Dog Days

The dog days of summer seem a natural breakpoint in the calendar because not much will happen over the next six weeks other than laying low and hiding out from the ill effects of the season:

Dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius (known colloquially as the “Dog Star”), which Hellenistic astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

We’ve got some vacation planned over the coming days, a getaway to Lake Michigan. Other than that and catching up on a backlog of reading, I have nothing better to do than sit in the shade and sip sweet tea for the next sixty days while waiting on the autumnal equinox.

So I’ve decided to take a break here too. Power down and reboot cycles are necessary from time to time and this seemed a good time for it. Things will resume here again after a refreshing pause and I’ll see you all again soon.

As always, thanks for reading and for sharing, stay well.


Slapping Brass and Slurping Joe

When I mentioned wanting a small propane stove to make coffee on a few days ago I had no idea that there was so much to choose from or that so many radio hams really know their hiking gear.

In retrospect, I should have known!

What I want to do is drive out a few early mornings a week into a park or forest area for some low-power radio adventure. Setup the antenna and equipment, make a few CW contacts, then make a fresh cup of Joe before heading back home to start the day right.

Sure, I could carry coffee from home but where’s the fun in that? I want to brew it fresh, right there in the field.

Nineteen different readers sent along recommendations (thank you very much!) and a while a few different systems were suggested there was a clear consensus that what best matched my requirements was one of these:

JETBOIL Flash Java Kit

Blistering boil times come standard on the Flash Java Kit personal cooking system, which includes accessories for making a fresh cup of coffee on the trail. Optimized for efficiency, the Flash boils water in a lightning-quick 100 seconds, making it the fastest Jetboil ever. Jetboil’s 1-liter FluxRing cooking cup with insulating cozy makes boiling water—and keeping it warm—a breeze. The kit’s ultra-stowable Silicone Coffee Press stores perfectly inside the cooking vessel, so you can make French press coffee without hauling extra gear. Start heating instantly with the convenient, reliable, pushbutton igniter, and verify that the water’s ready with the thermochromatic color-change heat indicator. Bottom cup doubles as a measuring cup and a bowl and is easy to pack and carry at only 13.1 ounces. Check out our selection of Hikers Brew Coffee for the perfect Java kit coffee companion.

Message received 599, it’s already on the way!


Lab599 TX-500

I’ve been as curious as anyone about the Lab599 TX-500 ultra compact all-mode 10W HF/50MHz SDR QRP transceiver. I’ve watched some of the many videos created about it since it was first announced and have been intrigued with its unique form-factor and ruggedness for field work.

But sleek-styling and gushing fan-boy videos aren’t really sufficient for making a purchase decision like this so I waited for the QST review (August 2021) before placing an order for the TX-500. Ham Radio Outlet is the US distributor for the transceiver though supplies are very limited and these were “out of stock” when I placed my order.

I’m told mine will be shipped with the “next group” and while there are no guarantees, that could be in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I wait and wonder what it will be like to own amateur radio equipment that was made in Russia - certainly a first for me.

Apparently there is a form fitting case for batteries that bolts on the back, but I’m not sure how interested I am in that option. I am disappointed there is no built-in auto-tuner (where would they put it?) and yes, I did read the comment in the QST review about the level of spurious emissions and the suggestion to not use an RF amplifier with this transceiver.

My use case for the TX-500 is for portable CW work only and I don’t plan to tote along an amplifier, though I am keeping a close eye on this development, a 60W amp with an auto-tuner in a form factor that matches the transceiver and bolts on the back…


Portable Mast Support

Larry, W2LJ recently reported on having purchased a mast support device that is supported by driving a car tire onto it. I’ve seen such mounts deployed in the field and always thought it a good idea. I’ve got a couple of 31-foot fiberglass push-up masts that aren’t seeing enough use so I ordered one of these mast holders too and hope it arrives in time to take on vacation next week.

When I use the 31-foot masts I usually strap it (temporarily) to the leg of a picnic table, bench, or whatever is handy and use it to support a wire antenna. Having it right beside my vehicle (and not having to look for something to lash it to) means operating out of the back-end of the Jeep with the hatch popped open which should make field deployment easy - and comfortable.

Here’s the mount I ordered from Amazon and here’s a link to some fiberglass push-up poles in case you’re interested.

Given my intention to begin making regular trips into the field once I’m retired, this is just another step in that process. I really like the idea of having my portable station in the back of the Jeep and ready to go to one of the many parks in this area on a moments notice. I imagine this mostly being early morning adventures and ritual is important to me. Greeting the dawn with the songbirds and a little CW while smoking my pipe and sipping a hot cup of coffee.

Now I need a compact propane stove for making coffee…


Dodecanese

Working from home creates an uncomfortable situation where I’m forced to decide every single day whether to shave, shower, or even get dressed. It’s a brave new world and the many signs that things were getting back to normal that appeared over the last month or two are suddenly becoming difficult to see again.

But being home all day affords me the opportunity to do things not previously possible, important things, like monitoring the cluster for needed spots. Earlier today I was alerted when the programmed trilled for a 20 meter CW spot I’ve been waiting to find. It was Mort, SV5/G2JL on Lipsi where he spends about six months a year.

I don’t even know how to pronounce “Dodecanese” and can’t easily point it out on a map. Besides, it’s already in my log. Number 252 on the Most Wanted List is not particularly rare. I don’t need the entity, I’ve just wanted to work Mort for a long time and have yet to do that.

I didn’t copy him today either.

I first heard G2JL about six months ago but he didn’t hear me when I called then. That near-miss led me to look-up his QRZ bio page and I found it incredibly interesting and entertaining. He’s got serious DX chops, “DXCC (300+), DUF4, OHA, WASM2, WAE, WAZ, WAS (well inside 20 years; WAZ came before WAS !)” and says:

“WAC on AM ‘phone; more that 50 QSOs on ‘phone, in fact; two on RTTY, 23 countries on 50 MHz CW - well over 50 QSOs on VHF; the rest on HF using the Proper Mode for Real Grown-up Hams. I eschew these MDMs [Mindless Data Modes]. Unless ear & brain (if any) are involved, it’s not ham radio”.

He’s an 88 year-old radioman who says what he thinks and his story makes for enjoyable reading. Don’t believe me? Visit his QRZ bio page and dig in, unless you’re easily offended, which is fairly common these days (In that case, you should avoid that link and follow this instead).

If you happen to work Mort, tell him I’m looking for him. I need to know how to pronounce Dodecanese - among other things.


AMSAT Space Symposium

AMSAT has announced that their 39th Annual Space Symposium will take place (in real life) on Friday through Sunday, October 29-31, 2021, at the Crowne Plaza AiRE in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The Symposium includes presentations, exhibit space, and the AMSAT Annual General Meeting. The AMSAT Board of Directors Meeting will be held before the Symposium, October 28-29, at the same hotel.

Call for Papers: Proposals for symposium presentations are invited on any topic of interest to the amateur satellite community.


In Search of...

In One Hundred I mentioned the need to add some sort of search capability to the site. I’ve been hesitant to jump into that work because the last thing I want is a database to maintain. The whole point (for me) in using a simple, static site generator was to eliminate the need to manage server-side resources.

Fortunately, I found a solution that adds considerable utility without much overhead. It’s a bit of JSON magic that skims the front matter of each post and puts all of it into a single JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) file that can be quickly read from a search script.

This method yields nearly instant results.

The opposite reaction in this case is that I only recently started adding tags to the front matter of my blog posts. It will take some effort, but I am going to go back and add those to all of the older content as well as all future posts.

In addition, there’s some general housekeeping that needs to take place in order to make this a really useful feature. But the weather forecast for this weekend is a lot of rain. And I did get the lawn mowed yesterday… so I literally have nothing better to do.

I hope to get this task completed by Sunday night, but feel free to give it a whirl now. You can visit the Archive Search page and type something into the search box. That will give you a glimpse at how this will work once the details have been fully sweated out.

UPDATED: the new instant search utility is complete.


Penntek TR-25 Transceiver

I haven’t made additional comments about the Penntek TR-25 transceiver from WA3RNC because there was a minor hiccup. When I received the dual-band CW transceiver kit there was a bug in the keyer circuit that wasn’t noticeable when using a straight key or bug. Once John was made aware of it, he asked that it be sent back for an update. Problem solved and the rig was back in my shack in a couple of days.

“This message is to inform you that the TR-25 transceiver you recently purchased may have an issue with the internal keyer firmware whereby the dot and dash memories might not be configured properly. This condition could cause varying degrees of difficulty when using the internal keyer.”

“If the software revision number that shows on the OLED display at power-on is other than “V.0.20”, you may return your unit for a no-charge reprogramming and recalibration service. At the same time, a slight upgrade modification will be made to allow for smoother QSK switching. Your TR-25 will be returned to you promptly, with the return freight cost born by Penntek Instruments.”

This wasn’t especially troubling. I ordered the unit the day it became available and sometimes early adopters have to deal with these things. John promptly took care of the situation and that gave me a great deal more confidence in his commitment to the product. Especially since I look forward to a future product from him - more on this later.

I’ve had the transceiver on the air enough to have made about a dozen contacts and determined that it works well. The receiver is quiet and sensitive on both 40 and 20 meters. It’s small, lightweight, and I’m still in love with its simplicity. Exposing deep levels of menu options in equipment this size thru some kind of clever yet impossible to use interface is failed design. The TR-25 is simple to use - there is a knob or a switch for every function.

At 13 volts the TR-25 draws right at 100ma on receive and 1.29a with key down at full power out - a shade over 10 watts. The specs say it can generate 4 watts output with a 9.5 volt supply though I didn’t try at that low input level.

Bottom line is that the TR-25 is a fun little QRP transceiver that will see plenty of use here, and yes, I heartily recommend it if you’re in the market for a small, dual-band QRP CW transceiver.

I traded emails with John about another product, the TR-45L that he has announced. A big brother to the TR-25, the TR-45L is a four-band QRP transceiver with a retro styling that I’d really like to see in my shack. But John indicated that the global electronic parts shortage was keeping the new transceiver from hitting the market:

“The TR-45 is delayed due to extremely long lead times for some critical parts. Some of these lead times are exceeding 54 weeks! It looks like the best guess for release will be first quarter of 2022. It might be possible to get a few units out this fall, but no guarantees. I’ll be posting some information about the delay on the TR-45L web page. Damn covid…”

Damn Covid indeed. I really want that transceiver!


Newsboat | a text mode RSS reader

The site runs on Linode which, in addition to serving up these Web pages, also gives me access to a virtual Ubuntu box sitting on a fat pipe. I’ve always enjoyed life on the command line and still use it daily. Mutt for mail, slrn for news reading, Irssi for chat and IRC - the list goes on.

I’ve installed several different text mode applications for RSS over the years and only recently discovered that Newsbeuter was abandoned and Newsboat forked from it. Newboat is actively maintained, the current version is 2.24, released in June 2021.

It’s a drop-dead simple interface that’s easy to configure. Running it requires only a call to the application. I use a couple of command line switches to tell it to “refresh” and use a specific, easily editable file that includes the feeds that I follow.

Being a text console application it’s no-nonsense, lightweight and speedy. I like it a lot and since it runs on my server, my access to those command line applications is only an SSH session away which is better than cloud synchronization, all of them are running on the same machine!


Out of the Noise Floor

I mentioned last week having really enjoyed the BATC Net (British Amateur Television) which is conducted weekly via ATV using the wide band transponder on the QO-100 satellite - and streamed online which is the only way I could watch. Wanting to learn a little more, I went poking around the BATC Web site and decided to become a member when I found a “cyber” option that permits me to be a member and download the CQ-TV magazine on the skinny. I haven’t had time yet to fully consume the Summer 2021 edition, but it’s a definite keeper!

Trying to come up with another ham shack project that includes LoRa networking as a way to learn more about it. This helps:

“LoRa and LoRaWAN permit inexpensive, long-range connectivity for Internet of Things (IoT) devices in rural, remote and offshore industries. With LoRa wireless and LoRaWAN, you can build wide array of applications in the area of smart agriculture, smart cities, smart environment, smart healthcare, smart homes & buildings, smart industrial control, smart metering, smart supply chain & logistics, and many more”.

From the opening pages of the book, Beginning LoRa Radio Networks with Arduino written by Pradeeka Senevirante and available for free download here. Find the GitHub source code repository that goes along with the book here.

The Deutscher Amateur Radio Club e.V. (DARC) is pleased to announce that it will be boosting and securing European HAMNET expansion by providing sponsored hardware for radio links to make use of the AMPRNet IP space in Europe. This new DARC project is made possible by a grant from Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a California-based private foundation.

HAMNET is a closed network for amateur radio purposes and focuses on communication via high-speed radio links. It is not an Internet substitute. There is no access from the Internet or to the Internet. As a data network for radio amateurs based on TCPIP, which primarily digitally networks the relay and / or digipeater locations with one another, this carrier medium offers a multitude of possible applications. For the user, direct connections by means of HF user entrances to each other (peer to peer), as well as connections to server services (all operating modes) and interfaces to existing amateur radio operating modes (e.g. packet radio) are possible.


Running Out the Clock

This summer has been another of those stretches of time where you put your head down and keep plodding forward only to look up and notice it’s nearly half over. Just working for a living and working in the yard. No fun has been seen here in quite some time. The repetition is boring. Every day has been too warm and muggy for my liking. It threatens rain daily yet it rarely falls in sufficient quantities. We are six inches behind for the year despite rain being in the forecast every single day.

So last night Brenda says, “I guess we’re not going on vacation this year?” which was a bit of a wake-up call. I hadn’t really thought about it. I have 157 days left until retirement and honestly, that’s the only goal on my mind right now.

A little downtime right about now might be nice so I’ve booked us a place along the western shore of Lake Michigan for later this month. Maybe I’ll even take a small transceiver and portable antenna along just in case it rains there…

Adding this to my calendar I see that while it has been quiet lately, there is a lot coming up. The GQRP Convention takes place (virtual) the first weekend of September. The W9DXCC Convention happens (in real life) the following weekend. And then there is the TAPR Digital Communication Conference (virtual) the weekend after that.

The AMSAT Space Symposium takes place in October as does the AMSAT-UK Colloquium.

Not long after those and it’s bada-bing, bada-boom then retirement!

This little break at the end of July comes at a good time and should tide me over through the dog days of August and then it looks like a downhill run through the back half of 2021. And isn’t that fun to think about?


Bit Farming in Barren Land

What I posted here a few days ago about the RadioMirror digital communications concept was based on an older blog post written by Steve Stroh, N8GNJ who has since provided an update with additional details. In RadioMirror, Meet flamp he explains discovering that Fldigi, a free and open-source program which allows an ordinary computer’s sound card to be used as a simple two-way data modem, includes something called Flamp which provides most, if not all, the functionality of RadioMirror.

Given that It’s here now and available, when will we begin using it?

I’m going to follow Steve’s lead on this one since he lives in the Pacific Northwest, an area with abundant packet activity, while I struggle to find even an APRS signal in the digital black hole that surrounds the region where I live. I expect to hear more about broadcasting data via Flamp soon enough from Steve and the digital rebel alliance out in the land of Bigfoot.

TL;DR - delivering information via packet radio using a broadcast method where one station broadcasts that data for reception by a multitude of stations. Imagine digital hams in a given area receiving club news, bulletins, and other information from a repeater that broadcasts that data in off-peak times like every morning at 3am, etc.

Zero Retries Newsletter

It should also be noted that N8GNJ just launched Zero Retries, a newsletter about new generations of Amateur Radio Data  Communications - beyond Packet Radio and the future of Amateur Radio. The first issue has already crossed the transom and it’s an engaging read for anyone with an eye on the future of amateur radio.

It’s a no-cost subscription delivered via email and I can’t think of a single reason why any radio ham with an interest in digital communications wouldn’t subscribe today.


Tossed Salad

Wrapping up the week with another tossed ham radio salad. Hope you find a useful crouton or two amongst the greens. Stay well, enjoy your weekend, and feel free to share the salad with your friends every chance you get. Thanks!

Low Cost 10GHz EME Rx System by Bob Atkins, KA1GT will give you plenty to think about and do this weekend.

BATC OSCAR 100 Net - tip of the hat to Michelle, W5NYV for the timely reminder about the weekly net streamed live online. I really enjoyed watching! Amateur TV is such an interesting medium I don’t know why it isn’t more popular - unless it has something to do with the reticence of letting others see your messy shack?

Dan Romanchik, KB6NU is employee number three of the Amateur Radio Digital Corporation (ARDC). Dan has taken on the role of content manager responsible for the communications strategy of the foundation.

Firmware update (v1.31) is now available for the ICOM IC-9700 transceiver.

Where do we go Next? The NCDXF has made available a PDF download of the entire book. Written by Martti Laine, OH2BH. Even if you don’t have time to read it now, download it and keep a copy for later as it may not always be readily available…

Published in 1991, more than 12,000 copies have been published and the book was eventually translated into four languages. Contained in the over 300 pages are many of Martti’s secrets: What it’s like to be on a DXpedition from the planning stage through to its completion. What makes a good DXpedition. What’s necessary to bring together operators with the right characteristics for a successful team. How to operate and handle the giant pile-ups. Both beginning and seasoned DXers have benefited from the book as it re-lives many of the places Martti and his teams have visited. Readers learn about the teams’ successes and also those challenging times when Mr. Murphy tried to derail a successful trip.

W4DXCC is happening for real, in the flesh. The 16th annual convention will take place in Pigeon Forge, TN on September 24-25th, 2021. The conference hotel is nearly filled so work fast if you want to attend.


Desktop Refresh

My MacBook Pro was getting a little long in tooth late last year. I had already decided that it would be replaced with a MacBook Air as I had no need for additional muscle and thought I’d save a few bucks by downgrading. Then in November Apple announced their own ARM-based system on a chip. The M1 was launched on a new MacBook Air and that’s how I ended up with one.

Though not before exchanging notes with Don, VE3VRW of DogPark Software who was testing his MacLoggerDX and MacDoppler applications on the new silicon without issues.

The primary shack computer was in need of replacement too so I ordered a new Mac mini with the M1 chip to replace my old iMac. New machines, new silicon, what could go wrong? Turns out, not much as the transition has been almost flawless and the powerful new processor was all I needed for a complete overhaul.

Almost…

I’ve used Linux since the pre-1.0 kernel days. Yes. I’m that old. I still use it on a daily basis but these days it remains a useful tool, but has mostly been relegated to task work. Six Raspberry Pi’s and a couple of servers are running Linux or variants here but all of them are headless “boxes” though I do have an Ubuntu laptop that I use for testing code and other abstract notions.

Lately, that has included GNU Radio. It installed flawlessly and runs incredibly well on Ubuntu (21.04) and I’ve been using that a lot more lately. So it was natural to think about adding a new Linux box to the desktop line-up. I figured the NUC format would “pair” nicely with the Mac mini and that would result in having macOS and Linux at my fingertips in the shack.

At least that was my plan until I saw a mention from Daniel, EA4GPZ about using Docker to install GNU Radio on the M1 Mac.

This note describes the steps we took with the SETI Institute summer interns 2021 to install GNU Radio in their M1 Macs (MacBook Air M1 2020 model). We used gnuradio-docker-env as a starting point, which was of invaluable help.

Perhaps I should avoid another desktop machine and just use GNU Radio on my new Mac hardware? I don’t think so. While it can be done additional feedback suggests this is just a workaround for someone who only has an M1 Mac available and is not an ideal environment for GNU Radio at this point.

I’m going back to the initial plan to find new hardware with a desktop footprint, install Linux on it, and live happily ever after with both operating systems running concurrently at my fingertips…


Neeva | privacy and ad-free search

Google is obviously the leading search engine on the planet. And everyone knows its business model is to give away organized search results in exchange for serving up advertisements. If it were as simple as that users would only have to decide if being presented with adverts was worth the quality of the search engine results.

Unfortunately, it is much more complicated than that.

In order to expand their reach into advertisers pockets, Google takes advantage of collecting and selling all manner of data on users of its search engine, going so far as to endlessly track them across the Web. And therein lies the rub. Even if the personal data is anonymized, it just feels like there is some creepy dude watching everything you do.

And even that seemed okay given all the free things Google offered in exchange, like email, customizable news, search results, etc. But these days there seems to be an increasing awareness of privacy issues and while Google isn’t about to go away, a small window of opportunity to do something different has opened.

A new search engine has emerged and it comes with the promise of no ads, no tracking, and they won’t sell your search history. How do they intend to make money? Selling subscriptions. Users will actually pay for the services of a search engine. The thought seems so foreign that most recoil at the notion and yet, I think I’m willing to pay five bucks a month for the added privacy without advertisements if the search is good.

Former Googlers launch Neeva, a $4.95 p/m search engine with no ads and a privacy focus:

Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, two former Google executives (about 30 percent of their company’s staff are ex-Googlers), hope their newly launched search engine Neeva will be able to steal some of the 90% market share enjoyed by their one-time employer. Unlike Google, which makes most of its money from ads, Neeva uses a subscription-based model, meaning no privacy concerns or search results populated by advertisements.

I signed up and am getting three free months before the subscription fee commences:

Welcome to Neeva, the world’s first ad-free and private search engine. We’re deeply committed to building a high-quality search experience to help find real results that matter to you. And we believe you should be able to find relevant information without sacrificing your privacy. Search behavior shouldn’t be used to target you with persistent ads that follow you around the web. Thanks for joining our mission to put you back in control of your information. Happy searching!

I’m using it across the many platforms in use here and I have to say I’m impressed with the results. They’ve been good. Very good. And I don’t wonder if the algorithm has been tweaked to favor results from higher paying advertisers. The home page includes customizable news and weather information in a simple, clean format.

I’m using it with Firefox on most of my machines though to use it on iOS requires the Neeva Browser for now. I like it enough after only a week that I am determined to keep it. I don’t need “free” search I just need affordable privacy.

Yes, more of that please…


TAPR Digital Communications Conference

The 40th annual ARRL and TAPR Digital Communications Conference (DCC) will take place virtually online September 17-18, 2021. The details for the online DCC are being finalized and will be announced here shortly. In the meantime, it is not too early to plan technical papers and presentations for the event. Technical papers will be published in the Conference Proceedings. Authors do not need to present at the conference to have their papers included in the Proceedings. Paper and presentation topic areas include, but are not limited to software defined radio (SDR), digital voice, digital satellite communication, digital signal processing (DSP), HF digital modes, adapting IEEE 802.11 systems for Amateur Radio, Global Positioning System (GPS), Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS), Linux in Amateur Radio, AX.25 updates, Internet operability with Amateur Radio networks, TCP/IP networking over Amateur Radio, mesh and peer-to-peer wireless networking, emergency and homeland defense backup digital communications in Amateur Radio.

More info: 2021 ARRL & TAPR Digital Communications Conference (DCC)


AMSAT Board of Directors

The nomination process for the 2021 AMSAT Board of Directors election has been completed. The Board consists of seven directors who serve two-year terms. In odd number years (like this one), four seats are up for re-election. Members began nominating potential candidates in May with the nomination period ending on June 15th.

Exactly four nominations were received and reviewed and all four potential candidates met the necessary qualifications. With four seats open and exactly four nominations made, all four nominees will be seated on the Board on September 15th. Successful candidates include:

  • Joseph Armbruster, KJ4JIO
  • Robert Bankston, KE4AL
  • Jerry Buxton, N0JY
  • Zach Metzinger, N0ZGO

Despite that all nominees will be seated, the Bylaws require an election and this process will take place via online voting. The electronic management system that handles membership is also capable of managing elections and will be used for the current election. There is zero additional cost to AMSAT to take advantage of this method which is in stark contrast to typical mail-in elections that can cost upwards of ten thousand dollars each year.

Instructions for voting will be emailed by July 15, 2021 to all members who are in good standing as of July 1, 2021. This requires a working email address on file with AMSAT. I suspect we will never again use postal mail for elections so this is a critical requirement if members want to be able to vote.

The current Board of Directors and date of their expiring term:


  • Jerry Buxton, N0JY (2021)
  • Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA (2021)
  • Patrick Stoddard, WD9EWK (2021)
  • Michelle Thompson, W5NYV (2021)
  • Mark Hammond, N8MH (2022)
  • Bruce Paige, KK5DO (2022)
  • Paul Stoetzer, N8HM (2022)

On or before September 30th, 2021 the new Board of Directors will look like this barring any withdrawal:

  • Mark Hammond, N8MH (2022)
  • Bruce Paige, KK5DO (2022)
  • Paul Stoetzer, N8HM (2022)
  • Joseph Armbruster, KJ4JIO (2023)
  • Robert Bankston, KE4AL (2023)
  • Jerry Buxton, N0JY (2023)
  • Zach Metzinger, N0ZGO (2023)

The last year has brought sweeping changes to the way AMSAT works. There is no longer an employee on the payroll and the main office has been closed and all work-flow processes have become virtual. That all required considerably more effort than might be imagined, but the savings realized from these changes, in addition to the AMSAT Journal moving to digital only publication, have slashed the costs of running the corporation by a significant amount without negative impact to the member services rendered.


Libera.Chat

The Internet Relay Chat, a text-based chat system has been around for quite some time and while you may recall it from the old days of the Internet, you may also be thinking “didn’t that go away a long time ago?” And the answer to that would be “no”. While IRC is no where near as popular as it was during the Gulf War (1991), it continues to be a regular online hangout for a lot of tech communities.

I’ve been a registered Freenode (one particular network) user for as long as I can remember and can often be found lurking in a few channels like #gnuradio, #satnogs, #librespace, and #highaltitude.

But it came to pass a little more than a month ago that freenode underwent what some staff described as a “hostile takeover”, and at least 14 volunteer staff members resigned. Following the events, various organizations using freenode moved their channels to Libera Chat, a new network created by former freenode staff.

I don’t know all the sticky details and am not really interested. If you spend any time in or around the Open Source community you know it’s fraught with high-strung people prone to occasional fits of drama and outrage over issues that might pass for business as usual in other communities and you get used to it.

Whew - what a month (and a couple of days). Few of us expected earlier in the year to have to create a new IRC network, from scratch, in a few days!

And yet, that’s what we did. On May 19th, Libera Chat, formed by the ex freenode staff team, opened its doors. We’re incredibly grateful for the many thousands of you who followed us. With your help, we have a thriving network of over 15 000 channels and 40 000 registered users across more than 700 projects, communities and informal spaces, and we did that in the space of a month.

The channels I follow are now hosted on Libera.Chat where I have since registered and the new network seems to be chugging along just fine. If you suddenly find your favorite IRC channel missing on Freenode, you may discover they too were part of the Great Migration of ‘21.


One Hundred

This is my 100th blog post of 2021. A minor accomplishment to be certain, but I thought it a milestone worth mentioning anyway. I’ve been reasonably prolific during the first half of this year and have fallen into a comfortable cadence of publishing 1500-2000 words distributed among four or five posts per week and expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. Given that, I need to do some basic work on the place, like adding a search utility.

It’s just lazy on my part that readers can’t search here right now, but with a growing archive and without the ability to easily search for past articles I run the embarrassing risk of repeating myself in print.

Other intentional design elements such as the layout, plain text, whitespace, and lack of inline images will remain unchanged for now. The only modifications made since launch has been the font face used and the (recently) justified text alignment which is destined to return to left-alignment.

The editorial content will remain about the same as seen to date. I’d like to take a deeper dive into the technical side of some of the projects I’m working on, but I’ve never been particularly good at authoring “how-to” articles. Fortunately, most of the things I’m working on these days is based on software and code snippets are easy enough to share.

My radio interests continue to evolve and I’ll be explaining that in much more detail during the coming weeks. Suffice it for now to say I’ve been spending a lot less time on HF and a lot more time chasing signals originating in space. That has required a shift in the hardware and antennas in use here and I’ll share those details soon too.


RadioMirror

Catching up on things has been an impossible task since the pandemic lockdown made every global (ham radio) event virtual. There’s a lifetime of conference tracks just waiting to be visited and another lifetime of YouTube content being created yet this week. Not that I’m complaining. I would never have been able to visit things like the European GNU Radio Days 2021 (I finally completed this last night!) or any of a hundred such conferences conducted around the world unless they are virtual.

But the unique situation does keep me hopelessly unable to ever really “catch up” with all the conferences, events, and reading.

My blog reading has been seriously lacking and it was only this week that I finally caught up with the SuperPacket blog of N8GNJ. One of the many interesting posts from Steve’s stream of consciousness from a few months ago was a recap of something he had previously written about called RadioMirror:

The genesis of this idea was a discussion I overheard during a local radio club’s (virtual - Zoom) meeting. The club wanted to implement a way to keep all members of their Emergency Communications (EMCOM) group up-to-date with a set of files - maps, lists of personnel, frequencies, etc. continuously updated so that when a communications emergency occurred and Internet connectivity was lost, all of the information they needed to respond would be up-to-date.

Out of the deep recesses of my packet radio experience, I thought of a better way to accomplish this that didn’t require Internet at all - RadioMirror. RadioMirror is a concept originated by John Hansen W2FS that’s been around since the early days of packet radio.

It’s a concept of broadcasting information via packet radio in a way to keep data on disparate systems synchronized. It’s not unlike the PacSat protocol where a small satellite carries a “hard drive” where files can be uploaded. The satellite broadcasts what files and messages are available in its directory and ground stations queue up to request which of those files and messages it wanted to receive.

It was efficient even at low baud rates because hundreds of stations on earth would receive the broadcasted information at the same time. The end effect was that the “hard drive” in space was being cloned by all the “hard drives” on the ground in a unique sharing arrangement. This facilitated file transfers, bulletin-board style messages, image downloads, news and information, etc.

In much the same way RadioMirror is a similar concept intended for terrestrial deployment. The “broadcast” and subsequent reception would enable packet users to always be updated with the latest information - whatever that might be - without user interaction.

A local implementation might include notes from the latest club meeting, announcements of upcoming activities, hobby-related or other news and information, up to date codeplugs, weather bulletins, forecasts, maps, etc. The point being that the information comes to the user instead of the user having to go find the information. And since everyone in a given area receives the same files at the same time, everyone’s system is “cloned” in a hive-like experience.

Steve posits that this kind of network could be rolled out using inexpensive hardware, like the Raspberry Pi that didn’t exist somewhere back in our long ago. He also suggested a scenario where local repeaters might be used to transmit that data daily during little-used time slots, like at 3am.

But instead of me getting some of this wrong, you should beat a path over to the SuperPacket blog and read about it for yourself. His post includes various pointers and references to the concept that are worth a look if you’re interested.

I’m interested. Very interested. Nothing about this concept is outside current amateur radio capabilities. It doesn’t require some pie-in-the-sky new geo satellite or yet to be imagined software. It could be implemented right now in 2021 if the idea caught some fire…