May 2011

{Insert Name Here} is inviting you to join FaceBook

Without wishing to sound harsh, two words: Don’t bother. 🙂

There are a few reasons why I’m not on FaceBook…

Need

First and foremost, is a matter of need.

The primary reasons why someone would set up something on FaceBook is to enable their friends to be able to locate them on the Internet.  In my case, just about any search engine using either my real name, nickname, or callsign, will lead you in the right direction.  Even then, it isn’t hard for people to trade email addresses by out-of-band means, then pass a URL to a blog site that way.

Next is the keeping track of friends.  Again, plain old email is good for this… so is the telephone.  RSS is a pretty good broadcast mechanism for this purpose too, and guess what, most modern web browsers are able to subscribe to such feeds as Live Bookmarks.  This effectively means your web browser becomes the central switchboard by which you can keep track of what your friends are doing.

As for sharing photos… most blog hosting sites provide a means for uploading photos… a perfect way to share photos.

There’s actually bugger all that I consider worthwhile that can only be done via FaceBook.

Time

These days I’m very busy in my daily life… too busy to sit in front of a computer checking up on online friends.  When I’m at work, I’m at work… I’m not browsing the web for personal pleasure.  Looking up things like FaceBook would be wrong and immoral usage of my employer’s Internet bandwidth.  So I don’t do it.

I can’t very well check FaceBook whilst in transit for two reasons: (1) I ride a bicycle, and need to watch where I am going, and (2) I don’t have any mobile Internet service.  I am usually on the amateur radio bands somewhere whilst mobile, but (ignoring IRLP/EchoLink/Allstar Link/APRS/etc…) you won’t find me via the Internet.  I answer my mobile phone too, but only after pulling over (I need a moment to switch headset cables over).

At home, yes I could be on FaceBook… but I find plenty of other things to occupy my time.  That, and sometimes it’s good to not have anything to do occasionally.

Privacy

FaceBook is controlled by one company, and is a closed system.  Aside from a “we promise not to look”, there is nothing to stop them doing anything they like with the information you provide to the service.  Even if they don’t, who’s to say their system is completely secure?  Lots of people entrusted their credit card details to Sony… Ooopsie!

So what kind of information does one share on FaceBook?  Aside from your name, age… okay, not deeply personal… you set yourself up with that information.  Then what?

You start “friend”-ing people.  You start “like”-ing people and adding them to your list of friends.  You build up a social graph.  Graphs are a mathematical tool for representing relationships between objects.  In this case, the graph’s edges represent some connection (i.e. acquaintance, friend, lover, … etc.) between two people (represented as nodes).  And using all kinds of graph theory, it’s possible to deduce all kinds of personal information about you.

How dangerous is this?  You’re probably thinking… “So what?”  Mark Pesce gave a talk on this at linux.conf.au this year.  If you’ve got a bit of time to spare, you can watch the video of the presentation, or have a read of the full transcript.  In short, a big part of what we do can be explained by what people are doing around us… we have a tendency to mimic those around us.  Knowing the group one participates in, is a pretty good way for someone with ulterior motives to figure out ways in which to manipulate you.

Your social graph is probably one of the most personal things you can reveal.

Keeping in touch

In order to keep in touch, you actually don’t need FaceBook.  Good ol’e email does a pretty good job.  So do blogs.  In my case, I post a lot of what I’ve been up to on this site.  This site broadcasts a stream using a format called RSS.  Guess what, most web browsers today (Firefox 3.5+, Internet Explorer 7+, Chrome, recent Opera…etc) support this in the form of “Live Bookmarks”.  Or you can use an external news aggregator… there are plenty to choose from.

Then in your web browser, subscribe to the feed.  In Firefox 4.0, under Bookmarks, choose “Subscribe to this page”.  Earlier releases have a button that appears in the address bar you can click.  Likewise for other web browsers… in fact, often you’re looking for an icon like this:

RSS feed icon

RSS feed icon (Source: Wikipedia)

Look for an icon like that on your web browser, click it, and follow the prompts.  Voila, you can now track that person through your web browser.  No one else needs to know about it, no need to log in to an extra site, it’s quick and easy.  Need something web-based for when you’re not at home?  There are plenty of web-based agregators.

Ohh, and you can track more than just friends this way.  News websites, companies… all sorts of things can be monitored this way.

But I want to be your friend!!!

Are you going to tell me this wasn’t possible before FaceBook?   Friends didn’t exist before Mr Zuckerberg invented this web-based forum?  Have people forgotten the art of face-to-face contact?  You don’t need FaceBook to have friends.  Give the old-school method a try some day. 🙂

Do’s and Don’ts of hand-held radios

During the International Rally of Queensland, it was interesting to observe how people made use of the radios provided for the event. In fact, watching peoples’ behaviour to me, made it clear that none of them had any training in how to use one of these devices. And they all struggled, mostly as a result of each others’ bad habits.

This isn’t an isolated case… my mother who works at the Brisbane International airport, often complains about the radio etiquette of her fellow colleagues. A lot of people have a radio thrust into their hands, and haven’t a clue how to use them. In trying to figure it out, they often fall trap to the same bad habits.

I myself have found a lot of this by mistake, and by observing others. A lot of this is also applicable to using regular telephones … I found the tip of standing still when talking helpful when I needed to make a call to emergency services on my mobile phone — the particular spot where I was at the time, the phone would drop out if I moved more than 6 inches in any direction. Learning not to talk too close, or too loudly into a microphone, also helps.

The following is a little chart I came up with. No, the stick figures are not XKCD grade, they’re not meant to be. Click on the image below for a copy as a PDF, or get the SVG source here.  File is provided in the public domain, but attribution would be appreciated.  If you use radios in your workplace, and observe this kind of behaviour in your colleagues, you might like to print this out and stick it on a wall somewhere.

 

Boring Sunday Afternoons

It’s okay, I know I live in my own strange little world but it’s okay because everyone here knows me!

It takes just a little time
on a boring Sunday afternoon ….

Trolley Circle

… To really upset someone on Monday morning!

(By way of David VK4KPM, cheers…)

Experiments with AX.25

This weekend just gone I was at Imbil helping out with the International Rally of Queensland, reporting scores for the car rally there.  This was my first look at packet radio in action.  Prior to this I had enabled the amateur radio options in the kernels I built, but never tried actually hooking radio to computer.  I shall be posting some notes on how I got this working…

zhouman ~ # uname -a
Linux zhouman 2.6.35.7-lm2f-nb #2 Wed Oct 13 00:42:58 EST 2010 mips64 ICT Loongson-2 V0.3 FPU V0.1 lemote-yeeloong-2f-8.9inches GNU/Linux
zhouman ~ # ifconfig sm0
sm0 Link encap:AMPR AX.25 HWaddr VK4MSL
inet addr:172.31.32.1 Bcast:172.31.32.255 Mask:255.255.255.0
UP BROADCAST RUNNING MULTICAST MTU:256 Metric:1
RX packets:365 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
TX packets:36 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
collisions:0 txqueuelen:10
RX bytes:24236 (23.6 KiB) TX bytes:6850 (6.6 KiB)

zhouman ~ # mheard
Callsign Port Packets Last Heard
VK4EA-9 sm0 6 Mon May 16 17:59:12
VK4NRL-9 sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:58:40
VK4VP-1 sm0 8 Mon May 16 17:58:38
VK4RAI-3 sm0 9 Mon May 16 17:57:58
VK4TIM-9 sm0 14 Mon May 16 17:57:56
VK4TDI-1 sm0 2 Mon May 16 17:57:39
VK4DC-1 sm0 15 Mon May 16 17:57:07
VK4TEC-9 sm0 120 Mon May 16 17:56:08
VK4FY-1 sm0 18 Mon May 16 17:54:38
VK4RMO-3 sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:54:33
VK4RGC-3 sm0 3 Mon May 16 17:52:48
VK4RC-1 sm0 8 Mon May 16 17:51:29
VK4FIL-1 sm0 4 Mon May 16 17:46:44
VK4RIL-13 sm0 4 Mon May 16 17:45:43
VK4RBR-3 sm0 5 Mon May 16 17:42:59
VK2RDO-3 sm0 2 Mon May 16 17:41:19
VK4RRC-13 sm0 3 Mon May 16 17:36:39
VK2JUB-1 sm0 2 Mon May 16 17:34:44
VK4BNQ-1 sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:26:58
VK4LDA-9 sm0 2 Mon May 16 17:24:59
VK2POO-9 sm0 9 Mon May 16 17:21:24
VK2XFL-9 sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:21:09
VK4RSR-3 sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:20:04
VK4IE sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:15:04
VK4ALJ-3 sm0 1 Mon May 16 17:15:00
VK4HPW-9 sm0 5 Mon May 16 17:13:23
zhouman ~ #

Set-up consisted of:
Linux kernel on Lemote Yeeloong, latest soundmodem driver, Yaesu FT-897D, homebrew interface cable plugged into Yeeloong’s onboard sound card, USB serial driving BC547 in interface cable for PTT.

zhouman ~ # cat /etc/ax25/soundmodem.conf
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<modem>
<configuration name="FT897-D">
<chaccess txdelay="150" slottime="100" ppersist="40" fulldup="0" txtail="10"/>
<audio type="alsa" device="plughw:0,0" halfdup="0" capturechannelmode="Mono"/>
<ptt file="/dev/ttyUSB0"/>
<channel name="Channel 0">
<mod mode="afsk" bps="1200" f0="1200" f1="2200" diffenc="1"/>
<demod mode="afsk" bps="1200" f0="1200" f1="2200" diffdec="1"/>
<pkt mode="MKISS" ifname="sm0" hwaddr="VK4MSL" ip="172.31.32.1" netmask="255.255.255.0" broadcast="172.31.32.255"/>
</channel>
</configuration>
</modem>
zhouman ~ #

I’ve shut it down for now, but I’ll give it a bit more work on 145.175MHz tomorrow. Once I get something working, I might set something up using the O2 or one of the Fulongs (probably the latter) and see about getting soundmodem back into Gentoo.

Update: After hand-editing the ebuild to enable APRS support, I can successfully report that not only is soundmodem working, but so is Xastir on my Yeeloong, as can be seen on aprs.fi.

VK4MSL/BM: Stationary test on 15m

Well, this afternoon I decided to fix a couple of problems with the bicycle mobile… firstly, the mounting of one noisy headlamp.  I’ve re-done the mount using a more solid piece of plastic this time, so we shall see how it goes.  No noise on HF so things are looking up there.  I also fixed the headset connection which was causing speakers to drop out… the problem turned out to be in the headset connection on the bike, rather than in the helmet.

It was approaching 2PM and thus nearly time for the daily Travellers net on 21.185MHz USB.  I’ve never made a contact on 15m before, but knew the antenna did tune up there, so I gave it a shot.  Ross VK5KMH popped up with a 58 signal out of Adelaide listening… after a prolonged silence, I decided to throw a call out.  Ross responded, reporting my signal into his station was also a 58 signal.

This was from the driveway at my home location, using 100W transmit power (not far from where I reached VK100WIA on 20m with a CB whip).  So evidently this home brew whip works quite well on 15m.  I have since brought the FT-897D inside and plugged it into my G5RV-like antenna, and after moving off frequency to tune, I notice Ross is still a 58 signal, so evidently my HF antenna doesn’t do much better than the whip does.