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Author Topic: Hams taking the Internet as a model to emulate for our hobby and EmComms  (Read 4063 times)
NX5MK
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Posts: 65




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« on: September 29, 2011, 07:56:18 PM »

My 2 cents:

I have been an avid reader of this Forum for some time and see two recurring themes:
1) Hams should stay out of EmComms because they are "not Professionals".
2) "We" would be overwhelmed by a large scale emergency anyway.

Regarding theme #1:
Would it not be correct in assuming that most "Professionals" have been trained solely "on that one rig" that was bought by their service and pre-programmed for them on set channels, without any chance to turn a VFO nob?
So... what do you do if you want to communicate outside of the hierarchical structure of your "Professional" service, because maybe HQ does not have any power anymore to use their "professional" rig? Are we Hams not more flexible? Is that not our strength, that we can use alternative frequencies etc when Professional services fail?
Yes, pompous "know it all" behavior would not become us as Amateurs, but some confidence is nonetheless warranted.

Regarding theme #2:
Yes, the "Internet" as we know it today would also be overwhelmed if it were to rely on a very limited number of servers. But, since it is able to route it's traffic via many servers, do we have the power of the Internet as we have it today.
Since all of us obviously use the internet to write posts here on eHam, it should be safe to assume that most of us use emails too on a very regular basis. Thus, why not take the Internet as a role model to emulate? Why not set up your own HF PSKMail server http://pskmail.wikispaces.com/ (it's free and needs no more than your laptop, HF rig and an interface in between) and send an email to a non-Ham, to your loved one, your family, your kids, your friends, whomever you care about... wouldn't that be cool? You going out for a trip alone, with your family or significant other and send an email from somewhere where there is no cell phone coverage? That is bound to skyrocket your popularity factor, provide some fun within our hobby and - oh by the way - creates a network of HF email stations/ servers (with APRS capability) which could come in handy if ever there were a Katrina-scale disaster to contend with. Your HF Email server could be passively helping others, just by being there - most likely you wouldn't have to deploy to anywhere, unless you yourself have to evacuate.

Question is: do you prefer to lament that you are too unimportant (and "just" an "Amateur") in a large scale event and be cut off from all communications, or have great fun with our hobby and also be able to be part of a large network which could significantly help others (and even yourself!) in case of even a large emergency? Now, that would be cool.

My next personal project is setting up a PSKMail server and have fun with it.

Feel free to use Winmor, or if you want an even larger technical challenge to ponder on, how about setting up a Winmor - PSKMail interconnection? THAT would be in the spirit of the internet and of HAM radio! Finding non-commercial, non-"professional" solutions...

My only "problem" is, is that I don't have a Windows client and PSKMail provides a de-centralized HF Email Server infrastructure, which I find technically more interesting. To my knowledge, Winlink does not provide a de-centralized email server infrastructure, please correct me if I'm wrong.

I am looking forward to your comments.

73,
Marcus
KD0JKM


Disclaimer:
I am not affiliated with or benefit from PSKMail. I have no conflicts of interest of any kind.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2011, 07:56:31 AM »

Would it not be correct in assuming that most "Professionals" have been trained solely "on that one rig" that was bought by their service and pre-programmed for them on set channels, without any chance to turn a VFO nob?

This is a naive assertion.  That "one rig"  (without a "nob") is likely part of an extensive infrastructure that includes data and linking to other networks.  It makes any ham system look like a toy.

Yes, something that complex has more opportunities for failure.  But understand that over time and as these systems evolve, their fault tolerance only gets better.  Chances are they have contingency plans, backups and alternate systems.  Commercial systems are far more capable and reliable than many hams would believe.  User frequency agility isn't significant when it comes to their systems capabilities as it is with amateur operations.


Quote
Why not set up your own HF PSKMail server... and send an email to a non-Ham, to your loved one, your family, your kids, your friends, whomever you care about... wouldn't that be cool?

Clearly you weren't around when packet clogged HF and even VHF with endless crapola being schlepped from point to point.  HF just can't handle the volume.  Compound that with the overhead of comtemporary protocols and you wouldn't get anything through.


Quote
why not take the Internet as a role model to emulate?

The point I've made in past posts is that the amateur radio's strength isn't in replicating existing services, but it's value on the individual level.  Persons or small groups that are on the spot when something happens, and can relay a message when other conduits are broken or unavailable.

Because everything today is so internet-centric and dependent on relatively large bandwidths to function, the idea that you're going to do anything useful on a few shared 300 baud channels is pretty laughable.  It's the modern day equivalent of smoke signals.  Stick a fork in it, it's over.

Instead, concentrate on the thing hams do better - autonomous, ad-hoc communications.  Leave the ISP job to the communications companies and the rescue roles to real public safety officers.  Anyone needing a data link in the middle of nowhere is going to use a satellite link or helicopter in their own network.


Quote
do you prefer to lament that you are too unimportant (and "just" an "Amateur") in a large scale event and be cut off from all communications.

There is nothing to lament.  I am a citizen with a hobby.  If it works out that my hobby may contribute some good at some point, then far out.  But if things are that broken where infrastructure is compromised, ham radio is just a squirt gun in a forest fire.  It's not ham radio's role to be the world's ISP.  It's clearly not possible anyway.

Now, if you want to play pseudo internet/ISP, why not come up with broadband solutions that use commodity hardware?  Configurations of wireless routers, antennas and embedded PC's running servers that can be easily deployed and run on a few watts of solar power, maybe with a few microcells thrown in.  I daresay once some linux nerds come up with a system like this using open source software and $50 wireless routers, there'd be little need for the goofy top-heavy ham radio data solutions.


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM

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NX5MK
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Posts: 65




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« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2011, 02:13:47 PM »

Hi Mark,
Thank you for your reply! Please allow me to respond as follows:

Quote:
That "one rig"  (without a "nob") is likely part of an extensive infrastructure that includes data and linking to other networks.  It makes any ham system look like a toy.


I agree, the individual rigs are most likely of a better build quality. Please take note that I did not reference the hardware, I talked about the operators. I would hypothesize, that quite a number of "professional communicators" do not have the technical background of a Ham. I wanted to express that Hams are more likely to be able to repair a failed antenna/ rig/ etc. than many or most (?) "professionals" would.
(Regarding the "extensive infrastructure", please see my analogy regarding "one fast or ten slower servers" further down.)

Quote:
Yes, something that complex has more opportunities for failure.  But understand that over time and as these systems evolve, their fault tolerance only gets better.  Chances are they have contingency plans, backups and alternate systems.  Commercial systems are far more capable and reliable than many hams would believe.  User frequency agility isn't significant when it comes to their systems capabilities as it is with amateur operations.


Please see the analogy that I made with the internet: One fast capable server might be able to do the work of ten slow servers, but what happens when this one fast server goes down vs. 5 out of 10 slow servers going down? The other 5 will still keep going. There appear to be around 740.000 Amateur Radio operators in the US, thus around 740.000 "slow servers", which should make us fairly "fault tolerant".
Again, please take note that I was referring to the operators (Hams) being - in general - more qualified, not the hardware. Would you think that that assumption is fair?

Quote:
Clearly you weren't around when packet clogged HF and even VHF with endless crapola being schlepped from point to point.  HF just can't handle the volume.  Compound that with the overhead of comtemporary protocols and you wouldn't get anything through.


Thanks for filling me in on this! It's true that I wasn't around at that time. You point out something very important: HF will not replace DSL/ Cable/ etc. Internet.
What do you instead think about the odd email or two (or three) sent out (via whatever digital mode via whatever HF Email system) at the weekend for some fun?

I myself have not yet been in the situation of having to cope in a disaster area. By what I read, digital communications (to relay supply lists, etc.) are a valuable asset in that setting. Why then not relay those lists to the next HF Email server which does still have a connection to "regular" Email service, which then sends off that email, instead of clogging up HF or VHF with relaying messages from one Ham to another? Could that not lower the overall traffic load on HF?

Quote:
The point I've made in past posts is that the amateur radio's strength isn't in replicating existing services, but it's value on the individual level.  Persons or small groups that are on the spot when something happens, and can relay a message when other conduits are broken or unavailable.


Totally agree. Don't imitate a current structure and try to surplant it. Just use "the principal" of it. That was what I was trying to suggest: use the model of many "slow servers" instead of a "few fast servers" to make the communications network more fault tolerant. This very example you bring forward, is that not an example of how the "professional services" can be helped out by us "Amateurs"?

Quote:
Because everything today is so internet-centric and dependent on relatively large bandwidths to function, the idea that you're going to do anything useful on a few shared 300 baud channels is pretty laughable.  It's the modern day equivalent of smoke signals.  Stick a fork in it, it's over.


I regret that you got that impression. I was not trying to suggest that HF is "faster" than cable/ DSL/ etc..

Quote:
Instead, concentrate on the thing hams do better - autonomous, ad-hoc communications.  Leave the ISP job to the communications companies and the rescue roles to real public safety officers.  Anyone needing a data link in the middle of nowhere is going to use a satellite link or helicopter in their own network.


We saw how many satellite links and helicopters were available for Katrina. I agree, the principal of making many low bandwidth networks via Amateur Radio, is what we do better, which was the intent of my post.

Quote:
There is nothing to lament.  I am a citizen with a hobby.  If it works out that my hobby may contribute some good at some point, then far out.


Mark, I agree, you don't lament, but many posts here do just that. I wanted to provide some inspiration that strength is sometimes found in numbers. (Here is the analogy with the Internet again: one fast server, or ten slow ones... Which network will still function when one of either system goes down?)

Quote:
But if things are that broken where infrastructure is compromised, ham radio is just a squirt gun in a forest fire.  It's not ham radio's role to be the world's ISP.  It's clearly not possible anyway.


Take my analogy of the "ten slow servers" again... Sure, I am an Amateur and it's my hobby too (and not my role), but how about being able to help your community, even if it's just "a little"? How's the expression again? "Many hands make light work!" The US that I know isn't self-defeatist. Stick my head in the sand and say whatever I do is useless anyway? Why are there so many Hams who belittle themselves so much? Why is there not more confidence in what we can do? And did I say that it's anybodies "role" to supplant anything? Please quote me correctly.

Quote:
It's clearly not possible anyway.


...was I suggesting that Hams be the world's ISP? It certainly was not intended. At one time it was also assumed that you cannot sail around the world, since the world is a disk and you'd fall off Smiley


Quote:
...why not come up with broadband solutions that use commodity hardware?  Configurations of wireless routers, antennas and embedded PC's running servers that can be easily deployed and run on a few watts of solar power, maybe with a few microcells thrown in.  I daresay once some linux nerds come up with a system like this using open source software and $50 wireless routers, there'd be little need for the goofy top-heavy ham radio data solutions.


Now, I like this vision! Any bright Linux people here?! Americas strength has always been in being ingenious and inventive. I myself will not be able to provide this future technology. I wish that some brighter head here amongst us might however be able to!


Overall, I think that in general, you and I are on the same page. Have some fun in our hobby, help others if we are able to. Thanks for your insight into Packet Radio via HF!

The quest of my post was twofold:
1) Hams do not need to stay out of EmComms because our strength is in our numbers and flexibility (be it in location, digital modes used, etc., you name it).
2) "We" can make a difference in a large scale emergency, since "many hands make light work".

How about setting up your own PSKMail server to lessen the overall traffic on HF (for the reason stated above)? Any Elmers who can share some more insights about Digital comms on HF?

That would be more constructive, instead of calling me naive or suggesting that I play. With all due respect, please excuse my humble criticism in the choice of some of your words.

73,
Marcus
KD0JKM


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LA9XSA
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Posts: 376




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« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2011, 02:29:27 PM »

The bandwidth issue is one reason why message precedence (emergency, priority, welfare, routine) has to be closely followed in emergency communications, and why abbreviated messages should be used when possible in welfare traffic.

Digital modes can be used to route those messages, to reduce manual workload, but that shouldn't make it a free-for-all for evacuees to send War and Peace to their families.

There's some pretty neat things you can do with ham radio, and they can be very useful in an emergency if properly trained and managed.
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KD0KZE
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Posts: 20




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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2011, 10:26:33 AM »

Technically speaking, the only essential distinction between a professional and amateur is that the professional is paid for his efforts.  It is not necessarily true that they have better equipment and/or training, better infrastructure, they're always first on a scene, etc.  There is also the Good Samaritan role with amateur radio, as there is with the person trapped in a burning car.  Sometimes time and mobility override other concerns.  For example, EMT's have far less training than surgeons, but the nature of their work is no less essential, depending on the circumstance.

I've been a professional technologist (programmer, DBA, webmaster, etc.) with open source technologies for well over a decade at a Big-10 university, and know of many singular points of failure in systems.  Sometimes it's even a people problem.  If there's only one guy that knows how to keep something running, that's not good.

There are a number of open "mesh network" efforts already out there:
http://emergentbydesign.com/2011/02/11/16-projects-initiatives-building-ad-hoc-wireless-mesh-networks/

I guess the chief limitations I see with using off-the-shelf Linksys type consumer grade home equipment, is that it will typically produce only Class-C 192-based IP's, have limited broadcast range, and require quite a number of people running the mesh software, as relays, to be of much use more than a few hundred feet in range.  So in the spirit of tinkering, I don't see any reason NOT to fiddle with amateur radio's role in digital emcomm.  Open source software itself, mostly volunteer efforts, has certainly led us to a good place.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2011, 10:32:40 AM by KD0KZE » Logged
NX5MK
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Posts: 65




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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2011, 05:32:18 PM »

Paul,

I followed the link you posted: there are many projects! Since you have the experience and overview over this field: Are there any projects involving HF for bridging the distance between a local (none world wide internet connected) network and the world wide net?

If such a project exists, how is network traffic "controlled" so that messages are short and sent in the order of priority as to lessen the traffic burden via the HF connection?

Do you recommend a better technique than PSKMail/ Winmail to connect a Ham operator to the World Wide Net?

73,
Marcus
KD0JKM
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KD0KZE
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Posts: 20




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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2011, 08:05:52 AM »

Marcus,

I've not delved much into these projects yet, but will do so over the winter (combining hobby + career).  One challenge is that most off-the-shelf routers for personal consumption offer Class-C networks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classful_network), a limited number of IP's, issued to what is assumed to be a local area network (your house).  These IP's are unique only to that network "below" the router.  Your PC might be 192.168.1.101, but so might your neighbor's.  So that whole architecture isn't really appropriate for the sort of geographic scale possible with HF which would really want a potentially very large number of unique IP's like Class A.  Maybe IPv6 will offer more possibilities.  Basically, a wifi WAN.

The general problem would be guaranteeing uniqueness and identity in a highly-relayed peer-to-peer environment without centralized router infrastructure.  I suspect it would be software defined, based on public/private key, a key-ring or trust network (as in PGP) and include some sort of IP bridging mechanism.

EchoLink offers some aspects of this, although I don't think you could use it with merely non-routable Class-C IP's, relaying wifi to one another (and I'm mainly a Linux guy).  I've not experimented much yet with digital amateur radio modes yet, but will delve into it this winter.  Apparently all I need is a cable at this stage.  :-)

73's
KD0KZE

Paul,

I followed the link you posted: there are many projects! Since you have the experience and overview over this field: Are there any projects involving HF for bridging the distance between a local (none world wide internet connected) network and the world wide net?

If such a project exists, how is network traffic "controlled" so that messages are short and sent in the order of priority as to lessen the traffic burden via the HF connection?

Do you recommend a better technique than PSKMail/ Winmail to connect a Ham operator to the World Wide Net?

73,
Marcus
KD0JKM
« Last Edit: October 04, 2011, 08:09:05 AM by KD0KZE » Logged
KD4LLA
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Posts: 450




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« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2011, 03:23:33 PM »

Think about this for a minute.  FEMA now has trailers with generators on them just at the "ready" for a call.  Cellphone companies have trailers with cell site towers and such at the "ready".  Shelters, Medical teams, emergency supplies are now sitting in warehouses all over the country just waiting for the next "big event".

In Minnesota the switch is on-going to a full P25 digital state-wide multi-site EMS/Police/Fire system.  In the ARMER system radios can be programmed over-the-air so anyone in the system needing access can be accommodated on-the-fly.  I routinely log out-of-area talkgoups as they pass through the system on I-90.

The days of ham radio saving the day are getting to be less and less.  Lastly, HF and even VHF packet was antiquated a few of years after its deployment.  We, as amateur radio operators have lost the technological edge to internet protocols, in my opinion.

Mike
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KD0KZE
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Posts: 20




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« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2011, 11:55:29 AM »

Probably it's not good to approach it as a contest (obtaining some sort of edge), but just an ad hoc alternative for personal emergency communications.  Backup emergency systems for professional responders are one thing, backups for ordinary people another.  Due to the nature of routing, IP's and DNS, it probably wouldn't be possible to roll out a "backup internet" for broad usage for thousands/millions of ordinary people.  So the role of emcomms may shift from governmental assistance over to personal/neighborhood relaying, etc.

In that sense, ham radio may be more like a Good Samaritan that pulls you out of a burning vehicle.  He's not a professional responder, there are people more experienced and better qualified, but "good enough" and expediency suffice.

So even if the government obtains a 100% failsafe method for professional responders, how are we supposed to contact them -- as ordinary people -- if our own communications are disrupted, let alone send personal messages to loved ones in other cities, etc?

Think about this for a minute.  FEMA now has trailers with generators on them just at the "ready" for a call.  Cellphone companies have trailers with cell site towers and such at the "ready".  Shelters, Medical teams, emergency supplies are now sitting in warehouses all over the country just waiting for the next "big event".

In Minnesota the switch is on-going to a full P25 digital state-wide multi-site EMS/Police/Fire system.  In the ARMER system radios can be programmed over-the-air so anyone in the system needing access can be accommodated on-the-fly.  I routinely log out-of-area talkgoups as they pass through the system on I-90.

The days of ham radio saving the day are getting to be less and less.  Lastly, HF and even VHF packet was antiquated a few of years after its deployment.  We, as amateur radio operators have lost the technological edge to internet protocols, in my opinion.

Mike
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AI8P
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« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2011, 09:17:42 AM »

KD4LLA,

I guess you didn't hear about the big incident in Hawaii that took out all those fancy cell phones, did you?   Nobody did.

I read a blog from a guy who was on vacation in Hawaii with his family when the Japan earthquake hit.  A tsunami warning was issued and it was decided to evacuate all the beach-front hotels in Hawaii.   He had a rental car and immediately headed for the  7-11 to clean out all the bottled water and food.   When he tried to call back to his family to coordinate their effort, he never could get thru.   He was bemoaning that he hadn't taken any radios with him.   

P.S.  They ended up with like a 1 foot tsunami or something in Hawaii.   There was ZERO damage to the communications infrastructure - yet it was unuseable.   If everyone picks up their cell phone at the same time and pushes the button the system will not handle it.   You don't need ANY damage to take the system out - you just need a good public scare.

Those who say that the comms structure is more rugged than ever are correct;  those who say the comms structure will be back up sooner then ever are correct.

However,  it doesn't take much to overwhelm the system - Hams will be needed for comms in emergencies or even "public perceived emergencies" for the foreseeable future.

Dennis
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