Monday, 23 March 2020

On why I both love and hate ON4KST chat

It is not that I don't like KST chat, I just feel uncomfortable about some aspects of it.

I like to see amateur radio as a family. We go our own way in this family of ours, keep separate but basically we know we all spring from the same stock. Every so often we get together and chat at family events, then we leave each other alone for a while.  Great Aunt Summits-on-the-Air sits in the arm chair puffing on her pipe and chats to buxom young Cousin FT8 pulling on her Cuban cigar. The old timers, Grandad CW croaks at decrepit old Great Grandmama RTTY who is wheezing but strangely still going. And they are all welcome in our family (for an hour at Christmas anyway).

KST is to my radio family what old uncle Freddy was to my real family. He is the one who stays in the kitchen. We do not like to mention the time he knocked the cyclist down in Dublin while driving drunk. We would rather he did not play a major part in our get-together. Sure, he is one of the family, but not everybody likes him so much.

If you do not already know, KST is a message board which allows amateurs (for this purpose on low band VHF, 2m and 70cms, or microwave bands) to chat on the internet while pursuing their amateur activities. There are also boards for lower bands, moonbounce, etc., and it is very popular indeed.

This one is not on my sidebar, and you can find it here

I have no doubt that KST chat is hugely successful because it works well for those who use it. Not so well for me, as I have found, but huge numbers of QSOs take place thanks to KST which would never take place otherwise.

What's not to like? All those great people, who Mrs FVM calls "all your little friends", are there. I will not list the names. I would l just forget some people and annoy them. It is great to chat to them. I learn a lot. Good people with interesting things to say.

So it is definitely not any of those people who are the problem with KST chat.

I value "all my little friends" and I should talk more often to them. 

I enjoy other aspects of it too.

Just now there is a bit of a tropo lift going on. I worked Niels Erik, OZ2ND, last night on 144MHz. then today I worked him on 70cms. Then while he was still on 432MHz he asked me to go to 1296MHz. We did and from the start I could see his trace on my waterfall. Every time he was txing I saw it (that turned out to be over 70 times). But in those 35 minutes I only decoded him twice - which was all we needed. A great QSO on 23cms, 690km QRB (by far a new dx record for me on 23cms), plus a new country and square on that band of course ... hard work ... and we used KST.
QSO with OZ2ND on 1296.174MHz FT8 on 23 March 2020.
Not that we set it up on KST. We used radio for that. The whole QSO was completed using just radio. What we did was confirm to each other that we were making progress and it was worth carrying on. No reports, callsigns or confirmation were conveyed as these were done first by radio too. It just provided reassurance to both of us not to give up too early.

This seems to be a useful function of KST, especially on 23cms. When are you ever going to find anybody on 1296.174 by calling CQ? It has happened, but not so often. I have used KST for chat during long meteor scatter QSOs too, and so long as you do not exchange the data which should go by radio first and foremost, it can be very useful.
Speaks for itself really, but you do not see the missed decodes.
So what is the problem, Jim? I find that KST narrows my horizons. I like to run multiple bands and follow the propagation. I find it cumbersome to keep yet another screen running, and certainly not three screens at once (low VHF, 2m and 70cms, and microwaves) all at once. There are useful variations on the KST format - e.g. wtKST - but this is essentially the same information provided in a (better) way.

I have found by comparing the results of others on 6m using their KST compared with my 10m and geomagnetic monitoring, I routinely find openings before they do. However, when I post something I find that other, nice good amateurs, start asking me for tests, and I get stuck somewhere even when trying to tell them I need to go QSY. Sometimes of course this works, such as working Japan on moonbounce, but that was great because it was the exception. Too often I find KST clouding my thinking unless I use it selectively and briefly.

What I really do not like about KST is those amateurs using it who become entirely reactive. One OM who I tried to set up a sked with on 23cms just replied "Meep me on KST sometime", meaning use the call function which makes a distinctive "meep" sound. Well, sorry mate, I want to try radio, not wake you up from your slumbers. Anyone who relies on the rest of us to call them via the internet to get them to listen to the radio is on a slippery slope, in my humble opinion.

That is what I do, I listen. I search. I investigate. I don't wait to see who can be bothered to call me on my computer. Maybe that suits him, as he might be working in the shack most of time. I guess I might work differently.

When I suggested this to another amateur ages ago (one in a different DXCC, South West of me) during a 144MHz SSB QSO, he took exception to my views. "What? How can anyone not like KST?". I replied that it does not work well for me. "You are an IT Luddite then" he snapped. (If you don't get the British historical reference, Ned Ludd the person did not exist, but he is supposed to have led the movement called The Luddites who tried to prevent the progress which led to the Industrial Revolution)

Erm, I do not think I am a IT Luddite. First of all I seem able to build computers and do moderate coding, and indeed I used to write the health service purchasing software almost single handedly (modestly put Jim). Nor do I think that am I behindhand in recognising the use of IT to help the hobby. I just do not like the idea of sitting back here and becoming a KST Jack-in-the Box. I am not about to spring up from my slumbers and snap into action when Meeped. This is because I am already in action.

OK, that "Luddite" interchange was a few years ago. I have mellowed a bit since. Imagine how un-mellow I used to be. Having used the WSPRnet chat before WSPR started losing ground (surely the subject of another posting soon), I do also use the NOUK chat for EME. And I use KST for some contests, for microwaves and lately just because now is the moment we all need to be talking to each other. However, it is turned off now and I am listening all over the bands as usual. I am not saying that chat rooms are a method of enslavement, but I am saying that I refuse to be enslaved just in case they might be.

There is an argument that any use of KST is bad for the hobby. I do not agree with that either. Provided KST is not used to complete a QSO which otherwise would not occur I cannot see a problem. You are entitled to disagree, and you do not have to use it if your do not want to. It is not compulsory. However, those snippy comments on contest boards "No KST here!" are principled but ultimately pointless. We cannot un-invent it.

Many years ago, my tutor at Napier University said that my writing style was argumentative. I must put him straight about that some day.

So now I hold my nose and use KST. It helps people know I am here and still transmitting. For UHF it seems almost essential. At heart it is no different from sending an email or a text, but I find that I can get hooked on a chat room and forget why I am in this hobby at all. I am not here to pursue one aspect of operation to the exclusion of all others. Sure, if you find all you need on a single KST screen, then go for it. I do other things as well.

If we do disagree on this we can always meet at the family gathering and talk away about what unites us. And old Uncle Freddy is still part of our family and we still want to welcome him into the party and give him a pint of Wee Heavy (though I think he should stick to a half of 60/- ale).
Just like my happy radio family? The Munsters Cast 1964 (Wikimedia commons)

With the passage of time my hazy memory of Old Uncle Freddy reminds me of Fred Gwynne's character Herman in the Munsters. Freddy got off the incident where he mowed down the cyclist. By this I mean that he avoided jail (the cyclist didn't come off well). The fact that his son is a very good solicitor was something to do with it. We keep all our stuff in the family you know.

Clearly ON4KST requires a large voluntary effort to keep going. It is not perfect, but nor is it terrible. Lots of people find it very helpful. I take parts of it, but I cannot get on with other parts of it. So, I accept that I am a duplicitous freeloader, but surely not an IT Luddite.

(Let the IT Luddite thing go Jim, it has been years since he said it)



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