Some thoughts on Ham Radio public service in the 2000s

This started out being a comment in a post on Facebook, but I decided it was both too long and it was taking a different direction than the original post, so here it is…
Background: A post in the Parks on the Air (POTA) Facebook group started out with the usual POTA is the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread theme.
But some comments turned to how it was good that POTA was training people for quick deployment of radios in case of an Emergency. This turned into a debate over whether Ham Radio was really still relevant as an EMCOMM service.
This was my response:

We are given use of a public resource, the airwaves, and the possibility of providing emergency communications was one of (but not the only) reasons for it’s justification. Using that resource as a hobby – recreation – is also a valid reason and we should not feel any shame in using it that way, or feel pressure to earn the right to use that resource by providing some nebulous outdated public service.

Continue Reading…


I was hacked! Someone brute-forced their way into an account and did something that took the entire site down.

I had reports of a high number of failed log-in attempts, but hadn’t made it a priority to look into. So they finally got through before I looked into it.

It’s really pathetic that someone would go to all that effort to get into a site that is basically dormant and hasn’t seen an new post in months. But they use bots to do it, so they don’t care.

Usually, it is done to gain some kind of advantage in website rankings. Google and other search engines look to see how many other sites mention (link to) a site and boost the rank accordingly. So they like to hack sites to put fake links in to them to make it look like there is a lot of buzz about their page.

They also use links in comments to do the same thing. I have all comments held for approval, so they don’t show up. I cleared out several hundred spam comments yesterday.

So I got the site back up and running. They couldn’t really do much to it, but found a way to make it look like it was offline. I’ve changed passwords on every account and the one they got into no longer has any privileges. I can see what logins they try to use, so I know what they are trying. The obvious ones are gone. Let them fish.

And for what it’s worth, this page is so little used, if it becomes a problem, it will just vanish.

F Facebook

Well, I haven’t been posting much here lately and most of my thoughts and rants have been going on Facebook.

They make it so easy, so seductive, to just put a short couple paragraphs or just a comment on someone else’s thoughts. It becomes too easy to spend time there.

But, once again, I’m in Facebook jail.

I don’t know why. They say I posted something that violated “community standards.” They gave me no details and I don’t remember what it may have been. Just suddenly, I can’t post anything. I can’t leave a comment. I can’t even like a photo of a furry cat.

I dug around and found – with some difficulty – a reference to their deleting a post.

This is all I know…

I can’t tell from the little thumbnails what it was, or what about it they didn’t like. I have a “Page” where I post things. Things about Trump, our government, and politics. I started the page so I could keep those things off my personal timeline and let only those who want to read them see them. I was being considerate to those who might be offended by anything critical of our illegitimate president.

And, ordinarily, I avoid anything offensive. I lean towards the ironic, humorous, or satirical commentary.

95% of what I post is graphics – cartoons, memes, photos, and articles from major news sources. I mostly “share” not “create.”

And, yes, it’s mostly anti-Trump, anti-conservative, anti-GOP, etc. because, well, how can any moral, thinking person not be?

So, I am in the corner, getting a three-day time out from Facebook. Like that is supposed to teach me a lesson, whereas not telling me what the offense is does…

My experience with these things (I have known others who have also suffered the same fate) is that you usually get these things as a response to someone’s complaint. They are either processed by some algorithm or some person who reviews hundreds per hour. No deep thought is put into it. And there is no way to get a meaningful review. You can click a box that asks them to look into it, but I have not received a response.

From the thumbnails, I can tell it was a cartoon. That’s about all. I routinely download and keep the images I post, rather than just hit share. I do that because I want to break the chain of “So and so shared so and so’s post where they shared so and so’s…” I also sometimes copy and paste commentary along with it that I think the person may not want to have attributed to them. Public figures, I quote with full attribution, I spare the average friend.

So I checked through my collected images and did not find that one. It doesn’t mean it didn’t come from me, but it’s odd that I did not keep a copy. It might be left on a different computer that I don’t normally use. I only checked my laptop and phone. You can bet, if I do find it, I will post it here!

And, I did. I could not find it on any of my computers, but a couple of them have been reworked recently and may have been erased. But with a little Google-Fu and some help from Tineye, I found it.

That’s it. That’s the “offensive” post. I vaguely remember it. It was quite a while ago, so either they dug deep, or someone is going around looking for that particular picture.

This photo was found many times on Twitter. It was on Reddit. It was on Instagram and Pinterest, so it clearly doesn’t cross any lines for most places. It was totally used to target my account. There was also a version of it with a ghostly figure, possibly Jesus, leaning over 45.

So, I supposedly “violated community standards” by posting a graphic that came from the community. Hmmm…

Looking at the timing of it, where we are in the middle of the peak of the Trump impeachment Senate hearings, one has to wonder if it isn’t part of an organized strategy to use Facebook’s’ policies against anyone openly critical of him? Right now, silencing a bunch of his critics for three days without any hearing or recourse, would be huge. You almost wonder if it’s not a new wave of Russian hackers turning to suppressing criticism instead of posting pro-Trump propaganda?

I don’t flatter myself to think that I am that important, or widely influential to garner special attention. So, the explanation of a widespread organized process makes more sense. I just got caught up in it.

So, Facebook put me and possibly many others in Facebook Jail. I’ll live. Actually a three day break will do me good. After all, it got me back to my long neglected blog…

My Beef with Ham Radio

With acknowlegment to Dan Maloney at Hackaday

At some day this June, which I will have to look up, because I don’t remember the exact date, I will observe my 50th Anniversary of becoming a Ham Radio Operator.

Things were quite different then. I started as a Novice which allowed me to use Morse Code on a few shortwave frequencies. I scraped together enough to buy a used receiver for $50 and a really abused transmitter for $13. Stuck up a wire antenna that despite breaking a few rules for how it should be done, worked anyway. I got on the air and managed to make QSOs (conversations) with other Hams. In Morse Code.

Time passed and I got better at it. Seeing how far I could talk and collecting evidence of having talked to Hams in other states – the coveted QSL cards as proof, I stayed up late in hopes of even further distances – DX and through repetition, got better at the Morse Code. I felt ready for the 13 word-per-minute test that was part of the General Class FCC license.

The test was given in the FCC office in Buffalo, in the Old Post Office building. Last I knew, that building is now used by Erie Community College. A friend also planned on taking the test and we studied the theory questions and he drove us to the exam.

I don’t remember much about the written test, but the code test was no laughing matter. It was given by a real FCC field engineer, who came out and ran a paper tape on a machine that sent the code. Despite being stuck behind a column, I copied more than enough to show the required one minute of solid copy. You don’t need to see, only hear the code.

I was pretty confident about the code, but there was still a sending test back then. I watched as examinee after examinee went up and nervously tapped out the sample text the examiner showed them. When my turn came, I sat down and tried the key. I asked if I could adjust it to my liking. He said yes and I proceeded to adjust the keys spacing and spring tension the way I preferred and sent a series of Vs to test it. I began to send the sample text and got about half way into the second word when he said it was enough, I passed. Apparently anyone who had the moxy to adjust the key, knew what they were doing.

Some time later, my General license arrived in the mail and I was now allowed to do just about anything Hams could do. I could now use voice. I could now run 1000 watts, the famous Kilowatt. Over time, as money allowed, I improved my equipment. A better receiver, a Hammarlund bigger than a breadbox and heavy as the whole refrigerator. A transmitter with a VFO that put out a whole 100 watt signal. No more being stuck on the handful of frequencies that I had crystals for in my Novice days.

I still sought out contacts with new states. I wanted to get the ARRL Worked All States award, a certificate that I’m sure was quite prestigious in part because of elusive states like Delaware and Idaho. But I also discovered traffic nets where hams passed messages on behalf of the public. People could have a telegram-like message relayed by hams anywhere for free, as long as it was non-commercial. It kept Hams trained in case of real communications emergencies and the system that allowed me to send a message on it’s way to Idaho even though I couldn’t seem to talk there directly.

It seemed more satisfying than random conversations. It was already getting boring exchanging the weather, your age, your job and what version of Heathkit/Collins/Yaesu/Hallicrafters radios you were using. Most conversations ended with the other guy getting called for supper, no matter what time of day it was. It was like a code for I’ve run out of things to say.

This went on for years. I discovered contests, where you exchanged short, quick pieces of information in as little time as possible. Each was worth points and it was a race to collect those points. Maybe you’d get a certificate if you did well, but you got to see your score next to your callsign in a magazine. It was easy. No pretense for breaking the conversation off for dinner!

More equipment upgrades and I soon was using voice. I found you ran out of things to say even faster and while you occasionally had a good conversation, mostly they were just as formulaic as on code. I got into some voice nets that facilitated finding the Hams in those rare states for Worked All States. I finally achieved that goal a couple times over. I also got into VHF FM, a voice mode that covered locally using repeaters. Finally, talking to people you actually could get to know and meet face to face.

At some point, they announced some new series of callsigns that were only available by license class. An Extra Class – the highest one available – would get you a short callsign beginning with ‘A.’ As I still preferred CW and during contests, a short callsign could be an asset, I decided to go for it. The theory was pretty tough, but I had learned a lot and brushed up on it so that I could pass the test. The Morse Code portion was at 20 words per minute, which I could do no sweat.

The new style of callsigns began to be issued and we’d hear other Hams on the 2 meter repeaters announcing their new calls. I kept asking them when they took their exam and how long it took to arrive. Pretty soon, I had a good feel for when I should take the test in order to get the ultimate short callsign in the second district – AE2E. I hoped to at least get something close to that. Anything would be an improvement over my six-letter-long general call.

At this time, the code test was now a fill-in-the-blank test where if you copied the sample code, you’d get the answers to the questions. There was no longer a sending test. Also, if you could show your scratch paper with one minute copy, you could pass even if you didn’t get enough of the questions.

The test, now in the new Federal Building, was simple. I now drove myself there, being older and employed and a car owner. I did well enough on the written theory and sat for the 20 WPM code. Solid copy in block letters and easily answering all 10 fill in questions.

I can proudly say that I hold a true FCC examined, 20 WPM passed code Extra Class license. No VE exams, no multiple choice code test. No no-code license. My new license arrived with my new callsign: AE2T, the second shortest possibility.

Since then, I’ve been hot and cold on Ham Radio. I’ve been very active in contesting. I’ve earned DXCC (100 countries confirmed) been very active in something called The Geratol Net, a group that specializes in a specialized form of a worked-all-states award. I’ve done traffic handling at several levels in the system and emergency communications support. But I’ve also gone years without getting on the air. It’s always been there when I had the interest. It just comes and goes.

I’ve dabbled with QRP (Very low power operation) and recently, digital voice communication on VHF/UHF augmented with the internet. I’ve dabbled with HF digital and Packet radio several times. But it still comes up less than fulfilling these days.

I’ve seen the quality of the people who get into Ham Radio decline as the exam requirements to get licensed got easier. The code requirement has been totally eliminated and the Technician exam can be passed by someone who paid attention in high school physics class and had an hour to study a guide. You can’t tell me there is no relation.

And technology – the internet and cellphones being ubiquitous – has made Ham Radio seem quaint and irrelevant. Sure there are new forms of Ham radio that leverage those technologies, but I’ve tried them and they just seem to miss the point.

So, I stumbled upon this article in Hackaday and it really paralleled my thoughts. The author never really got very far into Ham Radio, so he’s probably a lot smarter than I.

I will still piddle around with my radios, but it’s strictly a hobby, an amusement. It certainly doesn’t hold the gravitas that all the Emcomm “When All Else Fails” types like to justify it with.

Hackaday Article
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