Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tinkering & Innovation

About this time a year ago I wrote about the same thing. I pointed out that you cannot sit back and expect the big ham manufactures to come out with new technologies. As that is what we are supposed to be doing.

John Hays, K7VE was recently interviewed by Computer World magazine. The article has a good theme on Reviving innovation in the hobby.

Reviving innovation

Decades ago, amateur radio operators were on the forefront of scores of technological innovations, including television, digital communications, solid-state design and cellular networks. The hobby's roots trace back to radio pioneers such as Guglielmo Marconi and FM-inventor Edwin Armstrong.

But in recent years, as many potential new hams were attracted to computers, the Internet and other technologies that they could explore without passing a licensing exam, some veteran hams worried that ham radio was at risk of gradually sliding into stagnation and was perhaps even on the road toward technological irrelevance. Over time, many old-timers worried, experimenters would gradually be replaced by hams more focused on the hobby's operational aspects, such as restoring antique radios and providing communications services for community parades and other charity events.

Other hams, however, believed that the hobby was actually entering a new era of innovation, one driven by the same type of people lured away from ham radio by advancing digital technologies. They reasoned that a streamlined licensing system, capped by the FCC's elimination of Morse code testing two years ago, would, over time, revitalize the hobby. This would happen by attracting technically skilled innovators who were interested in more than merely tapping a telegraph key.

Whatever the reason, a budding corps of innovators is now working to restore at least some of ham radio's past glory, focusing on projects ranging from satellite construction to power-line communications to testing long-range Wi-Fi links. "Ham radio provides the broadest and most powerful wireless communications capability available to any private citizen anywhere in the world," says Allen Pitts, a spokesman for the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), a national association of ham radio operators based in Newington, Conn.

And along the same lines the Wall Street Journal just had an article on how Tinkering is making a comeback amid the economic crisis.

Occupying a space somewhere between shop class and the computer lab, the new tinkerers are making everything from devices that Twitter how much beer is left in a keg to robots that assist doctors. The experimentation is even creating companies. With innovation a prime factor in driving economic growth, and corporate research and development spending tepid, the marriage of brains and brawn offers one hopeful glimmer.

Engineering schools across the country report students are showing an enthusiasm for hands-on work that hasn't been seen in years. Workshops for people to share tools and ideas -- called "hackerspaces" -- are popping up all over the country; there are 124 hackerspaces in the U.S., according to a member-run group that keeps track, up from a handful at the start of last year. SparkFun Electronics Inc., which sells electronic parts to tinkerers, expects sales of about $10 million this year, up from $6 million in 2008. "Make" magazine, with articles on building items such as solar hot tubs and autopilots for robots, has grown from 22,000 subscribers in 2005 to more than 100,000 now. Its annual "Maker Faire" in San Mateo, Calif., attracted 75,000 people this year.

Amateur radio operators find themselves hooked on do-it-yourself technology

Minikiewicz said through the years, his interest in the hobby has been centered on the keen sense of accomplishment one gets out of building a radio from the tubes up that allows the builder to travel -- through radio -- to distant places.

"That's that whole other element," he said. "You're accomplishing something on your own. You're not just plugging it up."

1 comment:

P. Moratto said...

Hi Stephen:
While web surfing, I ran across your discussion of 902MHz commercial gear that lends itself to ham radio.
You also delve into a related topic here, so you might get something out of a couple of posts I put on eHam.net many years ago.

"902mhz Trunking"
by KC5JK on March 8, 2002
I was among the first to pioneer the new 33-39cm WARC band when it opened, about fifteen years years ago. KC5CW wrote a great article for an industry magazine, sadly missed by the ham radio fraternity, in which he described the new Japanese personal radio communications service.
The Europeans looked at the debacle of American CB, and went FM with theirs, but the Japanese created the ultimate CB, on SHF. Theirs incorporates ATIS (auto transmit ID) and the trunking concept to automatically QSY off the call channel to a clear talk channel (and QSY again to avoid QRM, as needed).

The JPRCS gear lends itself perfectly to the American amateur service, where the same 902-928 band is allocated to us. Kenwood even wanted to introduce the technology to hams here, and asked to demostrate it to SCRBBA, the coordinating committee in L.A. that endorses sub-band assignments in that band. But SCRBBA is dominated by ATV special interests, and their door is closed to Kenwood and everyone else not part of their little clique.
Kenwood then introduced the technology on other ham bands, with their models TM2530 TM3530 etc. But few hams took notice. So we are on our own, on 902. I operate according to a band plan openly published in 73 magazine about fifteen years ago, and it accomodates the 904 MHz frequencies used by the JPRCS equipment for FM voice communications. It is the only "published" band plan that I have seen. If SCRBBA's doors are closed to us, then we can hardly be expected to recognize or abide by their illegitimate "members-only" band plan.

When 806-896 trunking was introduced, I immediately thought it would be great for 902, but strip line RF circuitry can be a challenge in moving radios to another band.
I'm sure once the radios are made workable at 902, they can easily be programmed for the JPRCS channels or any others, and should be compatible.
73, Paul @ KC5JK.com www.KC5JK.com

"W9JCM Re: Death of 902mhz"
by KC5JK on March 9, 2002
Yes, it is a shame that we are squandering a great new band due to lack of interest and apparent lack of ready-to-use equipment.
What the so-called ham "leadership," including clubs, magazines and others are failing to tell the fraternity is that Japanese CBers are already way ahead of us on SHF. They've got the ultimate CB, which addresses and solves every problem the FCC gave up on here. ATIS (auto transmit ID), 180 trunked channels (auto QSY off the call channel to a clear talk channel, and again as needed to avoid QRM), SHF eliminates skip, FM eliminates heterodynes... You name it, they've done it.
What's more, every Japanese ham manufacturer, as well as stereo makers and others, build this gear. Kenwood wanted to introduce a version of the JPRCS chassis as a modern high-tech 902MHz ham rig, except that SCRBBA (the ATV band coordinating committee in L.A.) refused to let their representative (or any of us "outsiders") into their closed-door session, where they secretly devised an irrelevant band plan suitable only to their elite ATV special interest members.
So Kenwood applied some of the JPRCS technology to simplex/duplex radios on other ham bands (examples, TM2530, TM3530 etc). Few of us took notice. Unlike CBers in Japan, American hams just aren't ready for it yet.
So, fifteen years after we got our new WARC band, we are still on our own. The JPRCS channels my Sansui trunked rigs operate on are within the W4 band plan published openly in 73 many years ago. NCG Company of Anaheim, Ca also introduced a simplex rig that works on these channels, but the trunking concept is what hams really need to warm up to on this band.