Archive for October, 2008

Got Spam?

How’s your email inbox doing these days? Spamhaus says that spam (also called Unsolicited Commercial Email or UCE) makes up 90% of the email sent in most parts of the world. Since Spamhaus is in the business of providing anti-spam services, it might have a tendency to overestimate the amount of spam.

I have several email accounts for various purposes. One of these is a “junk” account on yahoo that I use for most online purchases and registering at questionable web sites. Examining that inbox, I see 97 messages in the inbox and 647 messages places in the spam folder by Yahoo’s spam filter. Of the 97 messages in the inbox, about half of those are really spam. Another 31 spam messages were sent to a “disposable email address” that I had used at one time. Adding that up, that is a total of 727 spam messages out of 775, which corresponds to 94% spam. Now this is probably a pessimistic measure as this email account is more likely to attract spam and has relatively low legitimate email usage. Still, it is quite amazing how much junk mail it accumulates.

My “real” email accounts have much less spam in them, but it is more difficult to tell the actual percentage. I don’t know for sure what anti-spam measures my ISP uses. On my end, I use Thunderbird’s junk mail controls which seems to catch the majority of the spam. There are quite a few methods available for reducing spam.

The root cause of this is that the internet email protocols were designed with an inherent trust of all users. All of the header information that indicates who sent the email can be easily spoofed, so there is very little accountability in the system. I doubt that the early email inventors anticipated the flood of viagra messages that would occur decades later. This is a classic example of unintended consequences of a new technology. (See Tom Van Vleck’s The History of Electronic Mail for more information.)

So now we spend our time and energy filtering and deleting this nuisance. Even more disturbing are the phishing scams that are showing up in my inbox. There are some very credible fake emails supposedly from major banks and financial institutions that try to get you to log into a fake web page and share your personal account information. Watch out for these!

Various solutions have been proposed to solve the spam problem. Sometimes I think capital punishment might be the answer, but I am not quite ready to propose that……yet. Stay tuned for further updates :-)

How’s your inbox doing?

73, Bob K0NR

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ARISS Update October 21

I pulled this from the AMSAT-BB email list
(a good update on the NA1SS activity this week by Richard Garriott):

Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2008 20:48:26 -0400
From: “Frank H. Bauer” <ka3hdo@comcast.net>
Subject: [amsat-bb] ARISS Update October 21, 2008
To: <amsat-bb@amsat.org>

All,

I think you all can agree that this has been a stellar and an historic week for Amateur Radio on the International Space Station!

Speaking on behalf of the ARISS international team of volunteers and the AMSAT community, we really appreciate the overwhelming flood of positive comments that we have received from the ham radio community and the general public regarding the ham radio operations on ISS this past week.
Collectively, we have all made history..starting with Richard, W5KWQ and his father Owen, W5LFL and continuing with all of you that participated and/or volunteered in his ISS journey. And along the way, we have sparked the imaginations of thousands of students. Got more interest in satellite operations. And, I understand, excited some youths to the point where they are now licensed.

Richard Garriott, W5KWQ has been extremely prolific on the ARISS ham radio system, making hundreds of voice contacts, operating the packet system during the crew sleep times and transmitting hundreds of SSTV images throughout the day. He put the newest ARISS hardware, the Kenwood VC-H1 to good use, performing the vast majority of contacts with this hardware system coupled with the Kenwood D700 Transciever. The remaining SSTV downlinks were performed with the software-based SSTV system—using either the SpaceCam software or MMSSTV software that are on-board ISS. Given the limited availability of ISS computer systems, the ARISS team will continue to utilize the VC-H1 well after Richard’s flight. So don’t be surprised if you see some VC-H1 SSTV operations from Mike Fincke, KE5AIT, during his stay as the commander of Expedition 18.

The team apologizes for the temporary shut-down of the ARISS SSTV server. We have been a victim of our own success in that the site has been overwhelmed by the popularity of Richard’s SSTV images. We hope to get the system operational very soon. This may take a URL change, so please check the listservs and the ARISS SSTV blog http://www.ariss-sstv.blogspot.com/ for updated information. http://www.ariss.org will also carry updates.

ARISS Development and Operations

As a reminder to all, the ARISS team is an international volunteer working group that is sponsored by three major entities in each ISS region—the National Amateur Radio Society, the International AMSAT organization and the National Space Agency. The 5 regions that comprise the ISS development are Canada, Europe Japan, Russia, and the USA. In the USA, the two ham radio sponsors are the ARRL and AMSAT-NA. NASA is the USA space agency sponsor. Over 12 years ago, the formulation of the ARISS working group was a specific request from NASA. They wanted the amateur radio community to internationally consolidate into one team all the development and operations of the ISS Ham radio system. This specific request from NASA, and ultimately the other space agencies, was to provide a single focus of ham radio on ISS within the amateur radio community and within the space agencies. As a result, the 5 international delegations that make up ARISS tightly coordinate the day-to-day mission operations as well as the strategic hardware development planning and implementation. The success of this past week would not have been realized without this tight coordination, particularly between our Russian colleagues, led by Sergey Samburov, RV3DR
and our international operations team, led by Will Marchant, KC6ROL.

Individuals are always welcome to volunteer their support to ARISS through their regional delegation. Please see the ARISS web site http://www.ariss.org for more information on your regional delegates.

Voice QSOs

We have received some reports of individuals providing advice to the ISS on-orbit crew or making specifc requests to the ISS crew to change or modify the ARISS hardware, on-board software or ham radio operations. The ARISS team would like to remind the amateur community that we all have a duty to the international space agencies to coordinate ISS ham radio operations through ARISS. Our advice to you is that if you have a specific request or idea, that you forward it to one of the ARISS international delegates or
ARISS team leaders. These individuals are identified on the ARISS web site http://www.ariss.org. Also, please remember that there are a *lot* of hams that would like to get their QSO with the ISS (including me!) So please use courtesy and keep your contact short. And once you have made a contact, please do not go for a repeat despite the intense temptation to do so. I think you all know that this is an “open” hobby. So all are listening in, observing and remembering your operating habits.

On behalf of the ARISS team, I thank you all for your interest in Ham Radio on ISS. Enjoy the contacts! And remember the ARISS teams and organizations that have made the ham radio system on ISS such a tremendous success. This includes the national amateur radio societies and international AMSAT organizations. As well as the international space agencies and the ISS on-board crew members.

73, Frank Bauer, KA3HDO
AMSAT-V.P. for Human Spaceflight Programs
ARISS International Chairman

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Changing Over to WordPress

WordPressI am in the process of moving my weblog from Blogger over to WordPress to take advantage of the more flexible software tools in that environment. The blog will remain on the k0nr.com domain but under a different directory (www.k0nr.com/wordpress). The old blog files should remain in place, so that existing links are not broken. In theory, this should all be transparent to you, as I will redirect the existing URLs for the main blog ( http://www.k0nr.com/blog ), the RSS feed and the Atom feed.

But this is the worldwide web and there are computers involved, so something is bound to get messed up! Hang in there while I make these changes.

Eventually, I’ll port my web site over so that all of k0nr.com is under WordPress. That is likely to take some time.

73, Bob K0NR

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Richard Garriott W5KWQ in Space

Richard Garriott, W5KWQ is on his way to the International Space Station (ISS) as the sixth “space tourist” riding on a Soyuz spacecraft. This would be just another rich guy buys a ride into space story, except that Richard is a ham radio operator, a successful technogeek and the son of a famous astronaut.

For me, the story starts back in November of 1983 when the Space Shuttle mission STS-9 included an astronaut named Owen Garriott, who is a radio amateur (W5LFL). This was the first flight that had SAREX (Space Amateur Radio Experiment) on board, which was a modified commercial VHF FM handheld radio set for the 2-Meter ham band. Everyone was listening for the first ham radio transmissions from space, myself included. I was living in the greater Seattle area at the time and I happened to hear the first transmission between W5LFL on the Shuttle Columbia and WA1JXN in Montana. Columbia was coming in over the Pacific Ocean and I could hear W5LFL very clearly. So clearly, I wondered if it was really him (or could some local guy on 2M FM be messing with us.) In retrospect, I should have known….after all, a transmission from the shuttle overhead is a slam-dunk, line-of-sight piece of cake QSO on 2 Meters. AA5TB has made a few audio recordings of W5LFL radio transmissions available on the web.

Owen Garriott’s son Richard wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps as an astronaut, but found out as a kid that his eyesight would keep him out of the astronaut corps. There is a great article in Wired magazine that gives the background on Richard’s journey into space. (If you are interested in this story at all, the Wired article is a must read.) Richard has his own RichardInSpace website that is also interesting. So instead of being an astronaut, he ends up writing computer gaming software and makes millions of dollars. (Apparently, Richard is famous in the computer gaming world.) Not a bad tradeoff, I suppose, as he is now able to pay for the ride up to the ISS.

While the ARRL announcement tells about the ham radio side of the story, the mainstream media has picked up on the “son follows father into space” story, sometimes with a mention of ham radio. Richard plans to transmit pictures from space using Slow-Scan Television (SSTV). The ARISS (Amateur Radio aboard International Space Station) sent out this announcement:

The ARISS team received word from ARISS Russia delegate Sergey Samburov,
RV3DR, that the current ISS crew expect to transmit SSTV on October 12 from 18:00-21:00 UTC. This is your opportunity to test out your SSTV reception capability and to post images on the ARISS SSTV Gallery. The planned downlink for this operation will be 145.80 MHz with Robot 36 as the expected SSTV mode of operation.

You should be able to receive these photos yourself by using an FM receiver on 145.80 MHz, a PC with soundcard and the MMSSTV software. Oh, the ISS needs to be within radio range, which means you need to figure out how to track it in real time. Or just go to this NASA website. The ARISS team has established a blog for providing updates on the SSTV operation and a web page for sharing of SSTV photos from around the world.

Just so it doesn’t get missed: there is another radio amateur on board, Mike Fincke (KE5AIT). Some web pages to watch for current information include http://www.ariss.org/, http://www.amsat.org/, http://www.arrl.org/ and http://www.issfanclub.com/ .

All of this is very interesting to me, taking me back to 1983. Then, I realize that was 25 years ago. Is the space shuttle really that old? Afraid so.

73, Bob K0NR

Update 22 Oct 2008:

Richard has been active on voice using NA1SS….also SSTV. I’ve heard him multiple times but haven’t been able to work him yet. There is a great video out on YouTube with SSTV pictures and audio recordings.

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Sweet Little Acer Aspire One PC

My spouse’s notebook computer died a few weeks ago, about 1 year after the 1 year warranty expired. This was not very satisfying. I also had my notebook PC die this past year, so it is starting to look like notebooks are disposal devices. Funny, my desktop PCs just keep on going year after year without a problem. This probably has something to do with the abuse that notebooks get being carried around from place to place.

So if we are going to end up replacing these things every few years, I got interested in lowering the cost. There are a number of compact netbooks that typically run Linux on the Intel Atom and use a solid state drive (no spinning hard disk). We settled on the Acer Aspire One, which is $329 from Amazon (free shipping). This computer has a 1.6GHz Atom N270 Processor, 8GB solid state drive, 512MB DDR2 SDRAM, 802.11b/g, Ethernet, three USB 2.0, VGA output, 1.3 megapixel camera, SDHC and multi-format media readers. I popped an 8GB SDRAM card into the expansion slot and it now has 16 GB. It uses the Linux LinpusLite operating system. (Some netbook models are going with WindowsXP, but I think these minimalist machines are better off with the small footprint of Linux.) The only thing I wish it had was a good-old dialup modem for those rare times when you are stuck without a decent wireless connection. (I’d trade that for the VGA display output.)

It comes ready to run with Linux and the key applications already loaded. For web browsing (Firefox), email (Acer Email) and writing (OpenOffice), it is ready to go. I did decide to load Thunderbird for email (instead of the supplied Acer Email application). This machine is configured like an appliance with not much thought of how the user will add applications. However, a little fiddling around on the web and the use of my (cough) extensive (cough) knowledge of Unix commands got Thunderbird loaded.

So far, this computer has exceeded our expectations. It is really compact, has a great display and is easy to use. What it does, it does well. However, it is NOT a full-size, full-featured notebook computer. For the intended use of internet communications, email, web, basic document creation, it works great. I am hoping that the simple design, with no hard drive, with also last a little longer. Did I mention that this thing boots fast? Go, Linux.

I can’t get it out of my wife’s hands. Trust me, I’ve tried.

73, Bob K0NR

Followup Oct 11: I’ve noticed that the netbook product category continues to be dynamic with new products being introduced all of the time. Check out the latest offerings from Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, MSI, etc. before making a purchase.

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