Sunday, July 21, 2019

GNU Radio Conference 2017 Wireless Capture the Flag Challenge report

In preparation for GNU Radio Conference 2019, I was asked to describe what we did for the 2017 Wireless Capture the Flag Challenge. Here's the report!


Jericho Report

Michelle Thompson
GNU Radio Conference 2017 CTF



Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), The Battle of Jericho.

Abstract
This is a summary of the challenges in the wireless Capture the Flag (CTF) competition at GNU Radio Conference 2017. The competition was codenamed Jericho. This report has been written to provide a background and baseline for the type and scope of challenges in a CTF using GNU Radio. The goal was to give a variety of challenges, from easy to hard, and to provide both collaborative and competitive opportunities. Challenges were available from a web server running CTFd (https://github.com/CTFd/CTFd). Competitors logged in and selected challenges to solve. After entering in the correct key, points were awarded. More points were awarded for harder challenges. CTFd provides automated scoring and live statistics. Challenges can be unveiled over time manually or automatically. The event was a success, was highly rated in the participant survey, and resulted in contributions to GNU Radio codebase.

Introduction
The CTF was the product of a small team of people working together for 9 months to construct, produce, and manage the hardware and software required for a set of themed wireless challenges. GNU Radio was a central part of each challenge. Challenges were intended to range from easy to hard, with multiple entry points and starting points, and no bottlenecks.
The essential requirement of this CTF was to provide a friendly and supportive environment to both learn and compete. If participants got stuck or wanted to learn how to solve the challenges, then the volunteers would explain. Participants were encouraged to work together. Teams or individuals could compete. Top 5 winners were awarded small California-themed gifts (journals, tote bags) at the end of the event on Friday.
The volunteers brought and gifted 25 customized RTL-SDRs for participants that did not have any hardware at the event.
Updates about the challenges, number of participants (over 50), and leaderboard summary were given several times during the week from the main stage. Live leaderboard and statistics through CTFd were available on an easily accessible website posted at the registration desk.

Challenges
Here are the reconstructed list of challenges and some analysis. Lessons learned and some suggested improvements are given. Original CTFd files were lost due to a hard drive failure.

Hello Kitty
We set up what we believed to be several easy trivia questions about our favorite character, Hello Kitty. The goal was to get people familiar with entering keys to questions and getting scores in the web interface of the CTFd software.
However, the regulator expression calculator in CTFd didn’t work as well as expected. The question “What does Hello Kitty Bring?” had the answer “Peace and Love”. This was answered out loud multiple times during the first day of the conference and written out at the conference registration desk on a piece of paper. However, even a slight difference caused trouble.

Lesson learned: regular expressions are (still) hard.
Easy questions are a good idea! It does work out well to have something that does not require any hardware or software to get up and running and working, so that people have a score on the board. It reduces the barrier to entry and makes the event more accessible.

Pass the Salt
We obtained a set of reservation pagers. These are the objects that are often handed out in a restaurant so that when your table is ready, they flash and buzz. There is a base station that transmits signals to the customer pagers, a charging carrel, and the customer pagers.
The first challenge was to figure out which one was missing.
For this challenge, the missing pager was in the possession of one of the GNU Radio Conference volunteers. In order to figure out which pager was missing, one had to figure out how the base station called the pagers, call a pager, monitor the transmission, reverse engineer it, figure out the mapping from the buttons on the base station to the individual pagers, then recreate the missing pager transmission, and call it. The volunteer with the pager would come to the participant and then manually assign the points in the CTFd software.
The second challenge was to make them all go off at once.
This could be accomplished one of several ways. Sending a vector that maps to all at once, or sending all codes sequentially. This was the “clear the room” part of the challenge.

What made this hard?
Usually, a commercially available wireless device in the US has an FCC ID. A good reverse engineer will take this number, look it up in the FCC database, and get all sorts of technical information for essentially free. This is a big head start for anyone wanting to do hardware hacking or signal intelligence. However, this restaurant pager did not have an FCC ID. It was not printed on the system anywhere. It was not in the manual (paper manual provided, pdf easily found online). It was substantially harder to figure out the frequency and modulation of the controlling transmissions without the FCC ID. There was a tiny hint. The frequency was printed on a sticker in very tiny text on the bottom of the base station.

Lessons learned: exceeded our expectations. This challenge was popular enough that another hardware hacker bought the system at the end of the conference to use in workshops and demonstrations.
Potential improvements: Use features like the advertising faceplates to hold more puzzle content. Running this challenge was loud. It’s difficult to run it without disturbing people that are trying to enjoy a conference talk.

The Bins
This challenge involved two large bins turned over and placed down on a folding table. The challenge was to 1) control something inside, 2) identify a symbol inside, and 2) identify the color of the symbol. Each bin was a separate challenge. This was multipart and relatively difficult. Two controllers that appeared to be remote control toy controllers were on a table in the CTF headquarters behind the registration table. This was a hint. If participants needed more of a hint, then they were told they were remote controllers.
In order to get points for controlling something inside, the participant had to reverse engineer the 50MHz remote controller and then make the toy move around inside the bin. A volunteer confirmed movement. Usually it was obvious as the toy bonked around inside the bin. The two toys had different controllers with different radio aspects, as each bin was a separate parallel challenge.
In oder to get points for identifying a symbol inside (video game logos), the participant would have to figure out that there was an NTSC backup camera inside each bin, transmitting an NTSC signal from inside the bin. Now, the bins are dark. Running to each bin was a programmable LED light strip with a BlueTooth controller. The part of the cable with the FCC ID for the BlueTooth controller was deliberately left outside the box. If you found the right Android or iOS app to run the LED light strip and turn it on, illuminating the inside of the box, and if you intercepted and viewed the NTSC signal from the box, then you would see the printed out and taped up video game logo inside the box. Google or a video game fan could help identify the logos.
The color of the symbol, which was not the standard logo color, could only be revealed if the participant was viewing a color NTSC signal. The backup cameras transmitted in color, but commonly available GNU Radio flowgraphs for receiving NTSC were all Black and White. This took some effort, but color NTSC flowgraphs were developed by the participants, and color was observed.
Another way to figure out the color was to set the BlueTooth LED strips to various colors and note the response of the image. With care, this would reveal the color of the printout without developing a color NTSC receiver flowgraph. At least one team successfully solved the challenge with this approach.

What made this hard?
Reversing a remote control is a time-honored basic GNU Radio exercise. However, usually one has the device and can look up an ID or product and get a head start. With the controlled device in a bin, and only the remote, it took scanning the usual frequencies used by these controllers to find them, identify them, reproduce them with a transmitter, and make the device move.
Noticing the NTSC signal emanating from the bins, recognizing it as a video transmission, figuring out how to light the inside of the box, receiving the video signal, and then adding color were challenging. Showing how truly interesting and clever backwards compatibility in color NTSC television was a big motivation for putting together this challenge. We spend a lot of emphasis and time on new designs. Backwards compatibility is often overlooked, but there is many innovative and compelling aspects to designing something that works with existing standards and equipment. In the case of NTSC, it was backwards compatible for many decades of deployment.

Lesson learned: don’t have color as a keyword (or any other small alphabet) because it’s too easy to guess. Points had to be manually awarded after participants figured out it was easy to just guess the color, since standard colors are from a limited palette.


Pink Heart
Pink Heart was a BluetTooth LED neopixel ring headset. Find the recipe for constructing it here: https://learn.adafruit.com/bluetooth-controlled-neopixel-headphones
The headset was placed on a styrofoam head and connected to external power for the week. In order to answer the various questions about Pink Heart, one had to figure out how to connect to the Adafruit Bluefruit Feather. The easiest way to do this is to go get the Adafruit Bluefruit LE connect app for iOS or Android. The functions in the standard example program that comes from Adafruit were modified. On a regular basis, the headset LEDs would flash a morse code message about Pink Heart and the Mayan Warrior. These are theme camps at Burning Man. If the message was decoded then points were automatically awarded by the CTFd software.

Intercept
This was scored as the most difficult challenge. A transmission in the 2m ham band would be made on request. The question was “What is revealed?”
The transmission was the image transmitted by using Yaesu System Fusion’s camera microphone feature. The .jpg image was sent in data mode. The image was the nameplate from one of the hotel’s suites on an upper floor. The name of the suite was the key.
Intercepting and decoding the Yaesu System Fusion picture transmission in GNU Radio was accomplished, and the System Fusion blocks in GNU Radio were updated as a result.
What made this hard?
Reconstructing the way Yaesu handles data took effort because it’s not fully documented. There were a variety of basic signal intelligence techniques employed by teams to decode the image. Recognizing headers, recognizing the modulation scheme, looking up details about Yaesu System Fusion, and error correction.

Radio WGNU
A flow graph transmitting very low power broadcast FM radio with Radio Data Systems (RDS) was set up. RDS adds digital data to conventional analog FM broadcast signals. The easier parts of this challenge were to answer questions from the 10-minute custom audio loop in the stereo FM broadcast that was recorded for the CTF. Trivia questions about the identity of speakers, details from the interview, factoids from the “advertisements” - these could all be obtained with nothing more than an RTL-SDR and an easily built or obtained FM receiver flow graph.
There were several answers built into the digital data in the sidebands. A swarm of locusts was in the weather alert, for example.
What made this hard?
FM RDS transmits the digital data in a 57kHz subcarrier. We simply moved the digital sidebands to another frequency. Since they were in a non-standard location, off-the-shelf RDS receive flowgraphs did not see this portion of the signal. One would have to look at the spectrum, notice the difference, modify a GNU Radio flow graph to properly receive the digital data, and then figure out if there was anything even more buried or obfuscated in the digital data.
Potential improvements: we ran out of time to include things like a slow variation in the carrier frequency to communicate a morse code message. Also, there’s other subcarriers included in the RDS ecosystem that we didn’t take advantage of. The first is DirectBand, and the second is Audos. Including those in the challenge would have increased the variety and difficulty. Any complex broadcast standard has a lot of potential. FM RDS provided a big dynamic range, from easy to hard, and made for a great challenge.

HD Radio
We invited donated challenges from the floor, and Clayton Smith @argilo submitted a challenge involving HD Radio. Specifically, NRSC-5 digital radio stations using an RTL-SDR dongle. An additional twist was the use of gr-paint to put a picture into the signal spectrum.

See https://github.com/theori-io/nrsc5 for more details about this type of radio transmission.

Problems & solutions:

Found It (100 pts?)
Q: What is the center frequency of the signal (in MHz)?
A: 445.5

First (100 pts?)
Q: What is the first flag?
A: wrathful potato

Second (200 pts?)
Q: What is the second flag?
A: spurious mailbox

Third (400 pts?)
Q: What is the third flag?
A: steadfast pinch

Transmit (400 pts?)
Q: Transmit your own signal at 918 MHz, and include your team name in an ID3v2 Artist tag.

Lesson learned: Accepting challenges at the event required good technical and customer support. It paid off.

BlueTooth Fast and Slow
Keith Wheeler @FirmWarez donated several BlueTooth challenges. There was a variety of questions ranging from easy to difficult.

Lesson learned: Accepting challenges at the event required good technical and customer support. It paid off.

BlueTooth Wristbands
BlueTooth Wristbands, given out at concerts and promotional events, were displayed in the main conference room. If you could “convince” them to flash a certain color, then you won points. This was relatively simple bluetooth hacking, but did require some sort of development kit or board or environment to connect to them and command them.





Mistaken Challenges
Several amateur radio beacons on the microwave band were mistaken for challenges. Including them would have been a good idea for a themed challenge.

Notes for Next Time
GNU Radio attracts a lot of people that bring their SDRs. Advertising in advance did increase the number of SDRs at the event, but additional advertising and specific hardware suggestions would have made it even more easy to participate.
Providing RTL-SDRs was a good idea and was greatly appreciated, but does require an expenditure of funds that not every volunteer team should be expected to repeat.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Campaign Statement 21 June 2019 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2019

21 June 2019

Martha at AMSAT told me my petition for nomination for election to the AMSAT-NA board of directors election was accepted. Thank you to both Martha and all currently serving board members and AMSAT-NA leadership. It's an honor to be nominated and I will run for a position on the board.

I am part of a slate of candidates. Some of us know each other and have worked together before, and some of us are meeting for the first time on this particular project. We come from a variety of backgrounds, we live in different states, and we work in different fields. We have the same views on the need for organizational transparency, and we all greatly value volunteer service.

Part of the deal with putting yourself out there in front of others and asking for votes is to explain yourself, your motives, and your intentions. That is what this letter is about.

I said I was open to questions and I have received some very good ones. First of all, thank you so much for the support! It means a lot and is deeply appreciated.

There are some changes that need to be made. There are many things that need to stay the same.

Here are the questions I've been asked so far.


Information Technology Infrastructure

Multiple people (11) have contacted me about the IT situation. Most often mentioned is the website. Maintaining a useful website with multiple complex functions is difficult. The current website is not perceived to be easily modified or updated. Issues flagged and communicated about by individuals have not been resolved. Explanations have not been given. Assertions have been made that the hardware needs to be upgraded and that the situation can be improved. Requests for service and corrections and inclusion from a variety of people, including myself, have not been acknowledged or answered.

I'm familiar with the history of the AMSAT website. It's been, and is today, a *very* useful resource for not just the AMSAT community in the United States, but also for the rest of the world.

Identifying problems, explaining them, and fixing them is what I do. Developing and maintaining a website is not high profile space work, but it is a central service to the community. The website, and the way social media is used, needs some attention. The way forward is to inventory what we have, evaluate the shortcomings compared to organizational goals for the website, design any needed upgrades, plan support and maintenance, propose it, vote on it, and then make sure it gets done.

Social media is challenging, even for organizations with paid staff that do nothing but produce and curate content. AMSAT-NA needs a review and an update of how it uses social media. What is the goal? What are the policies? Where is the fun? I believe it should be accessible, informative, and fair. When it fails to be accessible, informative, and fair, then there needs to be remedies. Adopting existing industry-standard codes of conduct is a start. The other half of the recipe is a willingness to enforce them.

Infrastructure, websites, and social media are not high profile space work, but it's important to ordinary operators and enthusiasts.


What to do about ITAR/EAR

The second largest set of questions I have received is about space work. What is our future? Why can't we see what is going on?

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) are two very important United States export control laws that affect the manufacturing, sales and distribution of many different types of technology.

I most enjoy working on ground systems. I do have space industry experience with Globalstar. I know my way around ITAR. I understand what it takes to comply. I believe that the public domain carve outs in ITAR and EAR are the right way forward for an amateur radio satellite service. Yes, it is true, my heart is in ground systems. Nothing makes me happier than supporting those that want to work on and operate spacecraft.

Here is what I know. Complying with ITAR/EAR regulations that are designed to serve proprietary interests, and are rooted in 1980s thinking, are not what we should be using as a framework for very precious volunteer hours for amateur satellites. We have a much better option available to us, and that is the public domain option in ITAR 120.11. This provision is also available in EAR.

Converting AMSAT-NA to an Open Source and Open Access organization is my priority. If you want that, please vote for the slate that supports this goal.

The incumbents have turned down two different closely related proposals. They rejected a proposal to bring AMSAT-NA in compliance with the current proprietary ITAR/EAR regulations. Currently, AMSAT-NA does not comply with ITAR in terms of data storage or business communications. The proposal to use specific third-party ITAR-compliant services was rejected because it would cost money. The incumbents' board also rejected a proposal to convert to an open source organization under ITAR/EAR public domain carve outs. I care very much about the members and the mission. I will work to make it a safe and fun place to volunteer with international collaboration once again possible.


Respect for All Volunteers

Third, I have received a lot of questions and some very pointed comments about how volunteers should or will be treated. Clear guidelines for volunteering, identified volunteer coordinators, a enforceable code of conduct, an application process that doesn't necessarily go through a single person or position at AMSAT-NA, the ability to coordinate outside projects and organizations as valued and included Member Societies, and a positive friendly welcoming atmosphere is what we should prioritize as an organization.

I have experience with attempting to use the Member Society section of AMSAT-NA bylaws. Open Research Institute, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to open source and open access research and development, was founded in order to be the open source R&D service for AMSAT-NA. This would have dramatically reduced risk to the traditional ITAR projects, provided an alternative management structure to the top-down, opaque, authoritarian style that was dominant in the engineering team, and had proven fundraising and engineering vitality.

If you want full and open collaboration with groups like Open Research Institute, Libre Space, SatNOGs, IEEE, TAPR, Universities, companies, and more, then that is what we are after and that is what we will work to make happen.

There is no guarantee that every project will work flawlessly or every group will work out. But, a failure in good faith is substantially better than being insular.

Open Source is not a silver bullet. It doesn't solve all problems nor is it the right answer for every technical challenge. However, an open source redirect for AMSAT-NA is well past due. AMSAT-NA needs a default of transparency, modern technology, open source, and open process.

That is what you will get with this slate.

We have tried to effect change from within. We have presented options, made offers, protested bad decisions, collaborated, accommodated, compromised, consistently volunteered, followed through, showed up, demonstrated working hardware and software, and made multiple proposals to the board to fix pressing problems.

We've won launches, made working hardware, contributed to working satellites that are currently in use, and persevered.

We will not succeed without your support.

Just the process of converting membership numbers, engineering documentation, and finances from opaque to transparent will take substantial time and effort.

If you truly believe that an opaque and authoritarian leadership style is working magic behind the scenes, then we are not your candidates.

Fear and secrecy do not make great art or engineering. We commit to opening up the process and making AMSAT-NA accountable to membership. It's time to "do the chores" and get things renovated.

Questions and comments welcome and encouraged. Please mail me at w5nyv@arrl.net.

-Michelle W5NYV

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

$2,449.44 Donation to ARISS from PARC, ORI, and ARSS


Palomar Amateur Radio Club and Open Research Institute Donate $2,449.44 to Amateur Radio on the International Space Station


Palomar Amateur Radio Club (PARC) was founded in February of 1936 and serves the San Diego, CA, USA amateur radio community. PARC hosts monthly membership meetings and hosts several annual events. PARC repeater system serves individuals and groups and provides opportunities for recreation, emergency preparation, and technical experimentation.


Contact board@palomararc.org

Open Research Institute (ORI) is a non-profit research and development organization which provides all of its work to the general public under the principles of Open Source and Open Access to Research.

https://openresearch.institute/

Contact Michelle Thompson w5nyv@arrl.net

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) lets students worldwide experience the excitement of talking directly with crew members of the International Space Station, inspiring them to pursue interests in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and engaging them with radio science technology through amateur radio.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) is a cooperative venture of international amateur radio societies and the space agencies that support the International Space Station (ISS). In the United States, sponsors are the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The primary goal of ARISS is to promote exploration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics by organizing scheduled contacts via amateur radio between crew members aboard the ISS and students in classrooms or public forms. Before and during these radio contacts, students, educators, parents, and communities learn about space, space technologies, and amateur radio.

For more information, see www.ariss.org.

This donation is given to support the Multi-Voltage Power Supply (MVPS). ARISS needs to replace the current aging ISS amateur radio station power supply. ARISS has a fund-raising campaign throughout 2019 to help with the expensive space-rated parts required to finish building the MVPS units.

Kerry Banke N6IZW has been
a core volunteer in the effort to design, build, and test the flight, training, and spare models of the MVPS. Inspired by his commitment, expertise, and mentoring throughout this project, individuals organized a fundraiser through the Amateur Radio Satellite Service Facebook group.


Palomar Amateur Radio Club agreed to be the 501(c)(3) of record. Open Research Institute handled logistics, publicity, and secured a corporate match from Qualcomm Incorporated.

The $2,449.44 donation was made to ARISS from PARC on 28 May 2019.

A substantial amount of additional funding is needed to replace the amateur radio power supplies on the ISS. This donation is a small part of a much larger effort to keep amateur radio in space, upgrade and update equipment on the space station, and promote peaceful international cooperation and the unparalleled educational opportunities enabled by ARISS.

Candidate Statement - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2019

Greetings! I'm Michelle W5NYV. I'm an engineer with a MSEE in Information Theory. I'm a specialist in error correction, signal processing, and communications theory.

I co-founded Open Research Institute. ORI is a non-profit (501c3) research and development organization which provides all of its work to the general public under the principles of Open Source and Open Access to Research. My fellow officers are Bruce Perens and Ben Hilburn, President of GNU Radio Foundation.

I'm a Distinguished Visitor for IEEE. I lecture on open source amateur satellite technology and algorithmic music composition. I'm founding an information theory chapter of the IEEE in San Diego, and have spoken at and organized demonstrations to showcase AMSAT-NA at multiple IEEE conferences.

I was awarded the 2018 Don Hilliard award from Microwave Update for service to and innovations in amateur satellite communications.

I am a life member of AMSAT-NA. I have written and mentored many articles about satellite communications. I co-designed the FOX DUV telemetry with Phil Karn and Paul Williamson. I contributed to AMSAT Eagle engineering. I ran the Ground project for the AMSAT-NA GEO proposal from 2007-2009. I currently run Phase 4 Ground, a multiple-user microwave digital amateur radio system that supports both space and terrestrial use. This project implements a fully open source DVB-S2/X protocol for amateur radio. The air interface allows any payload to use Phase 4 Ground radios. This project has produced several "world's first" amateur radio implementations of various technologies. Our companion project is Phase 4 Space, an open source HEO/GEO 6U payload project.

I'm a member of AMSAT-UK, AMSAT-DL. I am active in JAMSAT and actively support and promote SatNOGs, Libre Space, and many other open source projects that benefit amateur radio and the satellite service.

I am co-chair for the 2019 GNU Radio Conference, which has a special focus this year on amateur and space communications. I lead a project to add Japanese and German language support to GNU Radio Companion, for greater use in amateur satellite communities across the globe. I have been instrumental in representing amateur radio and ensuring that space communications remains at the very forefront of framework development.

I ask you to vote for me and the slate of candidates that is running with me. The slate is myself, Patrick WD9EWK, Howie AB2S, and Jeff WE4B.

We believe we can make significant positive changes in the organization that will benefit all members.
We do not believe that the current direction, policies, politics, and engineering accomplishments are up to the standard that members expect and deserve. If you want open source, open access, international collaboration, modern digital as well as all analog communications supported, and if you want a friendly and supportive club that is not opaque, authoritarian, or insular, then I am here to serve you and make that happen.

Trust
My highest priority is addressing the current proprietary-focused, secretive, and destructive ITAR/EAR policy at AMSAT-NA. I believe AMSAT-NA should take full advantage of the public domain and open source carve-outs in ITAR/EAR. Compliance with this appropriate and useful part of the regulatory framework would allow greatly increased participation, international cooperation and collaboration, relieves unnecessary compliance burdens, and fulfills the mission and motivation of the amateur satellite service. Repeated efforts to redirect AMSAT-NA towards this useful, legal, and relevant regulatory approach have fallen on deaf and hostile ears. If you want this aspect of AMSAT-NA to improve, please vote for our slate.

Technology
Next is firmly establishing a design framework for higher orbit payloads using modern satellite technologies and systems. There is a wealth of readily available open source options that are substantially farther ahead of GOLF and GOLF-TEE baseline designs. Being able to openly share and review AMSAT-NA engineering decisions and designs would dramatically improve our technology position from where it is today. I would like to be proud of what my home country AMSAT is doing. I believe open source is the best possible way to get us there. Things done in secret or out of fear are rarely done well.

Transparency
Members of AMSAT deserve to see what is going on in engineering. Members deserve to know the financial and membership numbers. Members deserve to be able to communicate with and, when necessary, critique board members, without threats of retaliation and retribution. Members deserve to be treated fairly. Members should see problems acknowledged, explained, and addressed reasonably quickly. Whether the problem is a failed satellite or a failed website function, we need leadership that views questions as opportunities and not existential threats.

We on the slate are fully aware that the organization is composed of and is successful due to the volunteers. Excellent volunteer service experience from AMSAT-NA is achievable with competent leadership, improved policies, and clearly communicated expectations. Our slate is devoted to delivering a very successful future for AMSAT-NA. Your vote is appreciated and valued! Please get in touch with any questions or comments. You will be listened to.

Edit: Questions answered here. Thank you for the support!

-Michelle W5NYV
w5nyv@arrl.net

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Maker Faire 2019 - Bay Area

Maker Faire 2019 Notes

bit.do/sagro
agri-bot

mybar.io
Kick out Keurig!

The Rockafire Explosion
this is the animatronics from Chuck E. Cheese, reborn and playing all their old hits and what appear to be new one for passers by at Maker Faire. Kind of creepy, but Chuck E Cheese where everyone had at least one birthday party during elementary school where I grew up. They had both Tron games, Moon Patrol, Galaga, and lots more.

Takashi Kaburagi
Crafted paper models and musical robots. Plus, a robot that will draw your fortune on the blank side of a paper. On the other side is the interpretation of the fortunes. From Japan. Musical robots were playing hauntingly familiar tunes but we just couldn't place them. Table-top in size, cleverly decorated and really well done.

Meccano is making some sort of comeback with updated designs of their parts. Colors and different fasteners. You could make a small project and take it with you from their tables.

Dassault was there. They were featuring Solid Works. Dassault has gone on a buying spree recently and has acquired several software packages ranging from 3D modeling to radio frequency modeling. Not all of the experiences recently with Dassault have been good, as the hobbyist license for the RF design software was curtailed without much notice. But the fact that they are at Maker Faire is very interesting. Maybe it's an indication that more open and accessible hobbyist licenses are in the works. Action Item: find out.

The shop tools area was crazy off the hook cool. Shopbot, Lightburn, Tormach, Avid. All demos had working robotic CNC machines doing all sorts of amazing things. Some of them are affordable. Some are financeable. All of them put powers into your garage or shop that simply were not available before. Long conversations occurred with Lightburn about Fashion Freedom Initiative work.

There are some faultlines here with what laser cutters they can support. For the one operated at colaser.org, Lightburn isn't really a solution right now. For the efforts at Fashion Freedom Initiative, it might be the exact right fit for the job, especially for leather cutting. We also learned about how water jets can cut many layers of denim at once.

There was a neat videocast called "Frank Makes" playing above the Avid booth.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3_VCOJMaivgcGqPCTePLBA

It's enjoyable!

Several things were being cut in the booths on the various tools as demonstrations. A Tori gate, furniture, plaques, and more. The larger machines all had at least fourth axis controllers installed.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Sororitas Cosplay was in force! Nicely done. One little boy was too intimidated to have his photo taken with them.

I learned about Thingergy http://www.thingergyinc.com/ They do giant robots, space suits, makeup, trophies, and props. Several of their projects are things I've seen on television and in the movies. There was a contingent of prop makers in the Cosplay section, and all of them seemed to be professional outlets. One had a vacuum former in the booth and was showing how to make the components of a science fiction themed helmet.

One of the must-do items on the list for Maker Faire was to find and talk with everyone in the amateur radio section. It was marked on the map, and we found what we thought was the right place. The first table was Themis, a GSPDO for HPSDR. That was it. Or so we thought. We were wandering away from the corner in disappointment when we noticed an antenna through an open doorway past the Themis booth. This was the ARRL VEC where the amateur license exam sign ups were happening. It also turned out to be where people took the exam. Past the ARRL booth area was WW6BAY, the "Bay Area 21st Century" amateur group. They had a great demonstration with a variety of people volunteering behind the tables. SDR-based test equipment was the next table, with CalQRP and QRPGuys stuffed in on the edge. Bay Area Raspberry Pi Ham Radio Group was next with a lot of projects out on the table.

Elecraft was there, but no one was at the booth the first time I went through.

North Texas Microwave Group had a footprint and slide show, Bitx40 construction demos were out, K3s set up showing some sort of activity, and some low frequency gear. KX3 backpack deployment was shown with all the tricky bits done up with cord, so it looked ready to roll up and walk off with.

Finally, KH6WZ and "Not your grandpa's Ham Radio" was there. They had plenty of microwave and audio quality content, and were doing their usual promotion and explanation of modern amateur radio. I believe they had a HackRF set up and were explaining SDR, but that may have been the next table over.

I talked with Wayne Yoshida (KH6WZ) for a while about Maker Faire and the amateur radio scene. He's a familiar face to me since he's practically local to me in SoCal.

The amateur radio exhibits were off in their own room. The floors and walls and ceilings were solid concrete and the lighting was faint fluorescent. There was no signage and the event map made it look like the Themis table out in the main hall in the corner of the building was the only ham exhibit. We agreed that this was a huge step down from the location that the ham radio exhibits have been in the past. Compared to outside in the main space, it was practically deserted.

While disappointing in location, the content was pretty good. The booths were draped in SDRs and embedded processors, and did show how fun modern amateur radio can be - while there were people at the booths. There was not an obvious connection to the soldering workshop. Making waves was emphasized over making boards or circuits this year.

The "Maker Movement" seems to offer a huge opportunity for amateur radio. There are several organizations and publications in the ham radio sphere that have identified Makers and Maker Faires as new audiences. The Maker scene, as measured by Make Magazine in surveys, is young, well-off, and well educated. It's also overwhelmingly white and very male. There has not been, in San Diego, much traction between the Maker Faire scene and the traditional club scene. People that identify as makers and do anything with radio are quite often hams, but it's interdisciplinary. Amateur radio supports and is included within their maker activities. They are not going to join a club and comply with the traditional club scene activities and customs, especially when it's proscriptive and exclusionary or rigid.

The growing number of interdisciplinary hams in communities like GNU Radio and the Maker scene means that modern, digital, innovative ham radio is alive and well. But, these hams are not going to "save" any traditional pure ham radio organization with membership numbers, time, or dollars. The reason could be that people that make things in the (very) broad maker community are there because they have a focus on making and doing, and not being or belonging. Negativity towards digital electronics, digital modes, software, involving the internet, and an almost complete lack of interest in what's perceived to be "traditional operating procedure" are some additional factors. Traditional club scene ham organizations are perceived as not "doing" anything or "making" anything. This is not universally true, at all, but there are a lot of clubs that are monoliths devoted to passive consumption of commercial gear and only operate traditional modes. The largest "club" in the US is ARRL. They are perceived as publishing safe books about safe activities, and seem devoted to a silo of single-sideband HF. They are ponderous and slow and stay in their lane. Makers, if they know about ARRL at all, know them as the old white men in ball caps that administer the exams at Maker Faire (exams are good!) and lecture them about things like incentive licensing and ancient technology and "rag chewing" (this isn't great).

The non-traditional radio amateur is already familiar with and part of the Maker Faire scene. In some ways, the traditional club scene isn't really a great match with the makers.

After ham radio, I went back out to the main floor. The light was superior, everything was crowded, and the energy was completely different. I hope the hams get back out on the main floor. The closed off and dim room would be a not-bad support or logistics area for the Faire, or maybe a good place for a volunteer lounge. For exhibits? It's terrible.

Sugar Plush Sewing Kits zomg so cute I wanted all of them.

There was a robot booth that looked like it was Mr. Potato Head with LEDs.

Codermindz was next: "CoderMindz - A STEM AI board game invented by a 10-year-old girl to get everyone excited about AI and coding in a really fun way! Are you ready to challenge yourself and be a Code maker? Come play CoderMindz and learn AI and coding concepts!" Ok I tried it and lost.

Vintage Computers and Games exhibit from the Computer History Museum was next. It was mostly game consoles from the distant past, but there were some gems, up and running.

Midnight Science Club had a LOT of demos and kits and things to do. It had the vibe of "this could be part of your STEM curriculum" but for once that didn't take away from the feeling that it might be fun and involve at least a little bit of risk. Which, is my primary complaint about STEM-approved-worksheeted-to-death curriculum. No risk.

ReFLO "magic box" is on Crowd Supply right now with the tagline "The compact, open, and smart PCB reflow oven. Bake your dream!" Home reflow, people! I have two different ways to do reflow at home, or I'd be a customer I'm sure. This one is run from your phone.

Oh, what's that? Another reflow oven? Contraleo3. Oh and another! Well. Good!

Full size Nuka Cola power armor was next so I admired it for a long time.

Dark Angel and Ultramarine full size props from another of the Cosplay company exhibits really made my day. Warhammer 40k for the win.

It was raining hard but we braved the drops to head over to the "Homegrown" exhibit hall. This turned out to be all homegrown end products. Small batch fermentation, soap, pickling, micro greens, kombucha, and so on. I was expecting "how to grow" not "what I grew and want you to buy". There was one aquaponics demo outside when traversing to the next building, but the rain made it hard to stay, and it was a familiar design.

Chatterbox was next. It's an open source clone of Alexa that is safe (doesn't require internet) and aimed at teaching kids how to take over smart speaker assistants for learning. Learning what? Not clear.

The next thing was voted Most Likely to Be Done Here at Home. This was modular clothing. Basic shapes (rectangles, triangles) of fabric. Each panel ranged in size from about 1 foot to about 4 feet. All edges of the fabric panel (lightly quilted) were lined with snap fasteners arranged to where every other snap faced the same direction.

See where this is going?

Stacy Scibelli is the designer.

Look at this: http://stacyascibelli.com/

The shapes snap together however you like to make whatever you like in terms of clothing. Outerwear is the most obvious, but anyone making anything and putting it on the mannequin at the booth got their photo taken with their creation with a really nice setup. The one I saw a girl make was a full-up dress with structure. This was awesome and I am going to experiment and try it. The snaps were the same that I used for the reversible jacket I made for burning man. The kit comes with the tooling to punch down the snaps. Tedious but effective. I bet there's a better tool than "place snap here and hit with hammer then use other doodad to do the other side and crush inwards".

Seriously, this was a really *really* neat innovative and cool maker approach to textiles. More on this next time I sew.

Bionika Labs
This was cyberpunk fashion house stuff with actual glowing panels. I couldn't get close enough to see if it was really functional or just for show but it was darn cool looking. Either this booth or the one next to it had clothing made from pop tabs from soda cans woven together like chainmail with crochet binding them up in a really nice fabric with superior drape.

Next booth we saw of note was Jedi Training Device. You whack balls that come at you with a toy light saber and the scoreboard keeps track. There was a line across the front and around the side to try it.

"If you can't make it perfect at least make it adjustable" -seen on a t-shirt

Massive rain, all day.

We went to the Dark Room and wow Myriapoda! How did I miss this at Burning Man? It's an enormous millipede robot that walks across the playa. It was "on blocks" and "safely wiggling" at Maker Faire.

"While studying steam engines, David Date discovered a mechanism which mimicked the kinematics of walking insects and became the inspiration for Myriapoda Robota." They don't name the mechanism in the Indie Gogo page, but it's a familiar one from the mechanics handbooks. "Flat step, quick recoil". Trying to find the right name, but you can see it in the videos at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/myriapoda-robota-burning-man-honoraria-2018#/

The rest of the dark room was really great. "The Next Great Maker" had dolls with glass globe heads with textures on the bottom that were magnified by the sphere. Some had user-controllable LED lighting.

Axis Mundi was a small house with laser cut filigree wood sides backlight with huge numbers of diffused RGB LEDs. Inside was a kaleidoscope. Look at this: https://makerfaire.com/maker/entry/70103/ Very Burnery.

On to the other building! And Experiments in Space! ISS Above was there and we talked with them for a long time. Spheres is an ISS monitoring station. new updated versions going up soon. NASA, DARPA, etc. There's a code challenge for the space station sensor. People can enter their code idea and if it passes muster then your code operates the sensor pod on the ISS.

There was a booth with Electronic Cats. It was the closest thing to #badgelife that we saw. JACDA.

Next was IchigoJam. We ended up buying this. It's a small embedded board system from Japan that runs BASIC.

Beaglebone was there and will have Beaglebone AI in September. Yep! Artificial Intelligence. It's largely sort of taking the place of the X15. Also, there's a Beaglebone Blue for $67 tuned for robotics. Looked useful! They had "Exploring Beaglebone" new book out on the table (2019).

Are they giving up on the X15? "Not really". They say it's just the next generation. It's smaller - it's the same form factor as the rest. If you remember the X15 is larger. The AI is more versatile. Dual band Wifi and BlueTooth are included.

Microchip had a demo at the Arduino booth. It's "not wifi, not bluetooth, not LoRA". Yep, you guessed it. It's 6LowPAN. It took some asking to get that clarified, but it's 900MHz 802.15.4.

It's called MiWi and has lots of proprietary goodies from Microchip. The engineer showing it off was Bob Martin.

We're interested in 900MHz here in San Diego for a variety of reasons. In general, it's an underutilized band (as Faraday RF can attest) with excellent propagation. LoRA is wonderful, but tops out at something like 120bps. Gateway is required. The 6LowPAN stuff can (and does) mesh right up.

The board is a SAMR 30 with an M0x and a 900MHz transceiver. The UHF is done with a chip antenna. There was a small vertical on the board.

Hack-computer.com was there showing off their Chromebook competition. Looked really really nice. We got to meet the CEO. It's up for pre-order on amazon. Way nice demos and dashboards for some sort of scratch like programming. Kids were cluttered all around playing with the ones out at the booth.

Phase Dock "Project Dev Kit" was next. This is a way to make your breadboard circuit look nice for showing to (we presume) nontechnical people. https://www.phasedock.com/ Lots of 3d printed mounts, acrylic laser cut and engraved boxes. It was all very nice but not really something we would use.

Movi Arduino Shield is a speech synthesizer and speech recognizer. Speaker independent. No cloud, does it all on board. 150 full sentence commands. I bought one to see if it could help with radio accessibility on Phase 4 Ground. https://www.audeme.com/movi.html

GG Labs retro computing! Fun! Recognized everything they had to show off. https://gglabs.us/taxonomy/term/6

Nvidia Jetbots and Nvidia Nanos were prancing around at the Nvidia booth. So we asked to buy a Nano. They weren't selling! Nvidia had decided to come to the Faire only a month ago and didn't get their vendor stuff done in time, or had decided not to. We asked how many people had asked about buying the Nano and it was "a lot" with a grimace. Heh heh heh. Seeed had Nanos out but weren't selling any either. They were sold out on line. It's good because I bought a pile of other things and had yet to see the Spresence from Sony.

Phiz 3D Scanner was there but didn't look finished.

Itty Bitty City! Fun with robots!

Pockit Meter (pokitmeter.com) is a very very very small multimeter, scope, and data logger. It's narrowband so we admired and moved on.

Mozilla Webthings wants to remove all of your proprietary hubs for all your smart home devices and run them from your router. Great demos. Not convinced this is going to survive grumpy companies making it super hard to do this, and given the Nest collapse, this space is treacherous at best. We listened carefully for a while and there's a lot of thought going into this. Zigbee IoT at home but you control it.

Next was the "Product I Came Most Close to Buying Their Entire Line". Sony Spresence. Completely pro'd out booth with lots of Sony staffer types explaining all sorts of details with documentation and full demonstrations that were overbuilt in every possible way. The slide show looked like it had been honed from 12 or 13 industry presentations and the machine learning content could have been an ad on the back cover of IEEE Spectrum. https://dl.sony.com/

This is edge computing with lots of bling in a very small, very low power form factor. With lots of stuff like camera modules and the usual expansions. You can code up separate cores using Arduino IDE instances. This got some attention from us. It's called Multicore Development Environment.

https://developer.sony.com/develop/spresense/

nScope is a lab for every laptop https://www.nscope.org/ I meant to go back here but did not get a chance. It's a portable electronics lab, but it wasn't immediately clear what you get that something like the Red Pitaya doesn't already get you. Maybe more general case or less expensive.

The Piper Kit from Seeed was one of the more visually arresting things. The case is laser cut wood.

Moddable - more IoT. https://www.moddable.com/overview.php Their niche is Javascript.

We rounded out the Faire with Drone Training and Battles. This was fun because I made friends with a very young boy and girl there with their parents. We discussed all the finer points of drones, flying, shapes, repercussions, and potential mishaps. The drones are in a big net area. There were Ball ones, VR drones, and quad copters. The ball drones and all the others did somersaults and had trailing cords and stuff to ruin other drones' days. If you can drape a cord into another's props then down they go. It took a long time for them to get organized for the last battle of the day, but it was worth it when the larger drones smacked each other out of the sky. There were a lot of self-owns of course, and the scissors lift came out at the end to disentangle a drone from the net way up high.

Of course had some Paella and visited the steam tractor. I recognized it from the playa. They had it hooked up to a generator that was running some Jacob's Ladders, but it wasn't going to fire it off in the rain. Flaming Lotus Girls were there with some recent fire art. The outdoor shopping booths were all buttoned up against the rain, so we unfortunately had to skip those.

The rest of the time we met with Phase 4 Ground and Fashion Freedom members, decompressed in the fancy hotel, and did some decisioneering about boards and parts lists for various things.

It was a great weekend with friends celebrating all things made. :+)






Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Why Was This a Great Week?

This has been one of the best weeks ever for working in high tech amateur radio. I'm really looking forward to bringing all of it to the community over the next year! This is a golden age for SDR, cognitive, microwave, and advanced digital modes. Why was this week good? Here's why.

This year, I co-founded a research institute devoted to Open Source and Open Access in research and development. It's called Open Research Institute (ORI). Our site is here: https://openresearch.institute/

Most of what we do is for amateur radio satellite and terrestrial use. Why start a research institute? We wanted a formal structure for the work we all had been doing all along, and existing clubs were either unsupportive, unresponsive, full up with their own work, or not aligned with open source and open access. The last significant part of setting up ORI was getting the 501(c)(3) approval. That happened 6 March 2019.

ORI gets work done through projects. The list currently include Phase 4 Ground, Phase 4 Space, GRC Localization for Japanese and German, and Open Cars. There are several other projects in the initial investigation stages. There's room for plenty more! Phase 4 Ground and Space produces work that benefits all amateur radio space organizations. Libre Space, AMSAT-DL, JAMSAT, AMSAT-UK, TAPR, and more have been wonderful partners.

The Breakthrough Listen GNU Radio workshop coming up in mid-May is another big step forward. I got news I was accepted to it as a participant this past week. While not primarily an amateur radio event, the participant list has a lot of hams! It's quite thrilling to see how many really smart and amazing amateur operators there are in the GNU Radio community. There are SDR people coming to the event that I cannot wait to meet and work with. Things we talk about and work on at this workshop will be available to and will benefit advanced digital modes and their implementations in amateur radio.

I am the co-chair for GNU Radio Conference 2019 (Huntsville, AL) and have volunteered with the conference since 2016. It's an honor to be involved with and support event. Our ham exam session has been very successful, with 40-50 licenses or upgrades each year. Amateurs are a big part of GNU Radio. We decided to feature space communications as our conference theme for the Apollo landing anniversary year of 2019.

We tried repeatedly, starting in 2017, to get amateur radio conferences to co-locate and collaborate with GNU Radio Conference. The proposal was, they would each have their own space and track and keep all their identity and branding and whatnot, but share vendor space, food and meeting room costs, and get free proceedings, program publishing, schedule, shipping, and a variety of logistics support from us. The traditional organizations all flatly refused or ignored the proposal. One simply cut and pasted the city and venue to 2018 after perusing the proposal. I got confused phone calls from the venue we'd gotten quotes from for weeks. Two other bad experiences with other amateur organizations deliberately scheduling their conference on top of GNU Radio Conference have happened, despite a lot of effort to communicate, coordinate, and cross-promote. 

On the surface, this isn't great news or a good experience. But digging deeper, we realized that getting doors slammed in our faces by leadership hostile to change opened up a series of much better opportunities for us. The right response to the initial disappointments is gratitude.

And now, there is cause for hope. Over the past couple of weeks, one of the organizations that responded with grumpy indifference has changed direction. In another two years, I expect a drastic improvement in collaboration and cooperation between the two communities. There is substantial overlap. It's silly not to work together.

Another silver lining has to do with sexism and bigotry. Sexist and racist crap happens in tech. There is not a lot of good news here. Amateur radio organizations are very homogenous. Much more than the ham population as a whole. In the US 15-20% of hams are women. In more traditional organizations and clubs, it's at or below 3%. In many cases, it's literally 0%. Traditional organizations are stacked with people that don't like working with women and will pull a lot of underhanded garbage to make sure women who show up and volunteer are made to feel lesser, smaller, and unwanted.

Speaking up and speaking out against bad experiences is difficult. If you speak up or speak out, you will be punished for it, every time. You can assiduously document, you can follow all the rules for complaining about it, you can simply work twice as hard and try to "lean in". None of this will work. If sexists have any power over you in any way, you are doomed.

These experiences aren't the biggest problem. Yes they suck. But, the much bigger problem is the almost complete failure of any bystander men to deliver any repercussion, at all, to the men who behave in sexist, demeaning, bigoted ways. When the behavior is documented, when complaints and testimonies given, when it is observed and reported, men in general do absolutely nothing about it. If you're lucky, they'll wring their hands in private and commiserate.

The most outspoken men, who argue technical details with energy and force and commitment and devotion, fall completely silent in the face of sexism or bigotry. Even when it's obscene or explicitly illegal, they will do nothing. Poke or prod a bit, and then they get irritated, annoyed, or angry. "What do you expect ME to do about it?!" Any inconvenience at all is just too much to ask. They're generally ok with women being shut down, shut out, ignored, or their work erased. Gaslighting is normal.

This stuff is a cultural disaster that will not get even slightly better without men stepping up and enforcing repercussions for acts of sexism and bigotry. Just enforcing repercussions is the first step. The fact that most amateur operators won't bother with taking even the first step is telling. It is a big reason why women show up for one meeting, one project conference call, one email thread, one tour of HF with their new privileges, and then they either leave or get eliminated by men who just can't stand women speaking.

When you are the butt of jokes or comments that assume you are non-technical, are not really a person, are preventing men from enjoying themselves, are "spending husband's money", are "nothing but trouble", don't belong, are equated with children, or will suffer violence for expressing an opinion, the community in general has failed you. This stuff is common on HF and repeaters. It goes almost completely unchallenged on the air.

This is a root cause of why many, if not most, women express a fear of operating an amateur radio in voice modes. But there's an even deeper issues here too. Women suffer an enormous amount of violence at the hands of men that personally know us. We are socialized from birth to not offend or upset men in any way. Speaking as equals is offensive to many men, because we are *supposed to be* only supportive and only agreeable and never ever "right", on our own. Embarrassing men in any way is just not allowed. Being right in even the friendliest and gentlest way about math or science or engineering or leadership or financial opportunities or fundraising doesn't matter. Asserting an opinion that isn't strictly agreeing with a man results, worst case, in violence. This violence is real and even in "polite" and "civil" hobbies like amateur radio, it profoundly shapes the casual communication patterns.

Women in amateur radio consistently explain a reluctance to get on the air with "I'm afraid I'll say the wrong thing". Pay attention at the YL forums and YouTube videos where we are asked about this. Read the essays. This is a permanent refrain. Fear.

Men hear this, and hear "mic fright". No, this is not mic fright. Being afraid of operating on the air is a rational and justified response to the violence delivered from men to women in our society. Women police themselves in ways men simply do not have to. This is observable in general amateur radio operating, let alone technical volunteering.

Women therefore, in general, are expected to cede the communications space to men. Amateur radio is so heavily dominated by men, that the fear and subservience effect is easily observable. Break the "rules" and enough men will be truly enraged, and they will exact revenge.

I've been very active in amateur radio for almost 20 years. I've volunteered in advanced digital communications for over 10. I've been very successful in a variety of projects. I'm not a bad volunteer or leader. Some amateur radio organizations are hopelessly broken in terms of sexism. I choose to speak up and speak out and assert technical opinions. I am not an asshole about it, but I'm not Wimpy Wanda, either. I choose to pay the sexism tax on my work. Sometimes that tax means that effort sadly goes into the red. I'm kept out or attacked while mediocre men get to stay or are rewarded. There is really no appeal that works when this happens.

But. Sometimes leaders and fellow volunteers negate that tax! This is how you know who to spend your time working with. And this week, spending more time with those types of people and a LOT less time with proven sexists and bigots has paid off enormously. I felt obligated for many years to conform, serve, and respond within organizations that treated me like garbage. The last little bit of that "good intentions, terrible results" type of thinking evaporated this week. I'm late to the party, but better late than never to get rid of unnecessary baggage.

This is where starting our own organization (ORI) has made the most difference. It's a night and day difference to work with people that are unafraid to enforce basic standards of fairness. I cannot understate how truly important it is to have people with privilege go to bat for you. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my fellow ORI co-founders, Bruce Perens and Ben Hilburn, for simply being equitable and fair.

Does your (amateur or other) organization have a code of conduct? Is it enforced? Does your favorite event make it clear, through written policies and clear procedures, that everyone is welcome?

Things like a Code of Conduct are the minimum standard. They are not really that hard to implement. There's lots of resources to get up to speed here as an organizer or leader. This isn't a new issue. There's a metric ton of electrons devoted to endless essays about sexism and bigotry, and the huge cost to homogenous organizations as a result.

Phase 4 Ground has made substantial technical progress in our test plan, application layer, link layer, radio architecture, and user interface definition. One of the most difficult aspects of Phase 4 Ground has always been recruiting enough people for the FPGA/HDL/ASIC work. People that understand radio, coding, and reconfigurable digital logic are rare and in great demand from industry. But, we've never been in a better place in terms of human resources than we are right now, and I got additional contacts this week.

For big ambitious open source interdisciplinary designs, recruiting continues throughout the entire life of the project. Phase 4 projects welcome anyone, regardless of how much time they can commit, and we meet people where they are technically. One of the goals of Phase 4 is to give people a friendly and supportive place to learn advanced digital techniques. That's one of the purposes of amateur radio in general, and there's a great need for anything past the "hello world" type of FPGA design.

This means that some volunteers will benefit from ORI more than ORI benefits from them. This is on purpose. It's paying it forward to the community.

ORI takes risks that other organizations do not. ORI deliberately chooses difficult work that has a higher degree of failure. This is on purpose. Someone has to say the things and take the risks.

So, this week, the practice of risk taking and generosity paid off. Some weeks it doesn't go as well! There are a lot of setbacks when you take risks and try things that are new or challenge the status quo. Defending friendly, inclusive, supportive, collaborative work styles in a world that rewards opaque, authoritarian, discriminatory work styles can feel no-win. Unfortunately amateur radio has a lot of opaque, authoritarian, and discriminatory aspects. ORI provides a deliberately different alternative, and this week it paid off in several ways. No, I can't list them all, but if even half of the steps forward that happened this week pan out, then the next few months we will have a lot of happy announcements.

-Michelle W5NYV

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pie crust cookies "I Love Christmas Trees"

Pie crust mix prepared then rolled thin, then cut into hearts and tree shapes. Excess rolled into small balls. All of it cooked at 450 F for 12 minutes. Store-bought icing applied to hearts, then trees (sprinkled with allspice) placed on top of icing. Small balls placed on icing as well. Yum!