Sunday, December 6, 2009

Amateur Radio and Linux

One of my favorite magazines Linux Journal, also has a few articles in their January 2010 magazine.

Back in April 2007 on the Texas A&M University Amateur Radio 802.11 Mailing List I made some comments that hams of the past were perhaps one of the earliest adopters of the open source way of doing things. This was spawned from some discussion with another local ham, who happens to be one of my elmers.

Leaders in the ham radio arena who are to busy beating their own chests touting things like they are the "national association for amateur radio."

These so called leaders need to suggest/ lay some general concepts to steer the hobby to the future, or perhaps they have a lack of approach. If I read one more thing about contesting or a home-made keyer, or restoring a boat anchor I'll probably puke. Instead put that in a specialty magazine, and focus on spreading the importance of the open source concepts in the ham radio arena in your monthly distributed membership magazine. Focus on promoting the "right ideas" in that precious well distributed rag. I don't see much of this steering, just a bunch of nostalgic crap. Ham radio needs to promote exciting things and new technology to entice people to the hobby or drag people out of the wood work. Retired people will find their way into the hobby on their own, to re-live the past.. In my opinion, we don't need to have oodles of crap for these people, they will come on their own and that's fine.

Ham radio needs to promote exciting things and new technology to entice people to the hobby or drag people out of the wood work. IRLP is a good recent example. It can take that "magic of HF", and make it portable, as in HT portable. This day in age, a big old HF rig, isn't cool, nor usually an option for most renters or apartment dwellers.

Packet in the 80's & early 90's was enticing, because it was at competing speeds to the internet that was in it's public infancy at that time. The autopatch in the 90's was enticing as cellphone were not yet main steam. Both of these examples happen to fall about the time of the no-code license became available. But many seem to attribute the in-rush of hams in the 90's due to the no-code license scheme revision. That went hand in hand with the these exciting technological things, it was not solely due to the new entry class. If there is nothing "cool," I'd bet you'd have a hard time giving a license away... and that does not insure they will use it! People actually bucked down and learned code, even if they hated it... ask yourself why. It's probably because there was an aspect of the hobby they perceived
as cool/interesting at the end of the rainbow.

New and interesting things in ham radio generally means encouraging experimentation. As experimentation is what brings new modes, and discoveries to the hobby. Not everyone will partake in that experimentation, but if there is a new discovery from those who do, everyone can later "play" with it, when it catches on. Open source, open information, encourages this experimentation

Hams or the past were perhaps one of the earliest adopters of the open source way of doing things.

We acknowledged this was done out of necessity - radio stuff was expensive and out of the reach of a lot of hams. So they invented newer and mostly cheaper ways of doing things. They also came up with better ways of doing things because somebody else would see that idea in print and improve upon it. Of course the technology was rather rudimentary, and there was little way to go but up at that point in radio technology calendar.

We also felt this is not so much the case anymore.

The current demographic of hams is skewed toward old. These people seem to be in either one of two camps. First is the retired person who has "made his fortune" (or at least is reasonably well off financially) and is not worried about inventing ways to do something on the cheap. They just buy an appliance and go from there.

The second group is middle aged and sees ham radio as not only a hobby, but a way to make some bucks. These are the guys that have an economic interest in closed source. They file part numbers off of chips, they cover circuitry in epoxy, and delude themselves into thinking that they will make a nice future retirement income from that "magic" CW keyer that they designed.

They don't do ham radio for the altruistic reasons (although some may have started out that way), it is money for them.

It seems to us that any change in the hobby needs to be political/philosophical. That means a change in leadership of the ARRL as they are the most prominent force in the hobby. This has got to be a grass-roots movement and it needs to start ASAP. The hobby will be gone and replaced by a "Citizen Communication Corps" if nothing is done.

In this Linux Journal issue one of the articles is titled along with some of the same thoughts. "When All Else Fails—Amateur Radio, the Original Open-Source Project"

What most people tend not to think about is the open-source nature of Amateur Radio. While operators most often are seen working in emergency situations, many of the modern conveniences we have today—cell phones, satellites, wireless devices— were developed and tested by radio amateurs.

On page 46 "An Amateur Radio Survival Guide for Linux Users - A getting-started guide for Linux users looking to venture into the world of Amateur Radio" by Dan Smith. This is an overview of common amateur radio activities with information on how to participate using a Linux system and free software.

On Page 50 you will find information on Xastir. An Open Source Client for the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS). Subtitled "Plotting Mars Rover locations on a detailed map, easily done with Linux? You Bet! By Curt Mills, Steve Stroh and Lara Mills.

Starting on page 56 of this issue, an article titled "Rolling Your Own With Digital Amateur Radio" by Gary Robinson. He points out that Amateur Radio and open source are a heavenly match.

Amateur Radio operators are generally free-thinking individualists who don’t mind getting their hands dirty to get something done right. Many of us do not think twice about buying a brand-new radio for hundreds or even thousands of dollars and popping the lid on it to see if we can modify it to make it better. You do not have to look hard to find myriad articles on how to modify different pieces of Amateur Radio equipment. So, it is not surprising that we might feel the same way about the software we use.

Open-source software and Amateur Radio are a natural fit. Few operators ever would buy a piece of radio gear if it came with a license that said they could not modify it, and it’s natural to see why a lot of us navigate toward open source in general and Linux in particular.

I encourage you to pick up this copy at the newsstand if you are not a subscriber