Monday, November 1, 2010
Somewhere, out there on the Internet, is a stupid family. Quelle surprise, non? Tell us something we don't know, you say. But this is no ordinary stupid family.
Many years ago (back when the Internet was powered by steam engines which ran on barrels of kerosene) I signed up for a Yahoo account. I chose my username based on a nickname given to me by a friend, and one I had used for my circa 1996 "homepage" which was a sophomoric collection of links, graphics, and sounds used to stake my claim to a corner of the nascent Internet. Unfortunately my Yahoo username happens to be the last name of a stupid family. I'll refer to them as "The Stupids".
A few years later I started getting junk mail at my Yahoo address from a variety of sources; car dealerships, online car broker services, etc. Apparently the Mama Stupid wanted to buy a new car, and had given my Yahoo address as hers. The emails had a lot of information about Mama Stupid; her name, street address, phone, etc. The amount of junk mail became painful, over a dozen messages a day; I had to activate a filter in Yahoo Mail to look for keywords and dump them straight to Trash. 10 years later, if I look in my Yahoo Mail trash folder, there are still car dealerships trying to contact Mama Stupid.
Papa Stupid has done likewise. I've received over the years email from online shopping, stock brokers, get-rich-quick scammers, insurance brokers, magazine publishers, requests for donations, links to photos of newly-arrived Baby Stupid. Again; I get a LOT of personal info on the Stupids from this. A while back Mama Stupid decided she needed some spice in her life, so she signed up for an online casual fling hook-up service. (I'm not kidding.) She (I) started getting email from middle-aged men looking for some "Afternoon Delight", complete with photos intended to "sell the product" if you get my meaning. Icanhazeyebleach?
In many cases I get requests to confirm my address for an account on whatever system the Stupids have tried to sign up for, I can then reset the password and basically do as I please. Most of the time I change the password and then close the account.
I've watched the Stupids build a family. Their son (Stupid Junior) started out years ago using my Yahoo address as his "parental permission" email to sign up for online games. As time's gone on I've watched his game interests evolve into more mature themes. Once he hits puberty I fully expect a lot of porn site account confirmation emails. Their oldest daughter Missy Stupid just went to college in Florida. I got some pictures from Disneyworld. She looks happy.
You can imagine the amount of spam I receive because of the Stupids. I've given up using Yahoo for email, simply because 99% of what I get is spam caused by the Stupids inability to figure out that firstname.lastname@example.org doesn't automatically route to their house. I've been tempted to close the account, but in some bizarre way I feel like I need to continue. What will happen next? Will Papa Stupid have a midlife crisis and go looking for a red sports car? Will Missy Stupid get knocked up and have to come home from college? It's like my own private soap opera.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This year's event was well-attended. There were some great presentations, I got a chance to see some folks I don't often see, and I was given the chance to speak twice; including delivering the final keynote on Sunday.
I promised several people that I would post my presentations, so here they are:
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Later in the day Cult Of Mac offered up some comments on Ruben and the iPhone antenna issue from my former schoolmate and Tropian co-founder Earl (mistakenly named "Ed" in the article) McCune. Blogs such as Huff Post, Engadget, etc have also picked up on the story. I also note with great dismay that New York Senator "Chuckles" Schumer has decided to make Apple's business his own. Doesn't he have better things to do, like spending more of our tax dollars and worrying about getting re-elected? I digress...
I feel bad for Ruben that his "15 minutes of fame" will likely bring him a great deal of unwanted attention. Ruben's a great engineer who doesn't deserve to have a double-barreled "Wrath of Jobs" pointed at his nose. I really hope that Apple doesn't scapegoat him on this. Ruben's the kind of guy who would spoken up if he saw a problem, and in doing so unfortunately may wind up taking a fall to cover up the idiocy of an over-zealous marketing department which placed too much faith in their industrial designers and too little in the wisdom of their RF engineers.
I had a similar experience at Verifone in 1998 prior to joining Tropian. We were in the process of starting to build their Omni 3000-series handheld payment terminals. The marketing director and the lead industrial designer were having themselves a little bromance, which resulted in the marketing director taking everything the industrial designer said as the Word of God -- including his insistence that the Omni 3000 needed to not have an external antenna. At the time, mass-production printed antennas were still laboratory experiments and about four years from being commercially viable. ID insisted that the device could not have any case protrusions, and my insistence that this would be impossible in production fell on deaf ears. It's worth noting that the Omni 3750 launched in 2004 -- two years after printed antennas became commercially viable and six years after I told them they were smoking bananas.
I wish Ruben the best and hope he comes out of this unscathed. As for Apple: I've been saying for years that it was just a matter of time before they transmuted their success into hubris and ultimately failure. It's sad when marketing idealism runs headlong into the brick-wall of physics. It's tragic when good people get hurt by the shrapnel of that collision.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Lame Encounters of the First Kind: The offers for Xfinity broadband on their website are targeted at existing Comcast customers. Prices for new customers are not shown.
Lame Encounters of the Second Kind: Calling their sales department I was forced to "Press 1 for..." repeatedly because the IVR kept trying to determine my non-existent Comcast account.
Lame Encounters of the Third Kind: After getting through to a human (Paula Perky, Sr. Manager, Comcast Chirpiness Dept.) I was informed that there are NO new customer incentives at this time, unless I want to sign up for a "bundle" of broadband plus TV and/or phone. I'm not interested in their cable TV or phone services; just broadband. And so apparently that makes me El Douchbago Numero Uno to their marketing department. No amount of cajoling was able to extract anything from Paula, who cheerfully told me that they'd love to have me as a new customer at full price.
The prospect of once again dealing with these clowns gives me a case of the hives. If they're this screwed up when trying to get me as a new customer, I can only imagine how bad will it be once I'm under contract with them. I'm sitting here asking myself: Do I really need faster broadband?
in reference to: Welcome to XFINITY | TV & Movies | Internet | Voice | Choice and Control | Subscriber Extras | Buy Online (view on Google Sidewiki)
Monday, May 17, 2010
The value of Qik is that (like Kyte on the iPhone and Nokia platforms) videos recorded with Qik are instantly uploaded to my Qik channel. YouTube requires large videos be uploaded over the Droid's Wi-Fi connection. (I don't understand why they do this, but it's probably some sub rosa agreement between Google and Verizon to help reduce mobile network load.)
While recording at Hamvention I found Qik to be balky and unreliable. I lost a few videos because halfway through the recording Qik would stop itself without warning. For short videos it worked OK, but the longer the video the more likely it was to glitch. Furthermore; on more than one occasion Qik just died completely and I was forced to reboot the Droid.
I like the idea of immediate video posting, and hope that Qik will resolve these issues. Unfortunately until they do so I can't risk using it except for videos which I don't really care about.
in reference to: Qik | Record and share video live from your mobile phone (view on Google Sidewiki)
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Dayton itself is best described as sub-rural (as opposed to sub-urban) and spread out. It reminds me of areas I've been in Eastern Tennessee.
Hara Arena, the traditional site of the Dayton Hamvention, is...interesting. It's a very outdated facility with old linoleum walls, water-damaged ceiling tiles, and a smell of age. I wonder really how much use it gets outside of Hamvention, because apparently Sierra Radio Systems had the same booth last year (#406) and a plug-strip they accidentally left behind was still here. I've worked a lot of tradeshows in a lot of places, but this is the most unusual.
Staying at a hotel downtown. Nice enough, but they rented the adjoining room to a bunch of teenagers. I had to call hotel security at 12:15am to complain, and an hour later they're still making a ton of noise. So much for their much-touted "Executive Floor". Management and I will be having a chat tomorrow morning.
Strange Sightings: They have a bank here called "Fifth Third Bank" -- we're not sure what that means.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
This isn't the first time that Gawker Media has crossed the line from "aggressive journalism" into douchebaggery; in 2008 Gawker published screenshots of Sarah Palin's email after her Yahoo account was hacked.
Posted in reference to: Lost iPhone prototype spurs police probe | Apple - CNET News (view on Google Sidewiki)
I'll have more to say in future posts about why we made this change, but for today I'm focusing on the ongoing lameness that is Skype Mobile. You'll recall that I wrote last month about how Skype Mobile's privacy features are sorely lacking because it doesn't allow you to block IM from people not in your contact list. It also doesn't offer you the ability to report abuse via the mobile client.
During the switch from Blackberry to Android I'd hoped that these limitations would prove to be a limitation of the Blackberry client, but alas the lameness extends to the Android client as well. Queries to Skype support have proven fruitless; they basically have said "Skype Mobile doesn't filter non-contact IMs. Thanks for using Skype Mobile." This needs to get fixed. I'm going to launch a Twitter campaign against @SkypeMobile to put pressure on them; if you're interested in lending your voice then follow @W6DTW.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The ARRL reported yesterday that, in a shining example of government inefficiency, the FCC intends to lower fees for amateur vanity call signs by one penny per year. Honey! Come here and see this! Looks like we'll be able to afford that yacht after all!
In fairness the lowering of the vanity call sign fee is in the context of an overall fee restructuring across most if not all communications services including TV, commericial radio, etc. That being said the FCC's process for dealing with Notices of Proposed Rulemaking is that there will be a period in which the public may file comments. I can guarantee you that there will be at least a few comments filed by amateurs who feel compelled to pontificate on this matter, and by doing so will generate work for the FCC who has to compile, read, and consider comments on NPRMs.
The smarter thing to do would have been to simply leave the vanity call fee structure alone and not draw attention. And the cost of vanity call signs just recently increased, so why now a decrease? Is all this churn worth the effort and expense? It's like the US Postal Service raising stamp prices by two cents every year or so; the cumulative cost of publicizing each change, changing signs at the Post Office, reprinting documents, modifying the website, reprogramming the stamp dispensers, etc is more than the revenue generated by the price increase.
Seems like there are better ways for the government to spend my taxes. Like, I dunno... Lowering my taxes?
Thursday, April 8, 2010
For a long time I have been allowing free posting of comments. Unfortunately I have seen an increasing frequency of spam comments to my posts. These appear innocuous enough on the surface, usually saying something like "Thank u..." Invisibly contained within the comment is a long list of web URLs to porn sites. I have to manually delete these, and it's officially become annoying as of this evening.
The change is fairly innocuous; anyone coming from outside Google will have to complete a "captcha" by verifying a couple of words.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I sometimes like to joke that RadioShack was my first consulting client, but there's an element of truth to that. In 4th grade every day after school I would walk over to my local RadioShack (on the corner of W Chapman Ave and Haster St in Anaheim) to spend an hour or more looking at their CB radios and other things I couldn't begin to afford. The store manager finally got tired of wiping my fingerprints off his display cases and offered me a job delivering catalogs to the local neighborhood; paying me in store credit. After a strenuous week and a couple of spills on my bicycle (the catalogs were a lot heavier than the newspapers I was used to delivering) I was able to afford a real walkie-talkie; not one of those 100 mW Channel 14 toys I'd received for Christmas the year before but a REAL radio with channels and meaningful output power. I didn't stop hanging around the RadioShack (because there were always more catalogs to deliver) but I felt like I was part of the store family.
Within a couple of years I'd moved away to New Jersey to live with my father and there wasn't a RadioShack close by, but the school I attended had a fairly good electronics club and a computer lab with punch-card programmable calculators and (of all things) a DEC PDP-8. By the time I returned to California in 1979 I'd become fairly proficient at programming, and there was a RadioShack at the mall on my way home from school selling the newly-released TRS-80 Model II. I would sit there every day, read the BASIC language manual, and try to modify the looping demo program so it would display my name, personalized messages, etc. The manager got annoyed one day when a friend of mine decided it would be funny to write something R-rated, and I was not welcome in the store for a while. Then one day I saw him looking around the mall, turns out he was looking for me. He said that he wanted to customize the TRS-80/II's demo program to promote some store sales, and wanted me to do that for him. He offered to pay me in (of course) store credit. My second consulting gig for The Shack lasted only a short time, but for the second time in my life I was part of a store family.
The rapid changes in technology which came in the years following had a dramatic effect on RadioShack. In 1985/86 despite a store being closer to our Coast Guard base I was driving an additional 30 minutes one-way to places like Electronics Plus in San Rafael to buy parts for custom designed circuits. This continued once I was back in civilian life; most of my time was spent in places like Quement, HSC/Halted, Santa Cruz Electronics, etc. It felt in a way like I was betraying my RadioShack "family" but as the complexity of my designs increased I simply could not buy what I needed from them.
Over the years I've remained hopeful that RadioShack will return to its roots and focus on the hobbyist/experimenter. A while back they updated their selection of components with the bin drawers, and I was very happy back in 2008 to see that they were actively supporting the San Mateo Maker Faire by both selling tickets and exhibiting product at the event. I had visions of being able to buy Arduino shields in a store and browse bins full of interesting I2C chips, but that never happened. It's ironic because you'd think RadioShack would be perfect to become the storefront for the Arduino/Maker circuit hacking movement, but its online stores like Adafruit and SparkFun that dominate. Even the "old school" electronic stores like Anchor Electronics are starting to carry circuit hacking accessories like connector breakout boards.
Yesterday I went to my local RadioShack looking for a solderless breadboard. I'd checked their website and it said that this particular store had some in stock, but the kid working there told me that they hadn't stocked such things in a couple of years. Frustrating, and also sad.
It will be a sad day if and when RadioShack is snarfed up by Best Buy. All things must change, I suppose. I could say that I'll miss my RadioShack "family" but the reality is that they've been gone for a long time now. Like the parent of a missing child I long for their return, or at least the knock of a policeman at my door who brings news so I can begin mourning and find closure.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Those of you considering installation of Skype Mobile for Blackberry should be aware that it doesn't offer the same level of privacy features you might expect.
Specifically; in the Skype desktop app you can set "Allow IMs from people in my Contact list only" but the mobile app does not offer this option, nor does it inherit your preference from the desktop app. I've started to receive spam IM on my Blackberry via Skype. Adding insult to injury; there is no way to add the spammer to your blocked senders list via the mobile app; you have to manually type the spammer's Skype ID into the desktop app.
To be fair; Yahoo IM for Blackberry has been out for years and it STILL does not have an "Only accept IMs from people on my Contact list" feature; but I expect so little from Yahoo this doesn't surprise me. I expected more from Skype.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Back in late 2007 I wrote about what I thought was the impending demise of the JT65A mode on HF. I'm happy to report that I was wrong thanks in large part to W4CQZ (formerly W6CQZ) who developed several key components for this mode; a reverse-beacon system, a web-based chat/sked page which displays reverse-beacon data in near real-time, and an application (appropriately named JT65-HF) which improves upon the original WSJT application written by K1JT.
Each component is interesting by itself, but combined together they have generated a lot of interest and attracted a whole new breed of very active JT65-HF users; with more coming on the air every day. In 2007 interest in the mode was primarily from the US and Japan. Contrast that with this morning when my reverse-beacon logged nine European stations; including two new ones which I happily logged. Looking at global activity via the PSKReporter map it's clear that Europe is actually more active on JT65-HF than any other regions. South Africa, a rarity in 2007, has become an almost daily presence in the reverse-beacon display. I spoke yesterday with a ham friend in Egypt and hope to see North Africa in my log very soon.
None of this comes without a price, of course. There are some vociferous contingents in the HF digital world who have appointed themselves arbiters of the band-plan and created a lot of conflicts by publishing "official" bandplans which direct multiple (and often incompatible) modes to the same sub-band as part of a strategy to protect "their" channels. The group in question is skilled in search-engine optimization which means that when looking for information about digital modes you're likely to find their info first and take it for granted that this is "the law". Unfortunately this has led to a lot of people directing criticism at the JT65-HF users and (bizarrely) at people like W4CQZ for "promoting inappropriate use". Factoid for any
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I'm on 80m right now listening to a Cuban station (CO8LY) on CW. The guy is doing well, about 15 wpm with a 9 wpm Farnsworth rate; just my speed. He's got a good fist and is managing the pileup well.
Three times in the past half hour I've heard guys come back to him at well over 25 wpm. He's patiently trying to confirm their calls, sending bits with a question mark at the end. It's clear that his max rx speed is around 9 wpm. And yet; these clowns won't slow down for the guy! It's like they're insisting that he match their speed. Unbelievable.
Why do CW ops do this? Slow down. It's not a race, not a competition. He who dies with the fastest key doesn't win. Give the kid a chance to learn and maybe in a few years you can work him at 30 wpm if that's what gets you off.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Recently I blogged about amateur radio's culture of exclusion; a post which generated a large amount of interest, new readers, and surprisingly little if any hate mail. Based on the blog post I doubt I'll be invited to join CWops or FOC, but the SOC has welcomed me with open arms and they're a fun bunch of folks.
One of the areas I touched on was how some modes such as RTTY tend to stay away from subbands used by older modes such as CW during contests. WW2PT pointed out a post by W2LJ which indicates that RTTY contester's self-enforced deference to CW may be ending.
It's clear that there is a schism within amateur radio's digital mode world between RTTY and basically everything else. Amateur radio's so-called digimodes (PSK31, Olivia MFSK, etc) are almost always run at 50 watts or less. Some modes such as JT65 and WSPR (developed by K1JT ) are run around 20 watts. And CW (which is technically a digimode) has a large following of QRP operators who run CW using 5 watts or less.
Reason for these low power levels is that modulating/demodulating a radio signal using a digital signal processor allows the use of error-correcting techniques which results in what's termed "Coding Gain". Coding gain usually adds (depending on the code used) about 2 - 6 dB to the system gain. This means that a signal which is transmitted 50 watts into a vertical antenna (unity gain) is seen effectively as 75 - 200 watts by the receiver. Coding gains higher than 6 dB are possible. So digimode practitioners don't run "big power" because in digimodes you don't need much power to work the world.
Stack this up against RTTY where "big gun" stations running kilowatt amps into high-gain antennas are not unusual. While it's true that RTTY doesn't offer any coding gain I think that a kilowatt of power is a bit overkill. If all RTTY operators remained within the usual subbands there wouldn't be many issues. But the problem comes up during contests where the contesters spread out across the band and the other digimodes simply get wiped out; this includes QRP CW ops.
Lately there has been a resurgence of interest in WSJT modes; probably due in part to the excellent work done by W6CQZ in providing a reverse-beacon system, chat/sked system, and building upon K1JT's original software to create a new and improved application. Yet with this new interest there have been a disturbing trend of late where people have been applying an RTTY approach to WSJT modes and wiping everyone out in the process. For example; there's one guy who's just across the valley from me that's creating all sorts of havoc by (1) running big power (his QRZ vanity photo clearly shows his amps), and (2) driving his system into ALC which heavily distorts his signal. And it's not just one guy; the other night I was getting overloaded by a guy in Colorado. How much power must he have been running to overload the front-end of my receiver from 1,000 miles away?
So why is this happening? Because many operators have forgotten a cardinal rule of amateur radio; use only as much power as you need to complete the contact. I've completed three JT65a QSOs to South Africa using 50 watts of power with no sunspots on a vertical antenna that most people consider mediocre at best. Big power in digimodes is simply not necessary. Running JT65a with a linear and a gain antenna is like shooting a mosquito with a bazooka.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
Throughout the history of amateur radio the introduction of new technologies has been hampered by a resistance against change; often stemming from the mistaken belief that the current state of technology is a pinnacle of achievement. Spark operators resisted the transition to CW, and then later CW ops opposed the introduction of phone. AM phone ops resisted the introduction of SSB phone, FM analog ops are currently up in arms about "intrusion" from P25 and D*Star, etc.
It's interesting how this exclusion of newer technology manifests itself; for example we see it in band-planning and informal agreements about who can use what spectrum for what purpose. The newer technology typically suffers at the hands of the old, until such time as the new technology has been around so long that it's accepted. The new technology, no longer really new, is then accepted as long as it causes no problems for the older technologies.
Consider RTTY contesting. Aside from CW and phone, RTTY is clearly the most popular mode for contesters. A quick scan of the bands will show; on any given weekend there is more likely than not to be an RTTY contest happening. Normally RTTY ops remain in the subbands generally accepted for their mode. But during contests they spread out across the non-phone bands, effectively shutting down other digital modes for 24-36 hours at a time. RTTY contesters will plant themselves right in the middle of the PSK, Olivia, JT65A, MFSK, Feld-Hell, etc subbands -- and we're expected to accept this because RTTY has been around for so many years. What's interesting is that there's one place the RTTY contesters won't intrude; and that's the CW subbands. So CW trumps RTTY, and RTTY trumps all the newer stuff. The same pattern is repeating itself as D*Star attempts to share VHF/UHF spectrum with analog FM. Systematic exclusion is hardly a way to encourage innovation.
Recently I posted "An example of why amateur radio is failing to attract young people". The title was, in hindsight, perhaps not entirely accurate. "Amateur radio" is simply a concept, an idea, a set of privileges created by FCC/IARU rules and as such can't attract -- or fail to attract -- anything or anyone. It is radio amateurs themselves who are failing to attract -- or actively repulsing away -- new amateurs; young or otherwise.
Some respondents to my post stated that they felt no responsibility to help "grow" the hobby; i.e. people either want to get licensed and will work to do so, or they don't and we're better off without them. I don't agree with this laissez faire approach, because interest in radio isn't coded into our genes at birth. Nearly all amateurs were inspired to get involved by other amateurs, by what hams call an "Elmer", and it's unlikely that someone will come into amateur radio without at least some kind of encouragement. Failing to recruit new hams is a form of exclusion, albeit somewhat passive-aggressive in nature.
Another type of exclusion is active discouragement. In many cases I think hams do this without realizing it. For instance; a while back a RACES/ARES member reached out, asking me to get involved with the local EmComm community. The criterion for certification was onerous; dues, classes, and significant hours of volunteerism. Struggling with declining membership and a need for new blood and energetic leadership; they don't recognize that they've erected barriers to entry which few people have the time or inclination to overcome. And so they will continue to struggle until they either wake up, or are forced to close up shop from lack of interest.
Even casual amateur clubs are prone to erecting barriers which create exclusion. Recently I was encouraged to join the CW Operators’ Club, a group dedicated to "Preserving The Unique Art Form Of Morse Code" -- on the surface a worthy goal. Then I read the process for becoming a member. "...to become a CWops member you must be nominated by a current member and sponsored by three other members who have worked [i.e. communicated with] you twice within the previous 12 months...Once you have your sponsors, there is a 30-day waiting period. Absent an objection, you will then receive a formal invitation to join..." Ummm... So let me get this straight; you're a club dedicated to preserving an increasingly anachronistic mode of communication and your membership strategy involves requiring the applicant to locate and befriend four existing CWops members, enduring a waiting period, and after all that someone can object to my membership?? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot... In all honesty; why would I join CWops? I can join a number of Facebook groups dedicated to CW operation NOW, FOR FREE, and I don't have to hunt for anyone to sponsor me. CWops has 427 members of which 7 are club officers; so they have about 420 more members than I would have expected. Want an example of a great CW club? Try out the Second Class Operator's Club. No membership criteria, no requirement that my CW speed be 25 wpm, just like-minded folks dedicated to having fun with radio.
Hams blame the decline of interest in amateur radio on the Internet, and to some extent this is probably true. Hams should (but often don't) understand the Internet and thus can't learn from its example. Take for example; Twitter. Four years ago Twitter didn't even exist; today it's one of the most popular social communication systems in world with an estimated 18 million users, projected to be 26 million by the end of 2010. It's argued that Obama's use of Twitter helped sway the outcome 2008 Presidential election. It was used to communicate in & out of Iran during the 2009 Free Iran protests, and the American Red Cross has adopted it as a viable method for disaster communications. Would Twitter have ever become so popular if Biz Stone had required new Twitter users to be nominated, locate sponsors, endure a waiting period, be able to type 60 wpm, etc? When will we realize that much of what we do in amateur radio is either explicitly or implicitly creating a culture of exclusion?