Test Free Licensing

We seem to have reached a point where testing only perpetuates the business of testing.

Hardly a week goes by without hearing of another successful Saturday licensing session resulting in new amateur radio licensees. These typically the result of a cram session where a neophyte can walk in the door having zero knowledge of the hobby, and walk out the door four hours later a brand new radio ham.

I frequently complain about these “puppy mills” and am just as frequently rebuffed by those who run them. I’m told that no amount of study and testing can create a radio amateur — only hand-on experience can do that so the notion is to get them licensed as quickly as possible and let nature run its course.

And you know what? I agree with them. But that sort of begs the question, then why don’t we do away with license testing altogether? If these tests are merely speed bumps to the entry of the hobby, let’s dump them.

Twenty years ago I would have rejected the notion of eliminating testing out of hand. Demonstrating proficiency in operating a transmitter was considered essential to preventing chaos on the bands. And a certain level of technical acumen was necessary to prevent unintentional interference.

Neither of these concerns are realistic to the amateur service in the 21st century. Transmitting equipment must be accepted by the FCC before it can be sold and those who still home brew gear are rare and obviously smart enough to know what they’re doing.

We seem to have reached a point where testing only perpetuates the business of testing. The sales of license study manuals and Volunteer Examiner puffery are the only real “winners” in this ongoing sham.

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Incentive licensing was a worn-out concept in 1980. We have need of only one class of license that conveys all amateur privileges and it should be issued based on an application basis only – perhaps with a $100 fee that’s good for ten years.

If radio amateurs wanted to volunteer to administer the issuance of licenses and maintain that database, perhaps the fee could be used to help fund FCC enforcement?

Think about it. You can’t churn out qualified radio operators from a four-hour memorization session. Even the volunteers who promote this process agree. New hams will learn best from on the air time and actual practice. The testing process serves only to prop up the sales of study guides, memorization tricks, and to create a point of control for volunteer examiners.

That we’ve always done it that way is of no consequence, it’s time to move forward.

It would be a wonderful if local clubs facilitated the application process at the conclusion of an hour-long “get to know us better” club meet and greet. Having new licensees become acquainted with seasoned local operators provides tangible benefits – unlike the phony baloney memorization sessions.

Benefits include;

1. Cleaning up the FCC database thru regular license fees.
2. Potentially creating a fund for continued FCC enforcement activity.
3. Removal of costs associated with testing aids and study materials.
4. Elimination of the work associated with creating testing pools, etc.
5. Putting new applicants in touch with local clubs.
6. Streamlined process where all licensees carry all amateur privileges.

Perhaps best reason of all would be reality.

We’ve been perpetuating a 20th century concept and pretending that it adds value to the amateur service. In reality, it’s a totem based on century old ideas about exclusivity and false hope that it elevates our service when in fact, it’s just a delusion to make us feel better about ourselves.

Am I wrong? Sound off in the comments below.

Today’s Video Link

The thrill of DX is the secret sauce of amateur radio, and it’s pursuit is one that has captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of radio adventurers. This seven minute video is a great primer that explains what it’s all about…

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/k4dJcK-WVRw

A video describing two of the fascinating aspects of amateur radio, DXing and DXpeditions.

Ten-Tec: Fits and Starts

Whether or not the current version of Ten-Tec still has serious plans about returning to the market seems questionable. What we know is that the firms assets belong to the owner of Dishtronix, a reputable electronics and HF amplifier manufacturer in Ohio.

Its owner was forthright at the beginning of this year about his plans and the realities of resurrecting a brand best known for it’s work in the 1970’s and 80’s in a new millennium. He said Ten-Tec would release firmware updates for a few of its transceivers. It did. He said Ten-Tec would have a presence at the Dayton Hamvention. It did. He said that there would be a couple of new product offerings — souped up versions of the Eagle and Omni 7. So far, nothing.

I’m not certain that you can even purchase a new transceiver from Ten-Tec right this minute?

The operation has moved to a much smaller facility in Sevierville and is servicing equipment with only a few employees. And these are apparently overwhelmed with service work – based on this recent public posting:

“The Sevierville operation is presently overwhelmed with handling Service and Small Parts orders. This will hopefully be resolved by end of October. Also it was made clear in this communication, no attempt to contact the Dishtronix operation in Ohio should be done. They have no parts nor technical information about any of the Ten-Tec models or products. The staff in the Sevierville operation are working as a “First Come – First Serve” basis for service work and parts orders. The Sevierville staff will address all models and requests and research as they have time.   Please be patient and understanding for a response to your request. Please DO NOT contact the Ohio Dishtronix offices for any matters regarding Ten-Tec or Ten-Tec products”.

Dishtronix has a full-plate with the launch of its new Prometheus amplifier and having also taken on the Alpha Amplifier baggage along with Ten-Tec in the RKR debacle.

It’s almost as though owner Mike Dishop, N8WFF is a glutton for punishment.

Will Ten-Tec survive? Your guess is as good as mine but it might well come down to your definition of success. Continued service and the sales of replacement parts would certainly make some Ten-Tec owners sleep easier. Others are waiting on a new super-charged Eagle before committing again to the brand.

I think a lot of time has passed since Ten-Tec last functioned as a designer and manufacturer of amateur radio transceivers and the market has likely slipped away from them. Still, I’m impressed with Dishop and have received plenty of private feedback that he’s one of the really good guys in our hobby.

This recent response from him to a complaining Alpha Amplifier customer makes me believe Dishop is indeed, one of the good guys – and good people can overcome almost any adversity.

Autumn Begins!

The name for the festival of the Autumn Equinox in Druidry is Alban Elfed, which means ‘The Light of the Water’.

The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light. It is also the time of the second harvest, usually of the fruit which has stayed on the trees and plants that have ripened under the summer sun.

It is this final harvest which can take the central theme of the Alban Elfed ceremony – thanking the Earth, in her full abundance as Mother and Giver, for the great harvest, as Autumn begins.

Happy Autumn!

Security

For the last year or so, Google has been gently urging Web sites to begin using the secured transport protocol. Their prodding was at first a suggestion followed by letting us all know that their search algorithm views HTTPS as a ranking signal. Sites without the added layer of security have started to move down in search results, meaning your site rankings could take a hit.

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HTTP stands for hypertext transfer protocol and it allows communication between different systems. Most commonly, it’s used for transferring data from a web server to a browser to view web pages. The problem is that HTTP (note: no “s” on the end) data is not encrypted, and can be intercepted by third parties to gather data being passed between the two systems.

This can be addressed by using a secure version called HTTPS, where the “S” stands for secure and involves the use of an SSL certificate — “SSL” stands for secure sockets layer — which creates a secure encrypted connection between the web server and the web browser.

This might not be a big deal for non e-commerce sites like most ham radio related Web pages. And it won’t affect many blogs — Blogger and sites hosted on WordPress.com switched over to HTTPS long ago, though self-hosted WordPress blogs are subject to settings on the local server.

But changes are coming.

Google’s Chrome 56 browser as of January 2017 will flag as “not secure” any non-HTTPS sites that transmit password and credit-card information. Currently, Chrome delivers HTTP connections with its neutral indicator, which Google says doesn’t reflect the real lack of security in HTTP environments.

According to Google, “eventually, we plan to label all HTTP pages as non-secure, and change the HTTP security indicator to the red triangle that we use for broken HTTPS.”

Will that impact traffic to your site? Probably not though it’s certainly something to consider. If not now, then soon.

No Website owner wants to have their visitors presented with some type of scary warning about using their website, and this will likely encourage those that are still being actively curated to move to HTTPS.

Reflector Life

The Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) has been around for every moment of the 21st century. I got involved with the project in 2003 when I built my first node from a discarded personal computer. That was replaced a few years later with an embedded node, and that was replaced this year with a new node built on a Raspberry Pi.

In a nutshell, IRLP links repeaters and individual nodes, like mine, with others via the Internet. For instance, a repeater in Florida can be linked with a repeater in California and users on each end can communicate with each other – sometimes without even realizing that the person they are talking with is in another region.

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Reflectors are computers running special software that facilitate the linking of multiple repeaters and nodes. These are often installed in a data center and have access to considerably more bandwidth than a home user with cable Internet access.

The bandwidth permits many systems to be linked together, forming ever larger networks as each reflector can support hundreds of simultaneous connections via multiple “channels”.

In the early days this was all heady stuff and very unique. But IRLP has matured considerably and these days many repeaters with IRLP capabilities will connect on a semi-permanent basis to a specific channel of a reflector, usually for geographical convenience.

For instance, reflector 9070 is considered the “Alaska Reflector” and a quick look at the status of channel 0 this morning shows more than twenty repeaters from around that State all linked together. Say “hello” on any one of these linked repeaters and chances are good your signal will be copied all over The Last Frontier.

This is handy for state-wide nets as well as percolating traffic on seldom used systems. Of course, you don’t have to be in Alaska to link into that system. Other systems from around the world can, and often do, join in.

But as IRLP and its many adherents have matured, I’ve noticed the propensity for disparate repeater systems to link to a single channel and remain linked.

The East Coast Reflector (9050) is a good example. There are some fifty to sixty regular repeaters located up and down the eastern seaboard of the US that remain connected to it 24/7.

These reflectors take on unique personalities as users eventually come to know each other. This permits Bob in Ft Myers, Florida to chat with Marvin and Bill in Vestal, New York, every weekday while driving to work. Before you know it, you’ve made new friends in faraway cities and since the system is immune to the vagaries of propagation, you can exchange brief pleasantries every day if you like.

Or you could get yourself into longer conversations though given that the systems are linked across wide areas, it would probably be appreciated if long rag chews moved off to seldom used reflector channels or through direct node-to-node linking.

Check out the list of reflectors and channels available, pick one, and then hangout there for a few days to see if it’s your cup of tea.

You might find that these “islands” of connectivity have morphed IRLP into the most useful of all the linked radio systems.

Recommended Reading

I’ve been a Linux user and fan since the pre-1.0 kernel days though it’s been a decade or more since I was a passionate evangelist of the platform. I think I was afraid of growing old and turning into that guy.

But this six-part series about Ubuntu on Windows is easy to understand and an even-keeled look at life astride two popular operating systems. Definitely worth a look if you’re a Windows user and have ever considered taking a deeper dive into the world of Linux.