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A Modest Proposal to Fix Our Net's Two Big Problems
Author Post
Tue Sep 26 2017, 11:00AM
Webmaster - VB 544
Registered Member #5
Joined: Tue Jan 10 2012, 12:55AM

Posts: 55

The Vagabond Net has two big problems.  They are closely related.  In this post, I propose a possible solution for both of them.

Problem #1: Not Enough Regularly Scheduled Net Controllers

Up to about 2016, we basically had five regular net controllers: a different one for each weekday.  If you heard KE4ZFN-Bryce, you knew it must be Monday; if you heard KF4EKZ-Kathy, it had to be a Friday; and so on.

But calling the net on the same weekday every week requires tremendous sacrifice.  Anyone who has done it knows that.  It occupies your whole afternoon when you do it, and there are only seven afternoons in a week.  With an average net length of about 110 minutes, that's more than 95 hours of that net controller's life every year.

Our once-a-week net controllers needed relief. And in the longer term, if the net is to survive, it can't rely on such a small number of highly dedicated people. Therefore, during my term as president in 2016, I set up a new schedule, using alternating weeks.  Well, more or less -- for example, instead of "every Monday," there was a slot for "the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month," and another slot for "the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month," and then a clean-up for "the 5th Monday, if there is one."  I scheduled the more experienced net controller for the "5th-whatever," which arises four times per year for any given weekday.

My goal was to go from having 5 regularly scheduled net controllers to having 10.  Thanks to some very good people stepping forward, we almost got there.  But it didn't quite stick.

Right now, the schedule is still conceptualized the same way (1st/3rd, 2nd/4th, and 5th when there is one) but we only have five people who are committed to being regularly scheduled net controllers.  One of those, KF4EOD-Mike, has been doing double duty, calling the net on every single Thursday.  The schedule is riddled with "TBA" days when there is no regular net controller scheduled.

There has been a sustained effort this year to recruit new net controllers.  It has succeeded in increasing the number of people who can, and occasionally do, call the net.  But it has not succeeded in adding to the number of regularly scheduled net controllers.  As a result, the president is required, week after week, to invest lots of time in cobbling together the next week's net schedule, which usually doesn't become settled until the very last minute.  This brings us to the second big problem.

Problem #2: The President's Job Is Too Unpleasant

When there were just five net controllers and they were all willing to call the net once a week, the job of the Vagabond president was not too bad.  The president had to deal with the occasional problem, show up at the occasional hamfest, and so on, but basically the net ran itself without a lot of day-to-day intervention.

But now, being the Vagabond president means signing on to an unending week-to-week scramble to get net controllers lined up for the next week.  It can easily chew up 10 hours of your life each week. And if there's no net controller and no net -- an ever-present threat hanging over your head -- you either have to step in and call the net yourself, or you worry that the nice people who elected you to the job will feel you've let them down when there's dead air. When you have to spend all your time like that, being the Vagabond president is not a fun job.

What happens when the job of being president becomes so unpleasant?  Answer: nobody wants to do it.  That's where we are now.  There are only three kinds of people who would take on the job:

      a.  Masochists,

      b.  People who don't understand what the job requires, and

      c.  People who think they can actually solve Problem #1.

People in categories "a" and "b" aren't going to help the Vagabond net survive and thrive.  Therefore, I offer this "Modest Proposal" to anyone out there who might be in category "c," in hopes that it might at least help keep things moving in the right direction.

Solve the net controller problem, and you'll solve the president problem.  Ignore the net controller problem, and the Vagabond net will end up disappearing from the airwaves.  It might die slowly or it might die quickly, but it will happen.  What a shame that would be.

We are so fortunate to have the Vagabond net.  If you travel to other parts of the country, you'll find the repeaters dead most of the time, with nothing like the sustained camaraderie we have here among the Vagabonds.  It's worth a bit of work to keep this jewel from being lost.  And it's a whole lot easier to keep a thing going than to bring it back after it's dead.

The Proposal

To make the president's job less horrible, we need to eliminate the main source of the unpleasantness: the weekly scramble to fill out the schedule.  We do that by having enough people committed to be regularly scheduled net controllers -- i.e., people you can rely on to show up on specific days according to a set schedule.  Simple enough!

Why has it been so hard to find more regularly scheduled net controllers?  Answer: because the job is too burdensome as currently defined.  Under the current system, a "regular" net controller is someone who's willing to commit to calling the net at least twice a month (for example, the 1st/3rd Monday, or the 2nd/4th Monday) and sometimes three times a month (if he or she has the 5th Monday, which will happen four times each year).

The solution I propose is to redefine the job.  Provide a more varied menu.  Offer different levels of commitment.  There are potential net controllers out there who hang back because they don't want to be on the hook for two nets per month, but they might be willing to sign up for one net per month, or even one net every other month.  Offer that choice -- but also keep it regular and recurring and predictable.

It's one thing for someone to say, "Sure, I'll help out when I can.  Just call me."  It's quite another thing to say, "You can count on me to call the net on the first Monday of every month."  The president's job isn't made much easier by "I'll help out when I can," because that just means the president is still going to be locked into a week-to-week scramble.  If the president already knows you'll call the net on the first Monday, that's a day the president won't need to worry about unless you've fallen ill or will be out of town or your dog dies.

Redefining the job of "regular net controller" isn't difficult.  Just break it up into smaller parts.  Envision the schedule like this:

1st one, on odd monthsKE4ZFN WO8L WB9SZL KF4EODKM4OCS
1st one, on even monthsKE4ZFNWO8L WB9SZL KF4EODKM4OCS 
2nd one, on odd monthsW1HRC KK9DOGKJ4UYR  KM4WPO KG4ECI
2nd one, on even monthsTBAKK9DOGKJ4UYR  KM4WPOKG4ECI
3rd one, on odd monthsKC8OEX WO8LWB9SZL KF4EODKM4OCS 
3rd one, on even monthsKC8OEX WO8L WB9SZLKF4EOD KM4OCS
4th one, on odd monthsTBA KK4ZIUKJ4UYR   W8LWXKG4ECI
4th one, on even monthsKC8OEX  KK4ZIU KJ4UYR W8LWX KG4ECI
5th one, if there is oneKE4ZFN WO8LKJ4UYR   KF4EOD W8LWX

In this hypothetical example, I've used black to show the people who are already regular net controllers, and I've kept them doing the same days they already do, except that I've allowed KF4EOD-Mike to have alternating weeks like all the others.  The people shown in blue are people who have called the net occasionally in recent months but who are not currently regular net controllers.  I'm not "volunteering" anyone here; this is just an example for purposes of discussion.

How It Would Work

The way the schedule is currently conceptualized, there are only two levels of commitment: every regularly scheduled net controller has to commit to calling the net at least twice per month, and some of them have to call it three times per month (when that "5th-whatever" rolls around).  But under this new way of conceptualizing it, there are many different levels of commitment:

a. Some still call the net twice, and sometimes thrice, per month (KJ4UYR, KF4EOD, WO8L).  Each person calls 28 nets per year.

b. Some still call the net twice per month and never more than that (WB9SZL, KM4OCS, KG4ECI).  Each person calls 24 nets per year.

c. One calls the net once per month, then twice the next month, in a regular pattern (KC8OEX). That's 18 nets per year.

d. Some normally call the net only once per month, but will do it twice per month whenever that "5th-whatever" rolls around (W8LWX, KE4ZFN).  Each person in this group calls 16 nets per year.

e.  Some commit to calling the net only once per month, never more than that (KM4WPO, KK4ZIU, KK9DOG).  Each of these calls the net 12 times per year.

f.  One commits to calling the net only once every other month (W1HRC).  That's 6 times per year.

This example leaves only two "TBA" days that still require the president to scramble for coverage on an ad hoc basis.  But one only happens in even-numbered months (the 2nd Monday) and the other only happens in odd-numbered months (the 4th Monday).  That's only one day per month that the president knows he'll have to scramble to get covered.

That's still a whole lot better than the current system.  For example, during August 2017, the president had to make special arrangements to cover eight days that had no regularly scheduled net controller.  In July 2017, there were eleven such days.

On average, there are about 260 nets each year, if you ignore the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's).  The example above would cover 248 of them with regularly scheduled net controllers.  Only 12 would be "TBA" days.

The six controllers in "a" and "b" of the above example would be the backbone of the operation: together, they would account for 60 percent of the year's nets.  The other seven controllers would account for 35 percent.  "TBA" days would account for only 5 percent.


The idea is to obtain more certainty, and thereby reduce the week-to-week burden on the president, by offering a more varied menu of commitments to "regular" net controllers.  Can't commit to 24-28 nets a year, like the people in the two top tiers?  That's okay!  How about 18?  Or 16?  Or 12?  Or 6?

The more options we provide, the more likely it is that we can match the commitment of time to what volunteers are actually willing and able to give.  And it's still something definite.  Apart from the inevitable illnesses and such, every net controller can know, even months in advance, exactly which days he or she will be calling the net.  The president will know and will therefore not need to sacrifice so much of his or her time dealing with the schedule.

I submit that this is a whole lot better than "I'll help if I can."  I believe people are willing to commit, but they're just not willing to commit at the currently defined level.  (I am one of those people, by the way.)  We just need a better system for matching the commitment to the available resources.

The days of having the same five people run the net every week are over.  If we don't find a viable replacement for that system, the net itself might be over, after a great run of 26 years.  We need to think hard about this.  I hope these comments are a step in the right direction.
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