The news, opinions and events of VE3OIJ / VE3EEE
VE3OIJ

Amateur Radio Code of Conduct

DX, General

I see a lot of people on QRZ and elsewhere who subscribe to the DX Code of Conduct.  It’s not a bad document by any measure, but it doesn’t work for me.  Instead, I prefer to subscribe to a much simple code of conduct.  This code is lifted directly from the pre-internet days of computer networking and is so applicable to amateur radio that I am duty-bound to share it with you all.  Here it is, in all its glory:

  • I shall not be excessively annoying.
  • I shall not be excessively annoyed.

Those two simple rules encompass everything in the DX Code of Conduct.  The first line of the code encompasses the first 10 points of the DX Code of Conduct.  The second line of the code covers the last three points of the DXCoC.

And better still, this code covers things that the DXCoC does not…  Are you the kind of amateur who has to tattle to the national organization/federal regulator when someone makes a little mistake?  Maybe you’re being excessively annoyed.  Do you tune up on top of other people, “just for a sec”?  Maybe you’re excessively annoying.

There it is… a simple code of conduct that everyone can follow – and not just in your amateur radio activities!

 

VE3OIJ

The Blog Is Back

General

After a lengthy absence from blogging, I’ve returned.  The core system is spruced up, and I’m now operating with a proper domain name for the thing.

I’ll be rebuilding my information links and working on content as time progresses, of course.

It’s great to be back!

 

73 de VE3OIJ

VE3OIJ

The Essence of Amateur Radio is not Morse Code

Digital Modes, Operating, Technology

I read a blog posting (archive of that blog post) recently that was discussing the relevance of Morse Code / CW in modern amateur radio. The gist of it was that Morse code is relevant because it is felt by many to be the “essence of amateur radio”.

While I don’t doubt that many old-timers actually feel that Morse code is the essence of amateur radio, I am forced to suggest that those same people are selling amateur radio short with that feeling. In fact, they’re denying the whole POINT of why amateur radio came into existence, and what amateur radio needs to continue forward. That is why Morse code is still relevant, but not nearly as relevant as some people believe.

It is my understanding (feel free to correct me in comments) that amateur radio came about through experimentation and learning. That is to say that people so inclined to learn about the then-new-fangled radio medium for communication started making projects on their own. Eventually, the government stepped in to control it and what we now know as amateur radio was born.

The people who started amateur radio DID NOT sit around thinking “wow, this Morse code is really cool, I’ve done it with a light, and I’ve done it on a wire, I wonder if I can do it some other way?” No, they wanted to experiment with the new wireless communication technology and Morse code was close to the only efficient way to use radio at the time. Morse was a tool that fit the job requirements of the era. The essence of amateur radio was the gaining of knowledge, the advancement and exploitation of new technology and communication. It is my belief that this definition of the essence of amateur radio still applies today.

Today, the modern amateur radio enthusiast has a much larger box of communications tools to choose from. Advances in technology have given us voice and image modes. Computer advancement has given us digital modes. And, of course, there is also the venerable Morse code. Every mode has its unique advantages and disadvantages that make it appropriate for some situations and conditions, and inappropriate for others… and that includes Morse code.

The radio amateur who gets stuck on Morse code is like the old buggy driver after the advent of the automobile: sure, he can still do a job, but by not embracing the new technology he’s missing out on the richness of the activity and the expansion of his horizons that come with advancement. I’m sure that buggy driver got annoyed by all those young’ns and their fancy horseless carriages too… but that didn’t change the fact that time was marching on and the buggy driver was a quaint reminder of the past and not embracing the modern reality of transportation technology. Like that buggy driver, the radio amateur who overstates the importance of morse code misses out on the learning and new experience of other communications methods. That learning and new experience IS the essence of amateur radio.

It works the other way as well. The amateur that doesn’t pick up at least rudimentary Morse code skills is choosing the short-end of a stick – unable to operate effectively with simplistic equipment in bad conditions as Morse code permits better than almost any other mode, the completely code-free amateur’s communications toolbox is left wanting (but not empty!). On the flip side, the amateur who sticks to Morse code is left communicating in a mode that is, at common speeds of experienced operators, painfully slow for communication, requires a great amount of practice to use at those speeds, and which, in a non-disaster situation, is easily equalled in power density and propagation by inexpensive and readily available digital equipment. [edit: 3 jan 2015]  Realistically, digital equipment is available in a disaster too.  With computers becoming small and portable, there should be a laptop in any go-pack, and if if there isn’t, computers will be around and available in anything short of a nuclear blast.

If Morse code is your favourite thing in amateur radio, that’s fine. But to tell others that it is the essence of amateur radio is hubris in the extreme, and it’s living in the past. History is a great thing to learn from, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Morse code is not what defines a real radio amateur now, nor has it ever been. The ability to employ communication technology in an effective and appropriate manner under an assortment of conditions, and to be driven to learn constantly is what defines a radio amateur for the 21st century.

Let’s put Morse code in the communications tool box where it belongs and leave it there, to be used when required, and not used when there are better ways. And let’s embrace the essence of amateur radio and learn something new. If you’re a Morse enthusiast, how about learning and using a different digital mode like PSK or RTTY? If you’re a digital enthusiast, how about learning to send your Morse by hand or picking up a microphone? If you’re a phone enthusiast, how about hanging up the mic for a while and trying something different? Experimenting and learning new things, that is the essence of amateur radio.

VE3OIJ

VoIP is NOT Amateur Radio

Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

This topic comes up from time to time, and I’ve never seen anyone give a definitive argument as to why VoIP modes like Echolink, IRLP, some uses of D-Star (dongles and “dx”), CQ100 and so forth are absolutely not amateur radio.  To me, it is obvious that they are not amateur radio, and it’s easy to explain why: none of them use radio, amateur radio specifically, but radio in general, as the primary method to transmit information.

That’s not to say that they don’t use radio.  Certainly with IRLP, Echolink and “DX” uses of D-Star, radio is involved.  That’s where people get confused… “It uses a radio, therefore it is amateur radio” and that’s absolutely wrong.

It’s wrong because if you took the radio away, all those modes still work.  Echolink, all the DX part of D-Star, and CQ100 work over the internet, computer to computer.  Any use of a radio is a secondary convenience.  In the case of CQ100, it’s primary purpose is to be used computer to computer.  Legally speaking, no person needs an amateur radio licence to use these applications, despite the best efforts of software authors to keep access restricted to the amateur radio community.  If the guy down the street downloads Echolink or CQ100 and somehow manages to get an authorized registration, all the hooting and hollering in the world will not get your national communications regulator to come down on the guy.

On the other hand, if you take the internet away, Echolink, IRLP, CQ100, and most of D-Star die immediately.  They absolutely cannot function without the internet, and it is because of this that I say it is clear that such modes are not amateur radio.  In fact, they’re no different than Skype or Logitech’s video program, or MSN Messenger beyond having less features than those commercial VoIP programs.

D-Star is a special case because it can be used for direct, radio-to-radio communication.  Thus, I have to afford that mode special dispensation: At the core, D-Star is amateur radio, but a lot of how it is used is not.

But PSK and other digital modes use a computer too. I guess they aren’t amateur radio.

Wrong.  That is a canard oft trotted out in defence of the “amateur radio” status of Echolink et al. but it is a strawman that is incorrect at the most basic level.  The issue isn’t the use of a computer.  Machines have been communicating by radio for more than half a century.  PSK, RTTY and other digital modes are just modern versions of that.

Take away the internet, and people’s digital modes software still works and they can still communicate by radio.  Take away the radio, and all that digital modes software becomes useless.  Therefore, it is amateur radio.

The computer is not the issue, the primary communication medium is the issue.  With PSK etc. that medium is radio, with Echolink etc. it is the internet.

Why does this matter?

Largely, it does not except in message board fights.  One place it does matter, however, is in the public-service angle of amateur radio… you know, that part where we’re supposed to be able to communicate in the event of some kind of emergency where the major communication systems are knocked out.

One property of disasters is that they can take out the internet locally.  So if your amateur radio setup is based around internet modes, you are effectively useless when the internet drops out over a wide area… as happened in Haiti and Chile during their recent earthquake disasters, as happened in Louisiana with the hurricane, and as is the case over much of the world where internet just hasn’t made it yet.

These internet modes are fun to play around with, but don’t think of them as amateur radio.  They’re not, and they won’t ever be a replacement for basic radio communications.

[edit]

Some very good and interesting comments.  I’ve decided to add a bit here to address them.

I feel very strongly that amateur radio is about more than just communication and the ability to self-learn.  You don’t need amateur radio for that.  If that is the only justification for the existence of amateur radio, then we’re already in deep, deep trouble.  With pressure from commercial interests, and a general disinterest from the public, it won’t be long before amateur radio is killed off if the best we can do is work out glorified Skype or MSN clients that look like a radio on-screen.  To me, the purposes of amateur radio are to allow people an experimental venue from which they can learn about radio communication, to further radio communication research, and to provide public service in the event of an emergency when the other infrastructure fails.  That’s why we don’t need VoIP on the internet… let commercial interests do that (they already have).  We shouldn’t be wasting time and effort reinventing an already well-perfected wheel.

There are aspects of this sort of technology that would be very useful in the amateur radio world.  Here’s a few ideas where I think this area of interest should be going that would further amateur radio, rather than just being yet-another-VoIP-client on the internet (and thus useless when the internet doesn’t work).  This is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • Digital voice over radio – Yes, D-Star is a cool area of endeavour not because it links repeaters over the internet but because the limited bandwidth requirements of a digital voice signal mean more conversations can fit on the standard bandwidth of an FM repeater.  More conversations is more efficient use of the available spectrum.  This technology also has direct commercial application with cellular phones and general commercial radio.  Advancing this sort of technology advances radio communication generally and harkens back to the original goals of amateur radio: to further communication technology over radio. Amateur radio is grossly behind the times in this area when compared with cellular phone technology.  We should be on the leading edge of this stuff, not decades behind.
  • High speed data transfer over radio – Again, D-Star is making the advances here, but amateur radio still lags far behind the rest of the communications world in this area.  The ability to send high-speed data by radio would be a huge boon when using amateur radio in the event of an emergency.  Oddly enough, one of the types of traffic such a radio data network could carry would be digitized voice (such as voice over IP), or video.  The key here, however, is to gain the ability to do this over radio links when there is no internet, nor phone lines.  Again, amateur radio is decades behind on this when we should be leading it.  Just to drive this point home… if a bunch of amateurs set up even a 128 kbps radio network running IP over radio, they could run the free software Ventrilo and chat, computer to computer. Ventrilo is a commercially supported package that is well tested and works extremely well.  Increase that network bandwidth and you could carry a lot of VoIP conversations very effectively.  My point: instead of working out ham radio simulators, let’s solve the high speed data over radio issues.
  • Both of the above over satellite – to get message and data traffic out of a disaster area, satellites are likely the way of the future.  Efforts that enable the ability to use existing and future satellites for the previous two purposes will greatly advance amateur radio in terms of the intended purpose of amateur radio and in the eyes of the public.
  • Improved HF modes – faster and error corrected methods of transferring information globally over HF radio.
  • Space communication – faster, smaller, easier methods of sending messages over inter-planetary distances.  It’s maybe a bit early, but radio amateurs can lead this field with work on things like EME and Earth-Venus-Earth or Earth-Mars-Earth work.

That’s where I think we should be spending effort instead of wasting it on things like VoIP over the internet and pretending that it’s radio.

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