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February 12, 2019: What’s next for System Fusion and WiRES-X ?

To be honest, I cannot tell you what Yaesu is planning although ‘connectivity’ seems to be the buzzword there. That suits me fine! What I want to know is: How can I get on WiRES-X from ANYWHERE ? Let’s examine the status quo first:

As of now, you can get onto WiRES-X three ways. First, if you can reach a node or repeater via RF, you are in. Secondly, if you have access to WiFi, you are in. Thirdly, if you have cellular access, you are in. I suppose satellite access is possible but I’ve not seen a demonstration of that yet.

     Now, imagine you are in the boonies and need or want to get on W-X. In just about every case you are going to look for the highest spot you can get to and go from there. Your WiFi, your cell signal and your VHF+ signal are all going to need that high spot (remember, we are in the boonies).

     What about HF? To begin with, your digital C4FM signal will be restricted to 10M or above. The only current radio with that capability is the FT-991 series. At the receiving end, you’ll need another FT-991, but they are not node radios. True, they can be connected to an HRI-200 and function, but not the way we would like. To me, it would then appear that without a repeater, node, WiFi signal or cell signal, you would be forced to try for a satellite Internet connection that could be ported to your PDN computer (or computer/HRI-200 combo). Too bad I don’t have a satphone.

November 4, 2018: Stone Mountain Hamfest

Several folks from the Yard Dogs system met up with folks we had been hearing on the system, but whom we had never met. We all met for lunch after leaving the hamfest. Then, following that, we came together for a programming and familiarization session. Some folks were already familiar with C4FM/System Fusion, but some had just gotten their first C4FM radio, so we did some programming and made some notes. This helps make radio fun for everybody.

October 31, 2018: A Digital Reality (and it ain’t pretty!)

I finally understand the digital world. It is simply a series of switches. Each switch represents a decision. You could call it yes/no, left/right, up/down, on/off or whatever you like, but is nothing more than a decision, or perhaps, a routing. Your signal or your programming go whichever way you have routed it. These days much of what we do in the radio world is software defined, or at least software controlled. My C4FM and WiRES-X setup is a perfect example.

I listen to the technical discussions and make an attempt to learn as much as I can, especially since I am hosting a technical net myself. It only makes sense for me to be informed. Well, what a fool I am! The situation is fast becoming unmanageable by mere humans. What I mean is: the eventual outcome is hardly predictable anymore. During these technical nets people ask: Why did such-and-such occur? Even the really smart folks are having a tough time answering these questions now. Why? Because, as switches are added, the outcome possibilities becomes exponentially higher. Humans can be pretty sharp but you can count cards into only so many decks.

And what do I mean by ‘outcomes’? Well, maybe an example is the best way to demonstrate this. Suppose you are operating a digital handheld radio and you are transceiving to and from your digital node. That digital node is connected to the Internet where it connects with other digital nodes and other digital radios. Your digital node is likely connected to a computer and some sort of modem. Each device in that stream not only has hundreds of choices to be made, but each device likely has several layers of operation. Ever seen a digital audio mixing board? You have to know what LAYER you are in at any given moment. You know…it’s like playing three-dimensional chess.

The people who come up with this stuff are brilliant, but things happen that they don’t expect, and furthermore, that they cannot predict. That is because of the number of switches, and thus, the number of possible outcomes, are mind-boggling. We are nearing a point where a new paradigm might be necessary. For the most part, things work like we expect them to, but not always. I have determined that it will not be possible for me to know anywhere close to the amount I want to know, even about my one little corner of the digital radio world.

In an effort to understand the small network we are running, we have been conducting experiments to figure a few things out that simply are not in any manual. Just when we think we have an answer, we don’t. And WHY is everything not in the manual? For the exact reason I gave above: We have reached a stage where all the outcomes and all the possibilities are not documentable. Besides, even if it were possible, it would be outside the realm of what the creators set out to do to start with! Add to that fact the fact that the users have now become the beta testers. Sure, there may be official beta testers, but if you buy one of their radios, you are now a beta tester whether you like it or not. I used to think this was a sorry way to run a business, but I am beginning to think they don’t have any choice! It does scare me to think where this all leads to. We are in for some very interesting changes in the near future.

If you believe that games that pay money (think slot machines, lotto, etc.) are not rigged, then consider this analogy: You are playing Pachinko. The ball drops. Each pin on the way down is a switch. The ball can go left or right. That’s a decision or a route and it leads to an outcome. In Pachinko it’s where the ball ends up at the bottom of the board. In radio, maybe it’s where your signal ends up at and in what form. Decisions, decisions! Increase the number of pins and the number of places the ball could go increases exponentially. On average, maybe the ball ends up in a certain area. That’s like saying, on average, your radio works like you think it should. But what if the ball ends up elsewhere? Why? What changed? What was the variable that caused it? Is it even possible to say? The same is beginning to apply to our digital radio world. Each new feature, each new software change, each new firmware update and each new radio increases the number of pins in the Pachinko machine and thus exponentially increases the potential number of outcomes.

I don’t mean for this all to sound so cryptic, but we mess with this every day and we are wondering why so-and-so heard me, but so-and-so did not, even though I was trying to reach him. On top of that, my GUI said I WAS connected to so-and-so, but that’s not who I got connected to! I want to be able to answer these questions but I’d have to ask SO many questions, piece together all the variables and hash out an answer. Well, that simply is not possible any more. There are too many switches!

Yes, I am grateful that for the most part, the system works as well as it does. I have a great time with it, but I am not fooling myself that I will be able to answer each question that comes along. I don’t think anybody could.

August 15, 2018: Adopt an ARDOP

Well, just give it a try first. It stands for : Amateur Radio Digital Open Protocol and is expected to eventually replace Winmor. You can download it now and use it as I did earlier. Hey, just trying to keep up with the times! Type ardop into your search engine and go to those pages that are from winlink.org.

January 26, 2018: Bonus:

Sending regular email via Winlink VHF packet was successful too. Now I will attempt to do so from an APRS-equipped radio.

January 24, 2018: Nothing Succeeds Like Failing A Bunch Of Times First:

Yeah, gotta hand it to failure: It really makes you appreciate success. What I am saying is that I tried Winlink VHF Packet several times before I got it to work. That’s the good news. The bad new is that I do not know why it worked. What did I do differently? Nothing. Perhaps propagation was a little better. Perhaps the digital gods looked favorably upon my feeble effort for entertainment value. I don’t know, but I sure was glad it did work.

Anyway, the goal here is to reduce reliance on wireline services and increase reliance on RF methods. That goal was achieved.

January 20, 2018: Your Gracious Hosts

Hi Folks. Won’t you take a few seconds of your time to thank your gracious hosts? That is, won’t you send an email, key a microphone or make a phone call to tell your local repeater operators, digipeater owners, iGate owners, packet node ops, Winlink gateway ops, software developers and so forth, ‘thank you’? Would you bring a cool drink, make a sandwich or even provide moral support for your local tower climber? Would you tell the owner of the tower or building your club antenna is located on that you appreciate their kindness?

Most of these folks ask for nothing in return, but a kind word goes a long way. Would you send a dollar or two to someone who developed some software you make use of regularly? A small donation is not just money. It represents your thanks for the hard work someone has gone to, then made available to the amateur community for free.

I am no great benefactor, but I’ve done my part of providing free services, and I donate to others as well. I make use of their offerings and I want them to know that I DO appreciate it. I can tell you positively that a pat on the back goes a long, long way.

January 20, 2018: The Dream Gets Dreamier

In previous blog posts I have laid out my ideas for the future of amateur communications. Now I want more. I want a radio in my car which I can use to plot my position and report it, show me a map of anyone else’s position, allow me to interface with the Internet, allow me to contact any other VHF+ FM radio that wishes to log onto such a system and more. I want these radios to be really useful. I want them to do what the cellular system does.

Well then you ask: Why not simply use the cellular system instead? My answer is multi-fold: I want to be one of the builders and operators of that system. I want to add features that would be useful to myself and others. I don’t want to pay somebody else to use their system. I want my system to work when theirs won’t.

I don’t at all mind combining the cellular system or the Internet when all is well, but I do want our system to stay up when theirs goes down. We all have this idea that we will be the great communicators in a disaster. Yeah, me too, but I really don’t want to see that happen just to glorify myself. I’ll be happy just to know I could have helped if I had been needed. That’s good enough.

Recently I mentioned to someone the dream that I had about a database which could build ad hoc bridges between operating systems and would allow us to selcall anyone who wishes to be called. He thought we might be about 5 years from reaching that goal. I sure hope he is right. We need connectivity, not fracturing. Some awesome folks with wonderful hearts and lots of talent having been doing these things in some fashion already, but I’m dreaming big. I want all hams to be included if they so desire. There isn’t a reason in the world I shouldn’t be able to pick up the mic in my car, punch in your ESN, or callsign, and reach you if you are reachable, no matter where you are. That goal is attainable and we are SO close, yet so far. I might not be talented enough to pull it off, but I can dream it, I can help to finance it in my own small way, and I can help host such a system. Now I need some of you ‘smart fellers’ out there to put it on paper.

December 8, 2017  I Have Another Dream

And no, it’s not the dream about the beautiful maiden falling in love with the crabby old man again. That’s a good dream but it doesn’t belong on this website! No, this is another radio dream. As Gary Numan said: “I dream of wires”.

The dream goes like this: What if the next generation of amateur radios was built with WiFi connectivity? If they were, imagine what we could then do. My initial use for such connectivity would be to pull up a repeater database, such as <www.repeaterbook.com>. Since the radio already has GPS, I could use the location services feature to download repeaters in my current area. If a WiFi hotspot were not nearby, I could certainly use my cellphone to fill that bill.

Now you may be asking, if I have a cellphone handy that could access the Internet, why do I need it in the radio? Here’s where the need becomes obvious. With the database wirelessly available to my radio, perhaps I could then, with the click of a button, download those nearby repeaters into my radio’s memories.

The thought here is mainly for mobile radios but it could apply to stationary radios as well. If you are traveling and want to stay in touch with your amateur radio, what better method could there be? Well, the only better method is the subject of another dream and that involves an amateur cellular system. You would automatically get handed from one machine to another as you travel. Since I do not foresee that happening, I am back to the WiFi-enabled ham radio.

Imagine that you are on a long distance trip, or even just a trip beyond the reach of the repeaters you already have programmed into your radio. You could use a handy method of entering new repeaters along the way. Given the necessary steps to program today’s radios, there is no safe way for you to drive and program. Even stopping and programming is not very desirable since the process might need to be repeated every 20-30 minutes.

Forgoing the idea of ‘handoffs’ and automatic programming, I’m focusing on something that could really happen today. You pull over, bring up your repeater database on radio/hotspot, and click ‘accept’ or ‘enter’ or something like that. Perhaps you have already set aside Channels AAA-CCC for this purpose. They get overwritten each time you load a new batch. Maybe alphanumeric tags with city names gets added. This would not be hard to do. This is also a task that a passenger could likely do while you continue to drive, eliminating the need for stopping. A license would not be required to program the radio.

The end result? A near-seamless list of available repeaters along your route, programmed into memory so you can actually use them. Some commercial radios I have seen have several lines of information available on their screens. So could yours. It might should the frequency, offset and tone, the city, the callsign and perhaps a note to the traveling amateur….YOU! Heck, what if the repeaters were WiFi-enabled and could store and forward SMS texts? You can send SMS messages via APRS already. How about a little synergy between repeaters and digipeaters? There’s getting to be a lot of digital repeaters out there. Even I have a couple.

The fact is: You can actually carry on worldwide conversations over digital repeaters now, but you have to be in range. My dream of ‘updating’ memories makes it a little easier to know when you are in range. We need to do better.

I Have A Dream:

As I mentioned, technology never rests. Recently I learned of ‘Pi-Star’, a digital voice medium that runs on a Raspberry Pi (imagine that!). Developed in England, it connects to Brandmeister of DMR+ networks. This is awesome that so much thought is going into the development of all these neat techniques and modes, but we are getting so scattered. Fortunately there are those who are bridging the gaps. But like the gaps of the old frontier, there are bridges only where someone finds it useful to build one. Silly me, I am looking for bridges that can be built on an ad hoc basis.

Huh? Ad hoc? Well, what if I need to talk to WXXX4KJIE and I don’t have the same equipment as him? What if I don’t even KNOW what equipment he/she has? How in the world would I contact that station? Would I just have to fugeddaboutit? Wow, given the sophistication of today’s technology, that would seem to be sacrilegious! No, there’s got to be a better way. I am pretty good at coming up with problems, but not so good at coming up with solutions. However, I am always willing to pay the person who DOES come up with the solution, so there!

What solution am I dreaming or? I am dreaming of a digital clearinghouse of callsigns. Just to be clear, this sort of thing does already exist, in some forms, but it surely is not universal. Not sure it ever will be either. But what an awesome network that would be! Imagine for a moment that every amateur who has their radio turned on, and who doesn’t mind that fact being known, gets registered temporarily in this database. If you desire to contact this person, you enter your desired entry method (C4FM, FCS, DMR, analog, etc) and a routing solution is computed for you. Better yet, the routing is completed for you! Yep, if I eat enough chocolate before I go to bed, I dream of stuff like this.

Obviously each station would have to enter at least one initial portal for the routing solutions to be determined, and those could be as dynamic as you wish them to be. Also, a numbering system a la CCS7 would be required for all participants. Maybe in the future radios could carry ESN’s (Electronic Serial Numbers), but this could lead to problems if a radio should change hands and not be updated in the tables. In the beginning, you’d likely have to make a manual input to the system to let it know you were there. Your other information could be pre-registered, such as your portal. However, it seems it would be rather easy for you to send a brief digital message that you are listening. Some of the required info would be contained in that message. In any case, callsigns would still be the main form of identification.

So here we go: I turn on the radio and register myself as being active in the system. I enter a request to contact WXXX4KJIE. The system at first searches for that callsign, then determines what routing would put me in contact with WXXX4KJIE, assuming that station is active at that moment. The receiving station could chose how they wish to be notified of an incoming call request. It could be a ringtone or simply a voice in the speaker saying his/her callsign. It could be data on a screen. It could even be stored and forwarded upon request. Yes, yes, we have some systems like that already in place, but no universal systems and no systems that link disparate digital platforms, especially in real time.

On the nights I eat a LOT of chocolate before bed, the dream expands to cover a ‘ham cellular’ system. In other words, you can do all this while mobile! Okay, if we involve the existing cellular system and the Internet, we can do many of these things. Honestly, I have been quite amazed by the resourceful hams driving down the road, talking to nodes in some distant place with very good quality. The main drawback is the one I first pointed out: Contacting ANY participating ham at will.

Sure, my dreaming was the easy part, but I am not completely worthless. I have done something to further the dream although not much. I have two separate networks here that bridge some very small gaps. One is  part of an Allstar Link Network that bridges three repeaters on three bands. No, they do not bridge platforms. They are all analog but this network makes use of microwave links as well as the Internet (the microwave link is amateur but not owned by me). Being Allstar Link though, you can reach those three analog repeaters (2m, 440 and 900) from darn near anywhere. That’s a start but nothing new and nowhere close to the dream.

The second network is, on my end, RF to Internet. It connects to the WiRES-X servers and to whatever in the world is connected to them. Fine individuals and clubs all over have expanded that program with cross-connections to any and every type of platform imaginable. Thank you guys and gals! I run two WiRES-X rooms and one is active 24/7. I monitor it most of the day. But what if YOU want to talk to ME and you don’t have WiRES-X or can’t reach one of my repeaters or don’t have Allstar Link? Unless you can get a message to me to go to a certain common place, that idea is pretty much shot in the rear end! This shows this need for the clearinghouse.

Now, I am planning on adding Allstar Link to the 24/7 WiRES-X room, but that only builds another tiny bridge. It doesn’t solve the overall problem of: Where is so-and-so and how can I contact them?

The Truth Comes Out:

Alright, I am not going to be the one who solves this problem, but we have to have dreamers, don’t we? No, not illegal immigrant dreamers. Dreamers who dream of wires, just like Gary Numan did. So I have dreamed the dream, and spread it out on this page to be laughed at or taken seriously…whatever. Who is up to the challenge? I’ll pay for my share.

K1KC