"What Doesn't Amateur Radio Understand?"
A Portion of a Response
Gary Coffman, KE4ZV
First published in the UseNet newsgroup, rec.radio.amateur.policy,
Monday, September 7, 1998 (Labor Day).
The following quoted text was posted by Gary Coffman, KE4ZV, in general response to those who claim that, along with no real need to restructure amatuer radio licensing at the present time,  some in amateur radio do not readily or easily share information, or seemingly demand a "higher level" of understanding than is really necessary or needed for licensing in amateur radio.
"I think anyone who reviews my posts on these newsgroups will be forced to concede that I share technical information just about as freely as is humanly possible to do."  

"While I have done engineering level work for the past 35 years, I was not trained as an engineer. I was trained as a nuclear physicist. I had to learn electrical engineering the same way I'd expect any amateur to learn it, from books, the technical press, and hands-on experience."  

"And of course almost all of this information is available to anyone who takes even a few moments to try to educate himself."  

"I suppose the [Georgia] Tech library would have most of the books I reference, though I haven't had a student ID over there for the last 30 years and couldn't say first hand. All of my books were purchased the same way you could purchase them. My local Barnes and Noble has most of them, or you can always get them through amazon.com. And there are a large number of resources on the web, notably manufacturer data sheets and application notes for most any device an amateur might encounter. I've found the time to search them out and study them. ...."  

"Whose fault is it that you don't understand? I'd suggest you look in the mirror to see.  Anyone can obtain the books and study them. There are plenty available, couched in terms all the way from rank beginner to expert. You only have to put forth a little effort to become acquainted with the material. It isn't beyond the capabilities of anyone with moderate intelligence and the ability to read and do some relatively simple math.  And there are those of us quite willing to help, to answer questions, to explain unclear points, etc. You have only to ask. The benefits to be gained from this knowledge are incredible, frankly revolutionary."  

"If you'll recall, I posted a bibliography of nine fundamental texts when we were discussing the Shannon relation and its relevance to ... absurd claims about Morse Code."  

"It still stuns me that you can show such pride in your ignorance, and assume that others take the same pride in deliberately remaining ignorant of the most fundamental basis of communications. Shannon's work totally revolutionized how competent people think about communications systems and information storage systems, and those who have followed him have developed a *large* body of work which impacts virtually every aspect of modern communications systems and information storage systems. If you think a blurb in the ITT handbook tells you all you need to know to be even marginally competent, or have even the most rudimentary ability to comment intelligently on what information theory tells us about communications techniques, you are sadly mistaken."  

"You say I've called you a Luddite, and I must say that the term fits you and others here of your stripe very well. You glorify hand labor and vilify superior machine techniques. That is exactly what Ned Lud did. His followers tried to hold back progress and *force* featherbedding in archaic and inefficient manual technique; so do you. Ned Lud and his followers couldn't win in a free and open competitive marketplace, they had to invoke force to try to hold back progress to preserve their manual labor jobs. They failed, and ultimately so will you and your followers."  

"The industrial revolution that Ned Lud and his followers fought against has brought prosperity to more people than any other thing in the history of the world because it embodies the idea that we should *work smart rather than hard*. We should use the power of the machine to multiply our physical capabilities. The information age has taken that a step further, allowing us to multiply the power of our minds in ways we couldn't even imagine 50 years ago.  Shannon and his followers revolutionized the world in ways that no modern day Ned Lud can resist for long."  

"Amateur radio is at a crossroads. It can decline to the status of a quaint handicraft, a preservation society for archaic manual technique, or it can boldly go forth into the 21st century as a leader of the communications revolution. We can do that because the computer gives us the power to multiply our capabilities far beyond manual methods, and information theory is the roadmap which shows us how. That wasn't possible even 25 years ago, but it is today. We can do this as amateurs because the tools needed to do so are as easily within our reach as they are of any corporate drone working in his cubicle. Software development is the ultimate cottage industry, and our on the air testing capability exceeds that of any bench  
test industry can muster. But we must shake off old attitudes and prejudices. We must eagerly accept new ways. And we must reform the regulatory environment to foster the sorts of innovation we can achieve."  

"Morse code speed testing serves as a rallying point for the forces of reaction, for the Ned Luds among us. It casts a psychological pall across amateur radio, loudly proclaiming that we are a quaint backwater determined to cling to our archaic ways while the communications revolution sweeps past us and makes us more and more irrelevant. That image hurts us in regard to spectrum retention, especially our vulnerable VHF/UHF allocations, even though Morse speed testing isn't required there. Our licensing structure says VHF/UHF spectrum isn't valuable to us. It is a  
throwaway we give to the unwashed who aren't "real" amateurs because they don't know Morse Code. Our licensing structure proclaims that the only spectrum amateur radio considers of real value is that spectrum we reserve exclusively for the Extra class. That is such an absurd image that it makes *all* of us look bad in the eyes of those competent to evaluate the real value of spectrum."  

"There are other compelling reasons we must reform and reinvent amateur radio, of course. One of the most pressing is the demographic crisis we face. If present demographic trends continue, in 10 years half our Generals will be dead, and we aren't replacing them at a rate which will make up the shortfall. Our Advanced class doesn't have much better demographics."  

"Over the last 30 years, amateur radio has become sharply divided into two separate and distinct cultures, one existing above 30 MHz and one existing below 30 MHz, artificially divided by Morse speed testing. This does not bode well for the amateur radio service. We are running a very grave risk of losing many of our important traditions and values because we cling to this one archaic and divisive Morse speed testing ritual as the highest aspiration of an amateur. Anyone with a scrap of intelligence sees that as not only an absurdity, but as a foolish and dangerous absurdity as well. It is a wedge which has split amateur radio apart, for no good reason except the beliefs of the luddites among us."  

"Those who wish to use Morse Code needn't abandon it in the process of reform. Amateur radio has a big tent, there is room for all. But the Morse speed testing must go, because it is the divisive wedge which cuts us off from our future, and may well cost us all that we value as amateurs. I think that many of our traditions are of great value, but those who hold them most strongly will soon be gone as the age of mortality and the average age of those holding our traditions merge. We must break the divisive barrier between the two cultures so that they can blend and  
absorb our key values, or the only values which will be left will be those created by the young "shack on a belt" types who will remain. (Some of their values are good too, but our older HF amateurs have values which need to be passed down as well. That won't happen unless we can knit back together the two cultures.)"  

"Dr. Tom Clark talked about this at length at the TAPR dinner at Dayton last year. It is well worthwhile to listen to that talk via the TAPR Real Audio server. He has all the facts, figures, graphs, and charts which show this cultural divide, and he has intelligent things to say about the dangers of losing some of our most valuable traditions and values if we don't find a way to bridge this divide. We can't just continue on the way we have been for the last 30 years if we hope for amateur radio to have a healthy future."  

Gary Coffman KE4ZV  

Text © Copyright 1998, ke4zv, all rights reserved.  Used by permission.