Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In response to one of my recent posts, someone asked: "Why demonize people for commitment and achievement?”  Unfortunately they (like many others in our Service) are trying to equate “achievement” with "access”.

As I've noted previously, the two concepts are distinctly different...and mutually exclusive.

Clearly, there is absolutely nothing wrong if someone wants to “achieve” something as a result of their experiences in ham radio.  But, as I've also said a taxpayer supported, federally administered LICENSING system that grants access to our amateur radio frequencies is not the way to do it. Moreover, what the FCC has been doing all these years by forcing “achievement” down EVERYONE’S throat with their stupid “Incentive Licencing” nonsense has since become systemically discriminatory under current US law, and is therefore quite illegal.

Indeed, the ARRL and other similar organizations have a boatload of awards one can strive for and “achieve” for those persons who need some external incentive to do so. Likewise, numerous “achievement” awards are also available for those who want yet another piece of paper to hang on their shack walls to show others how great they are.  But those so-called “incentives” have absolutely no place in a licensing system.

As I've repeatedly noted, an FCC license that grants access to operation in our Service is NOT a “diploma”. And the US Federal Government has absolutely NO business continually peddling it as such, particularly in this supposedly “enlightened” age of equal access for all.

Rather, our licenses should be thought of as nothing more than a “permission slip”…a “license to learn” if you will…that simply shows that the holder has proven to the appropriate government agency that they have demonstrated the necessary set of knowledges and skills that will keep themselves and others safe without also causing harmful interference to other hams or other services with the (added) privileges granted.

Period.

The bottom line here is that if people want (or need) yet another piece of paper to show they have “achieved” some level of technical or other knowledge in our Service, that can (and should) be a pursuit that is undertaken OUTSIDE of the licensing system and NOT as an integral part of it.

Or, to put it another way, if such persons continually need that kind of "ego stroking" to make themselves feel that they are somehow better than everyone else in our Service, that's certainly their business.

However, I highly resent having to PAY for their ego stroking with my tax dollars!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Once again, our "regulatory fundamentalists" are trotting out yet another half-baked reason for retaining an Extra Class license in our licensing structure. 

They say that for a license to be acceptable for the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations; (CEPT) agreements (which allow reciprocal licensing) the license must cover defined subject matter set by international agreements.  Therefore, they say, short of changing the requirements for a license to be acceptable for the purposes of reciprocal licensing (Not trivial, requires international agreement), something that looks very much like the extra class license is required.

To which I again say, "Hogwash!"

The CEPT is NOT a "treaty" requirement, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the ITU regulations.  

Rather, it's a separate agreement among several (primarily European) countries to recognize each other's licensing systems for the Amateur Radio Service.  As a result, a CEPT permit must, by design, default to the most stringent of the lot…including those that still require a Morse test for access to the HF bands.

What's more, I don' t think the CEPT consortium's "non-recognition" of some of our US licenses is related so much to the number of exams we have in our "incentive" system, as much as it has to do with their relevance (or lack thereof) and/or comparability to most of the rest of the world's licensing systems for our Service.  

As I've said, most other licensing systems in the world specifically withhold operating privileges from lower class licensees based primarily on safety and non-interference considerations rather than on rewarding "exclusive" slices of artificially walled-off sub-spectrum to higher class licensees.  

Indeed, what I've been advocating in this blog is that the USA needs to stop focusing their licensing system on creating budding RF Engineers and, instead, make the questions on the US exams actually match the operating privileges those licenses grant.  


Right now, that isn't happening.

And if this approach leads to a more technically comprehensive (i.e. "harder") exam "up front", then SO BE IT!  

In fact, that's exactly what Canada does right now with their Basic exam...an exam that ALL Canadian hams must now pass in order to get ANY license for our Service in that country.... even for VHF and UHF operation.

I know from my own personal experience (from administering them) that the 100-question Canadian Basic exam is a whopper of a test that not everyone passes the first time...or the second...or the third…or even the fourth!  You actually have to "know your stuff" to pass it.  And, with 100 questions pulled out of a 900-item question bank, I've also found that it is extremely hard (if not impossible) for candidates to simply "memorize the test". That's probably because the Canadian Basic exam is roughly equivalent in content and comprehensiveness to our US Tech and General exams put together.

But, even so, there's still a difference.  

That is, rather than focusing on testing obscure parts of our hobby that few (if any of us) will ever need to know about (let alone use!) that Basic exam focuses specifically on examining only those skills and knowledges that hams will absolutely "need to know" in order to keep themselves (and their neighbors) safe and/or from causing harmful interference to other hams or other services.  

What's more, unlike our current US Tech license (based on successfully completing a horrifically un-comprehensive, 35-question exam) that grants high power operating and transmitter construction privileges from day one, holders of the Canadian Basic certificate are STILL limited to running only 250 watts of power.  Basics also cannot build transmitters "from scratch" (kits are OK) and they can't hold the license of an in-band repeater or club station, or give exams. To do those things, they need to pass yet another, 50-question exam over much more technically oriented subject matter.

That is, unlike our General and Extra Class exams that simply ask more obscure questions about subject matter relating to operating privileges that have (in most cases) already been granted to lower-class licensees in the US system, the Canadian Advanced exam is anything but yet another "achievement test".   To put it bluntly, it's a big-time toughie over a whole lot of new material!

However, even though it is a much more comprehensive and technically oriented exam, it still focuses on examining only those added technical knowledges and skills that Advanced certificate holders absolutely need to know to keep themselves and their neighbors safe (and themselves from causing harmful interference) while exercising those newly granted (high power and repeater-enabled) privileges.

The bottom line here is that candidates for licenses in our Service in Canada are examined NOT based on their "achievements" or with an aim to "educate" them into becoming budding RF engineers.  Rather, Canadian licensed candidates are examined on what they absolutely need to know to do certain things in our Service based primarily on safety and non-interference concerns…and nothing more.     

And before some in our ranks once again accuse me of trying to breed "mediocrity" in our Service, please understand that I am NOT advocating that we "water down" our exam structure any further!   

To the contrary, what I AM advocating is that we need to "front end load" our examination requirements and then subsequently examine only those things that we all know (from our own experiences) are specifically required keep ourselves and others safe while also helping to prevent us all from becoming a nuisance to other hams or other services.  


Such an approach would, indeed, make an "Extra Class" license totally irrelevant, and therefore absolutely unnecessary.  Which, in my mind, it already is.

This approach gets the FCC out of the "education" business (where they absolutely don't belong and where their "incentive" system has proven to be a dismal failure in that regard) and back into simply examining us for basic (and advanced) technical and regulatory competencies that are specifically relevant to what we actually do…on the air…as modern hams.  

Or, to put it another way, this approach gets our examination system back into the business of examining skills and knowleges based on "need" rather than for some obscure modicum of educational "achievement".  

That's not advocating "mediocrity" in our Service (or creating a "no ham left behind" Radio Service)!  Rather, it's called examining for the right set of needed technical and regulatory skills at the right times in our ham radio "careers".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Over and over again in online forums, I hear our "regulatory fundamentalists" insist that experience, knowledge and achievement should be acknowledged and rewarded in the form of a license to operate in our Service.

To which I say....."Horsepucky"!

What these clowns continually forget is that a license to operate in a publicly-owned, taxpayer supported radio service is NOT a "reward" for "good deeds".  Rather, it's simply the granting of privileges to operate after someone demonstrates a proscribed level of competency to do so. 

Period.

As I've said, all such "achievement" nonsense has absolutely NO place in a taxpayer-supported, government-administered institution whose regulator's sole authority is simply to regulate.  Clearly, the underlying goal of incentive licensing was to forcefully "educate" us with the aim of turning us all into budding RF Engineers. And THAT was done primarily so as to further a whole plethora of government social and economic goals of the day.  

Indeed, many of you may remember the "missile gap" of the 1960s when our government bureaucrats were throwing anything and everything at the wall to stimulate a countrywide effort to crank out hordes of mechanical, electrical and RF engineers. Obviously, "incentive licensing" in our radio service was made all the more palatable because of its relationship to the backdrop of the "missile gap" paranoia of the day.

But, it is also important to remember that, besides the "missile gap" being later shown to be overwhelmingly in the US's favor, all that nonsense happened NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO!  What possible regulatory purpose is still being served...in the 21st Century...by indefinitely keeping all that "missile gap derived" nonsense fully in place today?  The Soviet Union has long since gone the way of the dinosaur, and most of our electronic components and equipment now originate from the Far East.

Clearly, the other underlying goal of all this "incentive" nonsense at the time was to line the pockets of the ARRL who, if memory serves correctly, were on the financial "ropes" at the time. Indeed, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the League has been cashing in on "incentive licensing" ever since by selling tens (if not hundreds and hundreds) of thousands of copies of their so-called "upgrade" materials along the way.

But the ARRL wasn't the only one pushing this nonsense at the time.  The "good old boys" at the FCC were clearly involved in it too. 

And all the while we hams continue to worship the FCC as some kind of "demi-God" from whom all blessings flow, they certainly won't see things "my way", "our way" or ANY way other than what the FCC, in their isolated "Ivory Tower" decides to do...or not to do.  And, as I've also said, their whole "petition" process is little more than a bureaucratic farce.  Most "petitions" end up in "File 13" if they in any way go against already established FCC policy.

Unfortunately, ALL of us seem to have collectively lost sight of the fact that the FCC is nothing more than yet another US Government regulatory agency.  And they have never been granted the statutory authority to set themselves up to "educate" anyone.

What's more, since we taxpayers pay their salaries, these overstuffed (not to mention overpaid) FCC bureaucrats all work for YOU AND ME and NOT the other way around.

Now, I don't know about you, but, from my own personal perspective, I highly RESENT being manipulated, controlled and, in effect, abused by a bunch of gormless government bureaucrats who remain seemingly hell-bent on using we hams (and prospective hams) as unwitting pawns to further their own social and economic policy goals as outlined in their Part 97.1…. particularly all that "maintaining and expanding a reservoir of trained operators and technical experts" nonsense.

In my book, ALL of that eyewash remains in DIRECT CONTRAVENTION of the "personal aim" and "amateur" spirit (not to mention the "non pecuniary interest" intent) of our International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regulators for our Service. And the FCC has been getting away with all of this internationally illegal foolishness for decades largely because US hams collectively 'bought into" all that nonsense in the first place and have continued to worship it all as "the Gospel truth" ever since.

Indeed, it's often been said that we don't get the government we deserve, we get the government (in this case the FCC) we allow.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In recent years, many national amateur-radio-related lobby organizations (most notably the ARRL) have increasingly attempted to justify our continued, fee-free access to our frequencies based on our known ability to help out various rapid response organizations in times of emergency.

Unfortunately, that decision is now coming back to bite both them...and us...big time.

In many ways, we've become the victims of our own success.  That's because we've done such a good job with these activities (sometimes loosely called "EMCOMM"...short for "Emergency Communication") in the past that governments at all levels are now increasingly looking to the Amateur Service to provide their "standby" communications services "for free" without having to hire full-time people and put them on their own government payrolls.

Clearly, this flies directly in the face of amateur radio's supposed "non-pecuniary interest" underpinnings that's explicitly spelled out in both the International and federal regulations that govern our Service.

Obviously, we can no longer justify our Service's continued existence (not to mention our continued fee-free access to the increasingly valuable radio spectrum most of us now take for granted!) based solely on our "proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art" as Part 97.1 so loftily declares. 

The truth is that we haven't really done much of that "advancement" stuff in decades. 

Maybe that's because many of us have been so very busy "eating our young" along the way by obsessively insisting that younger people who might like to join us still endure systemically discriminatory "hazing rituals"...like arcane Morse tests and increasingly irrelevant, "achievement tests" over technologically ancient subject matter…LONG after such institutionalized snobbery served any useful regulatory purpose (if it ever did!) 

As a result, most of today's bright-eyed, tech-savvy youngsters are now looking elsewhere to exercise their budding technological talents.  And, what's left of what we call "Amateur Radio" has since become an increasingly irrelevant technological backwater in the grand scheme of things. 

Indeed, to the outside world, our Service now consists of little more than an ever aging (and therefore ever-shrinking) group of perpetually squabbling, "grumpy old men"…ossified old farts who remain absolutely hell-bent on keeping the rules and licensing requirements for our Service permanently stuck in the technological and sociological 1950s.

Unfortunately, lobby organizations like the ARRL…organizations that are doing their level best to represent our Service to international and federal politicians and regulators in a positive light…now have very little left with which to justify our Service's continued existence to those politicians and regulators.  And, like it or not, it's the latter folks who ultimately decide who gets what access to which slice of ever-more-scarce frequency spectrum.

Clearly, it now appears that one of the very last remaining jewels in our Service's "crown"…our so-called "voluntary" EMCOMM activities…has now become permanently "tarnished" as well...primarily because the use of amateur radio frequencies is supposed to be on a "non-pecuniary interest" basis.

Or, to put it another way, providing a semi-permanent, communications capability to a "for profit" hospital or other such organization hardly qualifies as "non-pecuniary" and turns the entire basis and purpose of our Service on its head.

Indeed, thanks largely to decades of ongoing regulatory obstructionism from our ever-aging (but still highly vocal) cadre of ossified Luddite curmudgeons, our Service's ultimate fate (in the form of a long, slow, painful death from lack of new blood) is now largely sealed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Well, the perpetual nay-sayers in our ranks are at it again.

This time, its to voice their vehement opposition to a new FCC proposal to allow only two (vice three) Volunteer Examiners (VEs) to administer exams in our Service and to also allow us to use more modern (?) forms of digital transmission (such as TDMA) on our bands.

And, once again, these "good old boys" are crawling out of the woodwork to strongly oppose such progress, saying that do to so would (once again) invite hoards of "riff raff" and "cheaters" into our Service (like those low-life "no-coders").  Their other (lame) argument is that the use of these new digital modes will cause untold amounts of harmful interference to their precious AM, CW and SSB so-called "legacy" modes of communication.

It's the same old story from the same old (and getting older ) minority in our ranks who view ANY relaxation of "the rules" as nothing more than an invitation for the (gasp!) "CB Crowd" to hopelessly pollute our bands.

First of all, it's painfully evident that none of these clowns have tuned across the CB bands lately.  If they had, they would find that, with the possible exception of over-the-road truckers, the CB bands are as dead (or deader) than our own ham bands.  Most of the folks who once used CB as a form of hobby communication have now LONG since moved on to Internet chat rooms, and to use such "social media" outlets as Facebook, Twitter (not to mention cell phones!) to get their jollies.

The other truth these Luddites don't seem to want to admit to is that, when the FCC's Riley Hollingsworth was actively going after such ne'er-do-wells on our bands, the VAST majority of them showing up on his "scofflaw list" turned out to be 20 WPM, FCC office examined, Extra Class operators!...that is, from the exact same crowd who are now doing most of the bitching and complaining.  Apparently, these arrogant snobs believe that, because they've been licensed "forever" that also gives them the God-given right to interfere with others trying to operate in our Service whom they don't feel are "worthy" of a ham license because they didn't pass a stupid Morse test.

And, as far as having only two examiners administering exams,  as an Accredited Examiner for Industry Canada, I alone frequently administer Canadian ham exams to applicants while they are sitting around my kitchen table. 

And the sky here in Canada has yet to fall.

The big advantage to this approach is that it allows my Canadian license applicants to take exams when THEY feel they are ready, and not force them to wait while we gather three examiners together, or to wait for an otherwise scheduled exam session. 

Because people learn things at different speeds, the flexibility of this approach helps alleviate the "peaking too soon" problem that often plagues folks studying for our exams. I make it clear to all my Canadian applicants to phone me when THEY feel they are ready to take the exam. I then invite them over to my home (or I'll meet them at theirs or somewhere else at their convenience) to administer exams. I've even administered Canadian ham exams in the back booths of restaurants!

And, as far as "accountability" goes, the truth is that if a VE (or VEs) are going to (as the naysayers say) "screw things up for the rest of us" they will collectively figure out a way to do that regardless of how many checks and balances are built into "the system" to prevent it. 

Or, to put it another way, Industry Canada (rightly) recognizes that the integrity of their extermination system for our Service relies on the individual care and integrity of the people administering it, and NOT in how many so-called "security" features are built into "the system" to prevent errors or fraud. 


Next, as far as new digital modes interfering with their precious AM, CW and SSB goes (and as I have noted in this blog on numerous occasions in the past) there is more than enough spectrum space in our Service to easily accommodate everyone's particular passion. 

The problem right now stems from a horrendously outdated, FCC-imposed, license-class-and mode-based band planning scheme that shoehorns us all into our own little slices of walled-off "turf"…. separate little, over-regulated fiefdoms that are still based largely on operating habits and mode preferences that were popular back in the 1950s and 60s!

Indeed, for the last 60+ years, our FCC has built our entire licensing system on anointing a chosen few in our ranks with "exclusive" access to artificially walled-off slices of frequency spectrum. And then we now wonder why we have seemingly endless "turf wars" (not to mention abject panic at any suggestion of even the slightest regulatory changes) along with boorish, "I'm entitled" snobbery among those so anointed who actually bought into all that "I'm the greatest because my FCC license says so" elitism.

By contrast, most of the rest of the world's administrations regulate their Amateur Radio Services simply by emission bandwidth, NOT by license class and operating mode as we do in the USA. 

This means that, almost everywhere else on the planet, governments have left it up to we hams to decide "how much of what goes where" on our bands. It's only in the United States that our bands are carved up into smaller and smaller slices of FCC-regulated, sub-band (and sub-sub band) "turf" based solely on license class and operating mode...and NOT on that turf's technological usefulness for exploratory purposes or it's popularity potential.  

What’s more, most everywhere else in the world, differences in license class are based on safety and non-interference considerations (such as power output, being allowed to build transmitters "from scratch", or being the licensee of a repeater or club station) rather than on granting ego-stroking, so-called "exclusive" access to smaller and smaller slices of bureaucratically segregated frequency spectrum. 

What's more, as a direct result of all our FCC-imposed sub-band (and sub-sub band) nonsense, radio amateurs in the United States are perennially forced to play "Mother May I?" games with the FCC in order to shift things around as our collective interests and technology changes. This, in turn, means that our horrifically outdated regulated band plans are always going to systemically lag behind emerging technology and societal changes.

Frankly, I believe all this ego-stroking, "turf based" band planning nonsense has also been a major contributor to our collective hesitancy to embrace new communications modes as they come along. That's because those new modes often don't fit anywhere in our current, FCC-imposed "straight jacket".  Unfortunately, that "straight jacket", backed up by reams of enabling "Mother May I?" eyewash in our Part 97, also provides an incredibly easy way for a vocal minority to block such progress at even the hint of such change.  


In other words, thanks to the continuing howls of protest from these "not in my backyard" Luddites, such long-needed emission mode experimentation in our Service is often stifled before it even has a chance to emerge, let alone grow.

The bottom line here is that, just as when office space is divided up into little cubicles, the end result is LESS usable space, not more. It also breeds an ever-increasing human craving for more "elbow room"....a precious commodity that, for example, our horrifically chopped up 75 Meter Phone Band never seems to have enough of.

Indeed, all the while we continue to not only allow, but encourage a government organization (the FCC) who could absolutely care less about what we do internally to still remain firmly in charge of those "who and what goes where" decisions for our Service, our band plans will ALWAYS remain woefully out of date with both technological and sociological reality.

Monday, September 24, 2012

On the weekend of September 15th, 2012 three  families (me and my wife Kate, along with my friends Chet,   VE3CFK and his wife Vera and my other friend Art, VE3GNF and his wife Aleida, visited the W9 DXCC conference in Chicago.

While there we hams sat through a number of very interesting forums related to amateur radio while the girls went shopping.

Of  particular interest was a talk by Chris Imlay, W3KD, ARRL General Counsel spoke on the explosion of  restrictive housing covenants that prohibit erection of outside antennas faced by many hams today.  Even though amateur radio is federallyy regulated, more and more new private housing areas are placing restrictions on such antenna arrays.  And it is painfully clear that the Homeowner lobby in Washington is putting inordinate pressure on the FCC NOT to enforce their own rules!

Clearly, this is yet another strong indicator that the FCC considers ham radio as little more than a "pimple on the rear end of progress".

And, as I've noted....we've done it to ourselves!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Over and over again in many ham radio-related online forums, I read comments from our (thankfully!) ever-shrinking cadre of "regulatory fundamentalists" about how distressing it is that people are being licensed these days but are apparently not being prepared in any way to get started as amateurs.

They lament that, the "training" these days is all designed just to create new hams without any new skills.  They then launch into a diatribe that ham radio has now become so "diluted" (that is, "easy" for newcomers to get a license) that such people then are unable to progress to the point of getting their stations on the air for "lack of knowledge".

To all of which, I say HORSEPUCKY!

First of all, it appears these crusty curmudgeons are STILL myopically equating a "license" as a kind of "diploma" that those who hold such documents instantly become "fully qualified" hams once they pass their exams.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  To the contrary, I've always viewed my ham radio license as  a "license to learn" and that my real learning came from my time on the air and from tinkering with my equipment and antennas.

What;'s more, I've always believed that it's OUR collective responsibility (vice some stupid government agency's) to "train" our newcomers.   Years ago, that activity was called "Elmering"...ham-speak for "mentoring". 

Unfortunately, I've found there's precious little "Elmering" going on in our Service these days. To the contrary, many of our old timers seem to be going out of their way to make our newcomers (particularly the youthful ones) feel absolutely unwelcome in our Service.

Speaking as a long time amateur radio instructor and accredited examiner (on both sides of the US/Canadian border) it's been my personal experience that newcomers are far more responsive to "mentoring" than they are to "training".  And "mentoring" is something that is best accomplished when each of us feels a personal responsibility to work one-on-one with one or more newcomers rather than relying on some increasingly arcane government licensing structure to do it.

The bottom line here is that, rather than sitting on the sidelines and "harrumphing" about how "untrained" our newcomers are, perhaps its time some of these curmudgeons got up off  their ever-expanding finals and actually became an "Elmer" to a newcomer (or two) in much the same manner that many of us were "Elmered" when we were first starting out.