Is Ham Radio the only way into ‘tech’?

Perspective…

I basically grew up as a ‘ham’. I ‘hacked’ at a lot of electronics from vacuum tube shortwave radios to theatre lighting and sound and eventually professional two-way radio, what resulted in and many know today as “wireless” car and portable phones.  I ‘ace’d’ high school industrial arts and especially electronics class.  I did graduate high school.  At that point I had modified more surplus commercial radios to 2-meter FM use for the locals than anyone else in the state.  I was a charter member of two local repeater groups and a tower climber at 14.  Built my first 2m FM repeater with autopatch from raw radio guts and perf-board components at 16.  We’re not talking ‘yesterday’ – with DigiKey, Mouser, Frys, etc. on the web – but hard-core raw part scrounging.

As seems popular folklore, I am a dropout of one of THE premiere engineering schools – the Wisconsin School of Electronics – a whole $120/month my parents paid – but 6-months into the classes I realized I was already working full-time on equipment and systems far advanced from what WSE could have taught my by graduation.  I knew relay, TTL and microprocessor logic before most could afford HP-35 calculators.

Yes, shortwave and ham radio provided a huge view of the world, and amazing opportunities, but I also learned that there IS more to technology than 146.94.  What I knew, what others realized I could do lead next to working in medical instrumentation.  At 20 I was the youngest field tech servicing blood analyzers in hospitals and clinics.  My peers were military vets who had gone to the best tech schools – Navy ‘A’ school.  They came to me for help in service training classes.  Somehow I knew logic and ‘grocked’ computers before most understood binary.  At 22 I wrote the service manual for a new piece of medical equipment before engineering finished the prototype.

I moved on to mass spectrometers used for everything from forensics to defense explosives work.  Signals, data collection, data processing, presentation, delivering things that were important to life, seemed a pattern.  At 26 I became a volunteer firefighter if only to help my local community with radio communications.  Making technology work became immediately life-critical for myself and my friends.  You are “not allowed” to screw up life-safety communications. Period.  Ham radio is fun – making sure what you know about radios AND fire science when you run into burning buildings is ‘important.’

All this I position amid various different discussions of ham radio, ARES, RACES, NGOs, police, fire, EMS, as well as various commercial applications of technology – be they the E/R our ambulances took people to, or the clinics that treat cancer patients.  It’s really hard to take any position of what’s more important when you’ve dealt with technology at many/all levels of birth to war/defense to end-of-life.  Reality may or may not become logical/binary for some, more complex/analog for the rest of us.

That’s a core background/perspective.  From that I obviously (?) get to see and touch upon others’ exposure to technology, and myriad perspectives – real or assumed, borrowed, projected.  OK, so…

… at this particular junction/trail split I encounter all sorts of ‘importance’ of my core/basis/foundation/HOBBY exposure to technology – amateur/ham radio – and after 45 years of public service/safety volunteer work – believe I have a unique and want to think ‘important’ perspective on how/what the ‘ham’ community thinks about themselves and their place in the world… and their desire/demand/insistence they are ‘essential’… yes, and no.

Here goes…

1. Ham radio is not the only way people can or may become familiar with technology (any more that ‘devices’ or Maker things.)

2. Ham radio is not the only beneficial goal/aspect of getting involved with technology.

3. Ham radio does not always result in engaging technology per se at a deeper level (the social elements/benefits can be as significant as the potential technical acquisition/practice benefits.)

4. Not everyone who can/may/could/’should’ be involved in technology will know about or migrate to ham radio.

5. Ham radio operators are 0.2 % of the US population – NOT statistically significant. I’m going to venture that the ACTIVE ham population is 0.1% and the TECHNICAL ham population is 0.05%. Given these #s and the number of hams who make it into technology at a career level… the overall audience is much larger and th hoped for result of public engagement in technology is MUCH larger than ham radio alone can satisfy.

6. Indeed there are MANY opportunities, reasons and MUSTS for more hams to MUCH BETTER know science/technology vs some of the “tribal knowledge”, myth, legend, conjecture, assumption out there.

7. Ever since “Mike Rowe” and my own career, employer and customer exposure to technology, indeed, YES!!! any and all people we can expose technical opportunities to are indeed the future core life-blood, backbone of any/all things that touch all of our lives. Just as bridges and buildings will be challenged, ‘devices’ and ‘apps’ will be USELESS without a continuing supply of technical people in the foreground and background.

Yes, it IS important to be excited, passionate, supportive, encouraging, and offer many and various ways to attract and retain interest in ham radio, at least for the hobby itself, but as above, we’re a SMALL part of much larger audience result.

Still – Ohm’s Law, et al ARE ubiquitous, global, universal, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, gender/race/creed… agnostic. RF works pretty much the same way for AM broadcast as it does for ‘wireless’, WiFi, unlimited data, public safety and ham radio fun.

It’s THE SCIENCE of all this that provides for and allows all of this to work, not a 0.2% avocation or abbreviated coding languages or cheap CPUs.

“100 Year Old Technology”

Foreword…

FWIW – this alone is a cornerstone/basis for an emerging media discussion about “100 year old technology” some have spouted about ham radio, and the reality of how the basics of radio differ from the evolving technologies that use radio.

Have been developing this discussion as the some in the media have begun to explore local ham radio on OUR local UHF linked repeater network.

Introduction

In this age of ‘devices’, Wi-Fi, ‘bars’, “unlimited data”, marketing, engineering, implementers, manufactuers, retailers, have been purposefully hiding some amazingly basic technology behind ‘apps’ and user-experience facades for over a decade.  For some of us this is the ‘consumerization’ of I.T.  For others of us this is pulling the “tin foil hat wool” over the eyes of investors, regulators, developers and manufacturers and ultimately consumers.

Consumers are intentionally distracted to NOT think of the core “100 year old technology” buried in their i- and droid-things.  The thousands of practitioners who make, install and maintain the core, essential pieces of “100 year old technology” cringe everytime some media pundit or politician yammers on about ‘new’ x-generation ‘technology’ that appears to make your point-and-click devices/apps be more/better/faster/cheaper.

Those practitioners are your basic device and antenna and tower and network design engineers, the “tower dogs” who traverse the country to install those ‘mere’ towers, the fiber-optic or microwave backbone components to feed those towers your data, and seem to catch most of the flack when power goes out, cellular networks are overloaded, etc.  Good or bad – consumers have no awareness, clue or care HOW their unlimited data gets to them – and in that have no idea how their device and service providers are deceiving them!  Worse than ignoring the core ‘technology’ and skills that deliver that data, are everyone in that supply chain that fail to recognize the world is running out of people who know HOW to deliver to the promises of your ‘unlimited’ contract.

A specific and amazing example follows, with background…

Zello, Facetime, Zoiper, iaxrpt, etc are no more or less than specialized/evolved application models on top of a layer or two of IP network technology traversing some pretty ‘trick’ “4G” digital radio protocols to do none other than to get the human voice from one human to another via one ‘appliance’ to another. Most/all domestic and long distance “landline” telephone implementation is now voice-over-IP – not much different from Skype, Google Voice, etc.

Evolved and evolving “digital two-way radio” – P25, NXDN, Fusion, Trbo/DMR, and older digital trunking are again voice (radio) over IP implementations providing for human voices to get from one mouth to another’s ear.

Underlying ALL of that is the “100 year old technology” of radio transmission. Actually 100 years is ambiguous. Marconi, et al discovered/proved that radio transmission is a thing over 100 years ago. The first radio transmission occured in 1896/1897 (121 years.) Voice transmission over radio first happened in Canada in 1900 (so 117 years.) First (AM) broadcast radio in 1920 (93 years.) First two-way police radio use – 1928 (most like a majority of public, commercial and amateur radio.) FM in 1933 (84 years.) First portable two-way radios – 1940. Common public safety and commercial voice radio implementations

So – one can ponder the actual vintage of which specific, practical “old technology” dates modern radio implementations? Radio itself is 121 years old. Practical evolved two-way radio use is 77 +/- years old. Paging then 2-way radio began in 1955 and ramped up through 1960 (57 years.) “Car phones” became a thing circa 1970 (47 years) – I had a car phone at 18 in 1973 – as the engineer for a mobile phone company. Digital two-way radio technology didn’t really become a practical reality until 1995 (22 years) about the time digital cellular phone services evolved.

Today’s radio – be it analog or digital – resembles nothing of the primitive 121 year old “RF noise” Marconi created and detected. It more resembles first the evolved FM methodology of 1940-1955 – where there is a constant controlled RF carrier transmission, modulated by any number of analog or digital methods.

One core point is, once we began to understand, were able to measure and characterize RF, then refine transmitting (radios and power amplifiers), emitting it (antennas) and detecting it (receivers) – pure ‘radio’ technology has not changed in 50-60 years. We make and broadcast RF energy (transmitters and antennas), apply information (audio or data) to it in various methods, detect it (antennas and receivers) and extract information from it. TV – analog or digital – all the ‘same.’ Radio is radio.

Huge differences because of the frequency of the radio waves, and the transmitted power, dictate the size and types of antennas and inter-coupling to get power from a transmitter into the ‘air’, understand how it ‘travels’ through the ‘air’ and, due to the characteristics of the ‘air’ – where it can be detected – and Mother Nature plays a HUGE part in that variable.

In MANY critical, essential, scientific ways, your iPhone is no more or less innovative that the first “walkie-talkies” developed for soldiers during WW2!!! What differentiates them is the “application layer” of how you interact with the device to achieve essentially the same effect – communications between two or more people.

It is that “application layer” that people are most emotional, romantic, compelled, purist, critical, concerned about. In many cases that application layer is life or death, or otherwise an overt risk depending on use and need. THIS we must be cognizant and considerate of – not just how pizzazz or nifty, profitable or convenient – but what parts you can rely on.

Once you get the ‘radio’ parts understood, then you have to be aware of the underlying application and other dependency parts. Analog/voice radio depends on VERY little other than two radios and their operators.

‘Apps’ depend on HUNDREDS of mostly but not always reliable middle-parts that can and DO fail at the most needed times – because of power loss, physical damage, cable/fiber damage, server, network, firewall, router, management computer or myriad other VERY complex systems in between the sender and the receiver.

Zello for example managed to survive ONLY through an amazing maze of easily fallible points of failure. Neither it nor any of the hundreds of variables between sender and receiver can be relied on in all locations at all times. These are NOT things you can hinge your life on. You can be appreciative IF they do help save lives, but NO ONE of the many service providers, etc. in the middle can or will provide ANY assurances they will be available and sustained in time of critical need or casual wants. It is simply NOT possible!

We simply must keep this discussion of awareness and reality open and sustained. The “100 year old technology” as we radio folks know it, and some few truly understand, as pure radio science, is under constant ‘threat’ by ‘application’ vendors looking more at “application advantage” and thus revenue than delivery of the prime motivator – two or more people communicating – preferably in REAL-TIME, NOT network/device processes time.

Stay tuned!

Saving Who-ville…

A frequent response to the low-skill but need to make a living wage issue is “simply, get off your butt, learn a skill, get a better job.”

That to me sounds as intimidating and dismissive as the worst false-promise-hope of politicians, pundits, business leaders of “you can be anything you want to be!”

For those who advocate having “the conversation” – this is a good place to start.

HOW?  How would you expose then help your kids, g-kids, friends’ kids, a relative in North Platte, NE, the Bronx, Coolidge, AZ – into the potential of a non-college technical career (they can always get to college once they’ve found something to go for.)  ??  Or certified technical welding or high-rise crane operation?

It’s shouldn’t be surprising that folks will find more technical opportunities in more populated areas, and more infrastructure-related opportunities in outlying areas – a sad state of economics, social geography, geography, etc.

Your personal learning and job-getting experience will shed some light on things. You also need to consider, take inventory of all those things around you, that interconnect enable and empower you from electricity to high-tech connected cars, etc. Then the roads and things that make your house work, and what’s in your connected fridge.

I know it is hard to leave the comfort zone of assumption and expectation. I will challenge but not make you consider “root cause/origin” of these things.

The goal here is to realize and act upon, create and promote the other things that are essential to life between organic local kale and simultaneous streaming of every sports-ing event and the latest One World economic forecast based on outsourcing.

Ask people how they got interested in what actual work pleases them and keeps them accomplishing it.  Look for those opportunities, avenues, and help create paths to and through them.

Are you or your employer willing to invest in sustaining and improving the work and revenue generating capabilities – from the parking lot to the loading dock… or just getting by to the buy-out/acquisition or shutdown?

“Burger flipping” is no more.  “Free college” will be so over-crowded no one can hear or learn anything over the roar of FB and Tweet alerts from all the devices.

Ideas people. Examples and ideas!

 

 

The Who in “Who does that?”

… “No Service” at your service.

The prevailing counter to low-skill labor pay vs automation is of course improve your skills which too often translates to “get a (free?) degree” then you’ll get a better job.  (one example: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/techtank/posts/2015/09/30-minimum-wage-and-automation )
 
So, in-spite of a presumed under-/non-employee college graduate  base… let’s make more of them, with higher tuition loan debt…
 
A degree in what?  Education administration? Human resources? Social media ‘arts’? ‘Journalism’?
 
Given the “world of things” the volume is in (automated) production of things, over-worked (underskilled) coding ‘teams releasing crap faster than it can be tested or fixed to run those things. $2/day outsourced call center workers…
 
…and everyone forgets the thousands, millions of other things that make it possible for your personal things to interact with the world of things and pretend to have friends. 
 
Those millions of interconnection things are produced by a lot of automation, but they are implemented by a LOT of highly skilled technical people – people who do not fit the low-skill-$15/hr level nor the “I expect a CxO position paying 7-figures by the time I’m 30” level.
 
Who installs the fiber? Who erects the cell antennas? Who installs the backup generator? Who hooks up the cell radios to the fiber and antennas?  Who fixes it if it breaks?    Who’d you call to get your WiFi at home working? (not some call center… but the smarter skilled friend…) 
 
Who built your work PC? Figures out what you screwed up (too ashamed to tell them), recovers your hardware and data and tells you to stop clicking on sh**?  Who installed the office WiFi and built the rest of your network so you could go on FB and complain about the stupid tech people (who apparently aren’t good enough to keep you from hitting install or delete?)
 
As for all those Who-people existing in Who-ville. THOSE people. How did they get from or around burger-flipper to the millions of essential non-robotic, non-degreed people your so-called life depends on?   McDonald’s and Starbucks don’t teach that stuff!
There are two significant sets of skilled, experienced workforce involved in that invisible infrastructure, the fabric and glue keeping you wrapped warmly in your thing-world:
  • Trades labor – not just brute-force shovel labor but high-functioning, specifically trained, very-skilled operators of complex mechanical equipment – from machine tools to excavators to antenna tower climbers.
  • ‘Technicians’ – from wire and fiber hooker-uppers to the folks who create the operating system image on you work PC to the folks who manage them by remote magic to hands-on repair (and NOT reveal the stuff that shouldn’t be on your work computer) to the kiosk and ATM installers and fixers that help you avoid actually having to talk to real people (you know, the robots you claim could do that burger-flipper job better.)

THOSE people got their jobs out of example, inspiration, imagination, a direct compelling relationship between themselves and those things of the world – much like music or visual arts resonate with some, personally performing actual cognizant work is undeniable for the large part of world between you and food, friends, funds, and freedom to go from one place to another.

A majority of my friends and associates, whether they also got a degree, came from if not still live in this Who-ville of directly interacting with the things that make their world possible, and that they contribute to the world and their own personal well-being, mostly-independent yet largely appreciative of others around them.

That mostly sums up the ‘who’ factor.  The gap is the HOW factor. Perhaps ultimately the IF factor. HOW will the WHO get trained and experienced?  Are their future WHO people or are “burger-flipper” or ‘CxO’ the only options the world threatens/promises?

If you want all that stuff you need, want, cannot live without, to continue to exist, we have to recognize, accept, insist, inspire, promote, support, provide for and make happen the growth and survival of Who-ville. THAT is where a the chances are for more permanent and higher living wages and employment value.  THAT is where happier people ‘live’ in the work world – THEY personally are invested in themselves, their skills, the outcomes.

Ask anyone over 40 or 50 who works at a tech firm, phone, cable, computer, audio-visual, semiconductor, radio-TV broadcast, public safety, what they have seen in the last 10, 20, 30 years of their arrival and growth in technical services delivery, and what is so suddenly happening now – major attrition without backfill. Ask friends in the trades as well.

No one is looking over their shoulder to learn what they know, do what they do.  Consumers and thus management are expecting, forcing automation and off-shore displacement, cute little i-things, to do physical, tactile, analytical and conclusive technology delivery – with eventually NO one left to do it.

The past 5-10 years have been very telling as the first of the “golden age of hands-on technology” began to retire. Now those of us toward to middle to back-end of that ‘generation’ are now beginning to retire or had career or life re-directions that take us out of circulation, away from those who would might possibly get the inspiration, examples and guidance to options beyond “burger-flipper” and more modestly below “future CxO.”

That sucking sound in the background is not just social anxiety about politics and chalk writing… it’s of all those wires, connections, devices, pipes, roadways, bridges… being devoured by the black hole between “never amount to anything” and “deserve anything you want.”

In another 10, 15, 20 years all those renewable energy driven things simply might never increase or if broken work again, because you cannot reach anyone at the call center who couldn’t come out and install or replace those things. The burger dispensers won’t work. Your Tesla won’t recharge. You couldn’t pay anyone anything to do stuff for you because the ATMs and tap-to-pay don’t. “No Service” is the norm in more ways than one.

You want fries with that… but you can’t always get what you want.  Seriously, in fact, you won’t be able get anything you want. Some of us will just make and fix what we want… while we still can.

 

TechWorks, Now!

If you’re familiar with MikeRoweWorks you might be supportive and hopeful the initiative will continue to get traction and have success in the trades.

I have ‘written’ them a few times encouraging consideration for similar focus on technical training. Nadda, zero, zed, zip, zilch.

OK, I get it, Mike understands hammers, shovels, reptile sperm and pooh bags. Stick with what you know. Car clubs and welded lawn art.

While we have Maker and amateur radio and RC hackers, etc. there isn’t yet a focus on basic to advanced technical training – the kind we had in shop class and could get in some local tech colleges (I doubt anyone at De Anza or Mission or West Valley even know how to solder?)

So, I float this out there, and my friend Gordon Kraft craft will slap his forehead and exclaim I finally get it…

I want to do a “MikeRoweWorks” for tech, not 9 year olds writing Python code, 9 year olds learning to measure, wire, solder, scope, probe, crimp, assemble, test, identify, fix, verify… the basics of AC, DC, audio, RF, coax versus twisted, cellular versus 2-way, SCADA sensors, alarm loops, inverters vs chargers…

This has been my “punch drunk angst” for decades. When I realized my life, high school and job experiences somehow gave me as much or more than tech school or Navy A school. Even more when I realized that my PC mentor and I had gone through a tremendous teaching/learning experience not yet ever documented at the time and started writing books for others.

Here’s my ‘ask’. I need a good name for the initiative – TechWorks, TechFuture….

I need a collaborator (well, maybe I am that insecure)/muse to help form up the message and the mission – toward a GoFundMe/Kickstarter, etc. Some Board people and seed to get it legit on-record. Some tech companies with “shop people” and exposure. Might want to touch-base with TechShop.ws to align partner/class/equipment access.

We’ll need ‘librarians’ to scout on-line tech lessons and be able to lead to practical opportunities.

Probably need “less institutional” (creative/flexible) curriculum assistance eventually.

If not this – then who is going to fix all those self-service fast-food kiosk machines displacing workers who won’t get $15/hr? Better let’s setup new-tech workers to make a legit functional $25/hr.

How did you get YOUR tech job? Who’s going to do as good a job as you when you retire? Let’s create those people now while we can!

GO!

The End of Windows

… as we know it.

 

Nagging Windows 10… (something not political/meme-ish for a change!)
 
There may be a way to stop this – for awhile…  the obscure text below will tell Windows 8.1 and some versions prior not to nag you.
 
Until Microsoft INSISTS on bothering the crap out of you to take the upgrade – which is not necessarily a bad thing on many ‘current’ systems.
 
Windows 10 is the end-of-the-line for Windows OSes as we know them. There probably won’t be a “Windows 11” as such.  MS is ramping up to make operating-system-as-a-service the new model. 
 
Rather than play the Service Pack game for larger feature and function enhancements,

OS upgrades will be rendered incrementally almost whenever Microsoft sees-fit, but generally expected to be part of the monthly “Patch Tuesday” cycle. 
 
The different news about this is that at some point Microsoft will have to charge you for ‘Windows’ somehow. If they do that the way they are rendering “Office 365” (who wants to be in the office 365?) they will eventually require you to subscribe to the operating system.  After all big corporations DO have to make money – their executives and high-level employees depend on their stock grants and options…
 
Who knows if the subscription will be by the month, or year, per family pack, etc. 
 
If Microsoft could have gotten as much operating system revenue out of PC sales as Apple does by iOS and Mac sales, things might be different.  But that the likes of Dell, HP, Lenovo, et al can sell devices without an OS, piracy is still a thing.   That could be one reason they are pushing on “Surface-land”. 
 
The Surface devices have evolved quite nicely from awkward ‘pad’ wanna-bes.  They won’t replace hard-core gaming and computationally-intense workstations – yet.  (Hmmmm… a full touch-screen Linux tablet convertible… why not?)   OSx on a Surface or similar – that would be nice (and affordable!)
 
So, there – one of my first “technical writing” pieces in a LONG time…
Now on to some short-term peace-of-mind:
 
—- copy from line below…
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
 
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate]
“DisableOSUpgrade”=dword:00000001
 
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Gwx]
“DisableGwx”=dword:00000001
… to end of line above —-
 
Save as plain text file named NoWin10Nag.REG (be aware to not let it be saved just as NoWin10Nag.REG.txt or NoWin10Nag.txt – it must have ONLY the .REG extension.   ‘Explorer’ to it, double-click and import to your Windows Registry.