Saturday, September 23, 2017

Digital Amateur Radio

I wanted to talk a little today about the "digital" modes of transmitting information over the radio waves.  A digital mode involve signals that transmit some combination of discrete frequencies by one station that can then be decoded by another station to reveal the information being transmitted.

The oldest "digital" mode is what is called Continuous Wave (CW) that transmits Morse code.  The transmitter is either on or off.  The length of the elements are either long or short.  These long, often called "dah" and the short, called "dit" thus make up a binary code, the differing combinations of which make up all the letters, digits, punctuation and pro-signs of Morse code.  CW is still practiced in Amateur Radio, and can be used anywhere in the amateur bands.

Radio Teletype, abbreviated RTTY, is a radio implementation of a land line technology that was an early form of sending text over the phone lines.  The wire services such as UPI, used teletype extensively.  RTTY uses two tones, usually 170 Hz apart, to transmit the letters, digits, punctuation, and again certain pro-signs to transmit text as opposed to voice.  RTTY proceeds at 45.45 baud, or about 60 words per minute.  Once upon a time, to operate RTTY one had to make a substantial investment in converting old teletype machines to transmit over the air.  But with the advent of personal computers, software took over this function, and with a simple sound card as the interface between the computer and the transmitter, one could be in the RTTY business.   Today, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) promotes RTTY as a digital mode that is very popular.  It is also one of the easiest to understand, and to set up the software to run. But in fact, only a few experts with RTTY operate during contests, and there seems to be little other activity.  So I have to question the ARRL's notion of the term "popular."  As a result, a new practitioner can not get any experience themselves, because RTTY operators only use their equipment at certain times when a new person will be reluctant to try out the mode.

Since 2000, a number of digital modes using inexpensive sound cards as the interface between your computer and a transmitter have popped up like mushrooms.  One of these, PSK31, is a digital mode that uses phase shift keying to key the transmitter at 31 baud.  The mode was designed to be used as a conversational mode for "rag chewing" as opposed to simple contesting.  As late as 2012, ARRL was promoting PSK31.  The advantage of PSK31 is that 25 or 30 conversations can be going on simultaneously in the same bandwidth as a voice conversation over Single Side Band (SSB).  Unfortunately, PSK31 has fallen out of favor as well.

The latest bright shiny object in the digital amateur radio constellation is a product called FT8.  I have not looked into FT8 yet, but it comes out of the same developers as JT9 and JT65.  These modes were designed to explore the common problem of digging a signal out of the noise.  The high frequency bands, where Amateur Radio operates are plagued by varying degrees of static noise.  As more and more electrically powered devices come on the market, the static noise has become stronger and stronger.  The JT programs are capable of digging a readable signal that is buried deep in the dirt.  They are great for contesting, for DXing (radio talk for contacts between two countries) and for QRP (radio talk for low power operation).   However, these programs are not designed for conversing.   A typical exchange involving call sign, grid locator, and signal report takes 6 minutes!   Radio, if it is to be more than an expensive toy, must be able to convey more that the person calling, and a location and signal report.  In times of disaster, we must be able to convey what we need to survive, health and welfare traffic, and other emergency communications.  In good times, Amateur Radio shows that people, wherever they are, are fundamentally the same.

While it is interesting to get signals out of static, and amateurs should pursue that, I would like to see more activity on modes that operate at or just above the noise threshold such as RTTY and PSK31.  These modes actually can convey useful information in a timely fashion.  Using PSK31 signals, I have noted that my CQs have been heard as far as Europe, South America, Africa, and across the U. S, at only 25 watts of power.  Imagine that a signal with the power of a 25 watt light bulb can be decoded at half way around the world, in high static conditions.  Yet no one is responding.  I guess they are all chasing after the latest shiny object.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In 65 Years, the World Has Turned Upside Down

This piece was published on August 30, 2017, but with Labor day coming, and preparations for a house full of guests, I didn't have much time to devote to finding stories to highlight for readers.  The article in question is by David French at the National Review entitled Can a Progressive's 'Inclusive Values' Include Christianity? French starts off by acknowledging that he has signed the Nashville Statement, which, as he points out:
Over the weekend, I was honored to sign a document called the Nashville Statement. It’s a basic declaration of Christian orthodoxy on sexuality, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. Its 14 articles can be boiled down to a simple statement: We believe the Bible is the word of God, and the word of God declares that sexual intimacy is reserved for the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage. It acknowledges the reality of same-sex attraction as well as the reality of transgender self-conceptions, but denies that God sanctions same-sex sexual activity or a transgendered self-conception that is at odds with biological reality. In other words, it’s basic Christianity.
Too often I think we hear the words of condemnation: we have sinned, but we don't hear the words of grace: but if you truly repent, God will forgive you. The Nashviille Statement contains both the condemnation and the grace. It is thus well balanced, and indeed, I signed it myself. Would that the church body to which our congregation belongs, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America could write such a powerful, yet Biblically accurate statement of faith. Alas, it has been taken over by radicals like so many other institutions in America. But according to French, many Evangelicals think that being a Christian means never hurting anyone's feelings:
The backlash was of course immediate, with multiple liberal Evangelicals deriding the statement as cruel or mean. In their theology, God’s word is subject to an overriding cultural and political test. One can reject even His clearest commands if those commands are “mean” or “intolerant.” And what’s “mean” or “intolerant” is — oddly enough — defined almost entirely by secular social revolutionaries...
The statements by Jen Hatmaker, a respected Evangelical and author, are troubling to say the least. It is as if she has read and internalized only one half of the Bible, and discarded the other half. But Jen Hatmaker at least represents just one person's opinion. She has no power to make us do anything. The mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry's statement that the Nashville Statement does not represent the "inclusive values of the city & the people of Nashville" is more troubling because:
This statement is in many ways far more ominous than anything that comes from the liberal Evangelical world. The liberal Evangelical argument is one reason that the Nashville Statement was necessary. The authors and signatories expected pushback. Barry’s statement, however, is different. It’s not separation of church and state, it’s a declaration of state against church. We are reaching a troubling stage of American politics when the reality of American pluralism is yielding to a demand for cultural and religious uniformity. Megan Barry is expected to have a position on civil rights and civil liberties, but that’s a far cry from stating that Biblical orthodoxy is incompatible with the “inclusive values” of a city that’s located in the heart of the Bible Belt. The Southern Baptist Convention has a headquarter building right in downtown Nashville. You can’t drive five minutes in Nashville without seeing a church that’s teaching exactly the values and beliefs contained in the Nashville Statement. Is Barry’s position that they should change their ways, shut up, or leave?
We are living in times not much different that those Paul describes in his letters to the Corinthians. In 65 years the world has been turned upside down. Father give us strength to keep proclaiming your word.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Bloomberg Exposed

I am taking off an admittedly biased news source today, as the reporting appears to be accurate.  My piece comes from an NRA/ILA blog post entitled Disaffected Gun Control Activist Exposes Bloomberg Top Down Bureaucracy. The post in turn cites another post by Kate Ranta at the Huffington Post. I cite the NRA/ILA post because I suspect many of my readers don't quite believe that Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action are in fact astroturf groups.  I don't cite Kate Ranta's piece at HuffPo, because I don't want to give them any more traffic, but if you want to read it, you can find the link in the NRA/ILA post.

True "grass roots" organizations rely on dues from members for their financial support, and unless these groups are very large, depend on volunteers to show leadership and to do any sort of lobbying of the legislature.  Because these groups can show a large, well organized membership, they do get the attention of legislatures and the public.  Such groups include the Virginia Citizens' Defense League and Grass Roots North Carolina. In addition, such groups typically have a narrow focus because once the scope widens, disagreements with the goals of the group may split the group apart. Grass Roots North Carolina is a typical example. The focus is on gun rights. That doesn't mean that gun rights advocates don't care about other rights as well, just that they have chosen to get involved with gun rights through a focused group.

An astroturf organization is so named because unlike a grass roots organization, there are no roots.  Astroturf is all show and no substance, like the carpet for which it is named,  manufactured by the AstroTurf corporation. Astroturf operations tend to be waged by a lone person or a corporation, in this case by Michael Bloomberg, who funds most of the activity. Astroturf relies on paid lobbyist, paid spokesmen, and their messaging is carefully orchestrated from the top.  This is why Bloomberg routinely outspends grass roots gun advocacy groups but loses anyway.

Michael Bloomberg appears to be a narcissistic, ego maniac, who wants to control everyone and everything, from how big a soft drink they can buy, to how much salt restaurants put in food, to whether or not you and I can defend ourselves.  I don't understand such people, and I really don't want to.  I just want to be left alone.