Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does technology really make it better?

A number of times on blogs and email list postings I have seen comments that went something like this. "I saw [rare DX] spotted on the cluster. A click and PowerSDR had changed to that band, selected the antenna, tuned the amp and turned the beam in that direction. CW Skimmer showed me the DX station and where people were calling. I saw someone sending a report so I knew where the DX was listening. Another click and I was netted on to him. I sent my call as soon as he had finished and the DX came right back with my report. It doesn't get much better than this!"

But does it? Does a freshwater fisherman yearn for a radar that will show him where all the fish are and a net he can stretch across the river so he can pick out the biggest specimens? Doesn't all this computer technology just remove all the elements of chance and skill that provide the interest in radio DXing? Wouldn't it be even better than this if a program called CW Operator actually finished the job by doing the boring part: replying to the DX station, logging the contact and printing out the QSL card?

Someone wrote to me yesterday that they had heard of people who had got rid of all their commercial gear and just used an MFJ Cub or similar as their main station. When I see where technology is taking the hobby I'm tempted to follow them. It's the difficulty of making a contact and the thrill of finally achieving it that makes this pastime worthwhile, not the rarity of the station contacted. Do the people who have spent tens of thousands setting up automated high powered stations really get any satisfaction from using them? What's their thrills per buck ratio?

One thing is for sure, the folks who got DXCC in the days before computers really earned their awards. I don't think the same can be said for many of today's radio amateurs.


Dick said...

Why I enjoy fly-fishing.

Why I enjoy cw QRP with OHR100A mono-banders on 20 and 30 meters.

72 Dick N2UGB

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. I thought my disillusionment with the hobby was due to poor propagation conditions and lack of gentlemanly behaviour, but I was wrong. When I moved house I put a small aerial in the loft and ran low power as a temporary measure and what I discovered was what I had been missing - the thrill of making contacts with simple low power equipment and a small aerial. I now run a low power stealth station like you and, although I use digi-modes, I avoid complex software. Simplifying and switching off DX cluster info was the best thing I ever did. Anyone want to buy my mothballed linear?

John (G4HUK)

QRP Station M6RDP said...

Couldn't agree more! All that hi-tech gear just drains hobbies like fishing or amateur radio of the fun and chance elements. As you say, with the way things are going, an actual ham operator will soon be superfluous. It is a great shame, and like everything in life it requires fine balance between enjoying the technology and the way it enhances the hobby, to being over-taken by it and draining the hobby of joy.

Paul Stam PAØK said...

Hello Julian, I think we can't stop technology and so there will be always amateurs who try out the new gadgets. But there is always that longing for simplicity. Me too. I got that FT-450 as a present from the YL. Nice handy controls, larger display, DSP and narrow CW filter. But 100 watts... I will seldom use it. I keep it on 5 watt. And when someone can't hear me with 5 W, that's pity then. I don't need CAT control, or SDR radio, I use my computer only for a spreadsheet logbook, blogging and e-mail. Just my 33 years old electronic keyer or Bencher, searching for a CQ call somewhere in the noise. 73 Paul

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hi Julian, I agree absolutely. I use the cluster sometimes. But most of my rare DX worked is just by searching and listening the amateurbands. Though I like to know how things work, so I will try out everything there is within my possebilities. Like Paul says, you can't stop it. But if you get a thrill of it? I think it's just like money, if you got it you want more. But if you haven't you'll be happy with all the small things in life. 73, Bas

Koroccotta said...

EA1HFQ. Hi Julian. I am only one year old ham operator with low power and a lot of ambition to make DX but, well it is very difficult for me to compete with all those "broadband" stations with tons of Kw. Using cluster for me is only a way to know what about conditions in the moment, but no more. Since I am OP, my best rewards came for mobile and portable operations. Low power, longwire and homebrew dipoles. When at home, I only WSPR and some PSK but the best is going out form home.

G4NKX said...

Hi Julian

I agree - although I do use the cluster (more out of interest really), all this techno advancement is all very well but you lose the simplistic approach to ham radio, the radio.antenna,and key is all you need - since running qrp here its been more fun, more challenging, thats what fascinated me when I started.

73 de Peter

Unknown said...

I use the cluster too, indirectly via to see what's happening on VHF, and I spot VHF DX contacts to the cluster to contribute to that data base. On HF I prefer to use sites like WSPRnet and PSKReporter. These are ways where technology does make things better because I am interested in propagation and these sites let me see the big picture of what is going on worldwide not just what I can hear here. I don't use them as an alternative to tuning and listening so they enhance my knowledge of propagation without detracting from my enjoyment of discovering a station by ear.

Wally said...

Hi Julian
That is why I promoted my Small Wonder Labs SW 20+ as my main rig.
Just CW no fancy digital modes whatsoever. And I have more fun than ever. Check to see my station

73 Wally