My subscription to Life expired, but I still have a subscription to Mad.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

we have met the enemy and the enemy is us

This morning, Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, (the "father of APRS") posted these wise words on the APRSSIG:
At the ARRL Technical Challenge Forum at Dayton, the ARRL
technology leaders were lamenting that HAM radio needs something
for youth to get excited about. Something like: "Look at how
kids have taken text-messaging as the be-all-end-all excitement
of communications! We need something like that in ham radio!
Why aren't we developing things like this?"

To which I jumped up from the audience and could not contain
myself and exclaimed! "We have! We have had local/global text
messaging and text email from a handheld since 1998 in APRS! It
is exactly what kids are doing today, but we have been doing it
for 10 years! But you know what? All the old fuds in ham radio
say 'How crude. We need a keyboard. No one is ever going to
communicate by punching buttons on the front of an HT'!" SO
still, only 1% of ham radio is even aware of this routine global
connectivity from a handheld that we have had for 10 years.

As pogo said, "we have met the enemy and the enemy is us."
Everyone keeps waiting for the "perfect dream" solution and then
they dream of all the things they could do. But you know what?
The perfect dream solution is always in the future. The few
instances in ham radio that really excell in actual needed
practical communications are those that ALWAYS take what they
have and just do the MOST with it, NOW!


  1. I think the issue is that the APRS network is quite unreliable. Comparing text messaging to messaging feature of APRS is like comparing a Honda Accord to Yugo. One works very well and is quite reliable, the other you have to cross your fingers and hope your message gets through.

    I don't think kids think texting is the "be-all-end-all excitement
    of communications." It's simply a way to talk to friends. Replicating functionality in Ham Radio is not going to attract a the younger generation to get their licenses.

    We can't, nor we shouldn't, replicate what already works on the consumer market. Nor should we be trying to make some kind of "mass market appeal" for amateur radio. Doing so will only be a waste of time and resources. Instead we should be focusing on the developing technologies and making an effort to show receptive youths (computer geeks, budding engineers, etc) that Amateur Radio isn't a dead medium.

    While I agree with Bob's statement that we are our own worst enemy, I see it for different reasons. Hams seem to see Amateur Radio as a ends to a means, and I think it really needs to be pitched as a means to and ends. Instead of marketing how "cool" amateur radio is, we should be trying to show how amateur radio enables us to do "cool" things.

  2. Kids like stuff their parents don't. What got texting to take off was kids being able to be wired to each other all the time, as though they couldn't live without it.

    This stuff fades fast too. It seems like less people are wearing bluetooth headsets these days, jumping the shark in what, five years since it became a craze? PDAs a little longer than that.

    The kids' technology is partially (maybe fully) driven by fashion. In another year or so, it may be fashionable to not have any electronics around you at all. Or texting someone will be seen as too impersonal.

    I don't think Ham Radio can really compare itself to that.

  3. Been there, done that. I use it regularly to communicate with my wife (also a ham). I only wish there was a portal for me to use when I'm at work to get a message onto APRS from the internet (there may be one, but I haven't found it yet).