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Amateur Radio Appropriate Technology 30 - June - 2008

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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Surfin’: Got User Interface? by Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, ARRL Contributing Editor’s article speaks to a very important aspect of radio-operator interface and appropriate technology.

A contributor to his article says:

“I am as amazed as I am appalled at SDR for emergency, military, commercial, contest and general ham use. For some reason, the software has become the Holy Grail of the systems. High technology has completely over-shadowed the concept of appropriate technology. Two examples come to mind.

“First, there is the belief that anything and everything controlled by a mouse is, by default, the best and only way to go. Related to that is the notion that ‘seconds count’ in a contest where maximizing the number of contacts is paramount (we need not go into the inaccurate RST reporting system). Having said that, even a novice experimenter can see how it takes fewer actions, less time and fewer errors to have dedicated controls rather than going through a few menus, making the selection, hitting ‘enter,’ etc. And, of course this assumes that the computer never locks up. Have you ever seen or experienced what happens when a computer locks up during a heart catherization?!

“Second, there doesn’t seem to be much informed effort that goes into defining the requirements for the user interface. If you examine the interface for some (all?) of the SDRs, you’ll see that logically related functions are not necessarily grouped together on the screen like they are in a ‘conventional’ radio. Color coding is used for appearance not function. And, even at the individual control level, you’ll often observe that there is not only a lack of consistency for similar functions, the selection for the displayed format is not necessarily the best one.

“Hence, while SDR has made some technological improvements, the designers seem to lack the education, experience and interest in the area of (operator) usability.”

 

Ten Usability Heuristics by Jakob Nielsen Ph.D. are cited by Stan WA1LOU, and are part of a much larger useful website of Usability Theory & Practice.

Usability goes hand-in-hand with Appropriate Technology.  Appropriate Technology is one of those Zen-Like concepts that is easier to get a sense of, than define.

One questions whether it is Appropriate Technology to have 60 plus menu options, each with 2 to 12 deep layers of submenus on a HF/VHF rig intended to be run mobile?  Not only is the interface usability nearly impossible, but one of these rigs is nearly impossible to set up.  You’ll see the emerging tears of frustration if a master rig reset is needed, as the owner is faced with recreating the set-up with hundreds of steps.

Or rigs that out of the box need a massive set-up effort to work before any traffic can be carried.

Or basically closed nets/systems requiring a specific bit of Hardware or Software to operate – a hardware or software item that is an added expense, but might not even be available on a ready basis.

Or rigs temperature sensitive enough to have “fancy” displays that either won’t show, or work laggardly in temperature extremes?

Or QRO (High Power) orientated gear without QRP (low power) operational ability?

There are hundreds of Usability & Appropriate Technology issues facing an Amateur.  Some matter little if they come into play strictly in the hobby-sense, but when they overlap into rigs impossible to handle while mobile in motion on public roads, or unusable for Emergency/Emcom use without a setting-setup session that can run into hours of time, then it no longer the chosen foibles of the hobby.

Thoughts?

73

Steve
K9ZW

An All Amateur Family – Victor KC9NWB 27 - June - 2008

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Today the FCC issued my youngest son, Victor, the Technician Call Sign “KC9NWB”

It is good to get this 12 year old youngster involved, and as a special treat Victor’s passing his first license means that all five of our family members have Amateur Radio Licenses.

Victor’s brothers Tom KC9JGD (18) and Winston KC9FVR (15) were joined by my wife Alison pass her license as KC9MPL this spring.

With Winston KC9FVR and VIctor KC9NWB now competing for who can pass their General Class first, I best have more than one operating position in the shack!

Passing their tech exams the same day with Victor KC9NWB were:

  • Candi KC9NVX
  • Brent KC9NVY
  • Micaila KC9NVZ
  • Joel KC9NWA

Congratulations to all of the new licensees!

73

Steve
K9ZW

 

Antenna and Yard Work – Lift Rented 27 - June - 2008

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW Just Rambled, K9ZW Operations.
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Weather providing I’ll be in my safety harness in a 60 ft boom lift cutting tree limbs away, fixing & clearing gutters, doing some tower inspection & checks.

Oddly the lift didn’t arrive when expected, perhaps in the next few hours.

Should take about six hours in the lift when it is here.

Now if only mother nature cooperates – specially as the lift needs to be picked up Monday morning for another job.

Blog posts likely will wait until I’m done.

73

Steve
K9ZW

D-Star – a Delight or a Disaster? 25 - June - 2008

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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The D-Star system has both interested me and left me wondering since Icom brought it to the USA several years ago.

 The discussion at Jeff KE9V’s “CQ Calling” Blog D-Star Rising Article & Comments pointed out:

  • With only a computer dongle for a non-Icom option it appears that no other manufacturer sees enough market to launch a D-Star enabled product line.
  • While promoted as an open standard, we should be clear that D-Star is like Pactor II & Pactor III  (another closed single-source product) in that it is based on a closed proprietary CODEC.
  • Advanced Multi-Band Excitation (AMBE) is a very powerful proprietary speech coding standard developed by Digital Voice Systems, Inc. as a commercial product.
  • D-Star with the AMBE Licensing adds $150/$250 per radio unit – though the exact $ for DVS is a secret.
  • Though promoted as one system Icom’s D-Star implementation is a set of various Digital Voice and Digital Data systems on several different bands.  The capabilities and through-put vastly differs between the various implementations on each of the bands.
  • A D-Star user and D-Star systems are subject to complete denial of D-Star service through any of several layers of software administrative control.  No other amateur radio system is so completely at risk of being taken down by either a technical problem or deliberate action.
  • With much of the CODEC being licensed and not open for examination, D-Star is at its base level a “black box,”  making Amateur lead user improvements difficult.  This is much like building a new car that uses a special fuel only available from one manufacturer who won’t disclose what the fuel is.  

Other serious limitations are mentioned in the D-Star Rising article & comments, and in my previous D-Star posts (searcg box is on the right side of the webpage for this blog).

More simply the limitations of the D-Star system eliminates it from being a single sole configuration for the communication tasks.

A worthwhile experiment, but not one ready to replace other Emcomm options.

73

Steve
K9ZW

 

 

D-Star Rising by Jeff Davis KE9V

added June 30th:  D-Star Experiment Ended on Jeff KE9V’s assessment that D-Star is a Disaster.

 

Technology of Yesteryear – Sound Processing comes a long ways 24 - June - 2008

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio.
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BBC Report on Early Computers  is super interesting – how these early machines did something, but a  something that any chip in a toy now exceeds.

The search for the  ‘Oldest’ computer music unveiled some very early BBC recordings.  Watch the filk clips to see how it took days of hardwaire programing to make it work!

Neat stuff!

73

Steve
K9ZW

Dayton Hamvention 2008 Follow-Up Report No. 1 – WX7P 24 - June - 2008

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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At one of the Contest Supersuites I had the good fortune to have a long chat with Wilse Morgan WX7P

I had started our after Contest Dinner chat talking about how he had been recognized as the Oldest Guy there!

Turns out Wilse WX7P has a lot of recognition coming his way, as he was the First VE (by FCC Appointment) during his Alaskan years.

His exploits to put up antennas by Hot Air Balloon were once featured in CQ and he had more pictures to share.

From WX7P at QRZ.com:

Wilse, WX7P, was first licensed in 1952 at the age of 20, sporting his Novice ticket call of WN6PVF. He entered the Navy and served during the Korean War. When discharged in September of 1954, he made use of the GI Bill and completed a five year course in math and electronics at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo known today as the California Polytechnic State University (http://www.calpoly.edu/ ), receiving a BS degree 1959.
Following his university studies, Wilse went to work for the FAA as an electronics tech in Grand Junction, CO. His first project involved checking the sensitivity of UHF receivers and power output of UHF transmitters and driving a snow cat on the Grand Mesa just above Grand Junction (http://www.grandmesabyway.org/ ).

After two years of special training at the FAA academy in Oklahoma City (http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/arc/programs/academy ) in communications, air navigational aids, and radar, he transferred to the FAA office in Seattle where he found himself still doing field work and inspections of FAA facilities.

In 1964, seeking new challenges, he left the employment of the FAA to make printed circuit boards in his basement. By 1969, he sold out his interest in the business which had 92 employees at the time and, once again, seeking greater adventures, went to Alaska in October of 1969, on a fishing trip and came back 20 years later. Once in Alaska, he worked for Federal Electric on the White Alice Communications System (http://www.whitealice.com ), the communications system that linked the radar networks that watched Russia such as the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BEMEWS) to control facilities. Subsequently, Wilse worked in the Air Force as an electronics engineer. He also served as a LT COL in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) (http://www.cap.gov/ ) and served in Search and Rescue on the Wing Commander staff as Chief of Communications for State of Alaska. True to form as an amateur radio operator, he had the opportunity to experience slow rolls in an Air Force jet over Mt. McKinley while working two two-meter repeaters, one in Anchorage and another in Fairbanks, at the same time…good ole Wilse, always the ham.

By this time, Wilse had acquired the Alaskan call of KL7CQ with two 90 foot towers and two 60 foot towers with Telrex beams in the Rabbitt Creek region near Anchorage. He was quickly working the very first satellites as well as doing lots of DX contesting. As a member of the Anchorage Amateur Radio Club (http://www.kl7aa.net/ ), he served in different positions for 18 years and also became the number 1 life member of the club. KL7CQ left Alaska on October 4, 1989 but not before installing a large beam antenna with a hot air balloon and subsequently the same project with a helicopter. Both of these projects ended up being featured on the cover of CQ Magazine for September 1980 (http://hamcall.net/cqcgi/?res=l&yr=1980&mo=09&pg=001 ) and August 1984 (http://hamcall.net/cqcgi/?res=l&yr=1984&mo=08&pg=001 ).

During his 20 year tenure in Alaska, he taught courses in ham radio at University of Alaska (http://www.alaska.edu/ ) and the Anchorage Community College for 13 years, graduating over 800 licensed hams. He was involved with the very first VEC exam in the nation and was the first VE and the only one ever certified by the local FCC office in Anchorage. All other VEs subsequently were certified by volunteer examiner boards. Roger Hansen KL7HFQ was the Chairman of the VEC committee. Roger, Wilse, and YL KL7KL, Margaret Ogren, administered the first exam ever given in the US on April 17, 1984. Richard Dennis, KL7IOL, was the first amateur to pass a VE exam in the nation.

Also while in Alaska, Wilse became recognized by the ARRL for assisting through amateur radio with saving the lives of 9 souls aboard an airplane that crashed into Lake Minchumina in 1978. He received national recognition in QST and was the recipient of a nice plaque for display in his shack.

Currently Wilse, now WX7P, resides on 21 acres in Rice, WA overlooking the Columbia River with a relatively substantial antenna farm. He is very active on satellites, PSK31, DXing and contesting. Now a days, there are three towers, a 13 element log periodic, a 40 meter 4-square array, a Hy-Tower vertical, full size inverted Vs on 160, 80, 40 meters, and dual yagis for satellite work on an az-el rotator. Look for him on the air but likely you will find him in a contest. When not working DX or contesting, Wilse is involved with the local Panoramaland Amateur Radio Club in Colville, WA (http://www.qsl.net/k7jar ) where he currently serves as President. Wilse is also a member of the Spokane DX Association (http://www.sdxa.org )

Bio last modified: 2008-04-09
 

I was thinking I remembered talking with Wilse WX7P on the air, and a quick look at my logs showed we indeed had:

K9ZW worked WX7P QSO Log Entry

The world is made better with the lives of active folk like WIlse WX7P, who no matter what his age has gotten to (remember he was recognized as the real “Old Man” at the Contest Dinner) people like WX7P are always planning for a tomorrow!

This Follow-Up Report was the first I wrote leaving Dayton, and is the last of the series to be posted.

I hope you have enjoyed these snippets about what I saw & learned at the Dayton Hamvention 2008 show.

73

Steve

K9ZW

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