Hi Gene and crew
I'll have a stab at answering the two questions posed in good faith and I'll keep it non personal or inflamatory if I can. I'll throw in some background first for perspective.
Obviously things are not exactly the same in the U.S. and here in Australla with the various licence classes and requirements, but we have pretty much the same debates over much the same issues.
I haven't been an Amateur for 45 years like some who have posted here, I'm not even that old yet but I have an interest in radio communications going back to when I was a little bloke in the early seventies. I enjoyed radio so much that I did an apprenticeship as a telecommunications technician and, as many of us do who make our hobby our job, I totally took the fun out of the hobby for myself. Just ruined it as a pass time.
Once I completed my time as an apprentice I never worked in the trade again having moved on to security and I/T and the enjoyment slowly came back. I passed what would now be called a "standard" class certificate in the early 1990's (too proud to take an exemption even if allowed)and then an "advanced" class ticket about a year back just before the new testing regime came into force. Just wanted to be able to say I did it under the old rules I suppose. In neither case did I so much as open a text book or study anything excepting C.W. The 4 years trade training had to count for something I suppose. My Wife on the other hand took three attempts and several courses and kept at it until she earned her standard class. I'm far more proud of her effort than mine. She worked HARD.
So, question one. Why do people primarily talk about the weather and other trivial matters? Maybe because they can? Being a technically adept Amateur does not make one an accomplished communicator as someone here has already pointed out. The old "hows the weather and arthritis?" nets bother me sometimes as well. So I leave them to their enjoyment and go chase mine. I'm a farily bad agoraphobic at any rate so I'm such a rare copy on voice people half a mile away ask for a QSL if they hear me
(yes bad enough that posting in a public forum presses my buttons also but sometimes you have to be heard right?)
I get tremendous enjoyment out of my involvment in packet Radio, SSTV, providing echolink nodes and other related interests and almost never operate voice. I suggest respectfully that you too keep looking. There will be somewhere in the hobby that you find yourself at home and happy. It's limited only by your imagination.
Second question is pretty easy. I understand what you are saying when you say you will never involve yourself in the technical aspect of the hobby. I am (was?) a tech and I try to avoid it like the plague myself. Too much time working on gear eats into the time I like to spend on the things that I *do* really like. The complexity of modern gear and lack of a fully featured workshop add in there too, BUT!
We must recognise that there are those for whom the technical side of the hobby *is* their all consuming interest and in the litagatory driven world obsessed with blame and public safety there is a need for the regulatory bodies to be able to show some duty of care has been taken to make sure those who are involved in the higher levels of our hobby with potentially damaging power levels and frequencies at their disposal do infact have the level of understanding to be let loose in the community with those resources. That is what the catagory 4 (I think that is the term?) questions seem to achieve in the U.S. model and where they to be done away with something else would doubtless have to take their place or the rights and abilities of Amateurs would soon be sacrificed on the altar of public interest and safety. Even Advanced class operators in VK are only allowed 400w PEP as a case in point.
OK, there's my two bob's worth. I hope it's been at least mildly relevant.
My best wishes in your quest to upgrade and hopes you get much enjoyment from our hobby.
Yours in Amateur Radio
Ari S Laver