Paul Rinaldo’s Rule of Amateur Radio Progress

Recently on the AMSAT-BB email list, there was a discussion about some new satellites about to be launched. Some folks criticized the implementation of the satellite hardware (as in “they should have done this instead of that.“) Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, posted an excellent response that bears repeating:

Paul Rinaldo’s rule of Amateur Radio Progress:

Progress is made in Amateur Radio by letting energetic individuals move forward. Conversly, nothing in Amateur Radio is accomplished by complaining about other individual’s projects. Simple summary: If you don’t like their project, then go do or support your own choices. Get out of their way.

The service is where we are allowed to experiment as individuals. This means if you have an experiment, then do it. If someone else has an experiment you like, then contribute to it, support it, or get out of the way. It’s the individuals that move forward and do something that makes Ham radio progress.

Conversely, Its all the naysayers, thought police, kibitzers, complainers, arm chair lawyers and couch potatos that hold much progress back. Not one cloud of their hot air will move anything forward. The only thing it does is make us all look like old fuds and many of the would-be progressives just throw in the towel and instead of a great hobby, they go get a real job instead.

So, again, Ham radio is an unbelievably diverse collection of intersts, modes, techniques, applications, projects, missions, activities, directions, places, groups, frequencies, bands, devices, propagation, tests, events and experiments. Choose those you are interested in, jump in, contribute, move forward… Do not waste your time (and other’s) trying to hold others back from their interests.


The best you can do is find other people that actually do something and support them in a direction you want and hang on for the ride. I call this Paul Rinaldo’s rule of Amateur Radio, because I learned it back in the late 1970’s or so when I was on the board of directors and Paul was president of AMRAD which was working on the AX.25 spec, and trying to develop the early East Coast Packet System. We all met frequently, and everyone had ideas of which way to go. It’s the sentence that begins with “what they need to do is…” that Paul pointed out was pointless.

Or something like that. Over the years, in all the clubs and organizations of Amateur Radio, I find it the rule to live by. If you have an idea, do it. If someone else has an idea, either join it or support it. If it’s a dumb idea, it will die, don’t waste your time trying to assure its demise. But complaining about others people’s progress just makes no sense to me.


QSL Via the Buro

I was going through the Pile of Mail that had accumulated over the past few months. This is the non-urgent stuff that got pushed aside to be looked at later. I had two envelopes from the Zero QSL bureau, with about a dozen total QSL cards. Most of these cards were from my KB0CY/C6A Mini-DXpedition to The Bahamas.

So here it is January 2008 and I am just getting QSL cards from contacts made in December 2000. This is not really new news, as most hams are familiar with long delays for cards sent via the buro. But still, this is a really long time for our instant gratification society. In this case, I received these QSL cards 7 years after the contact.

How do you think this happens? I am not sure. I suspect that the typical ham might wait up to a year to send cards into their outgoing QSL bureau. Then the cards may sit there for a while….maybe another year? Then the cards get mailed to the US, ending up at the appropriate incoming QSL bureau…so add another year. Let’s say they sit there for another year and then get mailed to me. Add it up, it is 4 years, assuming long delays at each stage. It still doesn’t account for the full 7 years. Maybe the sending ham didn’t realize he needed the QSL card until he was scanning his log with an eye towards DXCC or some other award. This could cause an additional delay in when the card is initially sent.

Of course, I sent out cards in return, also via the Buro….wonder when they will arrive at the other end?
This points out the advantage electronic QSL systems such as eQSL and the ARRL Logbook of the World. Yes, I do appreciate the value of a well done QSL card that you can hold in your hand. But seven years is a long time to wait.

73, Bob K0NR

P.S. This is not a criticism of the volunteers that make the incoming QSL bureaus work…I appreciate their efforts.

Blame It on OPEC

I keep saying that I am not writing another word about the elimination of the Morse Code requirement for an FCC ham license. So this will be my last statement: I say blame it on OPEC.

At the start of 2007, I came across the Long Delayed Echoes blog, where Jeff KE9V made his 2007 New Years predictions, which included this:

Having thrown the gates wide open by eliminating the Morse code requirement for all amateur testing we learn that there’s nobody out there waiting to join the party. I predict no significant increase of new licensees in 2007.

Of course, Jeff’s prediction turned out to be correct (again!). The Morse Code requirement is irrelevant…which caused me to write this blog entry: Morse Code Testing: Irrelevant.

But yesterday, I see that Bruce Perens K6BP, founder of No Code International, says that “No Code Came Too Late to Help Ham Radio“. The Jeff KE9V response is here. Bruce is well-known in the Open Source, AMSAT and other techie communities, so I don’t dismiss his opinion lightly. Maybe he has a point…could it have happened differently? So that started me thinking again, which may or may not be a good thing and it often turns into another page on this blog.

So why did the Morse Code requirement emerge as the way to “keep the riff raff” out of ham radio? Well, that’s easy….it was because of those CBers (Citizens Band operators). The CB band was filled with a bunch of unlicensed, undisciplined fools that destroyed that radio service. It was obvious ham radio needed a barrier to keep them out. (Might have thought about an IQ test but that might be un-American.) Morse Code seemed to be the obvious tool.

Why was CB such a mess? Back in its early years, the CB folks were quite civilized and operated with both courtesy and call letters. But in 1974, the US Congress established a nationwide speed limit of 55 MPH. A large number of truck drivers decided that this was a really bad idea and adopted CB radios as the way to avoid speed traps on the interstate highways. The general public didn’t take long to catch on and suddenly every car is sporting a CB antenna, cruising down the highway giving out smokie reports and talking like a truck driver. The FCC Rules and call letters were quickly tossed aside. This really was a pop culture thing that just exploded. Even people that didn’t speed got caught up in the fun of watching for them smokies.
The 55 MPH speed limit was an emergency response to the 1973 Oil Crisis. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to stop shipping oil to countries that supported Israel. The price of oil jumped to $12 per barrel. (Geez, that doesn’t sound all that bad this week.) The US Congress decided that if we all drove slower, we would use less fuel so they instituted the 55 MPH speed limit.

So if those dang OPEC guys had not raised the price of oil, we wouldn’t have had the 55 MPH speed limit in the 1970s. The CB boom would not have happened and there would have been no irrational fear of this “riff raff” getting into ham radio. This means that the issue of the Morse Code requirement might have been addressed with Logic and Thinking (instead of Fear and Religious Zeal). The Morse Code requirement might have been dropped a decade earlier.

Wait a minute! Maybe it was those guys in Newington trying to keep their favorite mode alive? Yeah, they probably used King Hussein of Jordan (JY1) as a means to influence OPEC and make the whole thing happen, all funded by my ARRL dues.

73, Bob K0NR

Here Comes Digital TV

Although I am very much a techie, I often lag in adopting the latest consumer technology. I don’t need to be the first one on my block to own the latest gizmo, since that usually means paying more for less, compared to waiting until next year. However, since our household has this pressing “need” for a new television, it forced me to confront this business of Digital TV and HDTV.

The FCC has decided that good, old analog TV will end in February 2009. Many, but not all, television stations are already transmitting in digital format, whether high definition or not. After February 2009, the analog transmitters will be pretty much shut down. This makes me wonder how this is really going to play out as the general public seems to be rather clueless about the great analog-to-digital switch that is coming. Sure, they are starting to buy those super-sized big screen HDTVs to watch The Big Game. But do they realize that the little 19-inch color tube will go dark in 2009? Consumer information is starting to show up on various web sites telling the general public about the change. The NTIA is running a coupon program to subsidize converter boxes to keep those old analog TVs running. It seems that the feds felt a little guilty taking Grandma’s TV away while pocketing the money from selling the vacated spectrum.

This will directly affect viewers that receive the signal over the air. Television viewers that get their signal from cable or satellite are likely to be buffered from the change to digital by the settop box that decodes the signal for them. I also stumbled across an exemption for Low Power TV stations and translators. Translators are used in rural areas to retransmit television signals from the larger metro areas. Apparently, the FCC decided to not force the digital transition out in the sticks.

We brought the DTV home and hooked it up. Its role in life is to be the kitchen TV, where there happens to be no convenient TV antenna jack. (I’ve got a decent VHF/UHF TV antenna on the roof of the house that picks up signals from two major cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, but the coax doesn’t go to the kitchen.) Anticipating the problem, I bought a $10 “rabbit ears plus UHF loop” antenna to get the TV on the air quickly. I figured this would be a dismal failure and the next job on the list will be fishing RG-6 cable up through the wall. To my surprise, the DTV picked up all of the Colorado Springs stations flawlessly. And I do mean flawlessly…that’s the thing about digital…the signal is either there or not. Previously, on analog TV, we’d see all kinds of interesting lines and snow come and go, depending on the phase of the moon and the multipath distortion off the nearby mountains. But the digital picture is rock steady. Really impressive. I temporarily hooked the DTV to the roof antenna and the Denver stations popped in picture perfect as well.

One by one, the analog stuff in my house is converting to digital. The biggest exception: amateur radio equipment.

73, Bob K0NR

Ham Radio Ruckus on Digital Bandwidth

Things have been a little too quiet on the various ham radio email lists. That all changed when the FCC issued a Public Notice concerning RM-11392, a petition by Mark Miller N5RFX to modify the rules concerning digital emissions and automatic control. The petition is posted in two parts on the FCC web site: RM-11392 part 1, RM-11392 part 2. This is apparently the latest manifestation of the conflict around automatic digital messaging via the Winlink system. On the one hand, the Winlink folks are trying to implement an effective worldwide digital/email system that is valuable during emergency situations (read: Katrina). On the other hand, other users in the band are frustrated by spectrum used up by automated amateur radio stations, which may transmit on top of on-going amateur radio activity.

That is the short version of the story. I have tried to follow the deeper arguments about signal bandwidth, signal-to-noise ratio, the various forms of Pactor transmissions, the relative efficiency of various modes, etc. All I can conclude for sure is that this is another one of those religious debates that seem to be pop up from time to time. Dan KB6NU correctly points out that part of the problem is that people don’t understand the FCC rule making process. Email postings with titles like Will You Let FCC Kill Digital Radio Technology? certainly helps fuel the fire.

Mostly, I am just excited that we have moved beyond Code vs No Code to the next big thing to debate !!!

73, Bob K0NR