Lost in Translation

Check out this radio‘s description. It’s got excess value and pettiness! And a phrase-lock-loop. And “LCD aphellotropic lights of showing screen,facile operation in dark” has got to mean “backlit screen.” (Facile is Spanish for “easy,” no your mom jokes.) Oh, and you can’t forget the Auto-charger rabbet. And it comes with a chargeable battery.

Anyone else confused? (Bonus points: I tried to copy-and-paste a quote, and it carried over the HTML tags, which included <font face=”Wingdings”> at one point….?!)

Windows, Reviewed

Mr. T’s post jibed with something that was in the back of my head. I can’t sleep right now, and have sent my friends enough meandering e-mails, so I’ll post here.

For at least the past month, I’ve been in Linux exclusively. I have a 160 GB, 5400 RPM drive with Linux, and a 60 GB, 7200 RPM drive with Windows. (I also have a combination of network storage and external drives for moving/storing data.)

My roommates have been big into Orange Box lately, so I figured I’d give it a try. (It can apparently be made to run under Wine, actually, but I didn’t want to bother.) I swapped out disks, booting into Windows. And it was just one thing wrong after another after that. Admittedly, many of the problems weren’t directly the fault of Windows, but it was truly the worst experience I’ve had in a long time. (Steam was even more badly-behaved than Windows.)

Here are some things that really bug me:

  • Performance. Windows has my ‘fast’ hard drive. I scan regularly for viruses and spyware. (But I’m so OCD that I’ve literally never had any viruses, or even any malware, on this machine.) I disable unnecessary crap from starting up. I run a lean, mean machine. And with a dual-core processor and 2 gigs of RAM, it should fly. Especially on the 7200 RPM drive. And yet I can be in Firefox browsing the web under Linux in less than it takes Windows to finish logging me in. I don’t really understand what’s going on, really.
  • Fragmentation. Maybe this partially explains the above point. Most operating systems don’t make a big deal about disk fragmentation. It’s (supposedly) just a non-issue on both Linux and MacOS filesystems. I suppose I wouldn’t know, not having a defrag tool. But my Windows drive is laughably fragmented. I have more fragmented files than non-fragmented. And, when I was using Windows regularly, I’d run a pull-out-all-the-stops defrag every week or so, scheduling a boot-time defrag to make sure it also got my paging file and the MFT. Having successfully “fixed” my heavily-fragmented paging file, I thought it a done deal. But it’s again in about 300 pieces. What the hell? I thought it was one file. Where did it go? I know it stays between sessions because I tried to get rid of it when shutting down and couldn’t. So what happened?! And really, shouldn’t that be permanently mapped out?
  • Bizarre errors. I never thought I’d see the day when I was criticizing Windows and not Linux for this. Linux still has its share of bad errors. But what’s with the “The memory cannot be ‘read'” errors? (BTW, Memtest finds nothing.) What’s with rtvscan.exe crashing?
  • Slow performance. Not just bootup, mentioned earlier. When I go to start an application, I usually sit there waiting for several seconds. Just sitting, waiting. I’ve never had this problem under Linux. Maybe it’s just that Linux isn’t a fan of big ‘suites’ of programs, preferring to have lots of little lean applications. But I click on the Firefox icon in Linux and Firefox pops up. I click on the IE icon in Windows and my disk churns and, five seconds later, it pops up. Why?!
  • Disk mounting. Again, I never thought I’d see the day when I thought Linux had this better than Windows. It used to be that you’ve have to pull up the command line and su to root and mount a device manually, specifying the device name and a mount path and the file format and various other parameters. Unplugging the device without unmounting it would usually lock up the system and/or cause a kernel panic. Now in Ubuntu I just plug in external devices and they show up on my desktop. They’re comparable that way. (Although Linux doesn’t give me five little bubble icons in a row about “Unknown device” and searching for drivers.) But what about when I want to remove something? In Linux, I right-click and select “Unmount,” and the icon disappears and I remove it. I forget periodically and nothing bad happens. I consider myself to be a very advanced ‘power user’ of Windows, and I’m still not sure. Do I click on that little icon in the system tray? Why is it so hard to use? I’ll find something that sounds like what I want, and I click on it, and it brings up this hierarchy of devices, ranging from the name of the physical disk to a ‘mass storage device,’ and asks which I want to stop. And honestly, I know a lot about Windows and I know all about the hardware, and I’m still never sure. Rusty informs me that Vista’s the same way.
  • Updating. I guess it’s not as practical since Windows has a whole different environment, but MacOS and Linux both have a centralized package manager. An automated daily check might inform me that my word processor and graphics editor have new versions, and let me choose what to do. In Windows, each application does this on its own. It’d be kind of nice if Windows had a central package manager, just so that I wouldn’t have constant headaches when running Windows for the first time in a month with everything I start going out and downloading new updates.
  • File copying sucks! I’ve long-complained about how copying a group of files shouldn’t abort completely when it hits one bad file. But I discovered something else. I was getting low on disk space, so I was moving things over to another drive. I had about 3 GB free, and was going to move a DVD ISO over to the external drive, too, for 7-8 GB free. But it wouldn’t work, due to insufficient disk space. I was confused, because there was plenty of space on the target disk (like 400 GB free). It’s apparently that the Windows drive didn’t have enough space. Which for a second almost made sense: it’s a big file, so it needs room to work. But wait… Why? It can move it, chunk-by-chunk, over to the new disk. I can’t think of any other way of doing it, in fact. And there’s enough room to copy it at least 75 times.

Half-jokingly, I pondered over e-mail, “Why do people ask if Linux is ready for the desktop? The question, I think, is ‘Is Windows ready for the desktop?’ And I’m not sure.” But really, if I have constant headaches, I can only imagine how the people with 75 IE toolbars and lots of spyware and viruses and no idea how computers work must feel. I think my computer is slow? I have bizarre, unexplained errors? I’m confused by technobabble messages that pop up?

Of course, in the interest of fairness, there are two things that I’m liking about Windows:

  • I can put my laptop into standby / suspend. It’s been possible under Linux for years, but doesn’t work properly out of the box for me, and I don’t feel like jumping through hoops to make it work.
  • There’s this one insidious bug (I’m running the “bleeding edge,” Ubuntu’s Gutsy Gibbon, so I suppose I can’t complain too loudly) where the logout/shutdown button locks up the machine for 30 seconds before it displays. This is apparently a known problem with several different causes, but it seems pretty pathetic that it’s still an issue.

Oh, see, this is exactly what I hate! As I’m writing this, I can hear my hard drive going. And the disk activity light is on solid. What’s going on? I have no clue! All I have open is Firefox. Some background process is apparently accessing my disk. What is it? I’m not quite sure!

The Perfect Radio

So as anyone who’s seen me in person will surely know, I have a lot of radios. I’ve sold a few lately, but I’ve owned a wide variety. I have the VX-2R, one of the smallest radios ever produced. It’s got an incredible frequency range, too. I have the ASTRO Saber, one of the biggest radios ever made, capable of APCO25 digital voice, trunking, and MDC ID decoding. I’ve owned police scanners and mid-range radios.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve found that there are big differences between a tiny, $200 radio and a gigantic, $5,000-new ($250 on eBay a decade later) radio. But the huge expensive one doesn’t always win out. If I were designing a radio (which I’d like to!), here’s what it would be like….

  • Medium size. The tiny radio is handy, but it ‘feels’ crappy just because it’s small. The Saber and ASTRO Saber feel like some of the most solid radios ever built, but they’re almost comically large. I want something in the middle: solid, with controls big enough to use, but something that I can put in my pocket.
  • A good speaker. I can turn my Saber / ASTRO Saber up halfway and hear it more or less throughout the house. By comparison, if it’s noisy, I can’t hear my VX-2 unless it’s pressed against my ear. And turned up all the way, it’s heavily distorted. This is probably true of the Saber-based radios, but you’d probably blow out your eardrums before you noticed the distortion.
    • The sound quality is just as important as volume. The Motorola radios have a nice ‘deep’ sound, whereas most other radios sound somewhat tinny.
    • It probably costs $5 more to include the best speaker ever put in a radio in. I’d gladly pay $50 to upgrade to a radio with substantially better audio quality. Why don’t more people include good speakers?!
  • Notch filter or similar. There’s lots of extraneous noise on most signals. It’s actually pretty easy to filter it out, and ‘base’ HF ham rigs have been very good at it for a long time. Something as simple as a notch filter would eliminate a lot of the nuisance noises and make listening much more pleasant. (You could do a lot with DSP and make audio sound much better, but someone should at least do the minimum…) This is also the place to mention that I’d really like it if your radio would do some volume normalization.
  • A good microphone. For normal ham radio stuff, this doesn’t really matter and any 19-cent microphone can be soldered in and work just fine. But ‘real-world’ stuff doesn’t work that way.
    • At work, I can almost never hear the mechanics when they’re out back trying to talk to me. They could be telling me that they’d like me to ask the snack bar to cook them a hamburger, or they could be telling me to shut down the machine because they have their arm stuck in the gears. I think a good directional microphone would be a big help here, in only picking up what’s directly in front of the radio and not the (very loud!) ambient noise. (I remain convinced that another microphone on the back of the radio, ‘subtracted’ from what’s coming into the front micrphone, could produce amazing results.)
    • Campus Police responds to a lot of fire alarm activations. The fire alarms are extremely loud, to the point that it’s literally painful if you’re there in person. You can only hear what they’re saying between the buzzing of the alarm, and even then it’s hard because it echoes. I don’t know that this can be solved easily, but I’m sure a good design could at least help.
  • A nice big screen. In ham radio, giving me eight characters is considered amazing. Many commercial radios just give you a numbered readout of what channel you’re on. The ASTRO Saber has an incredible 14 (I think…) characters. But even then, fitting “Boston PD Channel 4 – Area ‘E’ – West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park” is a chore. You end up with something like”BPD4EWRX-JP-HP,” which is not that helpful until you get very familiar with it. At which point you’ll probably know what Channel 4 means without the label anyway.
  • A sane way of organizing channels. Motorola gives you 16 ‘zones’ of 16 channels each for 256(ish) channels. (This is technically not true but it’s a practical limit.) Many ham radios just give you 200 channels. Some of the better ones (and some scanners) let you use ‘banks,’ which are sort of like ‘folders’ of channels. But there are almost always limits: a bank can almost always store 40-50 channels max, and you usually can’t assign a channel to more than one bank. In my mind, it’s idiotic to still have these limits. What if I want 60 channels in one bank? What if I want to have 72 banks? What if I want Campus Police in a “School” bank and a “Waltham” bank and a “Waltham – Active Emergency” bank?
  • Nuisance Delete! Motorola got this a long time ago, but until I bought the ASTRO Saber, I’d never heard of it since it seems like nothing else supports it. When you’re scanning a range of channels (which is, you know, what scanners are for), there’ll sometimes be one that you don’t want to scan. Maybe you have the police, fire, and the local ham repeater, and there’s a big fire going on. The police are scrambling to get someone out of the building while the fire department is attacking the flames. And then the scanner stops as someone on the local ham repeater discusses how he doesn’t really care for Taco Bell that much these days. Most scanners have a “Lockout” which will ‘permanently’ delete the channel from the list of channels it scans. Nuisance Delete is temporary and gets wiped out once you stop the scanning ‘session.’
  • Recording! Really, I can’t believe there’s almost nothing on the market that does this. I want to leave the radio ‘off’ (let’s call it “Standby Mode’) on the charger all day. And when I see five police cars go speeding by, I want to jump out of my seat, pick up the radio, and hear what the police dispatcher said two minute ago. I’m not aware of any radio that will do this. The thing is, voice takes up very little space. 64kbps MP3 would be plenty. Probably overkill. And a 1GB flash storage card is about $20. And I bet you could get it for a quarter of that if you were buying them OEM to embed as opposed to a consumer buying SD card. You could store weeks of audio. And how many times are you listening but you miss a key detail. (When I’m listening to try to figure out why the emergency vehicles went by, I’ll almost always hear, “We’ll be on scene with a –” “Hey Matt, do you know what’s up with that fire truck?”) It’d be great to just replay it.
  • Digital mode support. This is kind of vague, and could involve a lot of licensing / royalties. But public safety (law enforcement in particular) is very quickly moving to the APCO Project 25 Common Air Interface (generally “IMBE,” “P25,” or Motorola ASTRO). There are three scanners, out of probably 50, that do this mode, and their audio quality doesn’t compare to the genuine radios. There’s also trunking which is very common in cities. The ability to monitor paging networks (POCSAG/FLEX) is handy, but raises a lot of legal issues. (Intercepting other peoples’ pages is explicitly illegal and it’d be hard to design a radio that could decode the protocols without allowing people to see other peoples’ pages.) There are other experimental digital modes, too.
    • The best solution, IMHO, is to make the device run Linux (or any other common embedded OS) and release an SDK so people can write their own digital modes.
  • Muting of various junk, such as digital modes. These days I’m using the VX-2, and I really miss the ASTRO Saber’s “DOS [Data-Operated Squelch] Muting,” which would detect MDC1200 data traffic and mute the speaker. All too often what comes out of the speaker isn’t voice, but just various noise that gets transmitted over the air. It’s really not that hard to detect it.
  • A good battery. I should be able to use it all day, including periodic transmission, without recharging. (Motorola famously offers a 4,000 mAh battery for their flagship line of radios.)
  • A very readable display. Not just big as I said earlier. One of my radios is hard to see if I look down at the LCD. Another is hard to see if I look up at the display. Another is kind of washed out if the backlight is on. Anything with a graphic LCD (very few radios) is almost impossible to see in direct sunlight. (Frankly, I’m very impressed with e-ink displays like the Sony Reader, and would be obliged to buy a radio, no matter the price, that had one as an LCD.)
  • A frequency counter, to detect what frequency something is on. Generally you have to buy an external device to do this. The VX-2 is (as far as I know) the only radio ever made with a neat feature which is basically a ‘ghetto’ frequency counter: it’ll kick in a 100 dB attenuator and see what frequencies it can find, good for locating very close transmitters. But it’s not a real frequency counter. It seems pretty obvious to me that frequency counters and radios are generally used together, so it’s really kind of surprising that so few people have thought to blend the two.
  • Durability. I drop things. Public safety radios get it ten times worse. You’ll read stories about people dropping their high-end Motorola radios into the ocean, or someone dropping it and then backing over it in the fire truck. And they pick it up, dust it off, and realize it sustained almost no damage. There seems to be more of a focus on making things cheap than on making them durable these days, though. But we want durability! At the very least, I should be able to stand on top of the machines at work and drop your radio eight feet (or so) onto the concrete floor and just have to put the battery back on.
  • Scratch-resistance. Especially the LCD. For some reasons radios don’t seem to scratch as bad as cell phones and iPods, maybe because not many people put their radio in a pocket with their keys. But a lot of watches have faces made out of things like sapphire or crystal that are basically impossible to scratch. I’m sure this adds to the cost (watches like this aren’t exactly cheap), but I also bet much of that stuff could be grown in a lab. People do care when it’s for a wedding ring, but I’m pretty certain no one cares when it’s for a radio display covering.
  • Intuitive controls. I shouldn’t have to press ‘shift’ and then something else to perform basic functions. When it’s -10 out and my hands are almost numb, I should still be able to operate the radio. (And when I wise up and put gloves on, I should still be able to use it.)
  • Wide frequency range. I’d be interested in working the 6-meter ham band (50-54 MHz), the 2-meter ham band (144-148 MHz), VHF ‘commercial’ (136-174), the 220 MHz ham band, the 70 centimeter ham band (420-450 MHz), the enormous UHF commercial split (403-520 MHz), the 700-800 MHz public safety band, and the 900 MHz ham band. If I were to cover all of these, I’d probably need eleven radios. My little VX-2, smaller than a deck of cards, will happily receive all of them. There’s been one commercial radio that would let you transmit on more than one ham band, and that was discontinued a long time ago. (Many ham radios support several bands.)
  • Simple programming. I like FPP (front-panel programmable) radios, but there are legal issues on commercial radios that usually prevent this. It’s also handy to be able to program radios on a computer, especially if you have a lot of channels or want to program a lot of radios the same way. (Aside: why can’t radios share data over the air? There could be an ‘over-the-air cloning’ mode that uses something like spread spectrum to avoid interference, which could make programming a fleet of radios much easier.) And it’s also neat to share frequencies with other radio users. As far as the computer programming, though…
    • The interface has to be intuitive. Motorola’s RSS, somewhat of a standard (until their Windows-based CPS replaced it), is probably the least intuitive piece of software I’ve ever used. Programming the ASTRO Saber, I had a huge sheet of paper. On one screen, I’d input a “personality,” which was the frequency for a given channel. Then I’d have to map that personality into a zone, hence the big sheet of paper keeping track of what went there.
    • The software should be free, or at least included with the radio. (It should really be open-source, in my opinion, so people can enhance it.)
    • Programming should be quick. USB 2 allows 480 Mbps. Why are people still designing connectors that use serial ports? The last few computers I’ve owned haven’t even had a serial port. Not only is it obscure, but it’s so slow!
    • As long as the device is Linux-based, why not just have an /etc/channels.xml file or something? Using an open standard like XML, and making it just a file that anything can read/write over USB, would make programming ten times easier.
  • GPS. Ham radio has APRS. And frankly, I’m very surprised that there’s no public safety equivalent, especially as they all go digital. (Random aside: LTR trunking uses “subaudible data” to pass the relevant control information: they pass the data in the ‘audio’ range outside of human hearing, so it’s there as part of a signal but not reproduce as audio, so it’s basically ‘hidden’ in the analog voice signal. This is ingenious. In the 20 years or so since that began, I’m surprised that no one has ever thought to embed PTT-ID/ANI (e.g., a way of identifying which radio is which) data that way. And now you could embed GPS coordinates that way… But I’ve still never heard of it even being attempted.)
  • Tones and a vibrate function. Cheap “bubble-pack” radios have a “call” function that transmits a ringing sound. It’s actually very useful at work for getting one’s attention. High-end radios have things like “Private Call” that send a digital signal to a particular radio telling them to sound a bell to get the user’s attention. This is also handy. A vibrate function on phones is common for quiet areas but many will agree that the vibrate feature is actually most useful in very loud areas where you’ll rarely even hear your phone ring. I want the same on a radio.
  • Remote control. This isn’t useful for individuals, but is actually fairly common already in fleets of radios. Some existing uses:
    • Motorola’s OTACS: Over-The-Air Channel Steering. You could want all the firefighters at a given call to switch over to a fireground channel. Why not let the firefighters tend to the fire instead of their radios, and just send their radios a command to switch over?
    • OTAR: You can push out a new encryption key to all the radios in a fleet. (As inherently insecure as this sounded at first, it’s actually a complex process that’s incredibly secure.) This is important since, in a really secure setup, the key should be rotated every few days. It’s not practical to pull in all the radios for reprogramming every few days.
    • Remote inhibit. When a radio goes missing, dispatch can send an inhibit/stun command, which basically renders the radio a brick: a brick that silently keeps listening for an uninhibit/restore command. This means that if someone steals a radio, and it’s detected, they won’t be able to monitor you, much less interfere.
    • Remote transmit. Usually in response to an officer transmitting an emergency call or just not responding. Dispatch can send a command to the radio instructing it to begin transmitting audio, so they can hear what’s going on.
    • General reprogramming: I’ve never heard of this! It could be extraordinarily useful, though!
    • This whole thing needs to be encrypted/authenticated. The current implementations are not, which means that anyone with access to a dispatch console (rare, but they show up on eBay periodically) could, say, start sending inhibit commands to radios in the field. This could be really, really bad if it ever fell into nefarious hands.
  • A clock. Just a simple clock shown on the radio. (For bonus points, the radio should be capable of receiving the time over the air anyway from various atomic clocks, so you could have a very accurate clock if you were willing to take the time to program it.)
  • RSSI: I want to be able to see how strong the received signal is. Almost all ham radios do this. Very few commercial radios do. (RSSI stands for “Received Signal Strength Indicator.” Hams generally call it an S-Meter.)
  • Text messaging. A lot of departments will give their officers pagers, too, to send supplemental information. Why not just do it over the air in text form? Some of the newest Motorola radios support this, actually.

Ham Radios

For many, many years the ham radio to have was Icom’s 781. (I think it actually cost a bit less, but there was a saying, “Just add a zero to it and you have the price.”) Among the hardcore contesters, it was sort of like Photoshop: incredibly expensive, and yet ubiquitous.

The 781 is no more, and has been replaced by something even more incredible: the Icom 7800. (“Just add a zero” indeed.) They’re selling for a little over $10,000, and they’re apparently selling well, too. Besides an amazing LCD, it mostly boasts technical improvements: a non-ham probably won’t be interested in knowing that it has a +40dBm Third-order Intercept Point, for example.

They’re not one of the “big 3” manufacturers, but TenTec has nonetheless been a pretty popular radio manufacturer over the years. (Especially with those who don’t have $10,000 to spend on a radio.) Enter the TenTec Omni VII, which jumps on the big LCD bandwagon, apparently boasts incredible performance in tests, and finally brings a new concept to ham radio: it has an Ethernet port. You can control it from a computer remotely. Computer-controlled rigs aren’t new, but until very recently they were kludgy serial-port based ones, meant to let you use a computer-based logging program to query the frequency, or to let the computer tune the radio for you. Routing audio (including transmit audio!) over Ethernet, and allowing (apparently) full control remotely is something that no other radio on the market can do, or even come close to.

Of course, Yaesu has entered into the fray, with their line of ‘luxury rigs,’ such as the FTDX9000D (that’s a mouthful) with the obligatory big LCD. (Yaesu’s been a little less eager to throw huge LCDs into all of its radios, though.)

Of course, a great HF rig can still be had for under $1,000… But now you have the opportunity to spend an order of magnitude more.

Aircraft Enhanced SSB

As much as I respect the “old way” of ham radio, I’m continually amazed at the new developments, and just plain interesting things people come up with.

Australian ham VK2DJG posted about Aircraft Enhanced SSB: bouncing VHF radio signals off of airplanes. It’s sort of like the way most long-distance ham contacts are made, via sky waves, except that they’re reflecting their signals not off of the ionosphere, but off of airplanes. It looks like they’ve had good success with the mode, too.

Ham Radio

I ended up making some progress in the General Class study manual, and also spent some more time on the radio. I spent some time on 6 Meters (the only ham band that I have permission to use which really stands a shot at DX (long-distance) communications). I could hear some great stuff, including a strong signal from Illinois (1,000+ miles), North Carolina, and, oh, New Hampshire. The Illinois station practically had a pileup going; I tried to get through, but realized that all we have is a vertical antenna tuned for a different part of the band, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t get through.

I then did some listening down on 17 and 20 Meters. On 17 Meters, I found a nice strong signal coming from Arizona. He was working some people out my way, and I probably could have worked him, if only I were licensed to transmit on the HF bands.

But then, I dropped down to the magical world of 20 Meters, and listened to an a station in the Virgin Islands. Not only could I hear him, but he was S9. (Very, very strong.) Off our vertical antenna. (As opposed to a high-gain directional antenna.) Even more impressive, I was able to hear, at S7, a station in Northern California working him.

Have I mentioned that I really want to upgrade my license to be able to work these guys?

Unusual Radio

One of the things I like about ham radio is that there’s something for everyone. You can go for contesting, where the real pros will be be working 300+ stations an hour, working on contacting every region in the contest for maximum points. You can sit around and chat with your friends across the country for hours on end. You can interface your radio with a computer and use one of several digital technologies (an area with lots of innovation.) You can work through satellites. You can transmit images.

But there are some neat ones out there. The lowest-frequency ‘official’ ham band is 160 Meters, or 1800-2000 kHz. (Slightly above the AM broadcast band.) But it turns out there’s a 1750 Meter band, down around 175 kHz (0.175 MHz). It’s an unlicensed band, and is classified as “Very Low Frequency.” (VLF aficionados are often termed lowfers.) For the heck of it, I tuned down there (I wasn’t really sure if I could tune that low, actually). All I got was lots of localized noise, but it turns out that there’s a hobby called NBD DXing, or hunting down far-away beacon stations. (This isn’t strictly ham radio as much as a radio-listening hobby outside the ham bands, but still…)

Here’s a fun one: QRSS. It’s basically very low-speed Morse code, but part of the appeal is that it takes only a couple Hertz bandwidth. (Voice signals tend to take in the neighborhood 20 kHz, or 20,000 Hz, of bandwidth.) This also allows for very fine-tuned filters, permitting the signal to be picked out of very strong interference. The concept is really pretty bizarre, I have to admit.

Based on that work, someone developed DFCW. It’s a twist on Morse code where, rather than having dits (short / “dots”) and dahs (long / “dashes”), you have one length (dits), but you use two different tones, speeding up transmission. (Of course, “speeding up” refers to speeding up something described as extreme slowspeed, so it’s still slow.) It’d be interesting to see if this ever becomes used in lieu of ‘normal’ Morse code.

And then there’s Jason, a “keyboard-to-keyboard” digital mode which is designed to use under 5Hz bandwidth. Like the other bizarre slow-speed modes, this one is predominantly used on VLF.

So after taking the radio down practically as low as it would go, I started turning around the VHF frequencies, where more common, local FM communications take place. Even though we have some great lists of repeaters, it’s fun to just tune around the band sometimes. I stumbled across a repeater I never knew existed, where I caught the end of a QSO about fire towers. Much like some of the other stuff I’ve mentioned, it’s not strictly ham-related, but it was pretty interesting. There are apparently still a bunch used in Massachusetts. Mixing what I heard and what I found on Wikipedia, it’s actually pretty interesting. They usually cover huge areas (hundreds of square miles), watching for fires during the ‘fire seasons.’ When they observe smoke, they’ll obtain a bearing and can approximate distance. But the way they’re really meant to work is that a couple different fire towers will observe the same thing, and they can triangulate, with pretty good accuracy, the exact location, and have the fire crew dispatched. I thought they were a thing of the past. If they’re not busy, they’ll often welcome visitors; some even keep a guestbook.

Oh, and software-defined radio is an emerging trend in ham radio, too.

I’ve got to upgrade my license!