The Winlink QRM and Poor Choices Continue.

January 12, 2020

I get that our hobby is a “reflection of our society” so it’s not surprising to see so much lack of personal responsibility, lack of consideration of others, and the entitlement mentality increasingly on display. That said, one would think a group (Winlink) seeing so much ongoing anger, frustration, and regulatory heat aimed their way would realize they need to be making widespread on-air operational changes. Nope.

One only has to sort this list here by frequency and see a long list of poor frequency choices that are just asking for QRM problems. Admittedly on some bands the choices are tougher, but not impossible. There is zero excuse for what is observable there on a band like 20 meters.

Rather than be like virtually every other digital mode and pick one or two watering holes (centers of activity) they choose to spread across entire sub-bands like a virus. Then many of them set around apparently dumbfounded why so many are frustrated with the QRM their HF gateways and users cause and why someone like Ted Rappaport has so much support.

Thus what is easily STILL observable today begs the question of “is this leadership/gateway operator ignorance or arrogance?” Sorry for the harsh question, but what else is one left to conclude?

 

A few examples?

For many decades the Network 105 folks have used 14.105 LSB. For over a decade they have suffered ongoing QRM from Winlink gateways whose sysops either too lazy or too incompetent to make better QRG choices. Yet after all the drama of the last year or so we still see something like this:

#OhDear

Sadly this is just snippet of how several of the Winlink gateway operators just ask for and add fuel to dangerous regulatory fires like the Ted Rappaport/NYU mess. A mess that is undoubtedly the first of many our hobby is going to face until some operating behaviors change or they get HF Email gateways like Winlink banned or effectively shut down. Question for some of these gateway folks….is that what you want? Not to mention you’ve helped create a pending regulatory situation that threatens the entire digital side of the hobby. Bravo, good job, good freakin’ job….not.

Heck recently I was out west in the car swapping HF/6m antennas around before heading out to grab lunch for my crew. I tossed the 30m antenna on the mount to run an HF APRS test and check on the gateway back home. Flipped on the ham gear and the 30m APRS window is being clobbered by a Pactor 3 link in progress. Okay, NBD….I put the 6m whip back on the mount to use it for monitoring since driving around with a 7+ foot tall HF antenna on “her car’s” trunk isn’t going to happen LOL. Go down to Subway to get our takeout lunch, the link is still going. Leave the store, the link is still going. Get back to the office, link is still going.

After lunch I check to see who the hell was downloading half the internet on a crowded band like 30 meters LOL. Looked to be a VE7 /MM station downloading a pile of weather data. Okay, maybe he is at sea with no other options available like Satphone/SatFi/etc, but something tells me he had other more appropriate options available.  Something tells me there was either some WiFi available in port (hints that he was docked) or a satphone and either too lazy or cheap to use them.

Was his content legal? Yes if there is no “common carrier” angle to it. Was it appropriate and considerate use of crowded spectrum? Well that depends and I don’t want to get into the “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” debates or the like. All I can offer up is I would not be comfortable tying up several KHz of an already congested 10 KHz window for that long, especially if I had other options available. Again, I have no way of knowing his full situation or available options, but I’ve yet to meet a /MM operator that wasn’t packing a satphone with them at sea. Never mind that if they are on HF Winlink then they already have at least some (if not all) of the gear needed for HF SailMail.

 

Why don’t I use HF Winlink?

I’ve been asked before why I don’t use Winlink for remote email considering we often wind up in places where there is no WiFi and or cell service. Well I’m far from a “rich guy” but I have better ways to access my email. One is called a satphone plus a tablet or laptop. Laptop or tablet depends on our load-out & charging capacity. It isn’t broadband fast, but it gets the job done and a lot more spectrum considerate.

Portable SatPhone terminal for remote email access.

While sometimes I have to reposition for “clearer sky” the satphone has never failed us. The HF gear, if I even bring it with me is Plan C at best. Yes Plan C versus Plan B, since we usually have two satphones, my personal one and the other half has access to several from her aviation day job. Each is on a different constellation so we have system redundancy. If one of the aircraft is nearby then we have several voice and data options available on it although that’s a $$$ “generator” to fire up LOL.

I generally don’t use my winlink account for anything more than testing/stress testing the latest “version of the week” of Winlink Express with the Tracker modem/firmware across RP, 1200 and 9600 baud. This also allows confirmation that the club RMS gateway is operating fine and the newest version hasn’t broken something.

I prefer access to my personal and work email addresses in a more secure and spectrum considerate manner. Since I still run a business a lot of even my personal/hobby email threads can easily wander into biz related communications. Thus I just keep all my email flows off Part 97 spectrum and never have to worry receiving an email that I read and think “oh boy, that wasn’t suitable for Part 97 airwaves.”

Real world use has shown the satphones are 10x more reliable and usually 1000x more appropriate than HF email. Never mind that where we are often camping/fishing can be a 1 or 2 day horseback ride in. The reality of that means if we have a dire emergency in the backcountry then we are neck deep in “the land of you are on your own for awhile.”  HF Email = unlikely to be immediately useful unless we’re sending our preferred obituary language to the family LOL.

grandeur

“I believe there’s something to be said for exploring beautiful places…it’s good for the spirit.”   David Scott (Cmdr Apollo 15)

In most remote location dire emergency scenarios I’m not going for a HF radio first. Sorry guys wrong tool for the job. I’m activating a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon…think EPIRB for land use). Preferably going to activate two of them. We have one in each medical pack plus an air-band HT with one pack to compliment our usual FM gear. From there we’re going to be making some satphone calls while one of us finds a helicopter LZ.  There is no just dialing 911 and a few minutes later we have an EMS squad pulling into our driveway as there is no driveway out there.  #PlanAccordingly #GearUpAccordingly

Family/friends on our registered emergency SARSAT contact lists know they are on it. They know to tell the SAR folks that one PLB active might be accidental, but unlikely so send the cavalry and keep trying both satphone numbers. If both PLBs are active then that’s not an accidental activation, tell that cavalry to step it up along with ensuring they know which VHF air & UHF FM frequencies we’ll be guarding for their approach or overflight.

When you are where cell service = nil to maybe one bar up on high ground on the right side of the mountain (if lucky) some good rules are….

Rule #1 – Be prepared for emergencies.

Rule #2 – Have a plan, at least for the most likely scenarios.

Rule #3 – Have a backup plan since the first plan may not work.

All skill is in vain when that Angel named Murphy pisses in the flintlock of your musket.”  My friend Tim’s adaptation of an old military saying.

Rule #4 – Don’t depend upon cheap gear made in a sweatshop in a certain SE Asian country. Quality is cheap when a life is expensive. 

 

So far over several years now we’ve only had one minor (compared to what it could of been) medical issue out there involving an ugly fall resulting in a broken wrist and head laceration. We splinted and bandaged her up. Then rode her out (~5 hours) on our strongest/calmest horse…..for the locals, good ol’ “do it all, seen it all” Star. The satphone performed just fine when used for hourly check-ins once out of UHF range and calling a SP dispatch friend to fill them in on our location, plans, and flight weather checking some air-evac resources (aka “that backup plan”).

Hard to describe the priceless comfort of looking over to see the L-band satphone strapped to my shoulder locked onto a constellation of serious communication birds above us. A GPS synced up solid so we knew exactly where we were at on our reverse track out. Comforting knowing that we had “fly her out” options available at the press of “Send” if she started showing any signs that the head injury was more serious than just needing a few stitches.

While taking a break by the river and letting her call her Dad back in Connecticut to fill him in on what happened, I watched thinking “Geez isn’t modern comm-tech just amazing.” Needless to say that was one phone and airtime bill that I gladly paid. Also several ounces of weight that I will never complain about packing around. #WorthEveryPenny #WorthEveryOunce

GlobalStar

Iridium

 

All that is not “dissing” HF. It just is what it is in today’s modern communications world.

I realize that some hams will take any criticism of HF too seriously. Others think every EmComm nail requires a Part 97 hammer. The above is not intended to be critical of HF or ham radio, but in today’s communications world the Part 97 hammer is often not the first tool you should be reaching for. If it is all you have then fine, but if you’re at sea or enjoying the great outdoors well outside of cell service then it should NOT be the only option you have. Plus I’ve yet to figure out a practical and effective HF antenna setup for /HM (horseback mobile) LOL.

Moving on…

 

Ham Radio is not to be a Common Carrier.

Remember we are not to be using Part 97 spectrum as a “common carrier.” I would not be surprised if we get a “reminder” of that from the FCC here in a few weeks.

If you are regularly using email over Part 97 spectrum to communicate with non-hams when you have other more appropriate options available then I think we all know deep down that is, at best, dancing dangerously close to common carrier use. Spin all you wish, it is what it is and 97.113 says what it says.

 

Be considerate of how much HF airtime you use.

Our HF spectrum is not yours, you share it with others. More accurately one could say it belongs to the public and it is all just “on lease” for us to use towards the items listed in the Scope and Purpose of the Amateur Radio Service. If we don’t put it to good use then it’s subject to being reallocated away from us to those that will put it to better uses. The recent bad news for our currently allocated spectrum is just foreplay for the spectrum sucking monster that is coming. #WakeUp #UseMoreBands #MoreHamRadioLessHamInternet

What you do on HF has a high chance of impacting others either positively or negatively so operate accordingly, especially on our very crowded lower HF bands. I used to catch heat from some of the BBS crowd when KYPN’s policy was (still is) that we were not going to tie up 80/40/30 meters with heavy BBS bulletin forwarding. Restrained use for p-mail and NTS flows was okay, but that was all we were comfortable with.

In years past it was common to see bulletin forwarding sessions (not ours) on 40 and 30 meters that went on for hours…yes hours. All to move stuff highly unlikely to be read by anyone and easily available elsewhere. Hard to reconcile that with considerate operating.

Obviously message forwarding over VHF/UHF is a whole different story compared to HF. One could argue we could use more utilization of the VHF/UHF packet channels.

 

 

Emergencies and the occasional training exercises = different story.

Obviously actual emergency/disaster HF communications equal a whole different story. You do what you gotta do and most of us will gladly clear off all the HF spectrum and airtime you need.

If you have a problem with that or “the EmComm” folks then go review 97.1 and The Amateurs Code….or just turn in your ham license. ’nuff said.

 

73
WA4ZKO


FAQs – KYPN’s Stance on the Winlink vs NYU-Rappaport Clusterfudge

December 19, 2019

Ah, the Winlink versus NYU-Rappaport clusterfudge in progress. My, my, oh my what a mess the kids have made with this one.

I think G8BPQ summed up the core issue very well here:

“This is not an issue with Pactor but with FBB compression, which has been around on packet as well as pactor for over 25 years. To use it as an excuse to ban Pactor is laughable.”  John Wiseman, G8BPQ

Yeah, that John, the guy that rarely publicly comments on such things. I think I saw where even Phil Karn (KA9Q) voiced his concerns over this silliness.

 

For those asking “what if” the FCC does this or that with this Rappaport vs Winlink mess?

There are some good folks involved with Winlink. Unfortunately Winlink leadership and some of it’s HF gateway operators (and some users) have been their own worst enemy. As such many of us really struggle to feel sorry for them.

Ted Rappaport is definitely Winlink’s worst nightmare come true and a large flock of their chickens have come home to roost. That said, we are gravely concerned for all the collateral damage Ted’s poorly chosen approach here may bring to large swaths of the digital side of the hobby.

There used to be this well founded old ham wisdom about “Police ourselves, work together to solve our problems, and think twice before asking the FCC for their opinion.” Why? It has this nasty way of coming back to bite us all in our backsides.

While I’m sympathetic to some of Ted’s concerns, others are just off the charts ridiculous. Even worse it opened the doors to some more perpetually miserable, easily offended, and overly entitled kids wanting to get in on the dramafest.  Wow, all over core problems that could of been solved with some HF bandplan tweaks, Winlink leadership not ignoring ongoing complaints, Winlink HF gateways being A LOT more considerate in frequency choices, and better enforcement against flagrant abuses of our spectrum using the existing rules.

Given the spread of lack of personal responsibility and perpetual adolescence across our society today, I’m not surprised by this mess at all. Even more sadly, I suspect this is just the first legal battle on this topic. Something tells me Ted and crew are not going to give up if they don’t get the ruling they want this time around. Especially if it’s true what some think is actually driving this. All as we head into a new decade full of increasing threats to our spectrum from commercial interests that would love to see our ranks distracted and divided.

Plus let’s not kid ourselves here, Winlink is far from the only bad actor on our HF bands when it comes to piss poor operating, violations, and unnecessary QRM.  How much are you hearing about that side of things? ’nuff said.

 

Did Winlink contact you regarding the Open Message Viewer?

That question pretty much blew up the inbox for a couple weeks earlier this year. No they never contacted me regarding the Winlink Open Message Viewer or about the “A Compromise?” suggestions in one of my 2018 blog postings.

The interesting part was watching how long it took for the bulk of the ham Winlink community to realize it was out there. It was there for awhile before the news on it blew up. A lot of what followed reminded me of that old farmer saying of “If the rooster is crowing then he’s damn sure been in the henhouse.” LOL

IMHO what they did was a good start towards some needed transparency. I think a years worth of archives should be the minimal retention period. Should also be searchable by band and time/date period which would make going back to ID a QRM source a lot easier. Would even be handy for the ARRL to vet the Field Day bonus point messages having at least used some non-LTE (LOL) RF to leave the sites.

Gateway operators and members of the Official Observer program should be able to sign up for ongoing archives via email so they can archive and search for problems as needed. Now that it is undeniable that the Winlink system is being abused by some users, it seems the above would be a good minimal foundation towards real transparency and deterring abusive/violative behaviors.

I have mixed feelings about putting the archives behind a login. There are ways to mask out email addresses and PII data before serving it up publicly while maintaining the original message in case needed by the FCC.

 

For those I saw commenting “our served agencies are going to freak out over that Open Message Viewer”

Well that’s on you. You clearly oversold yourselves and the system to your served agencies. Anything that sensitive should of never been going over Part 97 airwaves to begin with. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything they want and frankly you shouldn’t be doing so.

It’s NOT the job nor the proper role of ham radio to routinely be the “Plan B” they should already have. Be the backup for their backup and make it clear what you can and can’t do for them.  Undersell, over deliver not the reverse. Learn to say “no” to folks that just want you to save them some budget money for backup comm gear they should already have.

We are the Amateur Radio Service not the Emergency Radio Service so know where draw that line. Hint, hint the FCC has previously reminded us of that.

 

The K4KPN-14 RMS Gateway’s future?

I suspect its days are numbered. Regardless, rest fully assured that I will not loose a single tear as I edit the config file on the Jonesville node/app stack to disable the RMS functions and restart things. You may well hear a “thank you lord” shouted from the radio room LOL. Those that followed the old blog know that I’m not exactly a big fan of Winlink.

The RMS gateway app on that BPQ32 node stack has been and continues to be an optional component of our local AuxComm digital plan in that it “might” be handy in some limited cases. That was turned on after hints and nudging from KY ARES, yet the only consistent ARES usage has been out of Ohio…not Kentucky LOL. Don’t get me wrong, they are welcome on the system, but that’s not our primary service area. Once the Winlink Open Message Viewer and WinlinkArmageddon news hit the ranks then the already minimal usage disappeared over the summer.

Outpost against the KYPN BPQ32 packet BBS has been and always will be our primary local digital messaging strategy, nothing has or is changing there.  Frankly these fiascos of late have helped us appreciate the wisdom in building our own locally owned, locally oriented, and locally controlled internet independent packet node and BBS system.

 

Predictions on the FCC ruling?

Who knows. I want to have faith that the FCC can sort through all the noise and give us a good ruling that doesn’t cripple a radio service that is already struggling to remain relevant and facing increasing threats to our spectrum.

I’m starting to detect they may not be overly happy with the PITA the ARS is becoming for them. Remember they don’t exactly make money off us.

We also need to realize that we don’t have a Riley Hollingsworth working at the FCC anymore. One of the things that makes what Ted & Crew did so darn reckless.

A good ruling could actually bring some clarity to some of the issues brought up here.

That said, if my ARES/AuxComm/CERT team was dependent upon Winlink I would be working on Plan B for my digital messaging needs.

 

73
WA4ZKO


KYPN Status, K4KPN-14 Shutdown Rumors, ARES, NG0O, Etc

December 19, 2019

Holiday greetings from a snowy 4-land…well it tried to snow. Lots going on around here which I will not even try to cover it all in this posting. Seems like just yesterday we just got back from a long Thanksgiving out in Iowa visiting the XYL’s family and tomorrow we start packing to go spend the holidays out in 7-land. Wow, time flew by this year.

Let’s deal with some rumors and FAQs showing up in the inbox lately.

 

KYPN Packet Systems Status?

All KYPN packet radio systems that were online last summer have been online all of 2019 and remain so as of today. Preventive maintenance was done back in the Spring and all systems are running fine.

Update:  Dec 19th – PM done. I tested all ports, QRP (4-5w)  mobile from 24 miles out, all functioning fine. Quick check on service monitor shows all radio gear operating fine,. Antennas checked, 10m port showing signs the surge suppressor might be failing, replaced, all is fine there.  441/223/28 MHz ports are the most used, all are in great shape. The 10m/6m/2m noise floor remains extremely low so excellent Rx range. 2m port often hears stations over in WV.

The “Orange” sheet for the packet system was updated in July and can be found here in PDF format. The public and internal County ICS-217a forms were refreshed in July and have been distributed as appropriate. New Outpost and BBS/Node cheat sheets were laminated and distributed as appropriate.

For those wondering about the color names?  We print many of the cheat sheets we use across our EOC, MCP, and go-kit documentation binders on colored paper to make them easier to find when needed. Examples?  A ham ICS-217a = red, PS/AuxComm 217 = blue, NTS = yellow, etc.

Some may of noticed that everything is being phased over to the club callsign (K4KPN). There is no need to read anything into that like some have. Nothing more than just part of our forward planning towards the day we fully retire out west and others will be taking over daily control op responsibilities.

Yes blogging has been very scarce and sporadic. No need to read anything into that. Frankly one should get used to that. I’ll try to post more in the coming winter months, especially if we decide to “winter” in 4-land again this year.

 

K4KPN-14’s Future?

Some have heard that we are shutting K4KPN-14 down on December 20th. Shutdown of the RMS (only the RMS functions) on the Jonesville node/app stack has been discussed, but no final decision has been made.

None of our local KYPN crew, FD/EMA, and CERT/AuxComm folks here are even interested in Winlink so its future has been a big ? for awhile now. Some of it is they were never interested in it and some not wanting to get near the black cloud that hangs over Winlink lately. If we need email access then we have a long list of ways to access that. We are far more concerned about what happens if the internet is down or is too hostile to be used and we have a heavy messaging need well suited to digital transport.

Outpost against the KYPN BPQ32 packet BBS has been and always will be our primary local digital messaging strategy, nothing has or is changing there.  Frankly these fiascos of late have helped us appreciate the wisdom in building our own locally owned, locally oriented, and locally controlled internet independent packet node and BBS system.

 

K4KPN-15 2m APRS Digipeater/I-Gate Shutdown Plans?

The only system we currently have any shutdown plans for is the K4KPN-15 2m APRS Digi/I-Gate. It is no secret that has been coming and many months (actually over a year) worth of notice has been given. This may be part of the rumor mill confusion regarding K4KPN-14 RMS.

Current plans are to turn K4KPN-15 off in late January 2020, maybe early July 2020 at the latest depending on how much longer I need to keep leasing it’s current home location as part of my day job needs. Have no doubt that its days are numbered. If there is enough 2m APRS interest in the area then hopefully some others will step up and run the needed infrastructure for it.

 

Are you still involved in KY ARES?

No I have not been active in KY ARES since around 2016. If nothing else was at play here, I wouldn’t have the time to commit to it even if I wanted to. Plus given my family plans there is little need for me to get involved in 4-land ARES when I’m scarce here and will become more so as time goes on.

I have a completed AF MARS application here in the office waiting on a date and signature. That will be the direction I go in when time allows for such a commitment after we get settled into retirement.

Locally our county, like many others, is going down the CERT/AuxComm team road. It has an amateur radio component and I’m helping facilitate that when and where I can. Our EM wants a well trained and well vetted (the felon and sex offender problem in our ham ranks is becoming an increasing concern) team of guys/gals ready to fit into an AuxComm environment more effectively than a group with to many unknowns.

KY ARES is suffering from a long list of problems and challenges that could be a lengthy blog posting alone. Let’s just boil it down to a lack of participation, lack of credibility, and obsessing over things not worthy of much (if any) attention when compared to the mission and current preparedness levels.

Lot of “wearing the hat, but not the boots” and tons of “all hat, no horse” as we say out west. Toss in some bullying (lets call it what it is, you should see an email that I was given a copy of, wowzer) of both ranks and critics and it’s not hard to see why participation is so low in state with nearly 10k hams. Actual relevant training and on a air practice of that training is MIA and what’s there is often counterproductive. Results of last major exercise revealed several problems including  basic message handling failures. It is what it is.

There are some good folks involved in places, I wish them well, but as a whole KY ARES has unfortunately have fallen into the same traps of the past.  I’ll leave it at that.

 

Seems 2019 vindicated your preaching about the coming spectrum threats.

I was not the only one warning of what is coming so nothing to vindicate. Yes “is coming” is exactly what I meant to say. What we’ve seen thus far is nothing compared to the spectrum sucking monster that is coming. The days of us being so lazy and complacent towards spectrum utilization must come to an end.

Soapbox warning……

Newington needs to stop the “quantity over quality” approach that is helping lead us down a road of ever decreasing relevance. We are not going to keep our spectrum just so a bunch of appliance operators can play with internet linked toys, contest, and DX. Not saying those are bad pursuits (I enjoy the last two myself), but they’re not going to keep a healthy sized band chart on our hamshack walls.

That said, if you are a U.S. ham radio operator and you are NOT a member of the ARRL….then shame on you if you don’t change that. Yeah I get it, I detest some of what they are doing but right now they are the only unified voice we have in Washington.  The last thing we need as we head into the new decade is a weakened ARRL. Plus it seems when they struggle for membership they become more open to dumb ideas LOL.  Yeah, pinch your nose, take a stiff drink, write the check and join.

AMSAT needed to get back to dreaming big a decade ago. Enough of the endless 2m/440 FM voice toys. Let’s get some serious birds up there that are truly useful for emergency and remote communications. Imagine where we’d be at if we had a few modernized 9600 baud store-n-forward birds up there?  Imagine if some of them had nice microwave data forwarding links on them?

Imagine if the crew that went into KP4 was able to fire up a D710 or D72 radio, a tablet, and modest antennas and not be screwed if there is a useful attachment because they had the speed to handle it. Imagine the field teams using D710/D72’s at 9600 back to the San Juan via a bird, then San Juan also has a multi-megabit microwave satcom link back stateside? Yeah that’s easier said than done, but we didn’t even try working towards it?  Available spectrum is not on the list of challenges here…well at least for now.

I look at something like the OtherNet box I installed this summer at a friend’s cabin in in southern Idaho. A 12 GHz LNB, no dish needed, just a freakin’ LNB strapped to a rail with some plumbing strap and pulling down a clean 20 kbps stream 24×7 of useful information for a remote location. Cell service is on the other side of the mountain (literally) so just the news feed alone is handy. Even as limited as OtherNet is one has to wonder why we hams don’t already have something similar to it.

AREDN, you guys were warned about focusing so much on the “easy” (and increasingly noisy) 2.4/5 GHz band approaches. Imagine where we’d be at if we’d focused a lot more on some of the other bands vs just letting them languish. My what we could of done with just 1.2 and 3 GHz makes one want to cry.

In case you haven’t noticed we’re going to have to start ACTUALLY justifying our spectrum going forward. A node on the air isn’t going to count for much minus actual usage data. Defensive arguments based upon theoretical or possible future uses of spectrum we are not using much (if at all) equals spectrum we best get ready to scratch off our band charts.

For the Ham Internet toy folks, how are you going to feel as we loose good chunks of our VHF/UHF bands? How are you going to feel when “they don’t need all that link/aux spectrum, they are already doing more and more of it over the internet vs RF anyways” is one of the compelling arguments the commercial interests use against us? May I suggest using a lot more Ham Radio and a lot less Ham Internet.

We have simply become too lazy, cheap, and apathetic towards real radio communications to survive much longer. Too many appliance operators, too few communicators. Even fewer with much useful technical talent beyond running to their favorite search engine to copy the work of others versus taking a manual and actually learning something. Well those lazy chickens are just starting to come home to roost. If we don’t snap out of this soon we’re going to be setting around wondering “what the hell happened to our hobby.” I used to think we had about 15-20 years left, but I’m starting to think that is a bit too optimistic.

The days of commercial interests thinking “don’t bother even asking about the amateur spectrum” is changing over to “it’s time they start justifying what they have or give it up to those that can put it to uses that better serve the public interest.”

Let there be another lackluster response like post-Katrina and brace yourself for a full on onslaught against all our spectrum.  Hint, they are doing their homework on our spectrum while we are doing what? Fighting over antiquated symbol rate silliness. Plus I’m sure all that symbol rate headache we’re causing the FCC is doing wonders for how they feel towards “the hams and all their valuable spectrum.”

We’ve gone from being respected by the commercial radio world to often being LOL material tying up way too much valuable spectrum. One doesn’t need much imagination to hear the arguments coming, we’ve done a wonderful job of providing them the ammo they need to come raid what they want.

Heck, one doesn’t have to read much between the lines of recent news to realize that our 3 GHz allocation is ALREADY gone. I don’t think I’ve seen a more thinly disguised “they want it, we’re taking it for them, thank you, you kids can feel free to formally pout about it if you want” NPRM in 30+ years.  Wowzer, OMG the precedent this is going to open up here stateside.

Wake up, pay attention, ignorance will not be bliss much longer.

 

What do you think of the NG0O murder case?

Obviously a tragedy. A major loss on many levels. A good reminder of how domestic violence can easily turn deadly.

As far as some of the good father or bad father allegations that are out there in public?  Who among us is a perfect Father? Sure there’s always a little room for a surprise in these things, but nothing justifies murder and the dots are not hard to connect here regarding what most likely happened.

I realize this seems completely out of fashion in our society lately, but let’s try waiting for all the facts to come out after a proper investigation has completed before passing much judgement.   #GoodFreakingGrief

Sorry, maybe I’m a tad jaded but my first instinct is to not trust anything coming from the mouth of a felon that just confessed to a murder after being caught fleeing the scene. If that’s not enough go read the existing DVO against him.

For the knuckleheads trying to make it anti-gun? Zero evidence of any gunfire involved. All evidence points to Marvin being killed with a hammer, a freaking hammer. Suspect we’ll find out that if he would of had a gun handy he might still be with us. Never mind it was good guys with guns that brought his killer in to face justice.

 

 

I’ve seen you out on the reservation. Arapaho or Shoshone?

Neither of those. I have a family there that I’m friends with that I met on a work project out there. We’ve spent a few nights with them there on the Res since the Iowa to NW Wyoming portion of our roadtrips is a wee bit too much for one day’s driving LOL.

I’m part Seneca Indiana via my Grandfather on my Dad’s side. A very distant descendant of Chief Strong of the Buffalo Creek Reservation. Family rumor is I likely have some Cherokee in me via my Grandmother’s family but she never wanted to talk about it.

Unlike a certain politician I don’t try to “gain” from it even though I suspect my bloodline is considerably thicker than her PPM levels LOL. I never lived their life or struggles so I would never try to profit off it. It’s just part of my ancestry and something my late Father and Uncle got me interested in. The other half says it explains my affinity towards horses and why riding into the backcountry to go fishing/camping is “Jeff’s happy place.” Guilty as charged LOL.

 

A true Wyomingite has a Wyoming worthy Rifle, what is yours?

Gee, never heard that before LOL.  Actually we both fit well into the rules of Wyoming worthy calibers…..those calibers that start with either a number 4 or 357 LOL.

Rifle = it depends. Trunk gun is usually an AR-10.  An old .444 Marlin lever-action is usually in my saddle scabbard and backed up by either a Glock 35 in .40sw or a Sig P320 in .357 Sig if needed. The other half is fond of her Henry lever-action in 357 Magnum and her work HK USP in .40sw. All go into the backcountry appropriately loaded with “hot-n-heavy” handloads well suited to intense final negotiations with a large angry or hungry 4-legged problem if it comes down to that.

 

Word is you camp in a real teepee?

Sometimes. A friend down in on the WY/CO border has one they built next to a private lake. The fishing isn’t that great, but the views there are awesome. They built it primarily for a hunting camp.

Don’t laugh, a well designed teepee is a great camping shelter, even in cold weather. It’s actually a pretty neat camping experience so don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.

For the radio geeks….the top makes a decent antenna support and offers a couple easy feedline entrance options LOL. Hey most see top poles merging, I see antenna mast 😉

No, I haven’t done any sweats, put on war paint, wore a headdress, or smoked a peace pipe (I have one)…..yet LOL.

That’s enough for now.

 

73
WA4ZKO

ARSFI (Winlink) Responds to the Rappaport Campaign

December 7, 2018

The Amateur Radio Safety Foundation Inc – AKA the Winlink leadership – recently filed their response to the ongoing Festival of FUD 2018 regarding RM-11708.

ARSFI Board Files FCC Response to Rappaport Campaign

While I don’t necessary agree with everything they offer up, it is a good read if you are actually open minded and pursuing More Facts Less FUD.

It is shameful that this well intended NPRM has resulted in so much FUD and mudslinging. However I’m not surprised given how far our society has degenerated into perpetual adolescence and offense of late.  Hey, it is what it is. As I told someone the other day “I can’t wait to get back to eastern 7-land and spend the upcoming holidays where people are generally so much happier and relaxed.”

While they may not matter much at this point (if they ever did LOL) I filed my brief comments on the FCC ECFS system earlier today. In summary my personal stance is expressed by my filed comment below:

I support the removal of symbol rate restrictions on the amateur bands. The current symbol rate restrictions are clearly an impediment to the purposes laid out in rule 97.1. Carefully considered changes will allow the Amateur Radio Service to thrive going forward into an increasingly digital future, facilitate more effective emergency communications, and bring the Part 97 rules more in line with our neighboring countries. Thank you for your time and consideration. WA4ZKO”

Yes I can be brief. LOL

FWIW, scuttlebutt today is this proposal is moving forward and some rather simple rule changes are coming. Some will soon be happy, some will be unhappy, the sun will continue to rise and set, and the bands will survive just fine. In a decade or two we will be looking back at this mess laughing and wondering why it had to be such a big deal.

Thus this will be my final blog posting on this topic till we get something noteworthy out of the ARRL or the FCC. While I do intend to use some holiday downtime to catch up on some ham radio stuff, I’m not going to spend it dealing with the FUDfest that this well intended proposal has become LOL.

Emails? Sorry, I only respond to those I know or are local stakeholders, otherwise the ham radio inbox would become a full time job and I’m not retired.

 

WA4ZKO

 

 

 

 

 


FCC NPRM 16-239, Pactor 4, National Security Risks (cough) and the Rappaport (N9NB) Story

November 28, 2018

Last Updated:  12/03/2018

There is considerable ongoing chatter out there regarding the FCC NPRM Docket 16-239 and some questions regarding Pactor 4 and B2 compression legality.  The recent “Rappaport Suggests National Security Risks with Amateur Radio Violations” article in Mission Critical Communications has prompted more attention even if some of it is laughable.

It looks like the FCC recently asked some interesting questions in a good read here (PDF). Peter (DL6MAA) did a good job of answering their request and made some noteworthy points. Still this seems to have alarmed some Pactor folks about the future of Pactor 3 and 4. IMHO don’t be alarmed, this looks like the FCC is just doing some fact gathering versus accepting the FUD out there at face value. That is a good thing.

It is also interesting what the FCC didn’t ask about.

 

Short version of this rant for those worried about Pactor or Winlink being banned? Don’t worry, no matter how much certain folks may dislike it, neither Pactor or Winlink are going away. Pactor 1-4 protocols are documented. Pactor 1-4 connections can be monitored. Compression of data on a link does not equal encryption. I suspect the FCC will soon “explain” this to certain crowd once they sort through all the FUD and get the facts sorted out. Plus there is nothing stopping the FCC from “adjusting” the rules to deal with any gray areas.

 

Moving on to the long version….okay very long version 😉

Note that this post started out as commentary on a handful of common questions, myths, misrepresentations, and an occasional good question, etc etc regarding this NPRM.  It has grown into a mini novel that I keep adding to it as time allows. Yes it could be written and organized better. I don’t proclaim to be a great writer and frankly you’re getting exactly what you paid for 😉 Take a patience pill and deal with it or move on.

Also note that I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV.

 

Since so much uninformed commentary surrounds this NPRM, here are a few pieces of mandatory reading. Mandatory reading if you wish to be informed enough to have a useful opinion versus just adding to the noise floor:

The ARRL’s original petition for rule making is here. This is what started the process along several years back. They fixed a mistake in the original filing with an errata here. You have to read and understand both of these filings. Too many latched onto that mistake (fixed) and it is behind a lot of the unproductive garbage in the NPRM comments.

Then ARRL CEO David Sumner’s “It Seems To Us” column in the Sept 2013 QST Magazine.

The ARRL “FAQ” on RM-11708 is here.

The NPRM itself is here.

DL6MAA’s (SCS engineer) response to the FCC is here.

Read the official filings, not copies posted elsewhere. Go to the official source, get the full context, and think for yourself versus letting the alarmists push your buttons.

More reading:

The Pactor 2 Protocol document (8 page PDF) here.

The Pactor 3 Protocol document (11 page PDF) here.  Good read for a digital ham.

The Pactor 4 Protocol document (42 page PDF) here.  Another good read for a digital ham.

 

FACT:  The Pactor modes (1-4) can be monitored by anyone with an appropriate receiver and modem. There is also software available for monitoring Pactor. I’m not aware of anything stopping folks from writing more robust monitoring tools. The protocol’s technical characteristics are documented.

KEY POINT:  Where so many tend to get off track here is associating the B2F transfer protocol used by Winlink and other message forwarding systems as a part of Pactor. It is not part of Pactor, it is used by some applications that run on top of Pactor, HF Packet, Robust Packet, VHF/UHF Packet, and a growing list of soundcard modem based modes.

From the FCC letter to SCS it appears they are just doing due diligence on a mode they have recently issued temporary waivers for. The focus appears to be on confirming compliance with this portion of rule 97.309(a):

(4) An amateur station transmitting a RTTY or data emission using a digital code specified in this paragraph may use any technique whose technical characteristics have been documented publicly, such as CLOVER, G-TOR, or PacTOR, for the purpose of facilitating communications.

SCS provided links to detailed documentation that should more than suffice. While not specifically required here, Pactor 1, 2, 3, and 4 all have full official ITU emission designators of 304HF1B, 375HJ2D, 2K20J2D, 2K40J2D respectively.

Remember the matter before them only involves dropping the symbol rate restrictions. Claims of Pactor 3 and 4 legality came up and they decided to look into them since Pactor 4 is a current rule impacted mode that the FCC has previously issued several emergency waivers for.

Thus far (maybe I missed it) the FCC does not seem concerned at all about B2F compression used in many digital applications, but that is subject to change. Part of me would like to see them issue an opinion on this and put a good chunk of the anti-Winlink drama to rest.

 

For some of you….be careful what you wish for.

Many feel the Winlink links on HF are encrypted or an attempt to intentionally obscure the meaning of a message. They are not encrypted nor secure from monitoring. They just use a documented protocol for compressing data being sent over a link for purposes of transfer integrity, small attachments, and a significant reduction in airtime used.

Details of the B2F protocol and compression used are publicly documented. The VB source code used by Winlink itself is available here for free. LZH has been around for ages and for the Linux folks the LZH source and utilities are easy to find.

I would suggest those essentially wanting the FCC to ban encoding and compression of digital data on the ham spectrum to stop and do some research. Research just how far and wide such techniques are commonly used for legit and beneficial purposes. Picture the future of the digital side of our hobby without that. Unless you are a die hard analog only op this would backfire on you.

Yes the automated digital stations can be annoying and cause unintentional QRM. Dude, I get it. I operate APRS up in the top end of the 30m band and it gets ugly in there at times. With the solar cycle being where it is the lower bands have become even more congested. It is what it is.

Should we maybe create some structure to where the Winlink gateways should congregate versus being spread out all over the place akin to how the HF APRS folks stay up in the top khz or so of 30m? IMHO yes but that is a bandplan issue, not a mode legality issue.

Our HF bands are shared spectrum and yes even the automated stations suffer from QRM. Our HF bands are not a perfect world for a hobby like amateur radio and neither you, I, the ARRL, or the FCC can make them perfect. Try more tolerance, understanding, and keeping a bottle of Patience Pills handy.

If the amateur radio hobby is stressing you out then maybe you need a new hobby? Give fishing a try 😉  I’m with Mr. Foreman except I’d add camping to the mix. Riding into the backcountry to camp next to a stream or lake to get some fishing in = my happy place.

“Anytime I can sneak in a moment to fish and ride horses, I’m a happy camper!”
George Foreman

 

What is behind this latest dramafest?

Now let’s not kid ourselves here, a review of the filed comments reveal this drama is filled with Winlink/Pactor hate. That coming from a guy who is not exactly the biggest fan of Winlink. I have warmed to it somewhat lately, but I still have some abuse, security (spoofing, viruses, etc), local control, and management concerns with it. That is an issue with the application(s) involved, not the particular digital mode in use under that application.

One of my ham mentors was fond of that saying along the lines of “ham radio is just a reflection of our society. As such we can’t be surprised by what we see and hear.” My gosh how true is that today. Some fair questions can be asked here, some changes are needed, but some just can’t put the bucket of mud down and be adults.

This drama is really nothing new as this has flared up several times over the years. Sadly few seem to be able to separate Pactor 3/4 from Winlink and could wind up with some some dangerous precedents that could easily bite their own backsides.

I have always enforced an unwritten rule that the KYPN blog stays focused on ham radio, especially packet radio, and far away from politics, religion, and guns. Three often controversial topics that lately drive so much of our national conversation to unhealthy levels. So forgive me here but a lot of this latest NPRM debate I see playing out reminds me of the “gun debate” in our country. Lots of emotion, FUD, ignorance of firearms and existing laws, absolutism, lots of money (both sides), misuse of vague undefined terms (eg “gun violence” to help create desired stats, and endless politics/agendas. Too often it is more about “beating the other side at any cost” versus being reasonable adults open to both sides of things.  Welcome to modern America, SMH RME LOL.

PS – For the record I’m Pro-2A akin to Justice Scalia and Sheriff Ozzie. Scalia in terms of the 2nd Amendment IS an individual Right to keep (own, possess) and bear (use/carry), but it is NOT a blank check and there have to be some rules/limits. A Sheriff Ozzie Knezovic in that we dearly need to stop the political nonsense and have a civil discussion about the mental health, cultural, and parenting aspects behind the problem versus solely focusing on inanimate objects used in positive ways far more often than bad. Folks we have kids killing kids. Let that sink in.

Okay, I’ve climbed out far enough on that particular limb, back to ham radio.

 

Do we really need to make these rule changes?

Yes and it should of been done years ago.

It is obvious that the current regulation by symbol rate is obsolete. The growing list of Pactor 4 waivers from the FCC for recent major disaster operations clearly illustrates the problem with the current rules.

Remember Pactor 4 requires no more bandwidth than Pactor 3. The current rules prohibit Pactor 4 due to it exceeding the allowed 300 baud symbol rate limitation, not because it’s some spectrum devouring monster. It runs at 1800 baud symbol rate which makes it illegal on U.S. amateur bands while legal most everywhere else.

Our current “regulate by symbol rate” approach needs to be changed to reflect modern communication techniques and modes. This change will bring the U.S. rules more inline with those in other countries, remember HF signals don’t stop at borders. It will allow more experimentation and development towards other higher performance and more spectrum efficient modes/modems. This will also help facilitate more efficient message transfers with modes like Pactor 4 that are well suited to EmComm needs.

We can debate how to get there in terms of the actual language of the rule changes, but advanced high performance modes like Pactor 4 need to be legal on the U.S. ham bands.

 

Jeff there is more to the hobby than just EmComm.

Yes I get that the hobby is not solely about EmComm. Yet many non-EmComm hams would be wise to remember that we don’t get to keep our very valuable (increasingly so) spectrum just for contesting and DXing. No that is not a dissing of those activities as I enjoy both, just stating a fact.

I recommend every ham take a minute and review rule 97.1 “Basis and purpose” and The Amateur’s Code.

 

Is there some good that can come out of this latest NPRM mess?

Sure there is. There are some fair questions to be asked and some rule changes need to be fleshed out. Sadly a lot of what is currently playing out here is not the way to go about it. Certain hams need be ashamed of themselves. I can only picture the eye rolling and facial expressions at the FCC as they read through some of the filed comments.

I actually think there are some things here that an official ruling/opinion from the FCC would be healthy for the hobby. Example? Does the common and decades long standing practice of using documented compression techniques on digital links equate to “intentional obscuring of message content” and thus a violation of rule 97.113?  As a long time packet/digital radio op I’d love to see this officially dealt with one way or the other.

Remember you will not find the word encryption in the Part 97 rules. There is nothing in the rules mandating everything be clear text. The relevant phrase here is “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.” How will the FCC will apply that to simply just “encoding” data flows with documented compression techniques commonly used for legitimate communications for purposes of transfer integrity, attachment capabilities, and significant reduction in airtime used, etc?

Heck if you want reduced congestion on the HF bands then you should be demanding that those transfers be done using compression techniques. Do you want that 10 minute connection to now take 20 to 30 minutes? I didn’t think so.

 

Is this NPRM dangerous to the hobby’s future?

Good FCC rulings/opinions here will be healthy for the digital side of the hobby, not the end of it. I feel reasonably confident that the FCC will be able to dig out the relevant facts from under all the drama here.

I doubt this will go the way some people think it will and they might as well get used to hearing more Pactor 4 on the U.S. airwaves. Pst…it’s already in legal use in other countries. HF signals ignore lines on a map so you’re already hearing it on the bands. It’s both sad and odd that this needed rule change has created so much drama. Oh well, welcome to modern America where everything has to be high drama and a crisis. LOL

 

Jeff Pactor 4 is not being used much elsewhere?

Actually Pactor 4 looks to be very popular across the globe…..except the USA.

2018-11_Traffic_Summary

Winlink November 2018 message traffic totals. See note below.

Note:   Some will notice the low traffic counts for every other HF mode (ARDOP, Robust Packet, VARA) and assume they are hardly used which is not true. Remember this represents “reported” connection data from Tri-Mode (HF) and RMS Packet (V/UHF) gateways. Tri-Mode tends to be gateways running the Pactor and WINMOR modes. The other HF modes tend to be found on BPQ32 gateways which do not report connection counts. Thus traffic count data for those modes is so far off it is useless.

 

Is there risk in asking the FCC to get involved?

Yes, of course. I would again remind some of these hams of that wise old ham radio saying along the lines of “Let us self-police our hobby and think twice before we ask the FCC to rule on something. We could wind up with a ruling that no one likes.”

 

The “National Security” implications?

Oh give me a freaking break….face_palm_look

Allow Tommy Lee Jones to mimic my expression after reading some of this ignorance of existing terrorist and drug cartel communication networks.

As someone with a LE background, has read a few EPIC bulletins in his day, and has been through some SIGINT training I can assure you of the following. If the terrorists or drug cartels want secure communications they either already have or can have them via a wide variety of tools. If any ham gear or modes are in use then that is only out of simple convenience and not because it was the only option available.

These folks are criminals that couldn’t give a rip about our precious FCC Part 97 rules or any changes we might make to them. Heck I can think of several ways for a cartel or terrorist network to use legit looking or sounding communications, in the clear, on ham/CB/LMR/Maritime spectrum to send “coded” messages that you wouldn’t give a second thought to.

Never mind all the better, faster, more secure methods these criminals already have available to them…..and are actively using.

 

But Jeff the FCC says they can’t monitor these new fangled digital modes?

First, note that I have that T.L. Jones expression back on my face.

Second, so you really believe that they can’t monitor them if they wanted to?  If not, then they could not just pick up the phone to Ft Meade or Langley and get whatever tool they need? Do you expect them to fully detail all their monitoring capabilities to us?

Folks if a new or existing ham radio digital mode creates a serious National Security risk then we might as well cancel the entire amateur radio service. The very essence of ham radio is developing new and creative ways to pass communications along. It is called advancing the art of radio communication and it is one of the primary reasons why the Amateur Radio Service (ARS) exists to begin with.

Folks we hams are not special, but we are part of a unique radio service. We will always be coming up with new voice and digital modes. Yes the FCC may not be instantly keeping up with all of them, but that’s not our fault. That’s not the fault of Winlink. That’s not the fault of SCS. Not the fault of the Pactor folks.

Frankly it’s not the fault of the FCC either. They have limited resources and a budget that they have to operate within. News Flash for some of you….as long as we (hams) stay reasonably within our lane they are not overly worried about what goes on in the ham spectrum. They have other higher priorities and problems to deal with.

The rules governing the ARS have to be limited and flexible for the service to thrive and advance the radio art as we progress into an increasingly digital future.

 

Transparency of ham radio communications?

Now this is a part of this drama worthy of some discussion. I do feel that our generally self-policing hobby requires reasonably open communications on our airwaves. Where we all will likely never 100% agree is the definition of “reasonably open” LOL.

So Jeff you must be against Pactor 4 and similar modes? Nope, you can monitor those communications if you buy the appropriate hardware and/or software. No different than if say you wanted to monitor Yaesu’s FUSION, D-Star, HSMM, and whatever the latest DD/DV mode of the year is.

Just because you can’t monitor a mode as easily as you would like or for free does not mean it is encryption or “intent to obscure the meaning of a message.” I think even the FCC will agree with that last sentence.

I think where we start getting into murky waters ripe for abuse is with the applications we run over various digital modes, not the modes themselves. When you drill down into what is behind so much of the drama in this debate it is obvious that Winlink is where most of it is focused.

There is no doubt that the Winlink system has been used for sending/receiving content in violation of the FCC rules. BTW so has AM, SSB, FM, CW, and the latest DV/DD modes. The Winlink leadership is aware of it otherwise gateway sysops would not of received the following message from them back in April 2015:

Date: 2015/04/29
From: W3QA
Source: WEBMAIL
Subject: Sysop Reminder

--SPECIAL MESSAGE--

All WInlink Sysops,

As a Winlink gateway station sysop and licensed operator you must monitor 
the traffic moving through your station. By monitoring, you can manage 
messages your users might create that violate the terms of your license. We 
have noted illegal content rising in recent weeks, especially for US 
licensees, where business content that benefits a licensed amateur, profane 
language, and certain third-party messages are violations of FCC rules. 
Please refresh yourself on your license's transmission content rules.

In case you didn't know, you have access to a sysop-only web app that lets 
you view and manage the messages posted or delivered through your station. 
Here's how to access it:

Log into the Winlink web site at http://www.winlink.org using the callsign 
of your gateway station. Click "My account" and log in. If you have never 
done this before, obtain your password as described on the login page. Once 
you are logged in click on the link "Sysop Message Monitor". This will list 
all current messages flowing through your station.

If you find you have received or sent messages with prohibited Message 
content, follow the suggested actions on the app page. You can review 
all Sysop Guidelines at: 

http://www.winlink.org/content/join_sysop_team_sysop_guidelines

Thanks for your generous participation and contributions to the global 
Winlink system!

Lor W3QA
For the Winlink Development Team
73 de w3qa
Winlink Team

Demanding a mode be banned or an entire system be shut down or crippled because it has been abused is not the correct answer. Those of us that can take a breath and put on the hat labeled “adult” will simply ask a few questions.

  1. How widespread is this abuse?
  2. What was the intent of the offending operator?
  3. Was it flagrant abuse, accidental, or just a misunderstanding of the rules?
  4. How was the abuse detected?
  5. Is this widespread or very limited in nature?
  6. Was reasonable corrective action taken upon detection of the problem?

The above is not dissing or blaming the WDT folks anymore than we should blame Edwin Armstrong for the embarrassing Festival de Violations mess on a certain 2m FM frequency in Los Angeles.

The Winlink admins became aware of a problem and took actions. The Winlink system now provides a way for gateway sysops to review recent messages flowing over their gateway. While I feel this needs to be taken further, it is a good start. A good start that addressed one of my biggest long standing objections to adding a RMS to our local node stack….Control Op visibility into the content flowing over the gateway.

Banning Pactor 3, Pactor 4 or [insert your most disliked digital message transfer mode here] would do far more harm than good. It is not about the mode, but misuse of the applications running on top of it. Deal with the misuse not the mode.

 

So Jeff you are saying you had no way to monitor for violations on your gateway?

Not true, it just wasn’t convenient enough for our particular setup. I manage a lot of infrastructure and only have X amount of time to do it all. I’m not retired so tools that make my life easier are welcome and play heavily into my decision making. Those running around with buckets of mud to sling at anything Winlink can spin that however they wish.

I could direct everything into the BPQ32 BBS for manual review. I could also manually capture frames (PortMon, Terminal logs, RX-only modem, wireshark, etc), sequence the payloads, combine them, then decompress them for review. Those were just not real convenient for a Sysop with numerous other priorities and limited admin time. Plus our gateway is at a remote tower site…not like the radio and modems are downstairs in my hamshack.

The new Sysop Message Manager tool made things convenient enough that I was comfortable with adding the RMS application to the existing node/BBS stack. The ability to log in from anywhere and review gateway activity is very handy for someone that is often on the road more than home.

PS – I’ve yet to see a single message on my gateway that would get within a mile of dancing into the gray area of 97.113. This year’s activity could be summed up as a little AuxComm traffic for our 4th of July Riverfest, several messages from a weekly ARES Winlink & ICS training net, test messages, and lots of messages from where I used the system to test new SCS modem firmware for our Tracker DSP TNCs. All legit uses of our spectrum and well within the spirit of the ARS rules.

 

But Jeff what about WINMOR, VARA, ARDOP etc etc?

I don’t use those modes on my gateway. I prefer hardware modems for a variety of reasons.

Yes we can discuss that some of the newer ARQ soundcard modes/modems need to be much better documented. One could also argue that before they are legal for use on the ham bands they should be required to provide an interface (KISS, HOSTMODE ?) to allow for monitoring and the collection of monitored frames off the air like hardware modems do.

 

But Jeff it’s too difficult for me to capture a Winlink session and decompress the message from it.

May I suggest some of you take all this time and energy you spend bitchin’ and moaning about Winlink and invest it into a modem and a book on Perl or VB .NET.  Get off your backside, study up, write come code/scripts. If the need here is even only a fraction of what is proclaimed I sense an opportunity for you to learn something new, contribute something to the hobby, and even make some money if you wish. Triple win!

The link and compression protocol used on Winlink connections is well documented and publicly available. The VB source for the LZH compression is freely available here. You will also find a link there to a page containing full details on the B2F protocol. No “secret recipe” used in the making of a B2F compressed message and the Winlink session.

Step out of your comfort zone and learn something useful. That’s what the hobby is about….not having everything handed to you 100% plug-n-play on a silver platter.

PS – 97.1(d) says “trained operators” not “appliance operators.”  Appliance ops are a dime a dozen.

 

Jeff the B2F compression keeps us from even identifying the stations involved.

False. Monitoring the channel you can see considerable identifying information in the clear during session startup, message proposals, and signoff.  Here’s a snippet from a terminal monitoring a 10m RP connection into our local gateway from my mobile earlier:

session_startup_20181201

Seems to me the identities of both stations involved here are abundantly clear. Even seeing a message ID, to, from, and subject lines.

Since this is a packet mode connection the AX25 protocol means every single frame transmitted has identifying information clearly visible. If you monitor that and can’t figure out the callsign of both stations involved then I’m thinking you need to turn in your “ham card” LOL

Yes a Pactor link is going to look different (it’s not AX25), but the session startup and shutdown is still easy copy for anyone with the appropriate modem.

 

A Compromise?

Winlink and its B2F compression has many legitimate and valuable uses on the ham radio spectrum. It can also facilitate abuse of our spectrum on an internet email connected system like Winlink. As such I propose the following compromise solution:

  1. All Winlink message traffic flowing in or out of an RF gateway operating on ham spectrum shall be captured and archived by the CMS system. A good foundation for this is already in place. Telnet and MARS traffic exempted.
  2. This archive shall be publicly available on the main Winlink website.
  3. This archive shall include all non-exempted RF message traffic for at least one year.
  4. This archive shall be searchable by keywords, callsign, QRG, and/or date/time range.
  5. Gateway Sysops shall have the option of having the CMS system email them a copy of every message going in/out of their RF gateway for their own long term review/archival approaches.

Yes there a lots of details to be worked out in the above, but you get the basic idea.

Don’t give me the storage space excuse. This is 2018 and storage is dirt cheap. An archive of a years worth of every Winlink RF flowed message would fit on a freaking flash drive.

Don’t give me the privacy issues. Ham radio communications offer no expectation of privacy.

You can thank me later 😉

 

But Jeff, what about the concerns of increased congestion on the HF bands?

Okay, fair concern. Something tells me that if the suggestion above is put into place we will notice some reduction in the Pactor, ARDOP, WINMOR, VARA, (insert name of the latest new whizbang soundcard mode here) signals on the HF bands. A reduction as SailMail and the SatComm providers gain some new customers 😉

There are two ways of looking at the impact on band congestion. One is with more bandwidth allowing higher speed connections the congestion will be reduced some as many connections will complete faster. The other is that higher performance modes like Pactor 4 will enable users to download bigger files/messages. This will encourage increased usage that will only further add to the congestion on our HF bands.

Pactor 4 has been legal in many (most all?) other countries for years now. Thus I have to ask what should be a couple obvious questions. Has their regulation by bandwidth (vs symbol rate) approaches been a net positive or negative? Is Pactor 4 causing any significant problems in those regions?

Here’s a novel idea, let’s drop the obsolete symbol rate restrictions. Next let’s try allowing up to 2.8 KHz wide data modes in the existing HF automatic subbands for 5 years. Let’s try that for a few years and see how it works out here in the states.  Fair enough?

 

The EmComm/disaster communications angle?

If we have to send another “Force of 22” into a Puerto Rico post-Maria “it’s all down” environment do you or do you not want them taking with them one of the most effective and efficient HF digital messaging modes (Pactor 3/4) available?  Do you or do you not want them to be able to use compression on those links?  If you answered “no” to either of those then you need to go review rule 97.1 and the Amateurs Code again.

 

What if we get a bad ruling/opinion of no Pactor 3/4, no compression?

I don’t think the FCC is even going to address compression. I would prefer they did, but this NPRM is about dropping the symbol rate not a series of endless side issues. If B2 is killed off then the impact of that will be far beyond just Winlink. Winlink is just one of several applications that use it.

I just don’t see the FCC having a major issue with Pactor 3/4 as long as they feel its technical characteristics are sufficiently documented. Given past waivers and what started this, I doubt they will have a problem with it under current 97.309(a). There’s also the possibility they could say it comes up short and issue another waiver while they rewrite 97.309(a) to allow it and similar modes.

I suspect in a few months we will be laughing at all this drama and wondering why this had to be such a big deal.

 

To wrap this rant up….

Do you still feel these proposed rule changes will have any impact upon criminals operating at terrorist and drug cartel levels?  If so please allow me to propose three new Part 97 rules to ensure the security of our great nation at great risk in a dangerous world.

New Rule 97.901 would prohibit the possession, use by, and sales of amateur radio gear by/to anyone in/or associated with any terrorist, terrorist group or drug cartel.

New Rule 97.902 would create a new Universal License & Criminal Background Check system (ULCBC) at all ham radio gear Points of Sale.

New Rule 97.903 would stipulate that only spark gap transmissions will be authorized on amateur radio service after midnight UTC December 31, 2018.  #MakeMarconiProud

Problem solved. Feel better now? Feel safer?  Yes you can thank me later.

Yes the above section is a joke.

 

WA4ZKO