Posts Tagged ‘Soapbox’

In contrast

In contrast to my giving up the frequency for a DX station while in the middle of a “run” during a contest (as I recently mentioned), I heard a particularly bad bit of operating on last Sunday while trying to work Bob, VP8LP in the Falkland Islands. I’ve worked Bob before on several bands but needed a contact from him on 15m. He had an excellent signal and was steadily working stations, the vast majority of which were good operators, standing by when Bob was working another station and not responding when Bob wasn’t calling them. (Please see my post about The DX Code of Conduct if you haven’t already.) There was, unfortunately, one exception to the “good guys” on the frequency.

As Bob was steadily working the pile, a ham started calling K7NRA on the frequency. After he did this once or twice, assuming that perhaps he was unaware that there was another station on the frequency, I responded to him and said that the frequency was in use and gave my callsign. (The other ham was using his callsign, or what I presume was his, though I neglected to note it. While normally I don’t like to “pick on” people in a public forum, what was going on was heard by dozens of other hams, and if I could remember what it was, I’d post it here.) The other ham said “Well, there’s supposed to be a special event for K7NRA on this frequency and I’m going to call him, this is his announced frequency”.

It was pretty clear that the guy calling wasn’t hearing K7NRA, and aside from that fact that he refused to stop interfering with an active frequency, his general technique was awful. He was calling “blind” (meaning he didn’t hear the other station), and kept calling “CQ CQ CQ CQ CQ CQ K7NRA”, which doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. CQ generally means “calling all stations”, thus saying “CQ K7NRA” means “calling all stations with a callsign of K7NRA”; by definition there will only be one. There are exceptions to using a “directed CQ”, such as when calling “CQ DX” (looking for any DX station) or “CQ NJ” (looking for a station in New Jersey), but proper procedure when calling a particular station is to simply call the station. If I were to call that station, I’d say “K7NRA this is K2DBK” or, if K7NRA was listening for other stations, I would likely just give my callsign only.

Several other stations responded to the caller (some more politely, and some, unfortunately much less so), and he refused to move, insisting that he had “as much right to the frequency as anyone”. Unless he had an emergency (which clearly was not the case), what he said was not true. The FCC rules governing the amateur radio service state that nobody can “own” a particular frequency (including by “publishing” use of a particular frequency at a particular time), and further, if any frequency is in use, with the exception of use in an emergency, nobody is required to relinquish the frequency for another station. Thus, the caller was not only wrong, but he was violating the rule that says “No amateur operator shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communication or signal.”

The guy would not give up, and continued to attempt to call K7NRA repeatedly. The worst of it was when one station was speaking with Bob, and was showing ham radio to a young Boy Scout for the first time. All the others stations on the frequency patiently stood by while Bob spoke with the youngster, all except the guy calling K7NRA, who simply wouldn’t stop. Several hams were telling him (in language that probably violated another part of the FCC rules) exactly what they thought of him, to no avail. While this was happening, it occurred to me what a terrible impression this was making on the young Scout. Is this how we want to entice others into our hobby?

After the contact with the scout was over, Bob, who could hear the guy calling the K7 station, finally said “The station calling CQ, this is VP8LP, please go ahead”. That did the trick, the station stopped calling. Bob called several more times with no response, and finally said “well, I guess I’ve figured out how to shut him up!” and went back to working the pileup.

I would like to say that Bob’s comment had a permanent effect, but unfortunately that was not the case. The caller kept coming back, Bob would respond to the “gentleman calling CQ”, which would usually shut him up for a while, and so on. This went on for a while, with the occasional argument back and forth between the guy calling K7 and others on the frequency, until finally propagation changed enough that he was no longer heard on the frequency.

After this was over, I did a little research to see what “special event” he was talking about, since an initial check of the spot clusters didn’t show any activity for K7NRA. After a little digging I discovered that in fact the Yavapai Amateur Radio Club was, in fact, doing a special event to celebrate the “birthday” of the NRA, as described on their website. The frequency occupied by VP8LP was also one of the frequencies advertised (21.355mHz), but what our caller failed to notice was that the event was scheduled for the 17th of November, not the 14th of November, when this all occurred. This caller was not only wrong from a legal and ethical standpoint, he managed to get a lot of people annoyed at him by trying to work an activity that wasn’t even happening. As they say, you can’t outlaw stupidity.


C’mon people, listen!

A lot has been written recently (including by me) about the general conduct of hams on the airwaves. Over the last few days, I’ve seen something that has just been so absurd that I had to vent here. 

I’ve discussed operating in pileups before, and how it’s important to listen to the operator’s instructions to understand where they are listening. It’s frustrating when an operator doesn’t listen and calls right on top of the DX station instead of on his split frequency. While there’s really no excuse, the occasional call or two can be understood by operators who just send 5NN TU (on CW) or just “Thanks” on phone without giving the split often. The same can be said for those operators who don’t ID often.

What I cannot understand, and to me what’s totally inexcusable was the behavior that I’ve seen on RTTY in the pileups for the folks operating from the new PJ entities recently. The vast majority of operators at the DX end seem to be really top-notch operators and are doing their best to control the pileup. They leave nothing to chance when, at the end of a contact, they send something like “K2DBK TU DE PJ7E UP 2-4”. You know who the station is, and you know that they are listening for your transmission 2-4 up. In spite of this, operators repeatedly (and I don’t mean once or twice, but dozens of times) continue to call on the operators transmit frequency, not where he’s listening.

I believe in Heinlein’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I don’t believe that most of these operators are calling just to QRM (create noise) on the DX station. For one thing, they are all using their callsigns, so we know who they are. (There is a chance that they are using someone else’s callsign to intentionally make them look bad, but I don’t think that’s the case.) I think that either they don’t have a good enough copy on on the DX station to be able to understand that he’s listening on a different frequency, or they don’t understand what “UP” means. In the former case, they shouldn’t be calling at all. If you don’t have a good enough copy on a station to receive what they are sending, how on earth are you going to know if you’ve worked them? If it’s the latter, and you don’t know that “UP” means that the operator is working stations using split operation, then ask someone what it means, don’t just ignore it.

Incidentally, I want to mention that I’ve looked up a number of callsigns that are guilty of this behavior. There is a mix of stations, but a significant number of stations seem to be US Amateur Extra class, and, as best I can tell, they have been Extras for quite some time. This isn’t a case of “no-coders” not knowing how to operate. It may well be that RTTY, which has increased in popularity recently, is new to these operators, but like any mode you need to learn how to use it.

When in doubt, refer to the DX Code of Conduct


C’mon people, listen!

A lot has been written recently (including by me) about the general conduct of hams on the airwaves. Over the last few days, I’ve seen something that has just been so absurd that I had to vent here. 

I’ve discussed operating in pileups before, and how it’s important to listen to the operator’s instructions to understand where they are listening. It’s frustrating when an operator doesn’t listen and calls right on top of the DX station instead of on his split frequency. While there’s really no excuse, the occasional call or two can be understood by operators who just send 5NN TU (on CW) or just “Thanks” on phone without giving the split often. The same can be said for those operators who don’t ID often.

What I cannot understand, and to me what’s totally inexcusable was the behavior that I’ve seen on RTTY in the pileups for the folks operating from the new PJ entities recently. The vast majority of operators at the DX end seem to be really top-notch operators and are doing their best to control the pileup. They leave nothing to chance when, at the end of a contact, they send something like “K2DBK TU DE PJ7E UP 2-4”. You know who the station is, and you know that they are listening for your transmission 2-4 up. In spite of this, operators repeatedly (and I don’t mean once or twice, but dozens of times) continue to call on the operators transmit frequency, not where he’s listening.

I believe in Heinlein’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I don’t believe that most of these operators are calling just to QRM (create noise) on the DX station. For one thing, they are all using their callsigns, so we know who they are. (There is a chance that they are using someone else’s callsign to intentionally make them look bad, but I don’t think that’s the case.) I think that either they don’t have a good enough copy on on the DX station to be able to understand that he’s listening on a different frequency, or they don’t understand what “UP” means. In the former case, they shouldn’t be calling at all. If you don’t have a good enough copy on a station to receive what they are sending, how on earth are you going to know if you’ve worked them? If it’s the latter, and you don’t know that “UP” means that the operator is working stations using split operation, then ask someone what it means, don’t just ignore it.

Incidentally, I want to mention that I’ve looked up a number of callsigns that are guilty of this behavior. There is a mix of stations, but a significant number of stations seem to be US Amateur Extra class, and, as best I can tell, they have been Extras for quite some time. This isn’t a case of “no-coders” not knowing how to operate. It may well be that RTTY, which has increased in popularity recently, is new to these operators, but like any mode you need to learn how to use it.

When in doubt, refer to the DX Code of Conduct


Advice to amateur programmers

If you know a bit about programming and have been thinking of writing a ham radio application, here’s a word of advice. Don’t. If you do, it will take over your hobby, your spare time will never be the same again and you’ll be lucky to receive much thanks for it.

First, you’ll have to spend countless hours answering emails that ask the same basic questions. You’ll have to do this no matter how much time you put into writing documentation or creating an FAQ or a wiki, because no-one will read it. And believe me, starting the day with an inbox full of the same old questions gets tiresome very quickly.

Second, you’ll be expected to know why your program won’t run on a user’s computer, without being given any idea what kind of computer it is or what version of operating system it uses. If the user has done anything that might affect your program’s ability to run, you won’t be told that either. And beware if you should choose not to spend too much time looking into someone’s obscure problem. One user of VOAProp who had a problem several years ago that I was unwilling to solve threatened to write to the RSGB accusing me of lacking in ham spirit. That bruising encounter is one reason I gave up developing programs for the hobby completely and now make it as clear as I possibly can that the programs I wrote continue to be available on the sole condition that I provide absolutely no support for them whatsoever.

Third, you’ll receive a lot of requests from armchair programmers for changes and improvements. Some of these might be good ideas, though you still may not want to implement them. But many will be things that only that person thinks is a good idea, quite possibly because they haven’t read the instructions or understood how the program is supposed to be used. These requests will contain no acknowledgement of the amount of time you will have to spend making these suggestions happen. You’ll have the job of justifying why you shouldn’t spend several hours or days coding some function that you personally have no interest in using. And some people find it hard to take “no” for an answer. If you wanted to write programs to someone else’s spec you’d get a job as a programmer, wouldn’t you? Then at least you’d be paid for it.

Last, but by no means least, you’ll get complaints about bugs. Yes, complaints, even if your program is free. Often, these emails will be the first contact you ever have with that particular user. But don’t expect them to start with any pleasantries. If you are particularly unlucky, as I was with one email I received from someone who couldn’t get KComm to run, you’ll be blamed for wasting their time. Sometimes the “bugs” will be due to user error or failing to read the instructions, but it’s rare that you’ll receive an apology after pointing that out. And believe me, those who complain most bitterly won’t get the joke if you offer to refund what they paid for the software.

Fortunately there are users who will make you feel that your effort is worthwhile. You might even be lucky and build a team of online friends who test your program and give you useful feedback about it. But it doesn’t take many of the other sort of comments to make you wonder why you bother. If you develop your program solely for your own use you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

It’s a good job no-one takes my advice because if ham programmers didn’t release their programs for free and put up with all the brickbats I’ve described the hobby would be a lot poorer for it. But if you’ve ever seen a program mentioned in some old forum posting and been unable to find a copy of it, now you know why.

So next time you use a bit of free ham radio software ask yourself: Did I remember to say thank you for it? Before bothering the developer with a question, take the time to read the documentation and search any relevant forum for the answer. And if you think you found a bug or have a suggestion for an improvement, try not to make it sound like a criticism or a demand. A little tact goes a long way.

40m bandplan confusion

Peter, G4NKX, uncovered a can of worms the other day after encountering some unpleasantness by CW users in what has traditionally been the PSK segment of 40m starting at 7.035MHz. It appears that the 40m band plan in IARU Region 1 (Europe) has been changed, but nobody has been told, including the IARU.org website which still has copies of the old band plan coming up top in Google searches for “IARU Region 1 Bandplan“.

Under the current European band plan for 40m, CW now has free reign up to 7.040MHz, with narrow band digimodes from 7.040 to 7.050. So the start of PSK31 operation is now presumably 7.040MHz. However the bright sparks who sit in their ivory towers and decide this sort of thing clearly forgot about the real world in which people don’t find out about something unless it is shoved under their noses. People will operate where they hear other people operating, which creates a very powerful inertia against any form of change. These band plan changes came into effect on 29th March 2009, yet people are still in ignorance of them 18 months later. Where was the letter from the national society to each licensed amateur, informing them of the changes?

But more to the point, why change? It’s just a recipe for chaos and an opportunity for the band police to cause unpleasantness, just for the sake of an extra 5KHz for CW operators. It also now means that digital mode users in Europe must use a different part of the spectrum to those in the USA, making transatlantic digital DX impossible without incurring the wrath of the policemen. Frankly, I don’t blame PSK31 users for staying where they were and refusing to be shunted around by bandplan changes that don’t give them any benefits.

I’m somewhat confused about what the 40m USA bandplan is. The document on the IARU website for Region 2 shows narrow band digital modes starting at 7.035MHz. But I thought people in the USA operated PSK31 starting at 7.070MHz and other narrow band modes like JT65A at 7.075MHz? No wonder I have never heard any Stateside DX on digital.

Radio waves don’t stop at IARU regional boundaries so what is the point in having bandplans that put digital modes in different parts of the band in different regions? It just goes to prove that the powers that be who make these decisions think the only modes that matter are SSB and CW.

You should be ashamed of yourself

The title of this entry is a phrase that I recall hearing numerous times, probably from a grandparent, when I was growing up. It was usually in response to me doing something that I shouldn’t have done, and it was a form of punishment that relied on my own sense of guilt for doing something that I knew was wrong. 

As adults, we learn about things as we go through life, and part of what we learn is to distinguish between things that are right and things that are wrong. We also learn that life is complex, and that sometimes the distinction between right and wrong isn’t very clear. The philosophical implications of that ambiguity are beyond me and something better left to the professionals (such as my uncle and cousin, both of whom have chaired the philosophy department at a major university). However, there are some fairly well-defined things that we all agree are wrong. One thing that we all know is wrong is cheating. Cheating can be defined as “Acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination”. 

Recently, the sponsors of the CQ World Wide DX contests have begun to do something that should have been done long ago. They are publicly identifying and punishing those who cheat in their contests. A recent article on the Radio-Sport blog discusses how a number of well-known contesters have been either disqualified or moved into different categories because they were caught cheating. In a very few cases, the operators involved accidentally broke the rules, but it appears now that the majority of them knew what they were doing was wrong, and didn’t expect to get caught. In the past, when such things happened, they weren’t well-publicized, and often the only way anyone ever found out was by noticing that a well-known station was missing from the final results. Even then, the contest sponsor would not comment on the reason for the disqualification. It just “happened”.

From the information published in the Radio-Sport blog, it would appear that most amateurs are pleased with CQ’s new policy of naming and publicly punishing the offenders. I am certainly among them, and I’d like to congratulate CQ for this new policy.  Just like in “real life”, if you cheat and get caught, you will have to suffer the consequences. CQ has done a good job of shaming those involved in cheating, which I think is warranted. In ham radio contests, we aren’t competing for multi-million dollar prizes, we’re competing for the right to be proud of our accomplishments. If you cheat, removing that pride is pretty much all that can be done.

I would like to encourage the ARRL and other contest sponsors to follow CQ’s lead. The technology exists today to catch cheaters, and it should be used wherever possible to do so. Quietly disqualifying someone is a disservice and an insult to the vast majority of operators who contest honestly and with integrity.


Barely making contact

I was reflecting on what I wrote yesterday about the EchoLink app for Android and why I find it and similar developments disturbing. I thought it was because it made me uneasy having to face the fact that the internet and a cellphone appears to make ham radio redundant by allowing us to make the same contacts so much more easily without using the ham bands at all. Then I had a blinding revelation. Ham radio is not about making contacts. It is about not making contacts, or making them only with luck and some difficulty.

I almost stumbled across this truth a few months ago after I sold my first VX-8R to do APRS on a smartphone using Lynn KJ4ERJ’s excellent APRSISCE software. It worked far better than the 2m radio, allowing me to be tracked and exchange messages in places where there was no 2m signal. But I went back to using RF for precisely that reason. The smartphone didn’t provide the interest of allowing me to see how VHF RF propagates around the local terrain. The disappointment of not being tracked as I slogged up the mountain was balanced by my surprise when a beacon was gated from a location I wouldn’t have thought possible and the interest created in working out how it happened. There is also the technical challenge of finding ways to improve coverage and get a radio signal out of difficult locations, for which buying a smartphone is simply a cop-out.

When you look at other ham activities that remain popular or are even gaining in popularity it’s obvious that the interest is not in how easy it is to make contacts, but how hard. DXing isn’t about pressing the PTT and ticking another entity off the list a minute later, it’s about what you have to do – buy equipment, improve your antennas, learn about propagation, develop operating skills, be patient – in order to achieve it. People boast about the DX they’ve worked, but what keeps them interested in DXing is the places they haven’t worked and how hard it will be to work them. Dialling up a contact using an internet application has nothing to do with it.

Contesting isn’t popular because it’s easy to amass a winning score but because you need the best equipment, the best antennas and lots of skill to get even close. It isn’t meant to be a level playing field. That’s why many people dislike developments like reverse beacons and skimmers that take away some of the skill required.

QRP pursuits like WSPR or MEPT beaconing aren’t about making contacts at all, but just about seeing how far a whiff of RF can go. The excitement isn’t in being received by someone for the nth time, it’s that first barely detectable trace on the screen of someone or somewhere new that makes you punch the air (if QRPers go in for such QRO expressions of emotion.)

The thing about VHF FM activity is that for the most part it isn’t about the achievement of the contact at all. It’s just about being able to converse with people. When I was first licensed, before mobile phones and inclusive call packages, chatting on 2m FM was actually the best and certainly the cheapest way of keeping in contact with my local ham friends. But things have changed over the last 35 years and I haven’t been paying attention. I’m the dinosaur who wouldn’t disclose his mobile number to the radio club database because I felt that if someone wanted to talk to me about radio they could wait until they can contact me on the radio. But I suspect that everyone else has moved on. If they want to speak with one of their ham buddies they pick up the phone. Which may partly explain why the VHF bands these days are almost dead. Or even the development of D-Star, which provides some of the convenience of calling someone on the phone without totally abandoning use of the ham bands.

In only a handful of pursuits like SOTA and WOTA where the point is to make a contact direct using radio is 2m FM still used in what I would call a traditional manner. People will struggle to hear their signal report even if the activator is right down in the noise and get a feeling of having accomplished something when they are successful.

So EchoLink on a smartphone really doesn’t change anything. It already changed. Whether hams call one another on the phone using their phone number or their EchoLink node number really makes no difference. It has just been blinkered thinking on my part to have felt that if people hold ham radio licenses they ought to talk to each other using ham radio even if it isn’t the most convenient way of doing so.


Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

 
We never share your e-mail address.

Please support our generous sponsors who make AmateurRadio.com possible:

KB3IFH QSL Cards

Hip Ham Shirts

Georgia Copper
Expert Linears

morseDX

Ni4L Antennas

Ham-Cram
R&L Electronics

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on AmateurRadio.com!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!


  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor




Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: