The news, opinions and events of VE3OIJ / VE3EEE

Archive for the DX category

VE3OIJ

VE3EEE on the air around Christmas

Astrophysical and Geophysical, Digital Modes, DX, Operating

Just for something different, I’ve been using my second callsign lately.  I have been doing mostly digital modes, especially JT-65, between 10 and 30 watts depending on conditions.

Despite the solar conditions (K-index between 4 and 6 for the last few days) there has been some DX on all bands from 80m to 10m.

VE3OIJ

ARRL Field Day 2015

Clubs, Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

It’s the end of June and that means ARRL Field Day 2015.  Squidette (VA3CEW) and I deployed to the Outlet Beach (FN13jv, right beside Sandbanks Provincial Park) to operate a Field Day station as VE3EEE.

Equipment

We went out with the standard VE3EEE portable pack:

  • Honda EU2000i generator
  • Quad core i7 laptop
  • Yaesu FT-847
  • Begali paddles
  • RigExpert Plus TNC
  • LDG automatic tuner
  • Hy-Gain DP-19D dipole (set for 20m)
  • Buddipole (set for 15 or 40 depending on the time of day)

WX

Cold  and miserable with drizzle for basically the entire time.  That was not fun at all.  Nevertheless, we did have shelter, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

Solar WX

There were geomagnetic storms earlier in the week, but they had pretty much abated.  K-index bounced between 1 and 3.  15m down to 80m seemed to be open.  I listened on 10 and didn’t hear anything, so I didn’t bother with 6m.

Results

We made 72 contacts between 40m, 20m, and 15m, almost all digital although we threw in a few CW and Phone contacts just for good measure.

Social

We also took the time to drive across the county to visit the Quinte ARC Field Day site in Ameliasburg.  It was rainy and miserable there too, but they had a great setup with 4 radios going!

Photos

This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. The tower isn't quite fully extended due to overhead trees. Nevertheless, it's got a good 5-7m over the ambient ground level.
This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. The tower isn’t quite fully extended due to overhead trees. Nevertheless, it’s got a good 5-7m over the ambient ground level.
This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. might be a bit easier to see.
This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. might be a bit easier to see.
Hy-Gain dipole between trees. Had I planned this better, I'd have picked different trees and maybe gone for 40m.
Hy-Gain dipole between trees. Had I planned this better, I’d have picked different trees and maybe gone for 40m.
Looking northwest along the beach road.
Looking northwest along the beach road.
This is the cabin on the beach while we were setting up. The generator is in front.
This is the cabin on the beach while we were setting up. The generator is in front.
This is the VE3EEE operating position. That's a 27" touch screen on the left, which makes operating the radio a lot like a Star Trek console.
This is the VE3EEE operating position. That’s a 27″ touch screen on the left, which makes operating the radio a lot like a Star Trek console.
VE3OIJ

Amateur Radio Code of Conduct

DX, General

I see a lot of people on QRZ and elsewhere who subscribe to the DX Code of Conduct.  It’s not a bad document by any measure, but it doesn’t work for me.  Instead, I prefer to subscribe to a much simple code of conduct.  This code is lifted directly from the pre-internet days of computer networking and is so applicable to amateur radio that I am duty-bound to share it with you all.  Here it is, in all its glory:

  • I shall not be excessively annoying.
  • I shall not be excessively annoyed.

Those two simple rules encompass everything in the DX Code of Conduct.  The first line of the code encompasses the first 10 points of the DX Code of Conduct.  The second line of the code covers the last three points of the DXCoC.

And better still, this code covers things that the DXCoC does not…  Are you the kind of amateur who has to tattle to the national organization/federal regulator when someone makes a little mistake?  Maybe you’re being excessively annoyed.  Do you tune up on top of other people, “just for a sec”?  Maybe you’re excessively annoying.

There it is… a simple code of conduct that everyone can follow – and not just in your amateur radio activities!

 

VE3OIJ

VoIP is NOT Amateur Radio

Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

This topic comes up from time to time, and I’ve never seen anyone give a definitive argument as to why VoIP modes like Echolink, IRLP, some uses of D-Star (dongles and “dx”), CQ100 and so forth are absolutely not amateur radio.  To me, it is obvious that they are not amateur radio, and it’s easy to explain why: none of them use radio, amateur radio specifically, but radio in general, as the primary method to transmit information.

That’s not to say that they don’t use radio.  Certainly with IRLP, Echolink and “DX” uses of D-Star, radio is involved.  That’s where people get confused… “It uses a radio, therefore it is amateur radio” and that’s absolutely wrong.

It’s wrong because if you took the radio away, all those modes still work.  Echolink, all the DX part of D-Star, and CQ100 work over the internet, computer to computer.  Any use of a radio is a secondary convenience.  In the case of CQ100, it’s primary purpose is to be used computer to computer.  Legally speaking, no person needs an amateur radio licence to use these applications, despite the best efforts of software authors to keep access restricted to the amateur radio community.  If the guy down the street downloads Echolink or CQ100 and somehow manages to get an authorized registration, all the hooting and hollering in the world will not get your national communications regulator to come down on the guy.

On the other hand, if you take the internet away, Echolink, IRLP, CQ100, and most of D-Star die immediately.  They absolutely cannot function without the internet, and it is because of this that I say it is clear that such modes are not amateur radio.  In fact, they’re no different than Skype or Logitech’s video program, or MSN Messenger beyond having less features than those commercial VoIP programs.

D-Star is a special case because it can be used for direct, radio-to-radio communication.  Thus, I have to afford that mode special dispensation: At the core, D-Star is amateur radio, but a lot of how it is used is not.

But PSK and other digital modes use a computer too. I guess they aren’t amateur radio.

Wrong.  That is a canard oft trotted out in defence of the “amateur radio” status of Echolink et al. but it is a strawman that is incorrect at the most basic level.  The issue isn’t the use of a computer.  Machines have been communicating by radio for more than half a century.  PSK, RTTY and other digital modes are just modern versions of that.

Take away the internet, and people’s digital modes software still works and they can still communicate by radio.  Take away the radio, and all that digital modes software becomes useless.  Therefore, it is amateur radio.

The computer is not the issue, the primary communication medium is the issue.  With PSK etc. that medium is radio, with Echolink etc. it is the internet.

Why does this matter?

Largely, it does not except in message board fights.  One place it does matter, however, is in the public-service angle of amateur radio… you know, that part where we’re supposed to be able to communicate in the event of some kind of emergency where the major communication systems are knocked out.

One property of disasters is that they can take out the internet locally.  So if your amateur radio setup is based around internet modes, you are effectively useless when the internet drops out over a wide area… as happened in Haiti and Chile during their recent earthquake disasters, as happened in Louisiana with the hurricane, and as is the case over much of the world where internet just hasn’t made it yet.

These internet modes are fun to play around with, but don’t think of them as amateur radio.  They’re not, and they won’t ever be a replacement for basic radio communications.

[edit]

Some very good and interesting comments.  I’ve decided to add a bit here to address them.

I feel very strongly that amateur radio is about more than just communication and the ability to self-learn.  You don’t need amateur radio for that.  If that is the only justification for the existence of amateur radio, then we’re already in deep, deep trouble.  With pressure from commercial interests, and a general disinterest from the public, it won’t be long before amateur radio is killed off if the best we can do is work out glorified Skype or MSN clients that look like a radio on-screen.  To me, the purposes of amateur radio are to allow people an experimental venue from which they can learn about radio communication, to further radio communication research, and to provide public service in the event of an emergency when the other infrastructure fails.  That’s why we don’t need VoIP on the internet… let commercial interests do that (they already have).  We shouldn’t be wasting time and effort reinventing an already well-perfected wheel.

There are aspects of this sort of technology that would be very useful in the amateur radio world.  Here’s a few ideas where I think this area of interest should be going that would further amateur radio, rather than just being yet-another-VoIP-client on the internet (and thus useless when the internet doesn’t work).  This is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • Digital voice over radio – Yes, D-Star is a cool area of endeavour not because it links repeaters over the internet but because the limited bandwidth requirements of a digital voice signal mean more conversations can fit on the standard bandwidth of an FM repeater.  More conversations is more efficient use of the available spectrum.  This technology also has direct commercial application with cellular phones and general commercial radio.  Advancing this sort of technology advances radio communication generally and harkens back to the original goals of amateur radio: to further communication technology over radio. Amateur radio is grossly behind the times in this area when compared with cellular phone technology.  We should be on the leading edge of this stuff, not decades behind.
  • High speed data transfer over radio – Again, D-Star is making the advances here, but amateur radio still lags far behind the rest of the communications world in this area.  The ability to send high-speed data by radio would be a huge boon when using amateur radio in the event of an emergency.  Oddly enough, one of the types of traffic such a radio data network could carry would be digitized voice (such as voice over IP), or video.  The key here, however, is to gain the ability to do this over radio links when there is no internet, nor phone lines.  Again, amateur radio is decades behind on this when we should be leading it.  Just to drive this point home… if a bunch of amateurs set up even a 128 kbps radio network running IP over radio, they could run the free software Ventrilo and chat, computer to computer. Ventrilo is a commercially supported package that is well tested and works extremely well.  Increase that network bandwidth and you could carry a lot of VoIP conversations very effectively.  My point: instead of working out ham radio simulators, let’s solve the high speed data over radio issues.
  • Both of the above over satellite – to get message and data traffic out of a disaster area, satellites are likely the way of the future.  Efforts that enable the ability to use existing and future satellites for the previous two purposes will greatly advance amateur radio in terms of the intended purpose of amateur radio and in the eyes of the public.
  • Improved HF modes – faster and error corrected methods of transferring information globally over HF radio.
  • Space communication – faster, smaller, easier methods of sending messages over inter-planetary distances.  It’s maybe a bit early, but radio amateurs can lead this field with work on things like EME and Earth-Venus-Earth or Earth-Mars-Earth work.

That’s where I think we should be spending effort instead of wasting it on things like VoIP over the internet and pretending that it’s radio.

VE3OIJ

Why I’ll probably never use Logbook of the World

Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Security, Technology

The title topic comes up here and there, and I’m often asked about it on the air, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to detail, once and for all, why I have zero interest in ARRL’s Logbook of the World.

To be fair, it does what it does and based on the number of users, it does it reasonably well – you install their software, jump through their hoops, and you can submit your logs in a way that ARRL will accept for award credit. At that level, I have no complaint with the system.
However, Logbook of the World has a number of shortcomings that are sufficiently off-putting that cause me to lose all interest in the system.

1. It’s great for one or two callsigns, but becomes an ever increasing gluteal pain if you operate lots of special event and other callsigns.

Yes, if you have multiple callsigns, you need a separate cryptographic certificate for each additional callsign. That’s extra files you have to keep track of, extra things to check that you have properly configured before you submit logs, extra things to get deleted/munged if you have a computer failure. It’s also wholly unnecessary – with a database that’s even half-decently designed, one should be able to register once with a primary call and use that cryptographic signature with other calls associated with that particular user. In fact, that’s pretty much the way public key cryptography was DESIGNED to be used, but the ARRL chose not to do it that way.

2. It’s “pretend” security, making a proverbial mountain out of a molehill. What security it provides is unnecessary.

Public Key cryptography – the driving engine behind LotW security is intended to provide two levels of security. First, the radio amateur identifies himself to the certificate issuer satisfactorily. A digital certificate is issued and through the magic of mathematics, whenever the amateur uses the certificate to sign a message, it can be verified that that specific certificate was used. In order to say that an identity is verified, however, one must have assurance that the certificate has not been shared. So although I might jump through ARRL’s identity hoops, I could share my certificate around deliberately… or because it sits as a file on my computer, a malicious person could steal it from my hard drive. Unless the certificate is protected at some level, it offers little or no assurance that it is being used by the intended person. That is why serious systems that use public key cryptography store the certificate in a smart card or similar device – something the proper owner can carry with them and can’t be easily hacked. Yes, the owner could share it around, still but when it’s used he can’t say “well someone hacked it.”

Additionally, it is important that the issuance of certificates cannot be subverted in some way. In particular, for non-US operators, you need only send a real-looking copy of a licence, and a copy of some other official-looking document to verify your identiy. If we assume that ARRL awards are something important enough to try and get by undeserving individuals, it’s probably fair to assume that faking these two simple documents would require only a few minutes of time on the internet and with a program like MSPaint of Photoshop. Therefore, the identity value of the cryptographic certificate is precisely zero by any measure. In fact, ARRL’s identification system is no better than eQSL, and arguably worse (eQSL can at least verify you have access to the mailing address you provide).

But… the certificate is also used to protect the submission in transit. Yes, the traffic is encrypted, but all that does is prevent it from being read by an interceptor (no value, not sensitive info), or modified by an interceptor (theoretically possible, but there would be MUCH easier ways to generate fake QSO records). I might accept this as a valid security measure if the ARRL could produce documentation indicating that they have done a Threat and Risk Assessment and determined that log information is at risk from this kind of attack. These are amateur radio QSO records, not government secrets.

In short, encrypting the records with public key cryptography is like swatting a mosquito by exploding an atomic bomb.

Looking at it another way: why don’t you put a 10 meter fence, a moat and a minefield around your house? You’d probably almost never get broken into, that would be certain. Odds are you don’t go to this extreme because the level of security isn’t justified by the level of risk. And even if you did put a 10 meter fence with a moat and minefield, you wouldn’t put a bridge over the whole thing right to your door. Public key cryptography is that fence/moat/minefield, and the slack authentication and identification process to get a certificate is that bridge.

Use of certificates also costs money. The certificates have to be maintained, they expire, people lose their passwords, they get compromised, they get lost, and all these problems are dumped on the certificate issuer to sort out. That costs time, and time is money. Having considerable experience in the specific field of PKI management, it would not be unreasonable for about 15-25% of certificates to be turned over in any given year just due to lost passwords and compromised certificates – not counting expired certificates and new issues. ARRL pays for that, which means that somewhere, users pay for it.

3. I have to install software on my machine.

Ok, this one is nit-picky, but there is no reason that anyone should have to install software to do these submissions. Even the certificates could be used through a java applet. The whole system is so old-tech. I’m not interested in installing and maintaining a piece of software so I can use pretend security to submit my logs when they can already be submitted automatically from my logging software to eQSL, HRDLog and other places.

4. ARRL charges LotW users for using LotW contacts in award applications.

Users of LotW are charged 25 cents (US) per LotW contact submitted for an award. This is probably related to the costs I mentioned in point 2. And even though that’s not much, it does add $25.00 to the cost of a DXCC if you do it all through LotW. Think about it – you’re paying ARRL for the privilege of saving THEM from sorting through your cards and proof. YOU ARE PAYING TO MAKE THEIR JOB EASIER – not yours, theirs. If anything, they should be reducing the charges for the award, but as noted above, operating a public key infrastructure costs money and they have to get it back somewhere.

More to the point, I like paper cards anyway, and I use paper cards, so why would I want to sink effort into a system that only matters for ARRL awards when I meet their award requirements for free with no extra work on my part?

I think I have laid out, in sufficient detail, why I don’t have interest in participating in the Logbook of the World. I hope it’s clear enough for everyone to understand. Please understand that I harbour no ill-will toward the ARRL or LotW users… If LotW works for you, that’s awesome – enjoy it.

However, since I am regularly asked why I am not interested in LotW, I felt it would be worthwhile to post the reasons here and then refer to them later so I don’t have to type the same thing over and over.

[edit 2014:  I did finally sign up for LotW on my primary callsign late last year.  I upload about twice a month.  My return rate appears to be less than eQSL or paper, so despite all the bleating about how awesome LotW is, it’s actually not as good as eQSL or paper, at least for me.  I’ll guess that maybe CW or phone people get more hits through this method.]

[edit 2017: In 2017, an interesting technology is arising – Quantum Computing.  If the purpose of certificates in LotW is security, then be warned… in a decade, give or take, maybe less, quantum computers will destroy public key cryptography, and the “security” of LotW will be truly non-existent.]

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