Amateur Radio Appropriate Technology

Surfin’: Got User Interface? by Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, ARRL Contributing Editor’s article speaks to a very important aspect of radio-operator interface and appropriate technology.

A contributor to his article says:

“I am as amazed as I am appalled at SDR for emergency, military, commercial, contest and general ham use. For some reason, the software has become the Holy Grail of the systems. High technology has completely over-shadowed the concept of appropriate technology. Two examples come to mind.

“First, there is the belief that anything and everything controlled by a mouse is, by default, the best and only way to go. Related to that is the notion that ‘seconds count’ in a contest where maximizing the number of contacts is paramount (we need not go into the inaccurate RST reporting system). Having said that, even a novice experimenter can see how it takes fewer actions, less time and fewer errors to have dedicated controls rather than going through a few menus, making the selection, hitting ‘enter,’ etc. And, of course this assumes that the computer never locks up. Have you ever seen or experienced what happens when a computer locks up during a heart catherization?!

“Second, there doesn’t seem to be much informed effort that goes into defining the requirements for the user interface. If you examine the interface for some (all?) of the SDRs, you’ll see that logically related functions are not necessarily grouped together on the screen like they are in a ‘conventional’ radio. Color coding is used for appearance not function. And, even at the individual control level, you’ll often observe that there is not only a lack of consistency for similar functions, the selection for the displayed format is not necessarily the best one.

“Hence, while SDR has made some technological improvements, the designers seem to lack the education, experience and interest in the area of (operator) usability.”


Ten Usability Heuristics by Jakob Nielsen Ph.D. are cited by Stan WA1LOU, and are part of a much larger useful website of Usability Theory & Practice.

Usability goes hand-in-hand with Appropriate Technology.  Appropriate Technology is one of those Zen-Like concepts that is easier to get a sense of, than define.

One questions whether it is Appropriate Technology to have 60 plus menu options, each with 2 to 12 deep layers of submenus on a HF/VHF rig intended to be run mobile?  Not only is the interface usability nearly impossible, but one of these rigs is nearly impossible to set up.  You’ll see the emerging tears of frustration if a master rig reset is needed, as the owner is faced with recreating the set-up with hundreds of steps.

Or rigs that out of the box need a massive set-up effort to work before any traffic can be carried.

Or basically closed nets/systems requiring a specific bit of Hardware or Software to operate – a hardware or software item that is an added expense, but might not even be available on a ready basis.

Or rigs temperature sensitive enough to have “fancy” displays that either won’t show, or work laggardly in temperature extremes?

Or QRO (High Power) orientated gear without QRP (low power) operational ability?

There are hundreds of Usability & Appropriate Technology issues facing an Amateur.  Some matter little if they come into play strictly in the hobby-sense, but when they overlap into rigs impossible to handle while mobile in motion on public roads, or unusable for Emergency/Emcom use without a setting-setup session that can run into hours of time, then it no longer the chosen foibles of the hobby.




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