The Amateur Amateur: Amateur Radio's Forgotten Metric
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
Amateur Radio, being somewhat a
technical pursuit, is full of metrics. We measure everything. Within
the circuitry, we take note of the electrical potential, resistance,
capacitance, inductance, and countless other quantities. Moving to
the antenna system, we concern ourselves with signal loss, standing
wave ratio, interference and more. Overall, we worry about gain,
amplitude, signal to noise ratio, and even heat dissipation. SNR,
SWR, and PEP, we try to quantify everything and assign it an acronym.
But we've forgotten the most
important metric of all. It's not found in the transceiver, the
antenna system, nor the power supply. It doesn't float through the
air in the form of sounds or radio waves. It cannot even be
considered in terms of analog or digital.
The metric I'm talking about is
how the hobby makes us feel.
Wait a minute, Gary, you are thinking. Feelings aren't a metrics.They
are just, well, feelings.
My response is: Well, we measure
everything else in the hobby. Why shouldn't we quantify the
satisfaction, joy, or sheer aggravation that it brings us? Wouldn't
some sort of happiness quotient help us determine whether to save our
pennies to buy a linear amplifier, or to just chuck everything in the
shack into the trash and take up meditation instead?
Smile to Frown Ratio
I think it would. And to that end
I propose a new metric, which I call the smile-to-frown-ratio, or SFR
(hey, it has to have an acronym, right?).
I will leave the actual
assignment of units and devising a means of taking exact measurements
to those who follow up with this pursuit. (For example, having a
spouse who enjoys the hobby with you might rate a SFR of 2:1, while
having a spouse who feels your shack is wasting valuable space would
garner a SFR of 1:2.) For now, at least, I will be satisfied with a
assigning a simple “high” or “low” SFR rating
to various situations.
Someone tying up the frequency
you want to use with what you consider inane chatter would rate a Low
Getting an unexpected but welcome
response when you are trying to reach a rare distant station would
rate a High SFR.
Think of it. When you stagger out
of your shack after hours of chasing an illusive DX contact, and your
significant other says, “Why do you torture yourself likes
this!?”, you can return a weak smile and say, “But I
netted an impressive 5:1 SFR!”.
If your doctor tells you that you
are suffering from stress and that you should take a long vacation,
check your overall Amateur Radio SFR. If it is low, don't take your
ham equipment with you when you head for the beaches in Hawaii. Under
the circumstances, relaxing and watching the whales frolic in the
waves will make you feel better than getting sand in your transceiver
What about the time you spend
preparing to operate versus the amount of time you actually get to
operate? Each of those periods must be considered before determining
your final SFR. In fact, the two of them will each have its own SFR.
If you actually enjoy assembling, fiddling, adjusting and tinkering
with your system, then that's an automatic High SFR, regardless of
how long it takes. It can only be marred by having a very bad
experience while actually operating.
If, on the other hand, your prep
time consists of a lot of swearing, numerous bandages and iodine, and
prolonged periods of just staring at some recalcitrant component,
your operating time will have to earn an exceptionally High SFR to
Some SFRs will be very difficult
to calculate. For example, if you really enjoy getting some shiny new
state-of-the-art piece of equipment, but never take it out of the
box, is it even worth it? I guess that would depend on how much of a
rush you get when you make the purchase. I actually know some hams
who have done this (to a small extent I've even done it myself), and
it's hard to gauge how satisfied it made them. They seem happy that
they did, so I can't say that it didn't earn them at least some
positive SFR. Perhaps they are content just having the equipment.
Operating it isn't necessary.
I guess that counts.
If there is a drawback to
smile-to-frown-ratios it is that they are entirely subjective. You
can work on a project with a buddy and come up with entirely
different SFRs regarding the experience. Let's say, for example, the
two if you work on reviving a dead amplifier. You think you know
what's wrong and try to fix it. Your attempt fails. Your buddy says,
“Let me try,” and succeeds in bringing the amplifier to
life. Unless you are very altruistic, and truly felt that getting the
amplifier going was the most important factor, you're likely to have
a SFR completely the opposite of you buddy's.
I suppose, though, that it is
possible for there to be a gestalt SFR, if you are part of a close,
amicable group. If you uniformly enjoy the group's successes and
mourn its failures, then that would, indeed, create collective SFRs.
High SFRs would result in a lot of partying. Unfortunately, Low SFRs
would probably result in the group disbanding.
Being part of a friendly, active club = High SFR.
Being the only member of the club that does any work = Low SFR.
In summary, take stock of the
relative pleasure and irritation the hobby brings you, and adjust
your efforts accordingly.
Wishing you High SFRs for the coming year,
(Email = [email protected])