Tweaking the Blog a Bit

wordpress logoThis evening, I am messing around with the blog a bit. I recently updated WordPress to version 2.7, which is a significant upgrade. I am still figuring out what’s new.

I decided the old template had just too much blue, so I switched over to “Journalist”…nice and clean. Also, the main text column is set up wider, which fits most computer monitors better. Maybe too boring, we’ll see. It is soooooo easy to change themes in WordPress.

For several months now, I’ve been using WP-SpamFree which does an awesome job of keeping the comments spamfree.

I finally got around to adding a blogroll. It seemed like just another thing to keep up to date, so I resisted doing it. However, I noticed that my web page was getting lots of hits off some of the other blogs that had me on their blogroll, so time to return the favor.

73, Bob K0NR

International Standards

radio_47I just got back from Mobile World Congress, the biggest mobile wireless show in the world.

The hot topic is an emerging mobile phone technology called Long Term Evolution (LTE). The basic idea is that there will be only one 4th Generation (4G) mobile phone standard worldwide. What a concept…one mobile phone standard that you can use anywhere on earth. (Well, there is that small detail of different frequency bands being available in different regions. And there are really two variations of LTE hiding in the standard. But we can still tell each other this is a single standard.) Of course, there is that competing 4G standard called WiMAX.

Worldwide technical standards are a good thing.

The show was in Spain and I stopped in the U.K. on the way home. This reminded me of another worldwide standard that doesn’t exist: driving on the right side of the road. In this case, a country only has two choices: drive on the right side or drive on the left side. Most of Europe drives on the right side but the U.K. drives on the left. You would think that the world could have agreed on this but apparently not. Go figure. According to wikipedia, 66% of the world population live in right-hand drive countries, which means that is the right approach (weak pun sort of intended).

Another world non-standard is electrical power. Around the world there are various combinations of line voltage, ranging from 100 Volts to 240 volts RMS with a frequency of either 50 Hz or 60 Hz.  I am not sure how all of these different choices evolved but by now they are very entrenched. My engineering mind wishes that we were all on the same power line standard, so that we can all be more efficient: one power plug could be used all around the world.  The adoption of switching power regulators has helped this situation, since one power supply can handle all of the power line definitions around the world. Add in a small collection of plug adapters and the problem is solved.

One defacto standard that is common around the world is the QWERTY keyboard, which originated with the typewriter. Later it transferred over to computer keyboards and now it shows up on many of the so-called Smartphones (see BlackBerry). This is another example of a very entrenched standard….there is probably a more optimum keyboard layout but this is the one that everyone has been trained on. The Apple iPhone delivers an innovative touchscreen interface (that everyone else is trying to copy and one up) that is redefining the accepted smartphone user interface. Even the iPhone chose to implement the QWERTY keyboard in touch form as the way to enter text.

The one non-standard that has caused the most pain and suffering around the world is the lack of a common connector on wall-wart chargers. I blogged about this a while ago. It seems that every manufacturer does it differently and they are not even consistent within their own product lines. In response to some pressure from the European Union (and my blog, I am sure), a coalition of mobile phone manufacturers have announced they will implement a common charger format:

The GSMA and 17 leading mobile operators and manufacturers today announced that they are committed to implementing a cross-industry standard for a universal charger for new mobile phones. The aim of the initiative, led by the GSMA, is to ensure that the mobile industry adopts a common format for mobile phone charger connections and energy-efficient chargers resulting in an estimated 50 per cent reduction in standby energy consumption, the potential elimination of up to 51,000 tonnes of duplicate chargers1 and the enhancement of the customer experience by simplifying the charging of mobile phones.

The group has set an ambitious target that by 2012 a universal charging solution (UCS) will be widely available in the market worldwide and will use Micro-USB as the common universal charging interface. The group agreed that by the 1st January 2012, the majority of all new mobile phone models available will support a universal charging connector and the majority of chargers shipped will meet the high efficiency targets set out by the OMTP (Open Mobile Terminal Platform), the industry body who developed the technical requirements behind UCS.

The Micro-USB seems like an obvious choice. I wonder why it takes until 2012 to get this done? If they do get this accomplished, manufacturers of other electronic devices will follow. Heck, we might even see it on a 2 Meter handheld.

73, Bob K0NR

Update (19 Dec 2009): I came across this article from Mental Floss on the history of driving on the right/left side of the road.

This Spewed Out Of The Internet #1

I’ve been on airplanes again, so trying to catch up. Here’s some things that have spewed out of the internet onto my computer.

Netbooks are the hot item in the computer world (see my previous posting). There is a recession on, you know, so people want to spend less money. It turns out that Psion has trademarked™ the word NetBook™, even though they don’t actually produce a netbook™.

It turns out that the US Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to delay the DTV Transition….sort of. President Obama signed into law the DTV Delay Act. This law moves the mandatory changover from analog TV to Digital TV (DTV) from Feb 17th to June 12th. Except this is optional, so one third of the television broadcast stations are expected to change on Feb 17th. So if you and Grandma are confused, you are not alone. The FCC published a list of stations that are planning to change over on Feb 17th. See my previous post for more drivel.

PC Mag published their list of The Best Free Software. This is worth checking out.

Russia decided to exit the space tourist business. I have to admit that I have enjoyed having a few space tourists with amateur radio licenses operating from the ISS. On the other hand, when did the International Space Station become a tourist destination?

Laura L. Smith was named as the Riley replacement. It is good to see the position filled. There is some concern because she is not a licensed radio amateur. OK, let’s give her a chance and see what she can do. Of course, I did have to comment on the surplus of lawyers in the FCC.

Here in Colorado, the legislature is working on a bill to deal with Driving While Cellphoning. Concerned that this could impact amateur radio mobile operating, our ARRL Section Manager Jeff Ryan, K0RM, and Public Information Coordinator Robert Wareham, N0ESQ, took action to get the bill modified to accommodate amateur radio operation. Thanks, Jeff and Robert, for taking this on.

73, Bob K0NR

The FCC Gets Technical

While we wait for the official announcement that Julius Genachowski will be the head of the FCC, I have been pondering how the FCC management seems to be mostly lawyers by training. Last night I had this strange dream:

In a surprise move, President Obama announced that Fred Technofarble will head the Federal Communications Commission. Technofarble is uniquely qualified for this role due to his strong educational background in both engineering and law. His undergraduate degree in electrical engineering is from MIT and his law degree is from Harvard. His main area of study has been the use of government policy and regulation to encourage technological innovation. Most recently, he has been employed as the Chief Technology Officer for a Fortune 500 electronics company.

Technofarble is well-known as a computer and ham radio geek, spending his precious free time tinkering with electronic projects in his basement. He told the press that his first action will be to institute a mandatory testing policy for all FCC employees in professional positions.

“We’ll give them a very basic test that covers electromagnetics, communications and electronics. You can’t be making up regulations for something that you don’t understand, so we’ll insist on a basic level of technical knowledge for all FCC staff. This will be an easy test…the typical engineer or technician will be able to pass without studying but I expect about half of the lawyers to fail. Anyone that fails will be given 3 months to study and successfully retake the test, otherwise they will be terminated.”

Technofarble also indicated that anyone holding a valid Amateur Radio License would be given full credit for the required test.

Then I woke up.

73, Bob K0NR

Agilent FieldFox RF Analyzer

Photo © Agilent Technologies 2009 All Rights Reserved

I am a bit of a test equipment junkie….it has something to do with working in the electronic measurement business for most of my career. There are many great pieces of test equipment out there but every once in a while, one comes along that really captures the imagination. Over the weekend, I got my hands on the new FieldFox RF Analyzer from Agilent Technologies. This analyzer is a combination 2-port network analyzer, cable tester and spectrum analyzer in one compact package. Add in an external sensor and it measures RF power, too. [Disclosure: I am employed by Agilent.]

With a base price of $7600, this instrument is probably out of the price range of most radio amateurs. However, the RF engineers and technicians out there in the electronics industry will appreciate its measurement capability and value.

The first thing I did was connect it up to my vertical antenna used for 2 Meters and 70 centimeters. I was able to check a few things on the antenna system and monitor some signals. Funny thing, when I tuned to the 2 Meter ham band, I didn’t see any transmitters on the air <sigh>.  So I switched over to the FM broadcast band and did a scan of 86 to 110 MHz. The spectral lines you see sticking up are the FM broadcast transmitters in my area.

Then I checked the VSWR of the antenna system (as seen looking through the end of the cable).  The sweep below shows the VSWR of the antenna system versus frequency. The center of screen is 146 MHz and the marker is set at 146.52 MHz. The VSWR doesn’t quite stay under 2.0 over the entire band.

Then I switched to the Cable Tester mode and displayed Distance to Fault (DTF). The DTF display shows the return loss of the cable as a function of the distance along the cable. (The FieldFox analyzer can correct for the propagation velocity but I did not have this feature turned on. So the distance shown is in error by that amount.)

The bump in the middle of the display is about 60 feet down the line, which corresponds to where an inline surge supressor is installed. Apparently, there is a small “impedance bump” in the line at that point. At the right hand side of the display, around 110 feet is an impedance change due to the antenna. If I had a good 50 ohm load on the end of the cable, we would not see this blip. The DTF measurement is a broadband measurement so anything that is not a good 50 ohms across all frequencyes (such as a high Q antenna) shows up as an impedance blip.

These results are not bad but I expected the impedance of the antenna system to be better than this. If I can hang onto the analyzer for a few more days, I’ll be sure to investigate the antenna system more carefully. Nothing like having the right test equipment to make useful and accurate measurements.

73, Bob K0NR