Thursday, February 19, 2015

Twenty-Year Periodicity Observed on VHF

I sat with the radio on, listening to the local VHF repeater, background noise for whatever else I was doing at the time...

Repeaters are popular in the ham radio world: By occupying the high ground within a region, the repeater is able to hear an operator's weak signal--typically from a low-powered walkie-talkie-like radio--and re-transmit ("repeat") it to the larger audience with higher power from its advantageous location. Since ham radio wouldn't be much of a hobby if not for the people wanting to interact, the locals will naturally gravitate toward whichever one or two that they can reach has activity.

From there, repeaters develop lives and rhythms all of their own. Since repeaters by nature serve a local area, the "usual suspects" will typically appear at their usual times throughout the day. The repeater "wakes up" when the locals wake up and start their days. The repeater keeps them company on their commutes to and from their offices. The repeater participates in the midday chatter between retirees, shut-ins, and folks at home or out-and-about. The repeater serves as the place for scheduled over-the-air meetings during the week. The repeater quiets as the operators turn off their radios for the night and go to sleep.

Since only one person can talk and be understood at a time, repeater traffic also takes on a soothing predictable rhythm as the operators chat with one another: The operators take turns transmitting and take short pauses to listen for newcomers to the conversation,  It's somewhat predictable in form even if the topic changes. Listening can be quite relaxing...

... right until it's not, and all it takes to disturb the rhythm is one person breaking the implicit rules.

Whether it's the people who prattle on endlessly, dominating the air time and not giving others a chance to jump in; whether it's the people who can't let others enjoy a brief conversation without having to be a part of it; or whether it's the people who simply enjoy making a mess of things; when a fundamentally cooperative, non-confrontational group of people encounter even an inadvertent bully, the people often yield--quieting down, turning off their radios, or moving to an other repeater

I entered the hobby 20 or so years ago and was well out before my license expired 10 years ago. There were several issues, not the least of which were lack of time or money, but there was also a sense that I did not fit in with all the folks who were quite set in the rhythm of their ways. Rather than fight it, it was easier to let my participation fade.

Twenty years later, things are not so very different. People being as they are, the patterns of interactions and resulting issues recur--and among those recurring patterns is my seeing the issues again and my willingness to just walk away...

... and while we all continue to do what we have always done, things remain as they've always been--even 20 years later.

Time for a different approach?

Perhaps the next disruptive force is you.


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