Operating FT8 out of South Carolina

I recently (finally) put up a stealth antenna on my new home in South Carolina. Due to home owners association rules… it is not as easy as it used to be for hams to have an outside antenna. Thanks to an MFJ automatic remote antenna tuner I mounted on my roof and a long wire, I have an antenna – not a great antenna but any antenna is better than no antenna, when you’re a ham.

One thing that has changed in the last year that I’ve been in the process of moving to SC is the innovation of FT8, a weak-signal mode that came on the ham scene in a big way during the latter half of 2017. This mode, combined with some signal tracking (PSKreporter), provides a good mechanism for identifying how well your antenna is working.

Usually, this time of year, the 20 meter band closes up a few hours after sunset – if it opens up at all based on the sunspot cycle. Last night (May 17th), at about 8PM Eastern, I made a few contacts with FT8 on 20 meters and then left the radio tracking the stations it heard overnight. I tracked 539 transmitters in 31 countries – most of them between 8PM and 10PM.

A visual of what was heard looks like:

stations heard

I was also interested in how well I was heard between 8 and 9PM when I was transmitting, using about 25 watts. The stations that heard me looked like:

stations the heard me

That was 247 stations in 31 countries.

Not too bad considering the house has techshield radiant barrier, turning the inside of the house into a Faraday cage. I am going to continue experimenting with bands and times of day and hope to compare it against other local hams that have ‘real’ antennas.

One of the great things about this hobby is that even those that are resource constrained can still have fun and experiment.


May the Fourth be with you

May_the_4th_be_with_you_(Star_Wars_Day)Yes, once again it’s Star Wars day, which also happens to be my birthday. Kismet!

Here is a link to a post a few years back on the topic of What if CIOs were Star War’s characters?

Here is a segment from 2017 on ABC with more background on this ‘holiday’.

With Solo: A Star Wars Story coming out later this month to open out the summer blockbuster season, this is a time of abundance for Star Wars Fans.

The GIF is a fan created GIF, I had to borrow.

New Yorker Article on Digital Vigilantes

securityIf you are interested in Cybersecurity, there is an article I found well worth reading (or at least skimming) in the New Yorker – The Digital Vigilantes Who Hack Back. It seemed like something I’d be more likely to find in Wired than The New Yorker, but I’ll take stories like this where I can find them.

The article talks about some of the techniques and issues for moving beyond a pro-active cyber defence.

With tools like Canary and techniques to create homegrown honeypots becoming more prevalent, it’s good to see (what I saw as) a well thought out article discussing some of the technical and legislative issues, using layman terminology.


Windows 10 late April update

Yesterday, my home office desktop initiated the update to Windows 10 April update (not to be known as the Spring Update) – code name RedStone 4.

This was not a simple update and took quite a while insinuate itself in my machine, but after a few reboots and other gyrations, it accomplished its task. For some reason, on my wife’s laptop (which is much slower) it installed more quickly.

Once the install was complete, I still had all my files and programs but had to grant network access to a few programs and perform a few other setup tasks that normally only happen when installing a new program. It also deleted and rearranged a number of icons on my start menu and also re-enabled some programs (like the default mail program) that I’d eliminated from my user interface.


The greatest enhancement to Windows is Timeline. It’s designed to facilitate projects across multiple devices. For Timeline to work on iOS and Android devices, you’ll need to install Cortana on your mobile device and be logged in.

To start using Timeline, go to Settings -> Privacy -> Activity history and make check the box next to “Let Windows collect my activities from this PC.” If you want to “Show activities from other accounts” move that slider to on. Timeline should now be turned on not just for this device and this account, but for your other devices and other Microsoft accounts. To turn Timeline off, set the activity history slider to off.

Definitely, something that will take a while to understand its value.

Edge for Android (and iOS)

Chrome has become an increasing resource hog over the years and it looks like Edge for Windows has improved significantly with this release. Now that Edge for Android arrived (I guess it has been out there for a while and I just hadn’t noticed) and should be able to sync favorites… with Windows, I am definitely going to give it a try. I did notice that “Do not track” was not enabled by default. When I tried to sync I received the error message: 0xa04a1823, so I had to submit an issue into MSDN. I am hoping there is a quick response since there were a few others who expressed the same sort of problem.

Now to understand what’s new…

There are a number of other features like disk space recovery that that I’ve been playing with for a while already (Setting -> System -> Storage). This automates some of the cleanup that you used to have to run Drive Space on each drive to accomplish.

I am sure there is much more to delve into (like it appears there are some significant enhancements to annotating videos) but I’ll leave that for later.

Repetier-Server on a Raspberry Pi controlling my 3D printer

A few weeks ago, I mentioned using Cura from my Raspberry Pi to 3D print.

Yesterday, I had some time on my hands so I thought I’d try a different 3D printer controller for the Raspberry Pi – Repetier-Server. It either comes with OS build for your Pi’s SD or you can build it yourself on an existing Raspian installation.

I also loaded some WebCam software for my Raspberry Pi, so that I could see the printer while it is printing in the garage. There are a number of open source projects to stream a USB camera from your Raspberry Pi

The setup has been working great. I connect to the Repetier-Server on the Pi from the Repetier-Host software running on my PC. The PC does all the slicing… and sends the models to the Server and also shows the real-time status of the job in progress. I get the added benefit that I can also stop jobs and monitor progress from my phone (as long as I am connected to the same LAN). I have not done the port forwarding so I could monitor jobs in progress from the Internet, but that’s possible.

Introduction to 3D printing class

After my recent move to South Carolina, I’ve been refreshing my skills in woodworking. To get started, I’ve been creating some fairly simple cutting boards (see below) with my wife:

cutting boards

As a way to give back to the group, I pulled together an Introduction to 3D printing class that I’ve also loaded out on slideshare. The material includes a number of examples on how 3D printing and the related design tools can be used in a woodworking shop.

Hopefully, this will enable a greater understanding for the group of the possibilities of additive manufacturing — since woodworking consists mainly of subtractive manufacturing. 🙂

Just thought I’d share the presentation here, as well.

Is automation forcing divergent paths of quality vs. cost?

robots-too-humanI saw an interesting post: When Robot Writers Take Over, Will Freelancers Be Obsolete? The article was focused on freelance writing, but it did make me wonder about the whole concept of freelancing, in general.

The relatively fixed and easy to automate positions in many fields are ripe for automation. Those that require creativity or unique insight should be safe for a long time to come. In fact, automation could make the freelancers life less mundane and more interesting. It reminded me of a situation earlier in my career…

Back in the early 90s, I worked in the AI space for Electronic Data Systems (EDS). We focused primarily on solving problems for GM and the US government. Somewhere around here I have a coffee cup with the moto of the group: “Make it Work, Make it Real”. Unfortunately, the folks working in the group had felt it really meant that if we could make it work, it wasn’t really AI — since someone would always say that it was just regular old programming, no matter what innovative technique or esoteric language we used.

One of the projects I led was called Knowledge-based Tool Design. We were trying to automate tooling design for clamping and welding car parts using CAD techniques, a project far ahead of its time. Programmatically determining the right type of clamp and the correct way to swing it into place was too difficult spatially, for the time. We just didn’t have the compute power and the algorithms determine orientation and approach. A good human tool designer could see the solution intuitively.

We did figure out that people are not good at pulling together the bill-of-materials to ensure that the clamp and all the hydraulic and mounting components… were defined. We shifted our attention to defining that type of detail using computers — reducing the errors and rework later in the process.

Similarly, in other industries, there are so many annoying and resource intensive, low hanging fruit to be picked that the return on investment for tackling truly intuitive problems just isn’t there. That can all change though as better algorithms and computing capabilities develop.

There are a couple of ways this could go:

  • The intuitive functions will likely become more of a freelance function, since companies will not need (or be willing to pay) for those expert roles all the time and the work will be interesting.
  • The focus shifts to less high-quality designs that can be automated.

In any case, employment as we know it will be changing.