The other comment on the skimmer/RBN issue

I got this mail from Alan KF3B. It is uploaded for a reference of the discussion. I asked Alan if I could upload it or not. So far, no response. Since this won't contain any personal information etc, I would quote the whole here.



First I thank you for your thoughtful posting about RBN and SKIMMER. It caused me to reflect on these matters.

Before talking about radio, I should share bits of my own sense of our existence. I think that every advantage is also a disadvantage. For everything we gain, we also suffer a loss. Every strength is also a weakness. This sense of duality is not limited to technology, but seems to me to be universally true about all parts of life. However, I'll limit this email to radio.

I became a ham in, I think, 1955. Technology at that time was so advanced compared with Marconi's time. Compared with today's technology, it was, of course, quite primitive. I remember having mixed feelings when I changed from my J-38 straight key to a Vibroplex bug. First, I enjoyed very much the ability to send faster. On the other hand, I always fancied myself a good code sender and felt a sense of loss because it took less skill to send a good string of dots. When I moved from crystal control to VFO I felt only slightly sad because it took skill to search for guys calling me off my frequency. With VFO control, the skill level was reduced. (I must say that I always hated the limitations of crystals, HI). Then radios were improved. They drifted less. Changing from receive to transmit became effortless. Again, a very positive movement, but a sadness because I always tried to perform these tasks well manually and that opportunity was forevermore gone. Then coaxial cables replaced twin feed lines. Again, a good improvement, but a loss personally because I had enjoyed building antennas with odd shapes fed with twin-lead and matching then with my old Johnson Matchbox. Then came broad-band transceivers. No more dipping-peaking-dipping. I was good at it and missed performing those activities. Then phase-lock-loops. Rock solid transceivers. Big forward technological movements, but a personal loss because I no longer would need to utilize a skill set I had learned.

I went inactive in 1971 until 1994 to raise my family and devote myself to my commercial life. In 1994, more or less by accident, my close friend Don brought down to my then QTH the old 75A-4, KWS-1, TO Keyer, paddle and matchbox.. We threw some wire out the window to a tree, turned it all on (nothing caught fire) and I made a CW QSO. I still could copy 20+ wpm easily, but had never heard "5NN" before. I had to ask for three or four RST repeats before I understood that 5NN was 599.

Replaced the 75A-4/KWS-1 with Yaesu FT-1000D. Began to have mixed feelings again. The 1000D was like heaven. But ... I did not have to zero beat the receive frequency. I did not have to worry about anything. The new radio did everything. What about my old skill-sets? How sad it was to use the internal keyer in the 1000D instead of my old Hallicrafters HA-1, the original "TO Keyer". On balance, forward progress, noting with a bit of sadness that my old skill sets were no longer needed.

Then replaced the 1000D with the K3. More wonderful features. Great technical progress. But what about my old skill sets? When noise reduction is active, I don't have to use my ears. I was good at picking up signals near the noise floor. But the K3's amazing technology removed the need for me to do what I had learned.

Technological progress seems to imply a shift in effort from people to something else.

Society seems to adopt a technology if the advantage outweighs the disadvantage. The not so obvious part of this is that the scale for measuring advantage and disadvantage is not universal. It depends on who is measuring. For example, a new computer program to reduce the amount of labor needed to to a job is valuable to an employer but harmful to the employees who stand to lose their job. So, the 'measure--ment' depends on the 'measure-er'.

I once tried skimmer. I didn't like it. I never will. It's not for me.

As long as I can send without friends telling me QLF (your code sounds like you are sending with left foot), I will never use a keyboard. As I age and my ability to use the paddle decrease, I might try a keyboard but it will be a difficult choice. I might also give up this wonderful hobby. That choice will come sooner than I would like it to.

But I will use RBN. There is a growing scarcity of good ops. I would prefer rag chewing with them than looking for them. To me, as measurer, the value of the RBN outweighs its cost.

Now to your point of "insulting to liberty." I learned that everything said on amateur radio was to be considered a broadcast to the universe. People always "read the mail." Personally, I have spent many hours just listening to good ops chatting. I am fascinated with how they abbreviate words or just how they generally express themselves. Some of the commonly used idioms are interesting. So I've never had thoughts about lack of privacy on the air because I never thought there was any privacy.

Skimmer or other machines that copy code well are used. They are networked together and that cluster of networked skimmers comprise the RBN world. My personal choice is whether or not I will use it.

Is it sad that machines to copy code exist? Yes AND no. The person who must answer that question will have his own sense of how to value the measurements of benefit versus harm.

Now the argument changes its form. Given that RBN exists, one can ask: Does RBN's existence cause harm? One could, indeed, argue yes it does cause harm - because, with the existence of RBN, people less skilled, people who without RBN would never call me, are now wasting my time, adding to QRM, making my life worse! That's a real argument. It has merit.

RBN usage during a contest changes everything. It drastically reduces the need for a certain kind of skill. Good ears are replaced, to some extent, with good internet bandwidth. Etc.

As technology continues to advance, seems to me that contest sponsors must consider that entrants who use RBN are in a different class from those who don't. Other technologies like remote receiving antennas are also dramatic reasons to sub-class entrants along these severe technological dimensions. Radiosport is evolving. It might not be fair or attractive in the short term, but it will probably stabilize if and when radiosport related technology stabilizes ....

Shin, I think that I'll stop now. I see technological progress a two edged sword. However, it is hard sometimes for me to apply this two edged sword way of thinking to medicine. How can tomography be harmful? How can vaccines to eliminate Polio, Malaria, TB be harmful? I don't know. Perhaps my thinking needs lots of refinement.

In any case, I am grateful to you because you say things that stimulate my addled brain.

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Alan KF3B, David N1EA and others made some good points. All of which I have been conveying to you over the years. I dont like or use skimmers but enjoy the RBN. I have had many QSOs with old friends found via RBN that might have went unanswered had I not spotted them on RBN. Plus it tells me how my signal is in to certain parts of the world which increases my fun in ham radio being able to turn the antenna in that direction. Code readers are a plus for guys starting out and helps them to improve. But to use a code reader and keyboard I despise as it turns the contact into a RTTY Qso. All of this technology has changed DXing, contesting and ham radio in general. I converted 48 years of paper logs into computerized logging using DXLabs (free). It is a major plus for me being able to instantly see all the QSOs with a station through out the years. I even talked the author into having the comment field come up instantly showing all comments with that station in one box which helps to remember each comment I made with that station through out the years.

    It is a brave new world that will not change. I miss the days of tuning my own rigs, and finding QSOs while tuning the bands like Alan expressed. I guess to each there own Shin, you can live in the past or be part of the present within ham radio. I like to combine both and just enjoy the moment.

    Hope to catch you on the air waves often OT, be looking for you via RBN. That is where I find my friends and time is so valuable these days.

    161, Steve N6TT