Posted by: GW7AAV | July 29, 2010

See Smart Be Smart

Whenever someone asks about my hobby these days and I explain what amateur radio is all about they invariably say “but I can do that on my mobile phone”. It does get a bit wearing to hear the same argument over and over again, even if in some ways it is true, but there is so much more to ham radio than talking to some stranger halfway around the world or a mate in the next street. We in fact have so many facets to our hobby that often in a room of thirty radio amateurs who live within the same town only a couple will have ever spoken to each other. The Mold and District Amateur Radio Club of which I am a member is a prime example of what I mean. We have members who only do CW, who only do micro-waves, who only do satellites, who only do FM repeaters, who only do VHF SSB, who only do contests, who only work 80 metres and who only work six and ten metres. The great thing is we all get along and although the people with similar interests tend to coagulate in groups there is always a welcome ear when someone wants to try something new to them and that is one reason why the social side off the air is as important as the radio its self.

There are an awful lot of hams out there who shun radio clubs and societies for a number of reasons, but mainly because they are unable to either live and let live or are unprepared to compromise, I think this is a great loss to not just the person, but to the hobby. I am a great believer that to get the most out of life we need to share our knowledge and experiences. It is particularly important in the field of amateur radio where often we need to decide what is scientific fact and what is misconception and myth. By talking to numerous people with diverse interests we do not get so influenced by the myths that can exist within one’s normal circle.

What are these myths I am concerned with? you may well ask. There are myths about all sorts of things such as the one that says a little bit of SWR is a good thing or that a particular antenna works on any band, that all you need is a random length of wire and a tuner, that you should not be worried about loss, that a preamp is an alternative to a good antenna or no one will ever know if you run way over the legal limit of power. Take the loss thing, which I covered to some extent in my last posting, when you see that your fifty watts from the transmitter is only giving you two watts at the antenna it usually comes home to you. Well it does if you don’t simply think that you have a duff piece of cable.

There is a lot of duff information on the Internet to and it takes some sorting, but there is an issue that makes it more difficult for some people than others to assess what is good advice and what is bad advice. This is because of what is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger report states that our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence. Which is not an accusation, it simply means that we each have a level of understanding that masks our ability to realise, beyond a certain point, why we are wrong about something. One of the ways we increase our abilities to recognise poor advice is to observe others. David Dunning said “I often urge my student advisees to find out who the smart professors are, and to get themselves in front of those professors so they can see what smart looks like.” Personally I think you can get just as much out of observing the incompetent or the less competent as well.

That is a darn good reason why we need to socialise with those in our areas of interest, be it a hobby like amateur radio or as a professional in our field. Take for example a mediocre lawyer whom fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there or a doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments available and so never considered them. They could have found the information themselves by reading it, but every person has a limit of both what they can absorb and their level of understanding. Being part of a group of people with wide ranging knowledge and experience makes you realise where the gaps in your knowledge lie, just how far up or down the competence ladder you are and who you can trust for good advice. The lawyer who takes the time to mix with his peers might have saved his client from jail and the doctor his patients life. Amateur radio is just a hobby but the benefits of membership of clubs and societies far outweighs small personal disagreements, the bores, the ignorant and know it alls. Of course there will be those out there that disagree with me but their incompetence masks their ability to recognize the truth in what I am saying or maybe my incompetence masks my ability to recognize I am wrong, I will let you decide.

I urge you to get out and if you are not already a member to join a radio society or two and attend and if you are a professional to attend your association to do likewise. Just make sure they are not on the same night. Participate in your own growth through self learning in ways that does not require sticking your head in a book or trawling through hundreds of pages on the web and maybe have a good time as well.

Last night at Mold and District ARC we had real ale at £1 per pint. If that isn’t another good reason to join then I don’t know what is. The benefits of membership outweighs the cost yet again.

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