Category Archives for "Commentary"

Working through the doldrums of a passionate Amateur Radio operator

One of the great things about amateur radio is that there are so many different aspects to the hobby. One can spend years on DX’ing only to become enamored with VHF and then move on to some digital mode.

It’s all learning.

But sometimes, there is simply a lull. A period of time where not much happens. I’ve been through that time here; not much has been posted for several weeks. Most of it is the day job…some stuff that is very exciting is happening and there is even better stuff coming up. But, have all of that going on and then switch to a Mac from Windows for work and your hobby and you don’t have a lot of time to get back into serious hobby work.

I’m trying to get the Mac to talk to my radio through my microHAM interface. I’ve looked at a couple different programs. I’ve tried to make it work. But what I have done is spend a half hour on it and then said…no, more important stuff to do on the day job, so go do it. I’ve asked for some help — and have gotten it. More on that later. But I haven’t had time to do the serious work to get everything working.

In other words, a poor attempt to get stuff set up that doesn’t represent the passion of the hobby. It happens.

Does that mean the hobby doesn’t mean as much to me? Nope. It just means that a hobby is a hobby and sometimes the hobby doesn’t count as much as that which earns you a living.

I need to respect that. And I do. But I feel guilty about it anyway. Wouldn’t you?

Oh…and doesn’t the site’s new look just rock?

Signals!

You see, if you turn the radio on and have an antenna, you can hear signals on the air!

Now to connect the radio to the iMAC. Hmmmm….

K9JY Hacked!

The K9JY site was hacked over the last couple of days and you should have seen some weird screen renderings of the site. All should now be good. At least I hope so.

I’m security-minded

I try and not go nuts on the security stuff, but ever since I started putting out the K9JY WriteLog User Site, people started putting me in their Outlook contacts and you know how that goes. The mail lists get hacked and sends out viruses and other assorted malware and then I get all the hacked e-mails filled with the viruses. So I’ve always been careful and, thankfully, have never had my computers hacked from any of that stuff.

And my passwords are relatively bulletproof. The classic strong password generated and installed.

But you can’t prevent everything

In the relatively newest version of the software I use on this site, there was an “XSS” vulnerability identified. On Monday night, I first saw the updated version of the software that fixed the vulnerability. Tuesday morning I was going to install it since installing software at 9 PM in the evening after enjoying wine and company is not exactly the smart approach to doing upgrades.

But, the time I tried on Tuesday morning, it was clear something was not working right — I couldn’t access the admin panel, I couldn’t get any of my posts listed, nor could I list my installed plug-ins. Like, hosed.

Plus, the site, to visitors, would load great. Or not. Or sometimes.

Looking at the server error messages, there were many. With some good help from my hosting company, we eliminated the possible server issues and concluded I’d been hacked. First time ever.

The K9JY Rule of Troubleshooting

That troubleshooting rule is simple: the first thing you fix will reveal the other two things that went wrong in the first place.

So it was here. I couldn’t do the automatic upgrade to the software because I couldn’t access the admin panel to do it. So I quickly learned how to manually get the software, download it, unzip it and then carefully follow the directions to do the upgrade.

Sounds easy and I’ve done this before with other software. But, when it is this site, you get a bit chilled when the first words in the instructions are “delete all XXX files except those you’ve modified.”

The instructions don’t tell you that when the software was originally installed, there were passwords to access the databases for the application. And the database names for the application. Fortunately, I knew that there was a file that had that information in it and downloaded it via FTP to a nice safe place. It was a big potential gotcha. Whew.

Then, I carefully deleted all of the files and kept all of the other non-related platform files, like the layout of the site (called a “theme”) and some plug-ins that make things show up right (like the listing of the most popular posts in the sidebar is done via a plug-in).

Finally, I uploaded the new upgrade, hit the upgrade executable and logged in.

The upgrade was a success. But the problem didn’t go away.

When I logged into the dashboard, I could see that I was on the new version of the software. But I still couldn’t do anything.

So then I re-installed my Theme. Nothing changed.

Then I went to the Plug-ins. I couldn’t see the entire list of installed plug-ins (I wanted to deactivate all of them to get to a vanilla installation), but I could individually click on the plug-in name and go to the settings page for it.

Finally, a plug-in that searches Flickr so I can insert cool pictures on the site (like the pics for Sunspot Saturday) said it needed authentication before it could work. And since I’ve had that plug-in authenticated for about 18-months, something was up. When I went to authenticate it to Flickr, my Flickr account opened and politely told me that something was trying to authenticate with it, but what it was sending to authenticate was crap.

I went and deleted the plugin that interfaced to Flickr and then…finally…all was well.

The admin pages loaded correctly and so did the site. After looking through everything and updating all my stuff in the Theme that was reinstalled, I declared victory.

Another day lost to software infrastructure problems, that thing that is supposed to make us more productive.

The lesson?

The software people are really good at quickly identifying security issues and putting out fixes. Rare that it happens now as the security sweep is part of the overall testing. But hackers love to hack. I just hope that my sites (all the rest were fine) don’t fall into the IP address range the hacker is attacking before installing the fix.

And, yes, I have several weeks of backups, so if push came to shove, I could get all of it back. But, that’s a pain in the rear as well. And takes time and resources to do. And to verify once the backup is done.

But, all is well. At least I learned how to manually upgrade the software and I added a few things to my upgrade checklist.

Now, to turn on the radio.

What Ham Radio talking points need

Ham radio is a diverse hobby. It’s a technical, engineering, builder, emergency service hobby. But ask most people about ham radio and you get stories of RF interference or a puzzled look followed by a question about 1950. I mean, the Internet obliterated ham radio, didn’t it?

Over at Innismir.net, there is a great dissection of a traditional media article on ham radio from Michigan. And the article isn’t bad. But the end of the post notes this:

Any press is good press they say and getting the hobby out to the general public is a good thing, so props to the Midland ARC for getting coverage and getting a few juicy tidbits out there. However, we, as a hobby, need to work on some talking points on some of the more “exciting” points of Ham Radio. We also apparently need to work on our comparisons.

So what should our talking points be to the traditional media? Here’s a few suggestions:

Ham radio embraces many interests

If we’re a diverse hobby, it should be an advantage. If you are an engineer, you can design antennas, stations or software. If you are a builder, there are kits. If you like the outdoors, you can take radio with you. If you like competition, we have contests. If you like public service, we have it in spades.

The great thing about a diverse hobby is that if you get tired of one thing (DXing, for example), you can learn about a whole different thing (say digital modes) while still staying within the hobby. It’s not like you love trains, then get disinterested, leave your club and friends there, and start over so you can try out planes. Nope. You just start working in this new area.

Ham radio helps the public

While this is the traditional public service message we have, we need to mix in much more of what we have done to advance emergency work. We have an imbedded methodology through ARES that gives us a good process. We have practice sessions to support local emergency teams. We have built digital communications to improve our work with emergency providers. And, yes, when all else fails, we can still get through because of our multiple frequency antennas.

Whether it is Katrina or the Space Shuttle or the local walk for charity, ham radio operators perform in their role of supporting emergency communications and public service.

Ham radio is fun

Sorry, I’m not into something for the drudgery. The numbing going forward of work on stuff that doesn’t even remotely excite me. Whether it is the friendships you develop over time and on the air or investigating a new part of the hobby or meeting up with your buddies in the ham radio club, ham radio is fun. As soon as it isn’t fun, it’s time to try something else in the hobby…because we have a diverse hobby.

What else? What do you think our talking points need when that microphone gets pointed at us for some answers?

SSB is dying — help save ham radio

Noting that several e-mail reflectors and other ham news outlets have said that over 10,000 CW logs were sent in for the CQ WW DX Contest, I have to agree with K3NG — it’s time to Save Phone!

After all, K3NG waxes:

…we don’t test for phone operating skill anymore. Today’s amateurs are lazy. They’re not going to try phone operation unless you force them to do it. You need to test for it so they get proficient at it and want to use it. Phone operation always works; everyone has mouths and can speak.

For those of you new to ham radio, these were the arguments against getting rid of testing for CW for licenses several years ago. And shows that testing for modes doesn’t necessarily mean the death of a mode. On the contrary, now that phone is in a cyclical decline, it is more than hilarious to see some competition between phone and CW.

Just think, between CW and digital modes, we might need more of that SSB spectrum…

ARRL needs new media tools for donations

I get mail. Real mail, not e-mail. Outside of bills, I get mail about ham radio from the ARRL wanting my hard earned dollars for various different funds the ARRL has set up. Whether it is spectrum defense or just supporting the ARRL, the request for dollars is there. I understand that.

So this weekend I took a trip over to the ARRL’s web site. I thought I would take a look around to see what was all there for all these different funds. After a quick look — it doesn’t take long — I can sum up the web presence for all of these funds easily: you read a letter to members to donate or are directly given a donation form to fill out.

Ho hum…

ARRL stories need telling

It is great that the ARRL has advanced to on-line transfer of funds. But there are no stories behind the need for the funds, just a dry, one-time request to donate. What happens to the funds? How are they being used? What successes have we had with their use?

The only instance of what was done with the funds was from the ARRL Foundation where scholarships and grants were given. A picture, name and an amount. What happened with those people? How did the grant help expand and support ham radio?

People don’t just give money because you ask them to. Instead, they want to be involved in movement, a success story in the making. Without the ongoing stories, the web pages are static requests made a long time ago that generates zero interest.

Why just ARRL members?

All of the funding requests start out with “Dear Member…” Why? I’m sure it is because the letter that was sent out — to members — was just reprinted on the web page asking for funds.

Yet, the specific purpose of these funds resonate across the ham radio spectrum of licenses. The purposes support more than ARRL members alone. Despite that, starting a page out with “Dear Member” immediately shuts out any other ham from contributing to the particular fund. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Sure, not many hams that are not ARRL members will contribute, but discerning hams who have a legitimate reason for not belonging to the ARRL could very well support single purpose funds. But they are shut out, undoubtably reinforcing the very reasons for not being a member in the first place.

The ARRL needs new media methods

The ARRL is dipping into blogs, twittering and other technology areas. That’s good. But these specific funds — from spectrum defense, education, to the ARRL Foundation — are perfect opportunities to build blogs around to get the stories these funds are creating out to the ham radio community. It is a classic “blogging for business” application that begs being used.

Sure, news around these funds get published on the web site somewhere. But there is no followthrough to the fund areas on the web site.

What the ARRL doesn’t get about blogs is that they build communities around specific subjects. The ARRL is thinking that “ham radio” is the community when, in fact, there are many communities within ham radio. There is an education community, a scholarship and grants community to build outreach, and communities that see threats to our hobby through taking away spectrum. Yet all of that is treated the same.

Building communities takes effort

Yes, this means resources need focus on building out this area. But resources are needed for every part of a web site. The static, unchanging, untold stories of these specific areas on the ARRL web site don’t cut it in a world of social media.

And, I’d bet, don’t produce much in donations either.

If you want donations from ham radio operators in the cause of your fund, there needs to be engagement, community, and activism shown to the contributors. Snail mail alone doesn’t cut it anymore.

Ham Radio and ARRL Legislative Objectives

Ham radio is a small service when it comes to legislative priorities. While we might like to think our legislation is as important as a stimulus package for the economy, the truth of the matter is that we don’t count for much in the legislative priority process in the states and Washington.

In other words, our legislative priorities need to adequately speak to the legislative needs of the hobby.

Just published in QST, the ARRL Board of Directors approved the following legislative and regulatory objectives. The first on the list:

  1. The ARRL seeks legislation to extend the requirement for “reasonable accommodation” of Amateur Radio station antennas to all forms of land use regulation.

I translate that one to CC&R restrictions in subdivisions. There are many threats to the long-term health of ham radio, but covenants rank up there as the highest one for me. Ham radio operators always have that additional requirement for where they live – can I put up an antenna? Or five? Without antennas, we can’t communicate. We can’t provide emergency communications, support weather spotting efforts, handle traffic – or have much fun.

Increasingly, we are forced to use extremely modest, poorly radiating antennas to communicate. And, paradoxically, these lower antennas increase the chance of RF interference to our neighbors because we can’t get the antenna high enough to move the signal out of the way of our surrounding houses.

So I think the ARRL nailed this one on the head. We need to have legislative relief from the CC&R contracts to reasonably accommodate our antennas.

Not an easy job to do, but one necessary for the preservation and growth of our hobby.

Presumed guilty

The Contesting Reflector has had some long threads based on a decision by a potential top ten team to not send in their logs to the CQ WW CW Contest Committee. Their reason for doing so was that the Committee, without their permission, would publish their entire log (and that of all competitors) on the Internet. The Contest Committee reasoning is that this would provide “sunshine” on the logs and help eliminate cheating (as if their log checking programs for the contest were not enough…).

The team’s arguments for not submitting the logs were that it was their log, the Committee did not have their permission to release them and it was therefore a privacy issue. In addition, there was the fear that other hams will nefariously accuse contest operators of the public logs as having cheated without any recourse from the Contest Committee, potentially ruining reputations. Or at least having to defend reputations.

After publicly stating their disagreement with the Committee decisions on the rules, but wanting to participate in the contest, the “presumed guilty of something” started in full force.

Some examples:

If there is nothing to hide and you stand behind your score then what do you have to worry about?

I guess if you are not intending to follow the rules then don’t operate or don’t submit your logs for consideration of winning an award.

I suspect there are other reasons why you don’t wish to play along with the CQ contest committee and this is just a ‘smoke screen’.

I won’t bother with the rest; you get the idea.

I’ve been concerned for a while that our hobby has become far more rules-based and exclusionary than is good for our health.

Now picture a new contester on the Contest Reflector seeing a valid reason for not turning in the logs and being attacked as if this were an offense the same level as a crime.

Or picture multiple casual contesters seeing this sort of faux outrage who have been interested in contesting, want to get more serious about it, and then have this stuff thrown in their face.

Based on the reaction of the reactionaries, I’d not submit my log either. I’d go on my nice little contest DXpedition, operate the contest and submit my log to LoTW so people can get their confirmations — without seeing my log — and call it a day.

I could care less now in my ham career about winning, but I always wanted to submit my log to help the log checkers. But, based on the reaction of the “presumed guilty” crowd and not even thinking of the merits of the reasons given for the action, I’ll pass on that. I don’t need the grief.

We used to be a “presumed innocent” hobby. What a long way we have come.

How much do you trivialize your fellow ham?

An excerpt from one of my e-mails from a reader:

I will not forget how excited I was to work a few new countries only to be belittled at the local DX Club meeting about how common and insignificant my QSO’s were. This message coming from guys at the top of the honor role. If we want the hobby to continue well into the future we need to encourage and applaud rather than trivialize.

I would suggest that this is not an isolated instance, though not just about DX’ing and Honor Roll members. I remember the first meeting I went to at my local club — and was totally ignored. I went to the meetings four different times and almost gave up on joining a club — a club that I went on to be President of later in my ham career.

The strength of our hobby is the diversity of activities that we can do as part of the hobby. Whether it is public service policy, digital modes, contesting or DX’ing, we can learn something new, become an expert in that area, get bored and move on to learning something new — all in the same hobby.

Yet, too often, the experts in that sub-segment of the hobby trivialize where that person is at, trying to learn a new area of the hobby, with their learning curve. I’ve seen it in DX’ing, contesting — and even heard quite often that you won’t be a “real” ham until you learn Morse Code. Right.

And I’m not being purist here; I’ve done this type of trivialization over the course of my 24-year ham career.

This behavior does not encourage people to join our hobby. We intentionally or unintentionally become exclusionary. We don’t, as my reader notes in the e-mail, “applaud” the accomplishment.

My first contact as a ham was on Morse Code with a ham in California. I don’t remember the call. But I remember the event. As a teenager, I had worked long and hard to get a radio, antenna and accessories to get to the point of getting on the air. All the magazines I read said the most important thing to do was get on the air and start making contacts. So I did. When I first heard my call coming back to me out of the ether, I was pumped. And nervous. The ham was most gracious on being part of my first contact.

Yet, imagine that same contact where the ham would have instead trivialized what I had done. First contacts are nothing…wait until you get to 10,000. Your Morse Code is crappy…didn’t you learn how to send?

Makes you want to crawl into a hole and die. Or, at least sheepishly walk away from the hobby. Or, tell the person to get a life and tell them to shove it and then walk away from the hobby.

Yet, we callously condemn fellow hams who came in the hobby with a no-code license as not being “real hams.” Or trivialize working Germany (the first ham radio contact I ever heard was with a US ham using Morse Code to talk to a ham in Germany — and I was astonished at the thought as a non-ham) as being “garden-variety” DX. Or condemn fellow contesters for not knowing the exchange.

When you are learning something new, no one is perfect. And to berate someone for their imperfection trivializes the work they are doing to become proficient at what they are doing in the hobby. We should be teaching and applauding the effort because life is about learning.

As my Elmer once told me, “every country is hard to get until you work and confirm  it. Then, of course, it’s a piece of cake.”

Are you trivializing the work of fellow hams?

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