Luddite with a Purpose – Appropriate Technology & Reliability in Amateur Radio

An interesting discussion with radio friends on whether the latest XYZ (or should I say IYK for Icom/Yaesu/Kenwood) radio had the “bestest” this or that, and as a sidebar to the conversation one learns that in this friend’s IC-xxxx mega radio that it has gone back in roughly once each eight months for repair, and that presently it “works great except for this, that and the other, which are again broken.”

Or that the Computer Driven State of the Art Radio self-destructed its this or that, and just had trip number tow in for repairs.

Or that the latest Java/Flash/Windows/(Pick your Poison & insert name here) security update has made another friend’s station computer unstable.

Of the upgrade version requires hardware upgrades or driver changes that are not yet working with the exact flavor of another friend’s station.

Or (my favorite to gripe about) that when I boot my station machine, Windows, Adobe, Java, Flash, my Anti-virus and whoo knows what else all want my attention that they need an “update/upgrade” when all I want to do is catch a fleeting opportunity to work a rare DX station – and I don’t want to spend 10-20 minutes refereeing a computer system as it puzzles out which update shoudl happoen first. or if it can set a record for reboots for updates in a 15 minutes period!

I do like my integrated computer driven system.

However it is the only Windows computer I use at home – having moved everything else to the saner Apple OS-X and Linux products.

Why? Because the one set of technology is simply a “pain” and takes away all the fun while it drags out my stations reponse from switch-on to on-the-air to minutes vs a brief moment. And in contrast the Apples and Linux boxes just work.

For years I even had a work machine running OS2-Warp which was so stable that once a year I did a service power down to clean out dust bunnies and check the machine over. I’ve a forgotten SCO-Unix machine a local firm built us years ago that I often forget to even do the annual shutdown.

So machines can be made to run for the long term without all this nonsense.

In our discussion it was mentioned that perhaps these other machines didn’t have to do all the complex I/O of CAT and Virtual Cables and all that jazz. That is true, though the 16 port voicemail cards and 25 user simultanious log-in issues perhaps we equally as challenging.

Now I shouldn’t wax too absolutely about the easy to use technologies out there. In our family we have a couple Android phones and my Blackberry. The Androids are a blast to play with, but only if they have your fulll attention. Do not try to walk, much less walk down stairs, while even trying to answer those devilsh touchscreen gizmos.

And there is no hope if you “brick” your smartphone.

Two of my sons have backed away from the glass faced “pocket sparkle” and have picked other technology. My football minded son has the waterproof tough as nails carbon fibre cased standard phone named after the police/spook training farm, and the other a relatively generic “consumable” phone knowing that he’d rather have a “real button” phone than something that needs secret society hand & finger gyrations to unlock and use.

So the latest easy to use technology may be appropriate at one level – ay the desktop – and a real pain at another – say the phone level.

Now I should point out that these lads are a bit interested in technology – we’ve BSD, SPARC, UNIX, Linix, OS9, OSX, and Windows machines running. The middle one especially seems prone to drag home every stray exotic computer & operating system he can find.

So their selective rejection of the sparkly glass-faced wonder phones may be based on having skills & interests above the usual.

All this a rather long way around to say that technology has its ups and its downs.

Leading – Bleeding – edge is wonderful, but is perhaps not so wonderful when something goes wrong.

Black Box Hardware and Closed-Source Software  have risks of either not working when they are wanted, or in a somewhat paranoid world could be considered less than trustworthy against compromise or control by a third party.

Perhaps a fair dose of the Luddite – of that rejection of technology in favor to what is known & stable – should be part of the backup systems tradition of the Radio Amateur?  That for every step forward – the SDR radio, the Digital this or that – that for personal reasons & tradition we keep ahold of technology that “just works.”

At least this is the excuse why I have SDR radios and tube gear in the same shack.



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