ham radio 2 - real life edition


Now that I’m back in school and with less time to dedicate to hobbies, what do I take away from having gotten my radio license?

Why did I get the license in the first place? The global pandemic had done away with about 6 months up to that point and I saw no point in signing up for online music classes. Therefore, I had all of this free time to myself that I had determined from the start would be dedicated to getting extra money and pursuing personal projects - the biggest one of course being the acquisition of Japanese. The Dunning-Kruger effect was rearing its ugly head and I hadn’t the patience nor the discipline to spend hours of my day on something I was guaranteed not to use for the foreseeable future (lock down).

The first takeaway is that the fastest and most efficient way to memorize facts or test questions is spaced repetition. Anki is a godsend. I had had my doubts in the past, and there’s no denying that the path to full memorization is paved with blood and suffering no matter how you go (ask any medical student). There were a lot of hour long sessions of the same few questions as well as of cursing at the computer and at myself, but in the end, my elmer (mentor) and most everyone at the test site were astounded at my perfect score, so it wasn’t all for naught. That being said, ask me a question from that test now, and you’ll find I’ve probably forgotten a good 25% of the answers. The brain, like the rest of the body, is very much “use it or lose it” and I see now that the role of the SRS is to make mental dictionary entries that are to be then solidified in the heat of battle, which usually carries with it synchronized aural, visual, and kinesthetic components to really drive the point home. I can’t rest on my laurels that the information I grinded one time will be with me forever, as many of you who have crammed for exams can attest to.

Secondly, I evaluate my time and resources more critically. Before sinking money at a new hobby, I consider how much return on investment I am getting. Can I see myself doing said activity in the future and reaping benefits from it, or does it appear to be a never ending sinkhole of climbing over the hill just to find a slightly taller one right after? “Nah brah, the real fun starts after you buy this $1000 radio and $2000 antenna. You just gotta consoom more!” has the same tinge of futility as, “Just watch [ridiculously long anime series]. Yeah, it takes 50 episodes for it to git gud, but trust me. You just gotta consoom more!” In ham radio’s defense, there is in fact a subculture of QRP (low power) operation that tends to coincide with people getting the most bang for their buck with the cheapest, jankiest equipment they can procure at home. If I ever learn to solder and get a bench at home, this is the route I’d take to avoid getting on the consumerist treadmill. Just to be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with hobbies dedicated to consumption and collection (stamps, shoes, cards), but they are nothing more than a luxury and a greater return on investment can usually be reached with more universal, social commodities (computers, phones).

Third is a reminder of the acculturation process. In general, people should listen twice (or even more) as much as they speak. Memorizing facts is one thing, but in order to acquire all of the nuances of a culture and its values, one really needs to see and internalize the tools of communication in action - the classic “book smarts vs street smarts”. I only keyed up (talked on the airwaves) for a grand total of 5 minutes but have probably scanned the different bands for at thousands of minutes, paying attention to the script people follow to start and end conversation as well as what people expect to talk about. More saliently though, I also saw the George Carlin approach to dissent in action - let all the degenerates (profanity is illegal, just like on TV), jammers (intentionally blocking other people’s signals - highly illegal), and 70 year olds that never grew out of their “high school bully” phase claim one or two corners of the spectrum for themselves and they’ll have no reason to stray from their pig pen, keeping everyone else sane. I sometimes entertain the idea of keying up on their territory, but then remember that they’re the most insular and echo chambered (did someone say “oversocialization”) of all and they’d eat me alive 😅.

Let’s look at that social process a little closer, though. We are highly sociable beings. The reason people learn a language, for example, is to communicate with the outside world. Relatability permeates everything we do. In art, while there can certainly be people who merely enjoy the aesthetic of their craft, the eventual goal is to convey ideas to anyone willing to listen through that new medium. Looking at ham radio now, the bulk of what you hear over the airwaves is old people chewing the fat with their fellow old friends. If everyone were to suddenly leave the party, there would be very little reason to stay. Most of the romanticized stories you would read in magazines are about young engineers getting together with their friends and teachers to fiddle with antennas and transmitters after school. That is to say, the friend making process happened organically, and the radios served as an extension of the process. There is no reason to make friends over the airwaves if one has no reason or drive to talk to that exact same person in person. It’s no different than having online/Discord only friends, which some people derive pleasure from, but not me.

And thus, I wade through life with the walkie-talkies stored away in the closet.