The Amateur Amateur

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The Amateur Amateur is a column about my experiences in ham radio. Since I have little technical expertise and not much knowledge of electronics, I make a lot of mistakes. I consider myself to be just an amateur amateur radio operator, but I keep pressing on and trying new things. This column details my triumphs - and foibles - and I try not to take myself too seriously. Whether you are an experienced ham or new to the hobby, I hope you find these chronicles of my efforts to be entertaining.

Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

January 2020

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
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 SFR.

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!”.

  • An untraceable hum or buzz on your transceiver = Low SFR

  • Hearing an old friend on the air whom you haven't seen in years = High 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 would.

  • The part you ordered on-line arriving on time = High SFR.

  • The part you ordered on-line not working = Low SFR.

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 compensate.

  • Getting replies to all of your QSL requests = High SFR

  • Getting replies to none of your QSL requests for very rare contacts that you made = Low SFR

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.

  • An experiment that works = High SFR.

  • An experiment that doesn't turn out anything like the documentation describes = Low SFR.

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.

  • Finding someone who will help you put up an antenna. = High SFR.

  • Your community refusing to let you put it up.= Low SFR.

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])

Glitches in the System
A series of cartoons about what really happens when your radio breaks down

Earlier columns and other stories

Non-ham-related stories

Also vist
Stan Horzepa's "Surfin'"
Eric Guth's "QSO Today'"

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