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Communications Education Technology

Ham and Software - Communities of Creativity? 207

lgreco asks: "I've been thinking about the similarities between the community of early ham radio operators and software developers. Both communities produced a lot of useful technologies that found applications beyond the scope of a 'just a hobby'. Ham radio operators built their own equipment and experimented with modulation and propagation techniques. The results of their efforts today are used in a variety of radio communication applications, from cell phones to marine radios. Similarly, hackers developed concepts of computing that are now universally accepted tools of productivity. Both communities share an enthusiasm for technical creativity and up until recently there was even some overlap between the two groups. Are there any interesting stories about the creativity of either groups (that relate to the other group perhaps) that should be recorded and documented?"
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Ham and Software - Communities of Creativity?

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  • Topic... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Demanche ( 587815 )
    Made me hungry .. then I realized I wasn't on a food site :
  • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:09PM (#10788333) Homepage
    and up until recently there was even some overlap between the two groups.

    I didn't get the memo. When did the split occur?

    • Re:Out of the loop (Score:5, Informative)

      by n8ur ( 230546 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:19PM (#10788454) Homepage
      Yeah, that struck me as ill-informed.

      There are more than a few well-respected hackers (in the good sense of the word) are hams, and there's a lot of software development going on in ham radio.

      In particular, ham operators are doing lots of work with new digital modes made possible by using the sound card + PC as a powerful DSP platform. There's a lot of good stuff going on there.

      Blatant plug -- I'm president of TAPR [], which is a group that's promoting computer-related R&D in the ham radio community. Along with the ARRL (the US national ham group), we sponsor an annual Digital Communications Conference [] where papers are presented on all sorts of new uses of technology in ham radio.

      PS -- for the hams here who may not be familiar, TAPR is not significantly focused on packet radio these days; we're doing lots of other stuff related to digital communications.
      • Re:Out of the loop (Score:2, Interesting)

        by AndroidCat ( 229562 )
        Back in university ('81), hanging around VE2CUA was the best place to catch the overlap between the hams and hackers--especially packet radio since a number of the pioneers (VE2PY) hung out there from time to time. What I learned about data packets came in quite useful later. (And watching "live" Slow Scan TV Voyager pictures from Saturn via JPL was pretty cool pre-Internet.)
    • Re:Out of the loop (Score:3, Informative)

      by josecanuc ( 91 )
      One split was somewhere in the DOS 3.x world, where many ham operators now reside. Another split hit around Windows 95.

      There's a lot of good software coming out now that works on Win2k and WinXP, since we've all figured out how to access hardware directly.

      There's a small community that prefers Linux, but it always seems that there's a much larger quantity of ham-related software for Windows.

      That said, Linux ham software works well and covers just about any function you could want. The hot thing today is
    • I didn't get the memo. When did the split occur?

      Well, there's was split per se, but a huge rift exists. The "software developer" side blossomed in the past few years to include anyone who did anything with "code", using the term lightly. Most of the "software developers" I know have never stepped inside a Radio Shack, much less wielded a soldering iron.

    • Re:Out of the loop (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BlueStraggler ( 765543 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:31PM (#10789329)
      Given that ham radio predates computer hacking by half a century, I'd say the split has always existed. Commonalities in the two cultures have drawn it together in some ways, but they never merged.

      My grandfather was "radio hacking" in the 1920s. He told a funny story where he "accidentally" took out a commercial transmission while playing with some homemade hardware as a teen. Sounds a little like website defacing to me, but 80 years before the computer kids were doing it. His hobby grew to the point where he was hired as the communications engineer for a huge mining and resources company that had to manage communication lines right into the Arctic. By 1937 he had developed a portable voice radio that could be carried and used in bush camps by operators who didn't know morse code - arguably the first walkie-talkie. Sounds a little like the early PCs to me, but 40 years before the computer kids were doing it. His employer donated his services to the war effort in 1939, and he modified the walkie talkie [] into a military tool that filtered out battle noises and had signal scrambling to prevent eavesdropping. Sounds like error correcting, encrypted communications to me, but 50 years before the computer kids were doing it.

      So yeah, there are similarities, but the hams were there way before we were. Most of the hams who pioneered the field are now dead and gone, whereas most of the computer pioneers are alive and well, and still debating who gets credit for what. The links between the fields that are obvious now only came about after many decades of convergence.

    • When the hackers refused to institute a rule requiring novices to learn COBOL before being allowed to write C.

  • by The I Shing ( 700142 ) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:10PM (#10788354) Journal

    There's an NPR [] episode of Talk of the Nation [] entitled "Letters and Ham Radio Lessons" []. From the website: "...ham radio teacher Rick Stern joins Neal Conan with tips on teaching your kids about ham radio."

    There is also this episode [] of TOTN that covers the topic, featuring the authors of the book Hello World: A Life in Ham Radio.

    And in February of this year, All Things Considered ran a piece [] on the pending approval of a Morse code "at" symbol so that operators could tell others their email addresses. How's that for radio and the internet meeting in the middle?
    • it's International code. Some characters in common, but many are different. One big difference is that American Morse Code [] actually uses spaces inside some characters while International code doesn't.

      Morse Code is rarely used nowadays, while International Code is alive and well on the ham bands. 73 K9LJB

      "Do the Right Thing. It will gratify some people and astound the rest." - Mark Twain
  • until recently? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hutman ( 551773 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:11PM (#10788368)
    There is still a ton of overlap - most hams I know are interested in both 'hobbies'. I like the comparison though - I think there will always be a group of people who love technology for it's own sake and will be very innovative simply because they're not out just to make a buck.
    • One interesting innovation nowadays is the combination of the internet and radio .. now it is possible to talk to people across the country by linking repeaters up to to the internet, as well as allowing one to listen to them online, such as at the infamous 435 repeater in LA: Listen to the 435 repeater []. As a ham and someone who uses computers a lot, I can say that a lot of the technological stuff goes back and forth, and both hobbies are quite interesting.
      -73, KG4QXK
  • Tasty (Score:4, Funny)

    by secretvampire ( 622660 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:13PM (#10788390)

    Mmmmmmmmmm.....Ham radio.....glaaaaaaaaaarrgh...

  • Exploited? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AAAWalrus ( 586930 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:13PM (#10788394)
    Hrm... how about that both technologies started as chic geek projects and are now exploited by corporate interests?
    • Re:Exploited? (Score:3, Informative)

      by foonf ( 447461 )
      Ham radio exploited by corporate interests? Maybe some technologies developed originally by hams are, but there are pretty strict rules in most countries preventing commercial activities by amateur operators. Broadcasting is strictly prohibited. When I was an active ham operator, it was considered illegal even to order a pizza over a phone patch from your radio (they might have loosened this since then, I don't remember). And of course, it is off limits if you don't have a license. So while as a ham yo
  • Bless them! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:14PM (#10788396) Journal
    Whenever I'm configuring a new Linux kernel on Saturday night, evading my wife's attempts to drag me out the door or into bed -- I always get to the "Amateur Radio" section and think "Hah! What kind of dweeb do they think I am?"
  • Hopes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordMyren ( 15499 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:14PM (#10788397) Homepage
    the one desperate hope i bear is that software will not go the way of ham radio. ham radio pioneered radio, but ultimately it was the corporations that had to advance the art. they were the only ones who could sink the required technology and capital into the field. (generall) ham radio has been relegated back to a enthusiast hobby as die hard development has faded off.

    i'm not sure why i stick to this hope so badly, but i hope there's another way for software. fundamentally, software is all about building blocks, using the existing to build more. for this reason, its crucial that there be open-ness of software.

    software at least stands a chance. it doesnt require adv. fabrication, expensive test equipment and doesnt cause anything other than your own computer to break.

    and to all the hardcore ham people still out there, keep kickin baby! or something.

    • It can be done, but in order to do so we need to have a change in the OSS culture. Right now, the DIY impulse is so strong that many hackers are more interested in re-inventing the wheel than they are in contributing to an existing project.

      It's an understandable impusle. Everyone wants to feel like they are doing big things, and it's much easier to just start writing something from scratch (since you usually see the biggest things right at the start of a project). You don't have to futz around with lear
      • There are some very valid reasons to "Do It Yourself" in regards to software development. If you have a very time critical section of code, it is far better to reimplement software, even stuff you've written before, than stick with a more generic library routine. Library routines are by their nature much more bulky from both the standpoint of compiler impact as well from actually running and using the software.

        There is also a limit to how many routines you can simply keep track of. If you need a special
    • Re:Hopes (Score:5, Informative)

      by lostchicken ( 226656 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:19PM (#10789207)
      Amateur Radio isn't at all relegated back to a hobby without development.

      Go pick up a copy of QST (the ARRL's magazine). Flip through it. You'll see all kinds of articles on people developing more and more transmission and encoding techniques. Pretty much all of the development focuses on digital (packet) radio systems, and since power outputs are limited, (sometimes by law, but usually just because it's fun to be challenged) amateur radio operators have developed pretty much the best ways of dealing with interference and robustness in transmission of data.

      Today's ham tech is 2007 commercial tech.
      • Ham radio still retains the distinction of being the ONLY source for learning about radio operations. I've endured Communications Systems classes, but truth be told, the only useful information available in the world about radio operations is in the ARRL books.

        And you're defiantely right: ham's continue to grow this body of knowledge. but between the technology barrier and the availability of 802.11b, there's been shift away from this. i'd (rather safely) wager that the number of hams making their own g
    • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:40PM (#10789437) Homepage Journal
      There are some problems right now in the computer industry, and unfortunately they aren't being addressed right now. I think you need to compare software engineering to nuclear engineering, and see how that now the current crop of high school students who want to get into computer science and software engineering are encountering some incredible barriers to being able to truly understand and work with computers from a hobbyiest viewpoint.

      The growth of Linux certainly is counteracting that influence, but there are some things to worry about besides closed API's. It concerns me when CPUs are so incredibly complex that you get a crop of even seasoned software developers who are simply incapable of hand-assembling a piece of software. I'm not talking about doing this for the latest copy of DOOM III, but if you don't know how to hand assemble a simple "for" loop that does a quick bubble sort, you really don't understand the hardware that you are working on.

      Also, while abstraction is useful, it is also important to have at least _SOMEBODY_ on a medium sized development team that can go all the way down to the gate level and understand just what is going on in the CPU, and to understand that while computer are fairly consistant, there are still time delays and quantum fluctuations that can affect a piece of software, sometimes even at the wrong time. If you look through the SETI@Home website, they mention that they have to on a daily basis reject some work-units simply because an add operation missed a bit in the carry network or some other similar random fault of the CPU occured. At some point software does have to directly interact with the physical level, and sometimes that happens just in RAM and the CPU itself.

      While the above points might show some bias toward how I learned to program computers: On early mainframe computers and early 8-bit micros (where hand assembly was really the only way to do thing unless you had a few $$$ or took the time to write your own assembler), I would have to add that since the collapse of the internet bubble, I would also strongly discourage young people to even get into the industry right now. With significant numbers of software developers still out of work, incredibly intense competition to gettting what few jobs are around, and the outsourcing problems that are plaguing the industry shrinking the current number of jobs down even more, it is getting tougher to really break in. Essentially what I'm saying is that the computer industry right now is burning intelletual capital rather than trying to invest into its future.

      If you are smart and want to get into a hot new industry that feels like the computer industry did 20 years ago, I would strongly suggest going into aeronautical engineering and try to join up with Bigelow Aerospace, Scaled Composites, or Armidillo Aerospace. Them and a dozen other companies right now are getting ready to boom, and that is going to further take away the creative types that earlier fueled the computer industry.

      This is perhaps the #1 analogy that I can use with ham radio, which is struggling right now trying to attract the young smart minds that have the talent and the slightly off-axis humor to be able to build things like radio frequency jammers, blue and black boxes, or even computer virii. From doing those irreverent and potentially illegal in some context applications, many young people formed the skill sets that makes many of the advanced technology applications that we see today. I fear that the computer industry is losing that group in particular, and now all that is left are folks who can follow a recipie (script kiddies), but are incapable of coming up with anything like that on their own. Some of that is still left, but many school and university administrators are now beating out any creative urge in most schools in regards to computers.

      I'm speaking now to the creative 1% of humanity who really makes things happen. They aren't missed right away when they are gone, but you eventually
      • I sympathise with your point of view, but hardware is pretty much just a commodity now. It's hard to find a software developer whose work needs to know about the gate level. I'd agree maybe to the assembler level, but even there, it's pretty rare these days that that's important.

        When I interview I usually ask a C question about a function referencing a variable assigned in a higher stack frame, now freed. But that's more to see if they are a) interested in "how things really work", b) whether they've ever

      • If you are smart and want to get into a hot new industry that feels like the computer industry did 20 years ago, I would strongly suggest going into aeronautical engineering and try to join up with Bigelow Aerospace, Scaled Composites, or Armidillo Aerospace. Them and a dozen other companies right now are getting ready to boom, and that is going to further take away the creative types that earlier fueled the computer industry.

        Nah. A couple tragic accidents will take care of that trend. Besides, I rememb
        • While I would agree that designing airplanes is pretty much a dead end except for some very radical approaches like skyhooks and most of Burt Rutan's designs, the designs for spacecraft are just beginning. Indeed, there has only been one, yes count them one, manned spacecraft for pure point to point travel beyond the earth. And that is the Lunar Excursion Module, or the Lunar Lander. There is so much room for improvement on that design alone, not to mention many other more specialized spacecraft designs
    • Re:Hopes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by j1m+5n0w ( 749199 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:44PM (#10790901) Homepage Journal

      I think the problem with HAM radio is that it's technology for its own sake. If I write good software, it can make a difference in the world. People who aren't programmers will use it, and it will make the world a better place. If I come up with new HAM radio technology, no one but HAM operators can make immediate use of it.

      The practical uses of HAM radio are very limited (emergency communication is the most significant exception). Rules have been placed on the HAM bands such that they can't be used for anything remotely useful. Many ham operators consider this a feature, since it keeps away all the people who don't care about the technology and just want to use it to surf the web and check their email from remote locations. Their objections may be justified - frequency is scarce (especially on the lower frequency bands), and commercial traffic, if allowed, might make the bands unuseable.

      Unfortunately, this also means that it can't have any real effect on people's lives. The Internet is a tool of social change. Ham radio is not.

      The rules I'm refering to are these:

      • No crypto (most people regard digital signatures as ok). No ssh. No ssl. If you check your email over ham radio, everyone else can read it.
      • No music. Not even if you made it up yourself.
      • No swearing.
      • No business-related traffic.

      These rules all ensure that HAM radio is a polite medium used by nice people who aren't going to step on each other's toes. It also means, however, that you can't use HAM radio to carry Internet traffic for non-ham radio people, due to the difficulty of policing their traffic, making sure they aren't sending or receiving prohibited data.

      My opinion is that they should open up some small subset of the UHF and VHF bands to general purpose traffic. It would still require a license to use the equipment, but with content rules similar to the ISM band (whatever kind of traffic you want, as long as it's not interfering with someone else). This would allow people to use HAM radio as part of the infrastructure of the Internet.

      -jim (KE7BGU)

      • Re:Hopes (Score:2, Insightful)

        by LordMyren ( 15499 )
        efficient use of bandwidth is the heart of ham radio. i'd wager its a far more concrete goal than "computer software," even if it takes 10 years for the general public to catch up. bandwidth is finite, its up to us to make the best of it.

        i wager that with 802.11b, cell phones and what not, things appear "good enough". we're in the age of marvels, why make cooler ones?

        good breakdown of the restrictions.
    • There's still development going on, but not as much as there used to be. Hams of the 50s and 60s decried the advent of the "appliance operator" who bought his gear off the shelf rather than building it himself. I've built a couple of projects -- a 30-meter direct conversion receiver, for instance -- mostly to be able to say "I've done it" and to internalize some of that theory I had to learn to get that Extra ticket. But by and large, I don't have the leisure time to spend wiring up a circuit, testing it, t
  • Answer (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Are there any interesting stories about the creativity of either groups (that relate to the other group perhaps) that should be recorded and documented?
    Surprisingly, no. Next question.
  • by spyrochaete ( 707033 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:16PM (#10788421) Homepage Journal
    Ham is to pirate radio stations as hacker is to hacktivism (e.g. defaced web sites)
  • by MsWillow ( 17812 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:19PM (#10788455) Homepage Journal
    Back in the McHenry, Ill, area, there's a closed repeater that, to unlock, you need to send a series of tones at the start of each transmission. It's run by a club whose "dues" go mainly into one guy's pocket, effectively making this system not legal (but hey, who really cares about legal, as long as he gets rich?).

    Anyways, one local ham used to be part of that clique, until he managed to cheese off the repeater owner. He wanted to be able to use the system again.

    I built a gadget that used one of the cool digital recorder chips you can get from Radio Shack. We digitally recorded the signal on the input frequency of the repeater, then sent these tones when the mic was keyed up.

    Worked amazingly well, until the guy dropped the mic and the wire broke loose. Wheee, what fun his sudden re-appearance on the system caused! :)

    OK, so it's not really software hacking, more of a hardware hack with some social engineering thrown in too, but hey, doing it was quite a blast. MUCH more amusing than Field Day.

    de N9JZW
    • Forgot to mention... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MsWillow ( 17812 )
      Still waking up here, sorry. Anyhow, I forgot to mention that each dues-paying member of the repeater cabal had their own series of tones that identified them. The "social engineering" came from recording several different tone IDs, culminating with the repeater owner himself. Twas great fun as the owner tried to figure out a way that he and his clique could keep their private toy free of the riffraff *WEG*

      Ahh, the joys of using in-band signaling :)
    • "Hacking" is most certainly not limited to software hacking! One definition of "Hacking" is to understand a system and to patch together a creative solution that circumvents but doesn't hinder normal operation. Your creative solution most certainly qualifies you as a hacker! To this end, many hams are hackers as well.
  • Past Tense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amacleod98 ( 757451 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:19PM (#10788460) Homepage
    Why is that whole article written in the past tense?
  • by GhengisCohen ( 778368 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:20PM (#10788472)
    When the first BBS's went up in NYC, and the first personal computers came out, like the Radio shack Model 1, all those early programmers/BBSers were Ham nuts. Hacking in NYC and personal computers user grew directly out of HAM. They are not parallel, but instead the hacking field all grew from Ham. Everyone in FreakShow 100 from NYC learned their stuff from a guy name Art. Art got into computers from his Ham hobby. Other pioneers of the NYC hacking scene were the likes of Billy Arnel (Ham first, ran an early BBS called People Links) and a lady named Susan I seem to remember (ham as well)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A new technology begs to be tinkered with and if people can tinker, they will. As technologies mature the opportunities for tinkering decrease and the tinkerers may move to the margins.

    It happened with radio and it happened with computers. It also happened with cars. When the Model T came out, many people could afford a car and it was worth their while to be able to fix them. Everyone was a back yard mechanic. As cars got better and more complicated, the life of the back yard mechanic got more difficu
  • Packet radio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LodCrappo ( 705968 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:24PM (#10788533) Homepage
    My father has been a HAM for nearly forty years. Growing up I always enjoyed going to hamfest and other events with him. Even in the short time I experienced the ham culture (aprox 1980-1990), I noticed a trend towards PCs becoming frequent topics of discussion and PC gear being swapped at swapfests as much as radio equipment. Probably the best integration of the two worlds that I experienced was packet radio. I'm sure there are many who know more about the system than I do. I remember being fascinated that you could log in to a packet radio bulletin board and exchange messages with people from all over the world. In those days a local dialup PC based BBS would typically only have members from the surrounding area. Maybe someone can post more info on Packet radio?
  • by gnat_x ( 713079 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:29PM (#10788576)
    Growing up I had this neighbor who was a stereo nut, and had been building his own speakers since the 60's. I learned about going to radio shack and soldering things together. I learned a little about fixing stereos. I learned lots about transmission of sound through the air.

    Unfortunately, as a youg internet generation geek (I'm 21), I look around at geekly peers my age, and see very few people who know how to solder.

    I fear that the age of computer geeks going and buying the parts from Radio Shack and building stuff might be passing. Radio Shack has noticed this too, and stores with a good parts selection are getting harder to find.
    • It's getting harder to build hardware that can be used in modern computers -- building a PCI or USB device, for example, requires significant "interface" hardware in addition to the device-specific functionality. Boards covered with tiny surface-mount parts are hard enough to even diagnose when they stop working, let alone fix by hand. There's not as much of use that a computer geek can do with a soldering iron anymore.

      However, there's more to being a computer geek than "soldering things together". My

    • stores with a good parts selection are getting harder to find.

      Everybody orders parts on the Internet now. Try DigiKey [] and Mouser []. They ship really, really fast (order late in the day and it's here tomorrow morning) and they're seldom out of stock. Digi-Key even has the data sheets for almost everything they sell on line.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:30PM (#10788591)
    Check out the gnu-radio project
    Th e TAPR group (not just packet radio anymore all sorts of digital communications topics)
    Eric and Matt from the gnu-radio project were at the TAPR digital communication conference again this year.
    Here's some more linux ham software listed:
    Also check out The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT):
    The next major sat project named Eagle will use as much open source software and open hardware as possible.
    There are also many notable hams who are also linux hackers, just to name one Bdale Garbee, former Debian Project head and CTO for linux solutions at HP, whom I met at the TAPR DCC this year, he is very active with both TAPR and hardware design on AMSAT satellites.
    Also check out the June and September issue of Linuxjournal for gnu-radio and a psk article (Sept).

    73, w0uhf
    • And getting your feet wet with radio/computers doesn't even require a licence. A scanner, sound card and some software will let you play with neat digital stuff like ACARS [] Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, which lets you do stuff like a real-time map display of airplanes near you. other link []. (Perhaps not as spiff as this one [].) There's other telemetery besides position and speed, so it could make a cool wall display--with no bandwidth suck.

    • Perhaps even more famous, Phil Karn [], KA9Q.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:34PM (#10788633)
    I knew a person back several years ago who was heavily into Ham Radio. He built some of his own equipment and hoarded heaps of "useful" parts that were never used, but were considered "handy" to have "just in case". He spent all of his free time either chatting to people all over the world from inside his darkened radio shack or planning how he was going to do it. And when away from home (on the road to the local shops or on vacation around the world) he took portable equipment so that he would always be connected, which was to the annoyance of those around him.

    As a result he of this obsession he never communicated well with his family, instead choosing to share freely with his on-air mates. Resulting in a well of negative energy in his own home.

    Yep I knew him .. he was my father.

    (Yes I am bitter about that .. but yes I am dealing with it)

    BTW I also remember when people built their own computers .. from scratch .. and coded up their own systems by the bootstraps.
  • I think it is too cool to be able to program black boxes, either a receiver like the IC-PCR1000 [] or a pure software based T/R radio like FlexRadio []
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:43PM (#10788734)
    If you read ( about the new internet via power lines technologies i.e. BPL, you will find tons of evidence that the all consuming need for internet bandwidth may spell the end for HF Amateur work and perhaps even VHF weak signal work. Hams near BPL test sites have experienced extreme interference with all radio communication types.

    All the FCC cares about right now is putting the positive spin on the BPL technology and ramming it through the approval process.

    So here is a computer innovation that could enable thousands of people to get high speed internet access but at the same time may kill off another very innovative group of technologies we call Amateur Radio. I am certain there are components of BPL that hams originally had a hand in developing. Its incredibly ironic.

    Rob N3FT
    • BPL will die (Score:2, Interesting)

      ...because it's an analog technology, kinda like DSL on steroids...
      Because it's hooked to high voltage power lines which attract lightning (not really, but they sure seem to).
      Because it's expensive and dangerous to keep running.
      Because it's owned by a company whose main business is not communications.
      Because, if it radiates, it's susceptible to interference, too.
      Given a choice, consumers won't take it unless it's better and cheaper than other alternatives, and it's already being dropped in Canada, UK and Eu
      • Thanks Peter for the extra clarification on the issue. The ARRL (US Ham Organization) has been very alarmist about BPL, but they seem to be so freaked out because the Bush admin is pushing it, thus the FCC is pushing it. I guess the alarmist spin has effected me, as I am an avid DX'r (thats long distance work for the uninitiated) and even a light dimmer turned on in the house is enough to kill weak signal communications.

      • Every signal transmission is analog at some point. That point is usually the "from here to there" point. Whether fiddling with (modulating) an alternating current signal to cause it to represent some datastream and then proceed to inducing electromagnetic waving of space or switching a voltage on or off, or high or low, electricity is analog. Light (including "radio") is analog.

        I agree that BPL is going to die because of operational inefficiencies (i.e. it's not good technology), but of the reasons you lis
  • I am a vegetarian software developer, you insensitive clods!

  • by BoulderDad ( 830231 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:45PM (#10788769) Homepage
    This happened to me just a few weeks ago. I was monitoring payload comms for a high-altitude research payload that we had built, and all the data comms went through a Linux box that was routing traffic to the payload.

    Everything was going smooth as silk in mission control and then... lost connection to the payload from the mission controller station... I go to the linux router, and its LOCKED UP... nothing... screen is frozen with my windows up, no mouse movement...

    CAPS and SCROLL led's are blinking in unison... some kind of code... maybe a number? I start trying to write down dots and dashes, but my autonomic response is to try to copy is as morse code... I get characters... then I scrawl out...

    F A T A L E X C E P T I O N

    !!! Linux was sending me morse code via the keyboard LEDs! That's a new one on me. It didn't send any kind of diagnostic code, not that it would've helped me. But knowing that it was a fatal exception was actually the right information, because I knew it was appropriate to immediately restart the machine.

    So instead of the Windows blue screen of death, it's the linux "Morse String of Death" (MSOD?) !


    dit dit

  • The community of adult webmasters is very creative. It's been said befoer, but it bears repeating that the ubiquitous Net owes its existence to the money, bandwidth, and technological push that porn online provides. In almost every aspect of the Web, the porn industry drives and uses new technology long before the "mainstream" catches on.
  • You missed the S.. its SPAN and SOftware.

    Oh wait.. this story is not about my Viagara order? nm....

  • Elecraft (Score:2, Informative)

    by Snot Locker ( 252477 ) *
    Here's a story of creativity and innovation in ham radio. Check out Elecraft [] -- this all sprouted from the brain of Wayne Burdick and others who designed some innovative low-power ham tranceiver kits for the Northern California QRP Club. Elecraft kits are not only superior to the old Heathkit kits, but the end result is a high quality transceiver comparable to the expensive commercial gear.

    • Re:Elecraft (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DF5JT ( 589002 )
      One of the reasons for Elecraft's success is its approach to development: It's strikingly similiar to Open Source Software development. Users of Elecraft are more than just customers, they are part of a community whose input is valued and taken into consideration for the improvement of future gear.

      The resulting transceiver is a superb piece of equipment, surprisingly devoid of useless bells and whistles, shiny knobs and impractical handling that have become to characteristic of all the modern Japanese tran
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:55PM (#10788895) Homepage
    Is not what these people did, how much they researched, learned, designed,etc..

    It's the simple fact that they SHARED what they knew with the world.

    that is how things like Packet Radio, APRS, antenna designs, etc become more refined and wide spread use.

    Most of what is in Ham Radio and software WOULD NOT EXIST if people were selfsih and kept their discoveries and designs to themselves.
    • Sadly, as the ham radio coders developed more sophisticated software for DOS/Windows, more of them adopted the proprietary software attitude and stopped sharing their knowledge. Instead they locked it inside of opaque code.

      Fortunately, the influence of Free Software spurred by Linux and friends has begun to turn this attitude. Quite frankly, I don't think the ARRL should review or publish an article on any software unless it is Software Libre. We are fortunate as well that the Free Software influence wa
  • Look up packet radio. I can recall, back in the old days as a wee young one reading my dad's 73 magazines and seeing all the stories about guys with various portable computers (Tandy 100 I think, also some "lightweight" apple variants). These people were hiking up to mountain tops and setting up various packet switched radio data networks. Long before ISP's. This was back in the day when AOL and Compuserve were BBs'es. Packet controlled. TCP. Heck, even today us hams get privileges in the 802.11b sp
  • Need insight into the world of ham radio? Check out Hamsexy []. Check out the image gallery for some good scares.
  • Fun Stuff (Score:5, Informative)

    by leighklotz ( 192300 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:38PM (#10790822) Homepage
    I've been a ham since I was 7, but was inactive from the college years until recently. There's a tremendous number of things to do, from building your own low-power and medium-power equipment to computer-connected stuff, to Microwave (10 GHz is popular, and the 3.5 GHz band is getting more interesting these days too) and VLF (how about a signal on 176 KHz?).

    Personally, I've ejoyed the following lately:

    • PSK-31 [] -- a cheap soundcard-based text-to-text mode that uses only 31Hz of bandwidth and goes around the world on 5 watts
    • XML for Ham Radio [] -- I've started a consortium to develop XML standards for ham radio, starting with an extensible [] logging format, and working with everyone from QRZ [] and [] on the server side to xlog for Linux [] and Ham Radio Deluxe for Windows [] and others.
    • RPSK [] -- a TCP/IP based protocol for remote operation of a PSK station with a Java applet client and a hiptop [] client. (The antenna is not hooked up right now so don't expect the applet to work.)
    • HFPack [] -- portable and picnic table operation with HF radio; I talked to Estonia [] with an Elecraft KX1 [] and about 4.5 Watts
    • An RSS feed for APRS [] -- working with APRSWorld [] I developed an APRS to RSS converter to help HFPackers [] let people know where and when [] they are operating, so people can listen for them.
    • Kit building -- I have built [] an Elecraft K2 [], one of the most sensitive ham transceivers in the world, their KX1 [] (one of the smallest and most featureful), a Small Wonder Labs PSK-20 [] specific to PSK on 14.070 MHz, and a variety of American QRP Club [www.amqrp] and Four-State QRP Club [] kits. For more power, I built an 50 Watt HF Amplifier [] in a group project and am working on a 100W one.
    • CW -- I learned Morse Code at 5 so it was easy to pick back up after a couple (ok, a few) decades of disuse, and it's been a blast as well.

    Check it out and take a look at my Ham Web Log [] for more stuff.

  • This was already documented, but it's a good story.

    When Nathan Cohen first submitted a paper documenting his fractal antenna research to a scholarly journal, the editors thought it was a practical joke.

    Essentially, he had discovered that bending conventional antennas into repeating geometric or "deterministic fractal" shapes helped save space and did not adversely affect reception. It's a very simple idea -- and that simplicity, coupled with the fact that Cohen is a radio astronomer by training, not a fra
  • We are trying to set up a public intranet. There is a chicken and egg of I wont join untill it reaches mass, it wont reach mass until people join. This means that there is no mesh and therefore the whole thing does not work.

    I thought that using packet radio to cheaply join up the segments would be a good option and in the long term a viable safeguard on the intranet mesh itself.

    Anyone done this?
  • The difference is that most ham radio operators are still living with their parents and extolling the virtues of vacuum tubes, whereas most programmers are barely living at all.

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (5) All right, who's the wiseguy who stuck this trigraph stuff in here?