SFWEM.NET is the San Francisco Wireless Emergency Net, which is a mesh network that’s being built out by amateur radio operators with the intention of being a communications backup in time of emergency — when phone and data networks may be locally overwhelmed or not functional. Beside that, however, it’s an interesting experiment for amateur radio operators seeking to understand the benefits and limitations of “wi-fi” as a long-distance tool. [Read more…]
Very techie here… For a few months I’ve been operating a packet radio station on a 2-meter radio frequency here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I explored what it would take to make this a full “BBS” (like an online “forum”), and then backed off and let it just hang around n this frequency listening to the other (mostly BBS) stations. A few days ago, I got interested in graphing the data to better understand what stations were using the frequency and when.
The chart is made by this process:
- JNOS (the software that runs the packet radio station) logs all data it hears on the radio;
- A Python script analyzes this log file, keeping track of what stations were heard in each hour;
A “cron” job carries out this process once each hour to keep the chart data current. Because each data bucket spans a whole hour, there’s no need to update more than once an hour.
In amateur radio circles there’s much use of digital modes to exchange information. (In olden days it was almost exclusively limited to “chatting” on the air.) At least in the circles I’m running in these days this is true. “Packet radio” involves putting a computer on the front end, which then controls the radio, connecting to other packet radio stations and transferring messages digitally. At the lowest level the software has a command-line interface (accessed via radio), and at its highest level, it is basically supporting programs that exchange email (again, by radio, not thru the Internet).
My packet radio station operates on 145.07 or 145.09 mHz (also known as “2 meters” and mail is exchanged by “connecting to” AA6AX-1 via that radio. If you need to email me about this, please use the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
The station uses a Raspberry Pi 4 as the computer, and I use VNC to view the virtual “screen” of the RasPi and interact with the system. The radio is a cheap 2-meter transceiver, and a circuit board in a box called a “TNC” attaches to the computer and controls the radio. The photo shows the RasPi (about 4 inches wide) on top of the slightly-larger TNC. Plug it all into electrical power, add a radio with an antenna, and it’s on the air.
This diagram shows the components of the packet station. Most notable are the Raspberry Pi computer (the “RasPi”), with the reddish TNC-Pi on the top, connecting it to the radio. The radio has an antenna, and is connected to a power source.
The computer itself is on the local network, and the VNC software lets me view its “screen” on my own computer, and use my mouse and keyboard as if they were directly connected to the RasPi computer. It’s kind of a virtual computer.
Two beefs here. First, “Amateur Radio” needs a different name. Second, “Ham” radio needs another name. It has always been a bit embarrassing to me that regular people who have learned a shitload about electronics, or who like to experiment with radio, are called amateurs. I’ve met many who are as knowledgeable as a radio professional.
Of course, they are called amateur because they are not professionals, in that they are not paid for their work and it is a sideline and not their primary work in life.
NASA flew the retired Space Shuttle Endeavour through the San Francisco Bay Area this morning. It was a treat for tens of thousands of us who waited and watched for this very last flight of the Endeavour. It is one of four shuttles going into retirement in the form of permanent exhibits…with Endeavour ending up in Los Angeles.
Using amateur radio repeaters — there were lots of folks watching for the aircraft all along its route — I tracked the flight’s progress from Southern California up past Stockton, where it flew around the capitol building in Sacramento twice, then down the Sacramento River to the Bay Area. The craft made a pass by the Golden Gate Bridge, one around the Bay in a big loop, and then back out straight between the bridge towers. I joined hundreds of enthusiastic fans viewing from Twin Peaks (elev. 800+ ft) in the geographical center of San Francisco. We were nearly the same elevation as the aircraft, which flew between 1,200 and 1,500 feet during the entire maneuver. [Read more…]