stations to be submitted for DXCC awards, regardless of where the control point is located. This seems to be a BFD for many people because of instead of buying a multi-giga dollar megastation, which was the previously accepted way to buy your way to DXCC, today with modern technology and better living through chemistry you can rent a megastation with a credit card and operate it with your favorite computing device from the comfort of your meager home station, hotel room, or police station drunk tank. Why is it not a BFD? Remote operation contacts were allowed for DXCC credit before, the only thing that has changed is where the control point is allowed. The contact is still made over the air. This isn’t like Echolink computer-to-computer contacts. The remote station must be located within your home DXCC entity. If you still want to get your DXCC the old fashioned way, you can. DXCC is about personal achievement, and how you got it is a BFD to you, not anyone else.
The FCC will no longer issue paper licenses. Why is this not a BFD? There are several reasons. The online ULS record is considered your official credential. If you want a paper license, you can go to the ULS, download a PDF, and print it out. One can also request the FCC send them a paper copy. What is BFD is that the FCC will save $304K a year with this change.
We’ve all come across that frequency. You know the one I mean. People on there all hours of the day and night saying and doing nasty things. It’s been going on for a long time and no one in any regulatory agency seems to do anything about it. There are websites devoted to that frequency and the people who are on it. People post things on Facebook and those two websites here in the US about it all the time. New radio amateurs ask about it and wonder what it’s about. Old ones complain about it or get outraged. Some amateurs laugh about it. Various people theorize about the mental health of the participants on that frequency. Some waste hours of their lives listening to it, many trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Some people have wasted months and years out of their pathetic, useless lives making that frequency what it is.
Here’s the kicker. There are no good guys on this frequency. None. Not one of them. Especially not the ones who claim they are against the bad guys and are merely trying to make the frequency better by contending with the so-called bad guys. Even you, listening there. Perhaps you just listen, or maybe you decide to fire up your linear amp and drop a carrier in there for a while, perhaps to punish them, maybe just to stir the pot, or give yourself a chuckle. Acknowledge it. You’ve done it.
No government agency is going to fix that frequency, or perhaps better worded, fix or punish those people on that frequency. You’re not going to stop what’s been going on, not directly, at least. Here’s what you, me, and everyone with a brain can do to fix this problem: stop listening to it, stop talking about it, don’t even acknowledge it. From this day forward, that frequency doesn’t exist. If you see someone posting about that frequency on a social media website or an amateur radio forum, you say we don’t talk about that. If someone mentions it on the air in a QSO, in a roundtable, or on a net, talk about something else, like the weather. That frequency is what it is because we listen to it and we talk about it. We have the power to make it whither and die.
Incentives and Licensing
Jeff Davis, KE9V, wrote in his weekly letter, Quintessence, about something we’ve all heard on the air, the roundtable discussing and lamenting about those who are not real hams. He posits this is one unintended consequence of incentive licensing, where new amateurs tend to stay on repeaters and not upgrade to acquire HF band privileges, creating this us and them mentality. Newbies will always be on repeaters and the real hams are on HF.
Incentive licensing was introduced in 1964 by the ARRL and FCC. I got my ticket as a teenager in 1984, but I don’t recall hearing the term incentive licensing or angst about it until perhaps ten years ago. It never really occurred to me that there was something before incentive licensing in amateur radio. It was always what I knew amateur radio to be, even when I was a budding radio artisan in the 70s. License classes were an integral part of amateur radio, much like color television is in every living room today.
The original motivation behind incentive licensing was to get amateurs to increase their knowledge and skill. While in theory it makes sense, in practice I don’t think it’s been very effective. Today you can find Extras who are, well, quite simply, numbskulls. While the exams can test for specific isolated technical tidbits, they never were able to test for operating skills, uncover deep understanding of topics, or examine practical skills like soldering a connnector. Some would argue the CW exam tested for operating skill, but in reality it didn’t. It tested operators copying CW for a certain period of time but didn’t really test whether they could copy weak signals, send code, or have a QSO. It certainly didn’t test whether they were proficient operators or good and wholesome people. A review of FCC enforcement actions and on air monitoring in which violators and LIDs most often are code tested Extras provides empirical evidence that exams and incentive licensing aren’t always effective at determining good operators or weeding out those guys.
Over the years I’ve found that license class has little to do with the technical proficiency of amateurs. The biggest factor I’ve found has been professional experience and formal education. The most technically astute amateurs are, ironically, professionals in telecommunications, electronics, and engineering. Often these folks have access to equipment and resources that let them expand their knowledge, and amateur radio is a secondary technical endeavor. The best of these folks seed the rest of the amateur radio community with technical know how.
Personally I’ve found passing amateur radio exams to be trivial. While I’m a telecommunications professional with some schooling in electronics, I’ve thought tests were fairly easy to pass with just simple question memorization and very little, if any, technical study. I’m not saying I didn’t know the material. I could draw a bipolar transistor amplifier circuit from memory and do the calculations on a whiteboard or explain modulation. Passing a test was merely an inconvenient formality. Advancing my knowledge and skills in amateur radio has never been driven by a test or advancing in license class, like the original intent of incentive licensing. It certainly wasn’t driven by getting an extra 20 kHz of space on 20 meters at the time. Increasing knowledge has been triggered by my interests. I really got into CW when I saw others using it and saw how quickly and efficiently QSOs could be had, not because I had to pass a 20 WPM test. I took up rig building when I saw others making simple rigs from 2N2222s and it seemed cool. I’m exploring satellites now because I find relaying a radio signal through a little box orbiting the Earth intriguing.
If incentive licensing isn’t really motivating amateurs to learn more and increase their skills, what purpose does it serve, other than supporting a needless hierarchy, one implemented back when post-war middle-agers and old codgers were bucking free love and turn on, tune in, drop out? I think incentive licensing in the US has outlived its usefulness, and it’s perhaps time to eliminate it — one test and license class to rule them all. What is the worst that could happen, someone new won’t be destined for that local repeater and its accompanying unfair stereotypes, and will instead make a QSO on HF, perhaps get interested in CW, build a rig, and then work through satellites or do moonbounce…and become… the proverbial real ham?
Last year QRZ.com made accusations that callsign database sites HamQTH.com and QRZCQ.com stole QRZ callbook data, citing planted fake callsigns in the QRZ database appearing in their databases. Both HamQTH and QRZCQ denied the claims. QRZ appears to have recently upped the ante, having contacted at least one software developer, N3FJP, requesting him to remove HamQTH support from his logging program, claiming “Programs that facilitate the use of HamQTH.com are, in legal terms, are participating in “contributory infringement.” HamQTH on Facebook continues to deny copying QRZ data, though it’s been noted that the site accepts publicly submitted data, so the possibility of QRZ lifted data exists. HamQTH founder, Petr, OK2CQR, in a Facebook post quoted from a private email exchange QRZ founder Fred AA7BQ, “Your service does not offer anything to the amateur radio community that isn’t available elsewhere, which makes you a parasite, enjoying the benefits of the hard work of others.” The comment struck me as ironic as Petr has no advertising on the HamQTH website and he also contributes to the community the free CQRLog logging program, which is open source software. To people who know what Petr has done, he is hardly a parasite. QRZ, on the other hand, generates revenue by hosting content others write.
Several times I have run comparison queries between QRZ and HamQTH and have yet to find any unique QRZ data in HamQTH query results. I’m not saying QRZ data doesn’t exist in HamQTH, it’s just that I haven’t found it and I haven’t seen evidence that the copying, if it occurred, is prevalent. On the Facebook thread it was mentioned that email addresses have appeared in HamQTH profiles that may have come from QRZ.
After the claims by QRZ last year, the QRZ callbook listings for HamQTH founder OK2CQR (1) and QRZCQ founder DO5SSB disappeared. DK5TX claims his QRZ profile was repeated edited without his knowledge when he linked to his HamQTH profile page. (OK2CQR’s QRZ callbook entry reappeared a few days ago.)
While I should be concerned about copyright infringement, I have difficulty siding with QRZ in this dispute. The information in QRZ is mostly information in the public domain and user contributed profile information was created by users, not QRZ personnel, though they created the system to store it and charge for XML access. Email addresses of active radio amateurs can be easily harvested on the Internet by anyone and collected in a database. Furthermore, I find the alleged QRZ manipulation of database data in retaliation disturbing. As I indirectly attempted to illustrate in this satire piece earlier this year, QRZ is considered the de facto amateur radio callbook these days, and essentially has a monopoly. QRZ’s dominant position dates back to the times when government agency radio amateur database data was difficult to acquire and process, before the Internet became mainstream and online query tools to government data became commonplace. With this monopoly comes a responsibility, beyond generating paychecks for employees, but a responsibility to the community. In my opinion it’s time to get this data in more open databases, and on sites that are not concerned with web clicks and revenue or those that host forums with often vitriolic exchanges that do not reflect well on amateur radio.
(1) http://hamqth.com/news.php, Posting from 20 June 2012
Ham Radio Deluxe has announced that the final free version of HRD will be removed from their servers September 1, 2013. After the HRD freeware product was sold by its author, it was converted to a commercial software product. The current owner, W4PC, has stated that the freeware 5.x version will continue to be free, however they will no longer host the files for download and there will be no further development on the 5.x version. Others may host the files for download free of charge.
I hate to keep sounding like a broken record, but the situation with HRD, and in particular with the 5.x freeware version, illustrates just why freeware is a problematic software model and ultimately a technological dead end for a hobby like amateur radio. Luckily with HRD, development is continuing with the commercial product.
Do you use other freeware amateur radio programs? Ask your favorite program authors if they would consider open sourcing their software. If they don’t, ask them why not and what do they have to lose.
Misconduct and Consequences
Larry, W2LJ, recently wrote about a topic that all of us can identify with, the LID in a DX station pileup who ignores protocol and has no sense of manners. They ignore DX requests for specific stations to respond and just blast the frequency, often with high power, until they get their contact. The problem has existed for decades and is nothing new. It’s one reason why I get turned off by DXing (despite dreaming of going on a high profile DXpedition someday), and it’s especially frustrating for a QRPer where timing and skill are much more important due to the power disadvantage. Conversely, RF power often makes up for a lack of skill or manners, and the DX pileup LID makes a nuisance of himself to the point where the DX station can’t ignore him, and rewards him with a QSO.
The problem has been going on too long. The reason it continues to exist is much like why we have email spam after nearly 20 years of the “mainstream” Internet. There’s no cost associated it, and the bad behavior is rewarded. The DX Code of Conduct is a great model for people to follow, but unfortunately it’s only the honest and polite people who follow it. There must be consequences for bad behavior.
First off, DX stations need to stop rewarding these LIDs with contacts. They need to call them out and let them know they’re not getting a contact during the DXpedition. Perhaps we could create a specific Q signal that says “you’re blacklisted” to keep it short and sweet and avoid long on the air explanations. Or they can work the station and not QSL the contact and let the station know through some means they got a non-QSL for their bad behavior.
Second, DX organizations and organizations like ARRL, CQ, and perhaps RSGB need to maintain a “three strikes” policy. If they receive evidence, such as recordings, of bad on the air behavior three times within a given period, the offender has awards stripped and they’re identified on a blacklist that can be accessed by high profile DXpeditions. The minutia of appeals and reinstatement and the level of public notification can be debated, but I think the basic idea is sound and something that needs to be done.
This all may sound harsh, but in order to change bad behavior there needs to be consequences. All too often in amateur radio we don’t call out bad behavior and it affects the enjoyment of the hobby for the rest of us. It’s time for the organizations who have the power to enforce consequences, to take action, rather than continue to provide rewards.