Has Ham Radio Missed the Boat?

A recent article on the Computerworld website, describes a development by Georgia Tech computer science professor Santosh Vempala that envisions greater reliance on device-to-device communications using typical consumer phones after a disaster. This network, called LifeNet, uses free open-source software to allow consumer devices such as laptops, Android phones and battery-powered routers to form ad hoc Wi-Fi, peer-to-peer networks without relying on cellular towers or base stations.

This seems to me a perfect application of amateur radio. Someone should contact this guy to see how amateur radio might play a part in LifeNet.

The article goes on to say:

Keith Robertory, manager of national disaster emergency communications for the American Red Cross in Washington, said he has used robust peer-to-peer wireless systems in recent years that will forward a message through other radios. One that operates on the amateur radio band has a time-out feature built in so that the message does not keep repeating itself indefinitely. The peer-to-peer concept is sound, he said, but hasn’t been widely used.

Does anyone know what peer-to-peer networking the Red Cross guy is referring to? Why isn’t it being widely used?

A VOIP Contest??

In my e-mail just now, I got the following:

Hi , Daniel

My name is Rick, and my call sign is XXXX. I’ve been a contester since 2004 when I became a ham, and I love it!

I wanted you to see this information from a friend of mine, Trippy, about a new contest that will be held in March of this year! I will be in it myself, and I hope to work you in it.

Please tell every contester you know about this new contest. I look forward to working you!


Rick, XXXX
PS, contest letter and announcement from Trippy to you, is below

There were several problems with this e-mail. First of all, there was no attachment. Second, this was obviously spam. I don’t know Rick or Trippy, nor have I ever worked them on the air. Third, I just can’t excited about a CQ100 contest.

Here’s my reply:

Hello, Rick–

First, there was no attachment.

Second, as I hope you know, CQ100 isn’t really a new mode. It’s a computer program that simulates amateur radio contacts using the voice over Internet protocol (VOIP).

I’m not one of those OFs (old farts) who gets all hot and bothered about the use of VOIP in ham radio. I use EchoLink when it’s appropriate and feel that it does have a place in ham radio. Having said that, I just can’t get very excited about a “contest” that takes place over a VOIP network, especially one that you have to pay for! Operating a “contest” over VOIP is like shooting fish in a barrel.

If you’re having fun with CQ100, more power to you. I think, however, that you’ll have a lot more fun by actually radiating some RF energy of your own.



What do you all think?

New Amateur Radio/Linux Forum

From David, KG4GIY, via the ARRL PR mailing list:

As most of you know I dabble a little with Linux and other Open Source Software. A few of you know I occasionally scramble a few electrons and blog my thoughts on Linux and Open Source for the Linux Journal. What most of you do not know is that for the past month and change, I have been working as the guest editor for the Linux Journal’s January 2010 issue (on newsstands soon) focusing on Open Source and Amateur Radio.

Today, I flung open the doors at the Linux Journal’s virtual ham shack and I wanted to take a moment to invite you all to drop by and share your thoughts and maybe pick up a trick or two.

As anyone working with D-Star repeaters knows, Linux is an integral part of the gateways that connect them but there are many other aspects of the hobby that are also well represented and there are full development streams within the major distributions just for Amateur Radio. And you cannot beat the price.

So take a moment and stop by and leave your thoughts!

Thanks to everyone who has made this possible,


Hams Aren’t the Only Nuts Who Restore Old Electronics

IEEE Spectrum is running a short article on a group of “vintage” engineers who are restoring a vintage IBM 1401 computer. The computer had been in storage, but there was extensive water damage, damage that took 10,000 man-hours to repair! Think about that next time you get your hands on an old Hallicrafters.

Make sure to check out the slide show at the end of the article.

CQ CQ CQ…Internet?

For some reason, the ARRL website is featuring an article on CQ100 and QSONet, a simulation of ham radio over the Internet. On the fpqrp mailing list, the overwhelming response was overwhelmingly, “Ugh.”

Now, I happen to like EchoLink and IRLP, which I think are great extensions to amateur radio, but I really don’t get this QSONet stuff. If you’re going to chat on a computer, why would you want to use something like QSONet, which is a complete simulation, rather than EchoLink or IRLP, which at least has some radio component? I guess that I don’t understand the desire to cloak computer chatting in amateur radio trappings.

If you’re going to do computer chatting, why not use something really cool like iChat, which has both a video and audio component? (I use iChat frequently for business and personal use.)

The author of the article just gushes about using the program, though. He even talks about working contests on the Internet. (The ARRL editor did, at least, add a note that “contacts made using CQ100 are virtual — not radio —contacts and cannot be used toward any ARRL sponsored contest or award.”)

The best comment, though, was from one of the wags on the mailing list. He said, “It’s like boasting about the medieval warfare skills you learned in World of Warcraft.”

HP Hypes Ham Radio…

…and their computers, of course.

HP in Real Life – Ham Radio Story is an article on their website that describes how two hams—only know as Andy and Irwin—purportedly use HP computer in their ham radio operations. It’s not very detailed, but at least it doesn’t depict ham radio operators as doddering old folks using antiquated technologies. They point to the following applications:

  • Database logging of radio contacts and calculation of scores when on radio contest expeditions
  • Controlling radios with automatic data exchange between the radio and the Internet to other stations in a worldwide “spotting” network to share contact opportunities and information.
  • Digital signal processing and spectrum analysis using software-defined radios, special software and additional hardware.

ARROW’s September Construction Project

Every September, our ham radio club, ARROW, does a construction project. In the past, we’ve done a keyer kit, J-Pole antennas, and other small projects that you can complete in an evening.

Bare Bones BoarduinoThis year, we’ve decided to build a low-cost version of the Arduino microcontroller called the Bare Bones Boarduino, from Modern Device. This is a pretty good introductory soldering project.

What’s an Arduino (or Freeduino)? It’s an open source microcontroller board that is cheap ($11), and fairly easy to program from Linux, a Mac, or even Windows. You program it in “C”, and there are libraries other folks have written to let you do things like run servos, blink LEDs, and so on. The Bare Board Boarduinos use the ATmega328Phave processor and have 32k flash memory and 2k of RAM.

What can you do with an Arduino or Boarduino? Well, you can check out the Arduino website for ideas.

In addition, the September/October 2009 issue of QEX contains a story on how to use the Boarduino to build a keyer. I don’t really need another keyer, but that article, coupled with an idea gleaned from the Ten-Tec-Omni-VII mailing list has given me an interesting use for the Boarduino, I think.

The mailing list thread discussing the 610 got my creative juices flowing is the thread discussing the elusive Ten-Tec 610 Remote Keyer. I say “elusive” because if you search the Ten-Tec website for information on this product, all you’ll find is a press release that says it will cost $169 and that it will be available sometime in 2009. There are no product specifications or photos to be found anywhere.

This dearth of information has, of course, led to a lot of speculation about what it will do and what it won’t do. Carl, N4PY, seems to have the most information on this product. He writes:

This keyer will interface through a USB port and become an additional keyboard for the computer. Paddles will plug into it and operating the paddles will cause the 610 keyboard to send characters to the application that has the focus just as though the characters were typed on a regular keyboard. There will also be a provision to add the Ten-Tec remote tuning pod to this device. Turning the knob left or right will cause certain special characters to be sent to the application that has the focus. The application will realize a right turning or left turning operation from the 610 keyboard and take appropriate action. So all programming will simply look at the receiving characters to figure out what to do.

This all sounds very cool, but $169 seems kind of steep. I’m guessing that I could program the Boarduino ($10 hardware cost, plus the cost of some kind of USB port) to interface to my computer so that I could use paddles instead of a keyboard for text input. Wouldn’t that be cool?

My iMac currently uses a USB keyboard, so I’m guessing (hoping?) that I won’t have to write a driver for the Mac end. Anyone know where I can find interfacing information for the Mac USB port?

My “Mac in the Shack” Days May Be Over

Yesterday, when I went down to the shack, the hard drive in the Mac iBook G4 that I’d been using in my shack for logging and PSK31 was making a terrible noise. I turned off the computer and turned it back on, but just more of the same.

This wasn’t totally unexpected. A couple of months ago, I had some hard drive problems, and I had to get somone to “repair” it with some heavy-duty software. Although the hard drive seemed to be work OK, I always suspected that it was just waiting to go. Yesterday, it went.

I called the shop where I bought the thing (I bought it used), and asked what it would cost for them to put in a new one. They told me “$80 for the drive, $120 for the labor.” Yikes! I don’t think the computer is even worth that much, even with a new hard drive. For one thing, the battery is probably going as well, and since the computer is only a G4, it can’t run the latest Mac OSX.

I Googled around for some guidance on perhaps replacing the drive myself. After all, $80 for a new hard drive isn’t such a bad deal. I came across the page, “Installing iBook G4 12″ 800 MHz-1.2 GHz Hard Drive Replacement.”

Now, I see why it costs $120. This Web page describes 42 different steps— and that’s just to get the drive out. You have to repeat those 42 steps in reverse to get the computer back together again! None of them seem really hard, but I’m not sure that I want to spend the two or three hours to do this.

So, my “Mac in the shack” days may be over for now.

More Sweet Tweets

Here are some more links to interesting Web pages I found by Twittering:

  • N3OX’s Remote Tuner Control. N3OX has added some servo motors and controls to a manual antenna tuner so that he can move it closer to the antenna, but still control it from inside the shack. Very inexpensive solution.
  • Band Plans for 900 MHz and Above. KB9MWR feels that the future of ham radio is above 900 MHz. I don’t know that I totally agree, but I do think we need to start thinking more about those bands. Give this a read.
  • Morse Code vs. Text Messaging. Chas Sprague, who’s not a ham, ruminates on how Morse Code could make text messaging more efficient. I wholeheartedly agree! Someone get this man his ham ticket.
  • Ham Logging as a Service. There’s been a lot of twittering about this KE9V blog post. I like the idea myself, and if I had more time, I might even take a crack at it. Anyone want to collaborate?
  • Planning a Digital ATV Station. After pondering a digital ATV station for the museum, I opted to go analog. If I’d seen this article first, I might have opted to stick it out and go digital.

Find EchoLink, IRLP Nodes

From James, KB7TBT, via the HamRadioHelpGroup:

For those that wish to find a live on the air repeater or simplex node for either Echolink or IRLP.