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Ham and Software - Communities of Creativity?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the share-your-anecdotes dept.

Communications 207

lgreco asks: "I've been thinking about the similarities between the community of early ham radio operators and software developers. Both communities produced a lot of useful technologies that found applications beyond the scope of a 'just a hobby'. Ham radio operators built their own equipment and experimented with modulation and propagation techniques. The results of their efforts today are used in a variety of radio communication applications, from cell phones to marine radios. Similarly, hackers developed concepts of computing that are now universally accepted tools of productivity. Both communities share an enthusiasm for technical creativity and up until recently there was even some overlap between the two groups. Are there any interesting stories about the creativity of either groups (that relate to the other group perhaps) that should be recorded and documented?"

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Yes. (-1, Offtopic)

Sensible Clod (771142) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788323)

All of them.

bin laden is teh evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788783)


Topic... (2, Funny)

Demanche (587815) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788331)

Made me hungry .. then I realized I wasn't on a food site :

Fooddot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788716)

Food for nerds... Stuff that fills bladders

Re:Fooddot? (1)

Demanche (587815) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789052)


Food For Fat People. Grams for Pounds.

Put this in your metadata and smoke it (1, Funny)

claussenvenable (820336) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789333)

Seriously! I was expecting an article on the similarities between software development and the painstaking process of crafting a fine, smokey Black Forest or a deliciously spicy-hot Coppa -- or at least something about ham in re spam.

Take that, semantic web!

Out of the loop (4, Funny)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788333)

and up until recently there was even some overlap between the two groups.

I didn't get the memo. When did the split occur?

Re:Out of the loop (4, Informative)

n8ur (230546) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788454)

Yeah, that struck me as ill-informed.

There are more than a few well-respected hackers (in the good sense of the word) are hams, and there's a lot of software development going on in ham radio.

In particular, ham operators are doing lots of work with new digital modes made possible by using the sound card + PC as a powerful DSP platform. There's a lot of good stuff going on there.

Blatant plug -- I'm president of TAPR [] , which is a group that's promoting computer-related R&D in the ham radio community. Along with the ARRL (the US national ham group), we sponsor an annual Digital Communications Conference [] where papers are presented on all sorts of new uses of technology in ham radio.

PS -- for the hams here who may not be familiar, TAPR is not significantly focused on packet radio these days; we're doing lots of other stuff related to digital communications.

Re:Out of the loop (2, Interesting)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788732)

Back in university ('81), hanging around VE2CUA was the best place to catch the overlap between the hams and hackers--especially packet radio since a number of the pioneers (VE2PY) hung out there from time to time. What I learned about data packets came in quite useful later. (And watching "live" Slow Scan TV Voyager pictures from Saturn via JPL was pretty cool pre-Internet.)

Re:Out of the loop (2, Informative)

josecanuc (91) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788489)

One split was somewhere in the DOS 3.x world, where many ham operators now reside. Another split hit around Windows 95.

There's a lot of good software coming out now that works on Win2k and WinXP, since we've all figured out how to access hardware directly.

There's a small community that prefers Linux, but it always seems that there's a much larger quantity of ham-related software for Windows.

That said, Linux ham software works well and covers just about any function you could want. The hot thing today is soundcard-based digital modes followed by serial-port radio control (adjusting tuning, bands, transmitting by serial commands).

But you will still find a lot of high quality, oft-updated DOS-based software for Ham use -- it just works.

Note also that Ham equipment makers and experimenters appear reluctant to dump RS232 for USB, though there are some strides being made by individual kit-makers. Drivers are the main stumbling block, I think. There's just so many different drivers and USB-serial adapters out there and some allow direct-like control of the various pins and some assume that you only want to use serial for sending bytes. But Hams use the handshaking pins independently for various tasks.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

SillyNickName4me (760022) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789139)

> But you will still find a lot of high quality, oft-updated DOS-based software for Ham use -- it just works.

Heh, the last thing I had connected to a ham radio here was one of my C64s.. ah well, guess its telling for how logn I have been out of the loop with HAM more then anything I guess.

XASTIR (4, Informative)

n1ywb (555767) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789450)

Best. ham. radio. software. ever. I wish every application was so great. []

Re:Out of the loop (1)

Tenebrious1 (530949) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788711)

I didn't get the memo. When did the split occur?

Well, there's was split per se, but a huge rift exists. The "software developer" side blossomed in the past few years to include anyone who did anything with "code", using the term lightly. Most of the "software developers" I know have never stepped inside a Radio Shack, much less wielded a soldering iron.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788811)

Does Radio Shack still sell soldering irons? The last time I looked most of the stuff I used to get there like wire-wrap and cases had all but disappeared.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788956)

Does Radio Shack still sell soldering irons?
Don't know, but in the US they sell something they call "sautéing irons". You could maybe use one of those.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789455)

Does Radio Shack still sell soldering irons? Yes. They also sell electronic components -- not a huge selection, but they do still have the basics.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

Doctor Memory (6336) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789456)

Actually, the one near me has a refreshingly large selection of "actual" electronic stuff (resistors, capacitors, soldering irons, perf and copper-clad board, etc). In fact, I just bought a rectifier there to fix the power supply of my Ten-Tec Corsair.

Back when I lived in Portland, though, I would have agreed with you. It was all cell phones, DVD players and toys. The only radio-type things they had were scanners and those Grundig hand-cranked shortwave sets.

Re:Out of the loop (0, Flamebait)

confused one (671304) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788926)

No self respecting Ham radio operator would set foot inside a Radio Shack.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789500)

No self respecting Ham radio operator would set foot inside a Radio Shack.
Spoken like a true non-ham.

Granted, Radio Shack hardly lives up to it's name anymore (unless cell phones qualify, and they sort of do, but not really), but they do still have things that are useful to hams. Basic components (generally overpriced, but if all you need is two resistors, you don't want to order it), and some other stuff like power supplies and the like.

They do also still carry a useful selection of things like RF connectors and coax. They even still have some ham equipment like antennas and the like -- usually on clearance, and quite cheap :)

For the record, I'm AD5RH, and I check the local Radio Shack on a regular basis. Mostly I'm looking for clearance stuff, but I do occasionally buy components and the like too.

Re:Out of the loop (1)

KD5YPT (714783) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788960)

There was never a "split". It just that in the past, softwares and HAM radio didn't have much in common. Only until recently the HAM operators and software engineers began to find ways to combine the two. Several combination I've seen are.

1. Automated Morse-code sender and decoder.
2. Antenna control (used when doing a HAM satellite bounce)
3. Picture transmission (different color use different band, so you hear this odd static. Since by law you can't encrypt it, no porn).
4. Radio mail (like e-mail, except with much more error tolerance capability.)
5. Radio chat (think chatroom).
6. Short telephone call (by law, you can't hog the band space, forgot what the definitions are).

Re:Out of the loop (4, Interesting)

BlueStraggler (765543) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789329)

Given that ham radio predates computer hacking by half a century, I'd say the split has always existed. Commonalities in the two cultures have drawn it together in some ways, but they never merged.

My grandfather was "radio hacking" in the 1920s. He told a funny story where he "accidentally" took out a commercial transmission while playing with some homemade hardware as a teen. Sounds a little like website defacing to me, but 80 years before the computer kids were doing it. His hobby grew to the point where he was hired as the communications engineer for a huge mining and resources company that had to manage communication lines right into the Arctic. By 1937 he had developed a portable voice radio that could be carried and used in bush camps by operators who didn't know morse code - arguably the first walkie-talkie. Sounds a little like the early PCs to me, but 40 years before the computer kids were doing it. His employer donated his services to the war effort in 1939, and he modified the walkie talkie [] into a military tool that filtered out battle noises and had signal scrambling to prevent eavesdropping. Sounds like error correcting, encrypted communications to me, but 50 years before the computer kids were doing it.

So yeah, there are similarities, but the hams were there way before we were. Most of the hams who pioneered the field are now dead and gone, whereas most of the computer pioneers are alive and well, and still debating who gets credit for what. The links between the fields that are obvious now only came about after many decades of convergence.

Tiburon (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788334)

So Tiburon, the maker of the football games is no more?

Ham and cheese... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788341)

I thought the article said ham and cheese there for a second... darn!

NPR's coverage of ham radio (4, Interesting)

The I Shing (700142) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788354)

There's an NPR [] episode of Talk of the Nation [] entitled "Letters and Ham Radio Lessons" [] . From the website: "...ham radio teacher Rick Stern joins Neal Conan with tips on teaching your kids about ham radio."

There is also this episode [] of TOTN that covers the topic, featuring the authors of the book Hello World: A Life in Ham Radio.

And in February of this year, All Things Considered ran a piece [] on the pending approval of a Morse code "at" symbol so that operators could tell others their email addresses. How's that for radio and the internet meeting in the middle?

Hams (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788359)

Have you noticed that all Hams look like child molesters?

Re:Hams (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789029)

Have you noticed that all Hams look like child molesters?
Pah! Stupid mods think that's a troll?

Hams are child molesters!

Now that's a troll. Look and learn, 'tards.

until recently? (3, Interesting)

hutman (551773) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788368)

There is still a ton of overlap - most hams I know are interested in both 'hobbies'. I like the comparison though - I think there will always be a group of people who love technology for it's own sake and will be very innovative simply because they're not out just to make a buck.

/usr/pkgsrc/ham (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788526)

I agree. That is why NetBSD includes /usr/pkgsrc/ham for those who want to experiment with hardware and software.

Re:until recently? (1)

brilinux (255400) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789176)

One interesting innovation nowadays is the combination of the internet and radio .. now it is possible to talk to people across the country by linking repeaters up to to the internet, as well as allowing one to listen to them online, such as at the infamous 435 repeater in LA: Listen to the 435 repeater [] . As a ham and someone who uses computers a lot, I can say that a lot of the technological stuff goes back and forth, and both hobbies are quite interesting.
-73, KG4QXK

Re:until recently? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789435)

It's an absolute wonder that 147.435 is permitted to remain on the air. I heard more expletives and mortal threats in the 2 minutes I listened to 435 just now, than is in your favorite The Godfather movie. It's Jackass meets Kill Bill all on your local 2m repeater. Pretty sad.

i think educational pitfalls is the biggest (0, Redundant)

hsmith (818216) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788376)

thing that needs to be recorded and worked on the most.

i know from getting out of college to "real work" there were many differences, some i was aware of some that were a shock

Tasty (4, Funny)

secretvampire (622660) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788390)


Mmmmmmmmmm.....Ham radio.....glaaaaaaaaaarrgh...


Exploited? (3, Insightful)

AAAWalrus (586930) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788394)

Hrm... how about that both technologies started as chic geek projects and are now exploited by corporate interests?

Bless them! (4, Funny)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788396)

Whenever I'm configuring a new Linux kernel on Saturday night, evading my wife's attempts to drag me out the door or into bed -- I always get to the "Amateur Radio" section and think "Hah! What kind of dweeb do they think I am?"

Hopes (4, Insightful)

LordMyren (15499) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788397)

the one desperate hope i bear is that software will not go the way of ham radio. ham radio pioneered radio, but ultimately it was the corporations that had to advance the art. they were the only ones who could sink the required technology and capital into the field. (generall) ham radio has been relegated back to a enthusiast hobby as die hard development has faded off.

i'm not sure why i stick to this hope so badly, but i hope there's another way for software. fundamentally, software is all about building blocks, using the existing to build more. for this reason, its crucial that there be open-ness of software.

software at least stands a chance. it doesnt require adv. fabrication, expensive test equipment and doesnt cause anything other than your own computer to break.

and to all the hardcore ham people still out there, keep kickin baby! or something.


Re:Hopes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788668)

"and to all the hardcore ham people still out there, keep kickin baby!"

Wait - WTF? I thought Ham Radio was kinda cool until I saw this! Who kicks babies?! That's terrible!

Re:Hopes (1)

Bastian (66383) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788717)

It can be done, but in order to do so we need to have a change in the OSS culture. Right now, the DIY impulse is so strong that many hackers are more interested in re-inventing the wheel than they are in contributing to an existing project.

It's an understandable impusle. Everyone wants to feel like they are doing big things, and it's much easier to just start writing something from scratch (since you usually see the biggest things right at the start of a project). You don't have to futz around with learning another app's architecture, the team's programming style, and all that just to get to the point of throwing in a slightly better checksum routine or whatever.

Possibly we could mitigate this by working towards better coding standards or somesuch. For example, I think we could take another example from Apple and create a standard GNU plugin framework the way Apple has in Cocoa.

Re:Hopes (4, Informative)

lostchicken (226656) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789207)

Amateur Radio isn't at all relegated back to a hobby without development.

Go pick up a copy of QST (the ARRL's magazine). Flip through it. You'll see all kinds of articles on people developing more and more transmission and encoding techniques. Pretty much all of the development focuses on digital (packet) radio systems, and since power outputs are limited, (sometimes by law, but usually just because it's fun to be challenged) amateur radio operators have developed pretty much the best ways of dealing with interference and robustness in transmission of data.

Today's ham tech is 2007 commercial tech.

Potential for Software to Fade Away (3, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789437)

There are some problems right now in the computer industry, and unfortunately they aren't being addressed right now. I think you need to compare software engineering to nuclear engineering, and see how that now the current crop of high school students who want to get into computer science and software engineering are encountering some incredible barriers to being able to truly understand and work with computers from a hobbyiest viewpoint.

The growth of Linux certainly is counteracting that influence, but there are some things to worry about besides closed API's. It concerns me when CPUs are so incredibly complex that you get a crop of even seasoned software developers who are simply incapable of hand-assembling a piece of software. I'm not talking about doing this for the latest copy of DOOM III, but if you don't know how to hand assemble a simple "for" loop that does a quick bubble sort, you really don't understand the hardware that you are working on.

Also, while abstraction is useful, it is also important to have at least _SOMEBODY_ on a medium sized development team that can go all the way down to the gate level and understand just what is going on in the CPU, and to understand that while computer are fairly consistant, there are still time delays and quantum fluctuations that can affect a piece of software, sometimes even at the wrong time. If you look through the SETI@Home website, they mention that they have to on a daily basis reject some work-units simply because an add operation missed a bit in the carry network or some other similar random fault of the CPU occured. At some point software does have to directly interact with the physical level, and sometimes that happens just in RAM and the CPU itself.

While the above points might show some bias toward how I learned to program computers: On early mainframe computers and early 8-bit micros (where hand assembly was really the only way to do thing unless you had a few $$$ or took the time to write your own assembler), I would have to add that since the collapse of the internet bubble, I would also strongly discourage young people to even get into the industry right now. With significant numbers of software developers still out of work, incredibly intense competition to gettting what few jobs are around, and the outsourcing problems that are plaguing the industry shrinking the current number of jobs down even more, it is getting tougher to really break in. Essentially what I'm saying is that the computer industry right now is burning intelletual capital rather than trying to invest into its future.

If you are smart and want to get into a hot new industry that feels like the computer industry did 20 years ago, I would strongly suggest going into aeronautical engineering and try to join up with Bigelow Aerospace, Scaled Composites, or Armidillo Aerospace. Them and a dozen other companies right now are getting ready to boom, and that is going to further take away the creative types that earlier fueled the computer industry.

This is perhaps the #1 analogy that I can use with ham radio, which is struggling right now trying to attract the young smart minds that have the talent and the slightly off-axis humor to be able to build things like radio frequency jammers, blue and black boxes, or even computer virii. From doing those irreverent and potentially illegal in some context applications, many young people formed the skill sets that makes many of the advanced technology applications that we see today. I fear that the computer industry is losing that group in particular, and now all that is left are folks who can follow a recipie (script kiddies), but are incapable of coming up with anything like that on their own. Some of that is still left, but many school and university administrators are now beating out any creative urge in most schools in regards to computers.

I'm speaking now to the creative 1% of humanity who really makes things happen. They aren't missed right away when they are gone, but you eventually notice that stuff just isn't happening at the same quick pace as it was when they were in a field.

Also take a look at automotive engineering and see that back in the very early 1900's there were some very creative minds, with the can-do attitude, through knowledge of their discipline, and the ability to machine just about anything with a bucket full of scrap metal, a pile of coal, and their own hard determination to build. The progress of automobiles from 1890 to 1930 was just as dramatic as the progress of computers from 1960 to 1990, with similar reductions of price and widespread acceptance of their product to mass consumer devices. If you want to see where the creative minds went from the automotive industry, you have to look at the ham radio operators, where radio was just starting to take off when regulation started to kill automotive engineering. Mind you, I'm not saying that there aren't skilled or even creative automotive engineers, it is just that there isn't the bleeding edge types or an environment that allows a free-for-all approach like some of the newer industries. In this regard computer hobbyiests are a dying breed.

Answer (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788399)

Are there any interesting stories about the creativity of either groups (that relate to the other group perhaps) that should be recorded and documented?
Surprisingly, no. Next question.

Ham + Software (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788404)

Ham + software = spam. No?

Re:Ham + Software (2, Interesting)

KD5YPT (714783) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788827)

Actually no. Federal/International law has a VERY strict regulation on spamming on HAM radio. Generally any type of radio transmission (a general agreement between nations) requires that the radio operators to state his/her callsign at a time interval (forgot if it was every 15 minutes or 30 minutes). So if someone spams, you can either track him down easy using his callsign. Or if he's not using one or fake another callsign, he could get into a shitload of trouble with the FCC. And tracking down someone abusing radio is easy once you got two or more people.

The reason that the government crack down on this is because HAM radio is considered as an emergency communication channel. A very good example is that on 9/11, all communications from NYC (internet, cellphone, phone, and etc) failed because of over-congestion or physical destruction to the infrastructure, except for HAM radio, which helped coordinate the rescue effort and aides from other states.

Re:Ham + Software (1)

jmanforever (603829) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789212)

...requires that the radio operators to state his/her callsign at a time interval (forgot if it was every 15 minutes or 30 minutes)

It is every 10 minutes. You should know that Sterling, since KD5YPT is a valid HAM callsign in Texas.

One more thing (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788411)

The only other thing this article needs is some Grey Poupon.

Perhaps a little off the mark (4, Informative)

spyrochaete (707033) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788421)

Ham is to pirate radio stations as hacker is to hacktivism (e.g. defaced web sites)

Hacking a "closed" repeater (4, Interesting)

MsWillow (17812) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788455)

Back in the McHenry, Ill, area, there's a closed repeater that, to unlock, you need to send a series of tones at the start of each transmission. It's run by a club whose "dues" go mainly into one guy's pocket, effectively making this system not legal (but hey, who really cares about legal, as long as he gets rich?).

Anyways, one local ham used to be part of that clique, until he managed to cheese off the repeater owner. He wanted to be able to use the system again.

I built a gadget that used one of the cool digital recorder chips you can get from Radio Shack. We digitally recorded the signal on the input frequency of the repeater, then sent these tones when the mic was keyed up.

Worked amazingly well, until the guy dropped the mic and the wire broke loose. Wheee, what fun his sudden re-appearance on the system caused! :)

OK, so it's not really software hacking, more of a hardware hack with some social engineering thrown in too, but hey, doing it was quite a blast. MUCH more amusing than Field Day.

de N9JZW

Forgot to mention... (3, Interesting)

MsWillow (17812) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788978)

Still waking up here, sorry. Anyhow, I forgot to mention that each dues-paying member of the repeater cabal had their own series of tones that identified them. The "social engineering" came from recording several different tone IDs, culminating with the repeater owner himself. Twas great fun as the owner tried to figure out a way that he and his clique could keep their private toy free of the riffraff *WEG*

Ahh, the joys of using in-band signaling :)

Re:Hacking a "closed" repeater (2, Interesting)

spyrochaete (707033) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789216)

"Hacking" is most certainly not limited to software hacking! One definition of "Hacking" is to understand a system and to patch together a creative solution that circumvents but doesn't hinder normal operation. Your creative solution most certainly qualifies you as a hacker! To this end, many hams are hackers as well.

Past Tense (3, Insightful)

amacleod98 (757451) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788460)

Why is that whole article written in the past tense?

They are the same community (3, Informative)

GhengisCohen (778368) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788472)

When the first BBS's went up in NYC, and the first personal computers came out, like the Radio shack Model 1, all those early programmers/BBSers were Ham nuts. Hacking in NYC and personal computers user grew directly out of HAM. They are not parallel, but instead the hacking field all grew from Ham. Everyone in FreakShow 100 from NYC learned their stuff from a guy name Art. Art got into computers from his Ham hobby. Other pioneers of the NYC hacking scene were the likes of Billy Arnel (Ham first, ran an early BBS called People Links) and a lady named Susan I seem to remember (ham as well)

This is a typical pattern (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788482)

A new technology begs to be tinkered with and if people can tinker, they will. As technologies mature the opportunities for tinkering decrease and the tinkerers may move to the margins.

It happened with radio and it happened with computers. It also happened with cars. When the Model T came out, many people could afford a car and it was worth their while to be able to fix them. Everyone was a back yard mechanic. As cars got better and more complicated, the life of the back yard mechanic got more difficult. They didn't go away though. There are major retailers devoted to supplying parts to them. Similarly, I don't think radio amateurs and 'computer amateurs' are in danger of extinction.

I think one of the advantages of having people do these activities is that it produces a supply of people interested in becoming professional. (Remember that one of the reasons that amateurs were licensed was to create a supply of signalmen for the army.) It is very important that people have the opportunity to tinker and innovate because that ultimately is what drives the economy.

Recently? (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788491)

[U]p until recently there was even some overlap between the two groups.

Ah, who could ever forget the Great Ham Purge of aught-one?



UNIONIZE! (-1, Offtopic)

jidai (74229) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788495)

Get all your co-workers together and join a union, scehdule collective bargaining and make some demands.

Making pleas on a personal level will get you no-bloody-where. (most) Companies and CEOs only understand force, and as a union you guys will have rights that you dont have as individual employees. Dont let these bastards get away with screwing you to line their pockets.

Re:UNIONIZE! (0, Offtopic)

jidai (74229) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788532)

oh christ! I need some sleep. forget this post.

my apologies.

Packet radio (5, Interesting)

LodCrappo (705968) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788533)

My father has been a HAM for nearly forty years. Growing up I always enjoyed going to hamfest and other events with him. Even in the short time I experienced the ham culture (aprox 1980-1990), I noticed a trend towards PCs becoming frequent topics of discussion and PC gear being swapped at swapfests as much as radio equipment. Probably the best integration of the two worlds that I experienced was packet radio. I'm sure there are many who know more about the system than I do. I remember being fascinated that you could log in to a packet radio bulletin board and exchange messages with people from all over the world. In those days a local dialup PC based BBS would typically only have members from the surrounding area. Maybe someone can post more info on Packet radio?

Re:Packet radio (1)

the coose (171981) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788650)

Packet radio isn't as popular as it was in the '80s and early '90s, when the PC made it an affordable mode to operate. Today, the PC soundcard provides a cheap DSP with which to implement all sorts of digital modes without the need for a TNC; PSK31 is one of the most popular ones. But packet is used for the Automatic Position Reporting System, or APRS. I run an APRS IGATE, which is an RF to internet gateway. A quich search of APRS will yield a lot of info.

The sad side of the split (3, Interesting)

gnat_x (713079) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788576)

Growing up I had this neighbor who was a stereo nut, and had been building his own speakers since the 60's. I learned about going to radio shack and soldering things together. I learned a little about fixing stereos. I learned lots about transmission of sound through the air.

Unfortunately, as a youg internet generation geek (I'm 21), I look around at geekly peers my age, and see very few people who know how to solder.

I fear that the age of computer geeks going and buying the parts from Radio Shack and building stuff might be passing. Radio Shack has noticed this too, and stores with a good parts selection are getting harder to find.

Re:The sad side of the split (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789036) and

do not waste your time with ratshack. they destryoed their useability with ham's and hackers a long time ago.

hell their COAX for Rf is below even the crappiest grade, nobody would use it.

The ham and electronics hacker of the 21'st century must have a credit card and the ability to wait a few days for parts to arrive.

RadioShack selection. (1)

carlosh (305514) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789140)

The variety of electronics parts out there make salmost impossible to RadioShack to carry a stock wide enough to keep you coming. Plus with Internet you can never run out of places to find stuff to order by mail.

And this is true for basically any serious hobby. like climbing? no store has all the brands nor all the new gear. a movie buff? better use the internet to find that hard foreign film. As long as is not perishable and weigths less than 20lbs, you're better of ordering by mail

Sadly the instant gratification and personal interaction is lost.

Geek suck (1)

zeke-o (595753) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788586)

Unfortunately computing/internet/gaming has been sucking the young geek pool dry. The average age in amateur radio is scarily high, and it's very hard to lure "instant gratification" types from here to there. Amateur organizations have been lobbying the FCC to water down the requirements over and over (at least since the late 60's when I started, and continuing today as the morse code requirement fades away) in order to boost participation and lower the entry barrier.

One way to revitalize might be to require licensing to use the 'net :)

Re:Geek suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788803)

"Yeah, I'm into ham radio, it's really great, chatting round the world. Like the other day, there was this guy in Japan, you know, he has this really interesting hobby, building radios..."

Remind me why anyone should be interested.

Still lots of overlap (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788591)

Check out the gnu-radio project
Th e TAPR group (not just packet radio anymore all sorts of digital communications topics)
Eric and Matt from the gnu-radio project were at the TAPR digital communication conference again this year.
Here's some more linux ham software listed:
Also check out The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT):
The next major sat project named Eagle will use as much open source software and open hardware as possible.
There are also many notable hams who are also linux hackers, just to name one Bdale Garbee, former Debian Project head and CTO for linux solutions at HP, whom I met at the TAPR DCC this year, he is very active with both TAPR and hardware design on AMSAT satellites.
Also check out the June and September issue of Linuxjournal for gnu-radio and a psk article (Sept).

73, w0uhf

Re:Still lots of overlap (2, Interesting)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788991)

And getting your feet wet with radio/computers doesn't even require a licence. A scanner, sound card and some software will let you play with neat digital stuff like ACARS [] Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, which lets you do stuff like a real-time map display of airplanes near you. other link [] . (Perhaps not as spiff as this one [] .) There's other telemetery besides position and speed, so it could make a cool wall display--with no bandwidth suck.

Re:Still lots of overlap (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789062)

Perhaps even more famous, Phil Karn [] , KA9Q.

huh? (-1, Troll)

kclittle (625128) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788610)

Software developers, the engine of one of the most dramatic periods of economic growth in history, compared to ham radio enthusiasts?

This is the most ridiculous things I've seen on /. (and, I've seen plenty! :)

Just my $.02

Re:huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789303)

Point being that a lot of the same people are (were?) drawn to both. But you're probably just some dumb cock who's in "IT" for the money, so you wouldn't get it anyway.

Even more similarities (3, Interesting)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788633)

I knew a person back several years ago who was heavily into Ham Radio. He built some of his own equipment and hoarded heaps of "useful" parts that were never used, but were considered "handy" to have "just in case". He spent all of his free time either chatting to people all over the world from inside his darkened radio shack or planning how he was going to do it. And when away from home (on the road to the local shops or on vacation around the world) he took portable equipment so that he would always be connected, which was to the annoyance of those around him.

As a result he of this obsession he never communicated well with his family, instead choosing to share freely with his on-air mates. Resulting in a well of negative energy in his own home.

Yep I knew him .. he was my father.

(Yes I am bitter about that .. but yes I am dealing with it)

BTW I also remember when people built their own computers .. from scratch .. and coded up their own systems by the bootstraps.

Re:Even more similarities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789221)

And now you can sit in a darkened room chatting via IM, IRC or Slashdot. And when you travel, take a cellphone, laptop or PDA and stay connected with WiFi. *Oops*, let me just take this call...

While you're at it... (1)

Big Sean O (317186) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788641)

Let's talk about Model Railroaders.

They were the cradle of the MIT Hackerdom and their efforts are the genesis of miniturization of electronics, RC airplanes, robot vehicles and a whole slew of electronics hobbies (house automation for one).

Re:While you're at it... (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789274)

While it is important, I think you're giving the Model Railway club way too much credit. That's like saying that my fridge is the source of all fungus--no, just a place where the conditions were right for some to form.

Ham creativity (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788656)

For Amatuer Radio, there are. Everything from amatuer satellites, Echolink (VOIP linked to ham stations across the world), Meteor and moon bounce communications in the the UHF and Microwave bands, and microwave based digital communications modes. Most of these things are cronicled in ARRL publications and magizines.

Check out Software Based Radios (2, Informative)

_A_Mad_Scientist (592484) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788660)

I think it is too cool to be able to program black boxes, either a receiver like the IC-PCR1000 [] or a pure software based T/R radio like FlexRadio []

You forgot the obvious similarity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788678)

I've been thinking about the similarities between the community of early ham radio operators and software developers.
Another often overlooked similarity is that neither could get laid to save their lives. That's probably why amateur ham radio is so obscure, they forgot to procreate.

Internet i.e. BPL may Kill Ham radio innovation (2, Informative)

LM741N (258038) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788734)

If you read ( about the new internet via power lines technologies i.e. BPL, you will find tons of evidence that the all consuming need for internet bandwidth may spell the end for HF Amateur work and perhaps even VHF weak signal work. Hams near BPL test sites have experienced extreme interference with all radio communication types.

All the FCC cares about right now is putting the positive spin on the BPL technology and ramming it through the approval process.

So here is a computer innovation that could enable thousands of people to get high speed internet access but at the same time may kill off another very innovative group of technologies we call Amateur Radio. I am certain there are components of BPL that hams originally had a hand in developing. Its incredibly ironic.

Rob N3FT

BPL will die (2, Interesting)

Peter Simpson (112887) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789294)

...because it's an analog technology, kinda like DSL on steroids...
Because it's hooked to high voltage power lines which attract lightning (not really, but they sure seem to).
Because it's expensive and dangerous to keep running.
Because it's owned by a company whose main business is not communications.
Because, if it radiates, it's susceptible to interference, too.
Given a choice, consumers won't take it unless it's better and cheaper than other alternatives, and it's already being dropped in Canada, UK and Europe, because it didn't live up to the promises.
And yes, I, too, feel that it was a sweetheart deal at the FCC, just like our loss of 220.

And it can't happen too soon.

(DSL is going away in my town. Verizon's running fiber to the premises. Let's hope BPL goes the same way as DSL)

HAM (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788746)

Bacon is best, then canadian bacon but only if it's on a pizza, then christmas ham, then canadian bacon off the pizza, then canned ham.

Ham!? (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788756)

I am a vegetarian software developer, you insensitive clods!

Re:Ham!? (1)

HarveyBirdman (627248) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788834)

I am a vegetarian software developer

Umm... how much software do vegetables need?

Re:Ham!? (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788975)

?gurble gurble?

MSOD (Morse String Of Death) (5, Funny)

BoulderDad (830231) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788769)

This happened to me just a few weeks ago. I was monitoring payload comms for a high-altitude research payload that we had built, and all the data comms went through a Linux box that was routing traffic to the payload.

Everything was going smooth as silk in mission control and then... lost connection to the payload from the mission controller station... I go to the linux router, and its LOCKED UP... nothing... screen is frozen with my windows up, no mouse movement...

CAPS and SCROLL led's are blinking in unison... some kind of code... maybe a number? I start trying to write down dots and dashes, but my autonomic response is to try to copy is as morse code... I get characters... then I scrawl out...


!!! Linux was sending me morse code via the keyboard LEDs! That's a new one on me. It didn't send any kind of diagnostic code, not that it would've helped me. But knowing that it was a fatal exception was actually the right information, because I knew it was appropriate to immediately restart the machine.

So instead of the Windows blue screen of death, it's the linux "Morse String of Death" (MSOD?) !


dit dit

Re:MSOD (Morse String Of Death) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788901)

Bur how did you know when to start and stop? Are you sure it wasn't trying to say E X C E P T I O N F A T A L E

Re:MSOD (Morse String Of Death) (1)

micromoog (206608) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789273)

or ON FAT ALE, XCEPT I? Maybe the computer wanted a beer.

Re:MSOD (Morse String Of Death) (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789475)

If the network connection goes down, does it start calling CQ? (If it had an IR port, maybe it could get the HP printer to relay...)

Porn (1)

DogDude (805747) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788770)

The community of adult webmasters is very creative. It's been said befoer, but it bears repeating that the ubiquitous Net owes its existence to the money, bandwidth, and technological push that porn online provides. In almost every aspect of the Web, the porn industry drives and uses new technology long before the "mainstream" catches on.

Forgot the S? (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788773)

You missed the S.. its SPAN and SOftware.

Oh wait.. this story is not about my Viagara order? nm....

Stories (1)

$raim_n_reezn! (808794) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788805)

Why is it that the slashdot editors would rather post "a need for creative stories" than post one where I requested help about creating a new language font and mapping the keyboard to it. Slashdot has gone the way of the dedeine.

Two things you don't want to watch being made... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10788883)

Pork products, and software.

Elecraft (2, Informative)

Snot Locker (252477) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788890)

Here's a story of creativity and innovation in ham radio. Check out Elecraft [] -- this all sprouted from the brain of Wayne Burdick and others who designed some innovative low-power ham tranceiver kits for the Northern California QRP Club. Elecraft kits are not only superior to the old Heathkit kits, but the end result is a high quality transceiver comparable to the expensive commercial gear.

Re:Elecraft (2, Interesting)

DF5JT (589002) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789217)

One of the reasons for Elecraft's success is its approach to development: It's strikingly similiar to Open Source Software development. Users of Elecraft are more than just customers, they are part of a community whose input is valued and taken into consideration for the improvement of future gear.

The resulting transceiver is a superb piece of equipment, surprisingly devoid of useless bells and whistles, shiny knobs and impractical handling that have become to characteristic of all the modern Japanese transceivers.

A modern FT1000MP is like Windows XP, including the lack of proper documentation and source code, whereas the K2 is just like Linux: transparent, performant and it comes with the source code.

As a morse code buff I will definitely get a K2 should my old TS930 decide to quit one day.


the biggest thing that helped... (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788895)

Is not what these people did, how much they researched, learned, designed,etc..

It's the simple fact that they SHARED what they knew with the world.

that is how things like Packet Radio, APRS, antenna designs, etc become more refined and wide spread use.

Most of what is in Ham Radio and software WOULD NOT EXIST if people were selfsih and kept their discoveries and designs to themselves.


gorehog (534288) | more than 9 years ago | (#10788955)

Look up packet radio. I can recall, back in the old days as a wee young one reading my dad's 73 magazines and seeing all the stories about guys with various portable computers (Tandy 100 I think, also some "lightweight" apple variants). These people were hiking up to mountain tops and setting up various packet switched radio data networks. Long before ISP's. This was back in the day when AOL and Compuserve were BBs'es. Packet controlled. TCP. Heck, even today us hams get privileges in the 802.11b spectrum that mere mortals DREAM of. Hundreds of watts of power. A lot of hams play with high power wireless networking. Also, check out the ECHOLINK software. You need a callsign to use it, but it's more crossover. Though, something to keep in mind...Ham radio serves a purpose involving the civil defense. As a ham I can provide emergency communications services. Ham Radio, because it is a government sponsored license, carries certain privileges and resposibilities. Yes, there is a lot of crossover. I knew a gifted computer scientist in college who got his ham credentials out of a love of all tech (N2TL I do believe). I must admit, the ham scene does not benefit as much as the computer scene does. Most hams seem to be stuck in the windows/visual basic model when it comes to designing software. As most hams are...older...they shy away from linux and it's complexities. This is something that needs to be addressed. Maybe a Ham radio linux distro. 73's all--- KC2MMW

Kazu explains (1)

Sai Babu (827212) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789003)

Kazu tells the right and wrong of homebrew (building your own radio stuff). His comments apply to other technical endeavors.
"Make the block one by one. And you must check the movement of the block one by one."

Wrong homebrew and right homebrew []

Kazu's site [] .

Also good is Harry's site [] .

Reading will unveil a touch of irreverance. You probably expected that ;-)

Hmmmm... ham...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789017)

who cares about radio? I want ham!

Amateurs they aren't... (1)

Buzzwang (265168) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789109)

In both areas, these people are highly skilled and capable.

I am a ham radio operator, and I've both seen and been involved with situations the required creative thinking, extreme problem solving and lots of outside-the-box thinking to get things done. If you need an example, then check out the video here [] and try to tell me otherwise.

Programmers, coders, hackers and even the everyday computer enthusiast use these same ideas and techniques to do similiar things.

The only real differrences between them:
Radio operators are licensed
Radio operators have a specific 'area' they can play in (radio spectrum rules, band plans, etc.)
Radio operators are encouraged to try new things.

Coders and hackers on the other hand, when trying to find new ways to solve old problems or improve on things that currently exist continually get hit with stereotypes, copyright infractions, patent infractions, lawsuits and the like.

What's the real difference? The law. Radio operators take a test and get licensed to do what they do. Perhaps programmers and coders should look at a similar thing that could perhaps one day stand up in court or something. I know that certifications exist (I hold a few myself) but perhaps some recreation of a GPL or GNU license could help in that regard. Something that you have to test for, like a certification, that would give you at least some limited legal ability to examine source codes, security flaws and such and legally work on them in order to help the owner improve their product(s).

I know it seems far fetched, but if a 16 year old kid can get legal permission to operate a motor vehicle at speeds well over what is required to decimate a mammal on impact, why can't coders get something similiar? Something that would give them a little legal protection and allow them to function much as the Ham Radio folks do?

Both Ham Operator and "Hacker" (1)

bitbreaker (719795) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789133)

As a lot of people here in Italy, I'm both an Ham operator with Ham Licence (IW7DQB) and Professional Developer. When Internet access was not so cheap, I tried to connect thru my 144Mhz-transceiver and an homebuilt packet radio the wonderful speed of 1200baud/2400baud... Since then, both electronics and Computer science made my life more ... happy. ;)))

APRS (1)

Peter Simpson (112887) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789197)

I once tracked my wife and son on as they drove the Camry that had formerly been mine (and so, came equipped with 144 Mhz antenna on the roof) across the country.

Technology in the car was a GPS, tone modulator/packetizer and cheap RadShack transceiver. The findu website and database technology is much more impressive, and the hierarchical network of receiving stations that upload tracking reports to the database is also pretty neat.

Re:APRS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10789347)

you sound like a creepy dude, no wonder your wife left you.

Ham / Wi-Fi (1)

RecycledElectrons (695206) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789381)

As we know, there are limits that the FCC sets on Wi-Fi (802.11) networking. I also understand that Hams can broadcast up to 200 Watts on these fgrequencies. So, I was studying to get a HAM license to play with Wi-Fi on my college's 500 acres (where I am a professor, and where interference would not be a problem.)

The problem is that no ham is allowed to broadcast an encrypted or encoded signal that the FCC can not intercept. Wi-Fi is considered "encoded" by the FCC, so my Tech (HAM) license gets me nada - zip - nothing.

We need to change this silly reg - atleast some classes of HAMs should be able to broadcast Wi-Fi at increased power levels.

Community alliances (1)

df03Toasteroven (830243) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789458)

Being a ham radio operator, a self-proclaimed computer nerd, a part-time college student with a part-time job in the computer industry I think that it's important to recognize the similarities of the issues concerning hams and hackers. The BPL issue is something which stings the buttocks of hams as much as the DMCA did to hackers. Taking bandwidth away from hams hurts them as much as the government attempting to take away the ability to make backup copies of legal digital-media. You'd be surprised how similar the mindsets of a ham and a computer-techie are. Particularly in my case since i'm both!! So my basic message is that hams and hackers should come together as a political force to lobby congress and get back the freedom to hack and transmit freely. I nominate myself as a potential leader for such a political lobby. We're holding a name contest for our newly created lobby. Also, we need money. And support. And people, too... that would be a good thing. Hams and Hackers Unite!!

hamsexy (1)

spoonyfork (23307) | more than 9 years ago | (#10789478)

Need insight into the world of ham radio? Check out Hamsexy [] . Check out the image gallery for some good scares.
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