This Spewed Out of the Internet #33

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s some more good stuff flowing forth from the interwebz.

HamRadioNow has a video of Laura Smith’s (FCC) talk at Pacificon. There’s lots of good info here on FCC enforcement activity. Gary KN4AQ produces some of the most valuable amateur radio video content on the web. How else are you going to see someone from the FCC speak about ham radio?

Sterling/NØSSC and Marty/KC1CWF have started the Phasing Line ham radio podcast, talking ham radio with a younger person’s perspective. They are on episode two…give them a listen. Look for them on the usual podcast feeds, or go here: n0ssc.com

I was interviewed by Eric/4Z1UG on QSO Today. Yeah, probably boring as heck but you’re reading this blog so your standards must not be very high.

The ARRL is cranking up an initiative to encourage collegiate ham radio clubs. Good idea.

DX Engineering visited the new venue (Greene County Fairgrounds) for the Dayton Hamvention. See DX Engineering visits the NEW 2017 Hamvention® venue and the drone video by Greg/W8WW that provides an aerial tour of the fairgrounds. I am looking forward to attending Hamvention next spring, the first time in many years.

Use Phonetics: HamRadioSchool.com republished their classic article on the use of phonetic alphabets. Also, take a look at my Shack Talk article on the same subject.

While reviewing the Technician license exam questions, I noticed that SWR is referred to as “2 to 1” or “1 to 1”. I see this as old school terminology…a ratio can be expressed as a single number: “my SWR is 2.” This triggered some discussion and a KB6NU blog posting.

That’s it for now. Happy interwebzing.

73, Bob K0NR

Don’t Pound My Octothorpe

pound-sign-hashtag-numberIf you want to spark a conversation at your next social event, ask everyone the proper name for this symbol: #. Most North Americans will probably say pound sign or perhaps number sign. It helps to have an international audience, since a person from the UK will likely call it the hash symbol. Lately, the world of Twitter (and other social media) has made extensive use of # to tag keywords, referring to it as the hash mark used to create hashtags. A musician might claim that it is the sharp symbol from musical notation but closer examination reveals that the sharp symbol is quite different.

The AT&T engineers working on the original DTMF system adopted the name Octothorpe for this symbol. There are various explanations and anecdotes that have developed over the years concerning how this happened. Various forms of spelling show up in the literature (octatherp, octothorp, etc.). Doug Kerr’s story is particularly interesting and available on the internet (see below). There are US Patents that use the word “octothorp” to refer to the # symbol. Patent number 3920926 uses “octothorp” for # and “sextile or asterisk” for the * symbol. The term sextile never caught on at all.

For amateur radio usage (North America bias), I hear mostly pound for # and star for *. I suspect that will not change any time soon.

– Bob K0NR

Wikipedia entry for the number sign (#):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_sign

The Symbol on the “Pound” or “Number” Key (#) is Also Called an Octothorpe

The ASCII Character “Octatherp”, by Doug Kerr

A Few New Ham Radio Podcasts

podcast-clipartListening to podcasts has been part of my daily habit for almost a decade. I lean heavily towards audio podcasts (as opposed to video), so I can listen to them while driving. My smartphone is always loaded with hours of content on a variety of topics which is especially useful for international flights.

Podcasts come and go (or podfade) and recently I’ve noticed a few new ham radio podcasts. Well, they might not be all that new…perhaps I just woke up and noticed them. Anyway, I am passing them along in case you have not come across them.

The QSO Today Podcast by Eric 4Z1UG:

QSO Today is a weekly conversation between me,  Eric Guth, 4Z1UG, and my amateur radio operator guest. Each guest tells his or her’s ham radio story to the present time.  I select guests based on their contributions to the hobby through their publishing of articles and books on ham radio, their involvement in the creation of new technologies that enhance the hobby, and the role that they played to bring the amateur radio to others.

The Fo Time – The Other Ham Radio Podcast by Cale K4CDN:

It’s a new Podcast for the Up and Coming Amateur Radio Operator aka Ham Radio Operator. Whether you’re looking for the latest news, a different take on an idea, or just some good humor, Fo Time is the Podcast for you.

If you aren’t sure about the name, this might help.

The 100 Watts and a Wire by Christian KØSTH:

Created by Christian Cudnik, KØSTH in 2015, 100 Watts and a Wire is a program celebrating amateur radio through the eyes of a new ham. The show features topical conversation and interviews, news and an entertaining look at the adventures of a ham trying to figure it all out.

I’ve found all three of these podcasts to be well done and interesting. They all typically run about an hour long. Frankly, that’s a bit much for me, mostly because it does not fit my commute time. Not bad for an airplane ride, but too long for driving to work. More importantly, my smartphone is overflowing with interesting audio content, so I have to be selective.

Other Podcasts

I’ll mention a few other podcasts that deserve attention: The Ham Nation podcast has set a new standard for ham radio video podcasts. Hats off to Bob Heil and crew for their efforts. The Amateur Radio Newsline got its start by delivering audio programs via telephone for hams to play on their local repeater. Many repeaters still play their program but I get their feed via my smartphone. They continue to do an excellent job of stuffing interesting content into a 20-minute format. While not a ham radio podcast, This Week in Tech from TWiT remains a quality source of tech news and opinion (lots of opinion).

Give these podcasts a listen and let me know what you think.

73, Bob K0NR

Social Media Noise

notebookcomputer1A few weeks back, I had a Too Much Information meltdown, because I was being overrun with information spewing forth from various sources. To be specific, I regularly get communications from these feeds: email, SMS text, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus. The amount of “stuff” that was coming in was getting out of hand so I sprang into action.

First, I asked myself, how did I get into this mess? The general trend I see is that when I first start using a particular communications tool, my goal is to connect up with as many interesting feeds as possible. For old school email, this usually means subscribing to email lists, mostly via Yahoo Groups. For Twitter, this means Following other people that have interesting tweets. As more people engage in these media, the available stuff grows rapidly. Then Google Plus comes along, which tries to improve on Twitter but is somewhat redundant with the other social media. That is, I get Google Plus postings that are the same as ones from Twitter and Facebook.

The big trap I fell into is the fear of missing something. There’s so much interesting stuff out there, I wanted to grab it all. In reality, I was still missing stuff because I was being overrun with superfluous information. Ah! This is really the classic communication problem of signal-to-noise ratio. Some of these feeds have too much noise in them so I was losing the signal!

What constitutes noise? Lots of things: Foursquare check ins, Fitbit updates,  off topic posts in email lists, etc., etc. Of course, noise is in the eye of the beholder, so what is noise to me may be valuable information to you. Also, a few “noise bursts” are OK but lots of noise degrades the signal-to-noise ratio.

With signal-to-noise ratio as the primary measure, I ruthlessly slashed my collection of information sources. I dropped out of many of the Yahoo Groups (actually, I moved them to web only), I reduced the number of SMS text alerts, I pulled back on the number of Facebook friends, deleted less interesting RSS feeds. On Twitter, I started to pay attention to noisy tweets…if someone has a tendency to send noise and not so much signal, they are gone.

If I dropped you from Twitter or the other social media, please don’t take it personally. It’s just me unclogging my digital life.

Those are my thoughts…what are you doing to manage your digital life?

73, Bob K0NR

 

The Updated Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps

iphonesIt is about time I updated one of my more popular posts, The Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps from 2011. This was a challenging task back then and has gotten more difficult as the number of ham radio apps for the iPhone has greatly expanded. Still, I will give it a shot and appreciate your feedback to make the list better. I am only evaluating iPhone apps, not iPad apps, since I don’t use an iPad.

In general, I will focus on free or low cost (less than $5) apps that I am actively using.

From the Simple Utility Category:

 Maidenhead Converter (Author: Donald Hays, Cost: Free) Handy app that displays your grid locator, uses maps and does lat/lon to grid locator conversions.

Ham Radio Handbook (Author: Antonis Miliarakis Cost: Free) This app provides some basic ham radio info: Q Signals, Country Prefixes, Band Plans and RST signal reporting.

UTC Time (Author: Michael Wells, Cost: Free) A simple app that displays UTC time and local time.

Ham I Am (Author: Storke Brothers, Cost: Free) A handy app that covers some basic amateur radio reference material (Phonetic alphabet, Q Signals, Ham Jargon, Morse Code, RST System, etc.) Although I find the name to be silly, I like the app!

There are quite a few good apps for looking up amateur radio callsigns.

CallBook (Author: Dog Park Software, Cost: $1.99) Simple ham radio callbook lookup with map display.

Call Sign Lookup (Author: Technivations, Cost: $0.99) Another simple ham radio callsign lookup with map display.

CallSigns (Author: David Fleming W4SMT, Cost: $1.99) This is my favorite ham radio callsign lookup. The features are not much different than the others I have listed but the graphics are nicer and the user interface a little cleaner. I am sure this is mostly personal preference.

There are a few repeater directory apps out there:

iHAM Repeater Database (Author: Garry Gerossie, Cost: $4.99) Geolocation repeater directory. This seems to work well.

RepeaterBook (Author: ZBM2 Software, Cost: Free) I’ve only used this one a bit but it seems to work well and its free.

If you are an EchoLink user, then you’ll want this app:

EchoLink (Author: Synergenics, Cost: Free) The EchoLink app for the iPhone.

There are quite a few APRS apps out there. I tend to use these as my needs are pretty simple….just track me, baby!

iBCNU (Author: Luceon, Cost: $1.99) The first APRS app I was able to get running. It just turned on and worked. It integrates the aprs.fi mapping into the app, so it is easy to use. I recommend this one for most casual APRS users.

Ham Tracker (Author: Kram, Cost: $2.99) APRS app, works OK, uses external maps such as Google and aprs.fi. “Share” feature allows you to send an SMS or email with your location information.

Satellite tracking is another useful app for a smartphone:

ISS Lite (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: Free) A free satellite tracking app for just the International Space Station. It has annoying ads but its free.

ProSat Satellite Tracker (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: $9.99) This app is by the same author as ISS Lite, but is the full-featured “pro” version. Although it is a pricey compared to other apps, I recommend it.

For Summits On The Air (SOTA) activity, there are a few apps:

Pocket SOTA (Author: Pignology, Cost: Free) A free app for finding SOTA summits, checking spots and accessing other information.

SOTA Goat (Author: Rockwell Schrock, Cost: $4.99) This is a great app for SOTA activity. It works better when offline than Pocket SOTA (which often happens when you are activating a summit).

For Technician License training, I like the HamRadioSchool.com app. (OK, I am biased here as I contribute to that web site.)

HamRadioSchool (Author: Peak Programming, Cost: $2.99) There are a lot of Technician practice exams out there but this is the best one, especially if you use the HamRadioSchool license book. They also just released the General practice exam, too.

For a mobile logbook:

HamLog (Author: Pignology, Cost: $0.99) I am not too keen on the idea of keeping a log on an iPhone, but it does come in handy once in a while. More importantly, HamLog includes a bunch of handy tools including UTC Clock, Callsign Lookup, Prefix list, Band Plans, Grid Calculator, Solar Data, SOTA Watch, Q Signals and much more.

Well, that’s my list. Any other suggestions?

This list is out of date – see my updated list of iPhone apps here

The Next Step in Electronic Communication

It figures: I just get done blogging about the history of electronic communications and Google takes the topic to the next level. Recognizing the inherent problem of cramming a QWERTY keyboard onto a Smart Phone, Google has gone back to the future by adopting a simple binary input device that uses DOTS and DASHES. That’s right, the new Gmail Tap uses Morse Code.

Google has apparently rediscovered what CW operators knew all along: Morse Code is extremely efficient for text communication.

Go to the Gmail Tap web page to get the full story.

73, Bob K0NR

Use WPtouch to Create Mobile WordPress Site

I’ve been using WordPress for my weblog for years now and just turned on a mobile version of the blog. The WordPress plugin WPtouch makes this very easy to do. It took about 5 minutes to get it up and running.

The WPtouch plugin automatically detects when the user is browsing  with a smartphone and implements the mobile interface. The user has the option of turning the mobile presentation off.

Highly recommended!

73, Bob K0NR

Visit to the TWiT Ham Shack

I’ve been blogging here and there about the TWiT Network’s Ham Nation show. I kept thinking that one of these days, I should pop into the TWiT Brick House Studio in Petaluma, CA for a look. I often travel to Santa Rosa for business, flying into San Francisco International Airport and driving up Highway 101 right past Petaluma.

When I noticed the announcement about the TWiT ham radio open house that was on the same weekend that I would be in Santa Rosa, I thought: Coincidence? Maybe. Fate? Probably. So Spousal Unit K0JJW and I swung by TWiT Headquarters late on Saturday afternoon.

The TWiT Ham Radio Station
Bob Heil K9EID and Leo Laporte W6TWT posing in front of the ham radio gear

It was great to chat with Bob Heil K9EID, Leo W6TWT and George W5JDX for a few minutes. I met a number of other hams that included Mike WT6H and Randy K7AGE (sorry, I don’t have everyone’s name & call written down). You may know K7AGE by his extensive collection of ham radio videos on youtube…if not, check them out. George W5JDX has been on Ham Nation multiple times now and has his own set of videos on amateurlogic.tv.

The TWiT studio with some of the ham radio crew hanging out.

The radio guys were commenting about the high noise level on HF but I didn’t get a clear picture of the spectral content and what bands were affected. Things were actually pretty quiet by the time we arrived, but take a look at the video that K7AGE put together with footage from earlier in the day. It really shows the studio and the activity during the day.

The Ham Nation show is still finding its legs but gets better every week. It is clearly having a positive impact on amateur radio.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #19

Lots of important stuff spewing forth from the Internetz.

TWiT’s HamNation netcast keeps on going, so give it a look.

The debate continues about potential likely interference to common GPS receivers from LightSquared’s proposed adjacent-channel transmitters. See this recent article  on the problem. If you want to dig deeper, the detailed documents are referenced here. LightSquared and the GPS industry are blaming each other. I tend to put the responsibility on the FCC, the regulatory agency that is supposed to keep spectrum and interference issues under control. This problem could be avoided by the use of basic EMC engineering but the FCC seems to be driven more by politics than engineering.

I have been playing around with Google Plus and, so far, I like it. It may be the optimist in me that says there must be an alternative to Facebook. If you need a G+ invite, send me an email: robtwitte at gmail.com

On twitter, I asked for suggestions on a big hamfest that is an alternative to Dayton. Most replies were for these:  HamCom in Dallas, TX; Hamcation in Orlando, FL; Pacificon in Santa Clara, CA. Well, HamCom is out, as it conflicts with the ARRL June VHF QSO Party (the biggest VHF contest of the year). You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me!! The other two look pretty good.

73, Bob K0NR

TWiT Ham Nation on the Air, er Network

Ham Nation is On the Air, or should I say On the Network?

I previously posted about Bob Heil (K9EID) hosting the Ham Nation netcast on the TWiT network. The show is off to a great start with the first few episodes: The History of Ham Radio, Emergency Communications and Ham Radio Basics. You can view Ham Nation on iTunes or go to the TWiT website.

Check it out.

73, Bob K0NR

Ham Radio Comes to TWiT Network

Leo Laporte first caught my attention when he hosted the cable TV show, The Screen Savers, on ZDTV. He has a great way of talking about technology topics, using his own personal knowledge and leveraging his team of bright techies. Recently, he has been focused on creating the TWiT Network, named for the flagship netcast, This Week in Tech. (TWiT calls the shows netcasts, not podcasts.) Leo saw the opportunity that came with the technology shift to streaming audio and video over the internet as an alternative to conventional radio and TV broadcasting.

There are a number of ham radio podcasts out available, although many have struggled to stay current. The phenomenon of podfading is very real, since it is a real challenge to produce interesting content week after week, month after month. See my previous posts on ham radio podcasts here and here.

The TWiT network has been expanding, moving from audio to video technology. Loic Le Meur shot a very interesting video of Leo touring his new studio which is still under construction. This gives a good idea of where Leo is headed with TWiT.

I often wondered whether TWiT would try doing a ham radio netcast. According to this press release, the answer is YES.  Leo has tapped Bob Heil, well-known ham radio dude and founder of Heil Sound to lead HamNation. Leo recently interviewed Bob on the Triangulation show. (Watch this video, really good.) Bob Heil is an excellent choice for HamNation—he has the passion and knowledge of a real ham radio enthusiast. His first guest is scheduled to be legendary Joe Walsh, ham radio operator (WB6ACU) and screaming guitar player for the Eagles.

This could be a really good thing for the amateur radio hobby, so I wish them well.

– 73, Bob K0NR

Freedom of Speech?

There are many email lists devoted to amateur radio topics, in particular on Yahoo Groups. These email forums are a great way to learn and exchange information. Usually these lists are created to hit a particular topic of interest. Over time, people stray off into other areas and start posting topics that are not appropriate for the forum. Eventually, the moderator steps in and shuts down the off-topic conversation.

What can happen next is the off-topic posters claim their right of “freedom of speech” is being violated. “This is America, and we have freedom of speech.”  (Kind of an odd statement since the internet is worldwide, not just a US concern, but I’ll set that aside.) This just happened a few days ago on an email list I use.

It has become all too common to hear people claiming “rights” that don’t really exist. US citizens might want to read the US Constitution once in a while, so they know what it actually says about freedom of speech:

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The US Constitution basically says that Congress cannot establish laws that abridge (limit) the freedom of speech. The amendment focuses on what the government is allowed to do to restrict the citizens. It does not mean that a citizen has the right to have their speech published in the local newspaper, sent through an email list, or posted on another person’s web site, etc. Newspapers, web site owners and moderators of email lists make decisions every day on what type of “speech” they are going to allow in their communication forum.

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #14

Happy Easter!

A few posts back, I wrote about podcasts worth listening to. I want to draw your attention to two additional ham radio podcasts:

  • Teen Radio Journey by Paul KC9QYB, available on iTunes or at http://www.teenradiojourney.com/ This podcast is intended for teenagers, so I am definitely outside of that target audience. I mention it here because anything that involves youth in amateur radio is a good thing.

I just stumbled onto the radio contesting site radio-sport.net. It has probably been there for decades and I am late to the party. It is worth checking out if you are into contesting.

I went through the entire day without thinking about buying an iPad. To quote Joey from Friends, “its all a moo point.” Even if you do want an iPad, why would you buy the first implementation, given Apple’s track record? There will be a better one coming along soon enough. Take a look at the Fake Steve Jobs blog.

The high-powered think tank at the Fi-Ni Report has published some brilliant work:

  • The investigative team has uncovered yet another scandal in the radio sport world, this time relating to the Poisson d’Avril Contest
  • AM (Ancient Modulation) is getting a strong endorsement from the CQWW Contest, pushing aside that sissy SSB modulation

73, Bob K0NR

Podcast Signals and Noise

step1_ipodnano_whiteI’ve posted before about being a fan of podcasts (those mp3 file “radio shows” that don’t use radio). There are so many decent podcasts out there to choose from, I keep my iPod Touch loaded up with all kinds of mp3 content. Actually, my taste includes topics outside of tech, but that is what I’ll focus on for this blog posting.

One thing I have noticed is that the ham radio podcasts on my mp3 player are getting pushed aside by other tech shows. I think it is driven by the signal-to-noise ratio of the ‘cast. With so many to choose from, I have become less tolerant of rambling commentary, crappy audio and marginal content.

I don’t want to be overly critical, since it takes real work to produce a quality podcast. I have enough trouble keeping up with this blog. I would not be able to do a decent job of an audio podcast and you probably don’t want to hear my voice anyway. (I have a radio face and a CW voice.)

So what am I still listening to these days? Here’s my favorite tech-related podcasts, in rough order of priority:

  • Amateur Radio Newsline
  • Buzz Out Loud (CNET)
  • Cranky Geeks (John C. Dvorak)
  • This Week in Tech (Leo Laporte)
  • Slashdot Review (SDR News)
  • Tech5 (John C. Dvorak)
  • CNET News Daily Podcast
  • This Week in Amateur Radio (TWIAR.org)
  • PC Mag Radio

So the only remaining ham radio ‘casts are Amateur Radio Newsline and TWIAR. AR Newsline is the old standby that I used to listen to on the local 2-Meter repeater, usually interesting and well done. TWIAR has some good content but it often tests my patience with drawn out introductions and weird sound effects. Keep the fast-forward button handy on that one. Slashdot Review sets the standard for “get to the point, say something interesting and move on.”  We need more shows like that. CNET News does pretty well, too.

Oh, I should mention Ham Radio Podclass, which I recommend to students studying to pass their next license exam.

I’ll toss in a couple of non-tech wildcards for you to consider:

  • WNYC’s Radiolab – “Science meets culture”, usually thought-provoking and well-executed
  • The Moth Podcast – People telling true stories without notes in front of a live audience
  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin – a fresh, logical approach to politics that generally annoys both Democrats and Republicans

So what are you listening to? Give me some fresh ideas.

73, Bob K0NR