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SSL

The soliloquy blog is now running ssl!  All requests will be handled through the secured side, https://soliloquyforthefallen.net as a result of my .htaccess.

Why? Because at this point SSL is super simple to set up in CPanel, cheap to purchase, and actually makes sense.

A few years ago when the firesheep plugin was released, it was required that each server have is own IP address to implement SSL. Your traffic might be secure, but it doesn’t take much to guess where it’s going. In my mind, this defeats the purpose of using SSL on a website.

We’ve come a long way since then and now every major OS and browser (yes, this was a client side failure) supports SSL for websites sharing a server IP with other websites.

So why SSL now? Well, google damages your ranking for not having SSL. Oh, and the whole argument about whether Americans have a right to encryption and privacy. We do. Backoff. We’re citizens, not subjects.


Amateur Radio HT’s, A comparison

Short blog post today.  This is a spreadsheet I made comparing my choices for a new ham radio HT.  Not really notable, but the result of a bit of work so I thought I would share.  Click the spreadsheet to grab it.

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Travelling Well: Tea Time

If you know me in real life, you know that I am, ahem, a heavy tea drinker. My brew of choice is Adaigo’s Ceylon Sonata. It’s like drinking English Breakfast on steroids. I’ve also found that it helps keep my allergies in check. I’m not sure if its a benefit of the tea, hot water, or placebo effect. Either way, I’m grateful for a way to reign in the allergies that doesn’t involve a controlled substance.

Psuedophedrine. Jesh people.

But how to drink tea (especially loose leaf tea) while traveling? More, how to travel well when doing so? Keep in mind that I buy my tea two pounds at a time to save on shipping which keeps my tea at 12 ¢ a cup. That’s a 3 month supply, btw.

I found a few options:

  • Tea Bags (53¢, which is good, but expensive and defeats the purpose of ordering loose).
  • Bags your own (17¢ total cost, more reasonable).
  • Bring a tea ball (Basically puts the cost at the base 12¢ price).
  • My method …

While any of the methods work, they aren’t exactly what I would call elegant or compact. Having somewhere to store a tea ball can be difficult and they don’t like to dry. Other methods (ahem, tea bags) are good for a single cup and you’re left wanting more. Its nothing for me to drink 6 cups or more on a day off, so ordering individual tea bags is right out (even double brewing that’s an extra $1.23 a day).

My “Travelling Well” method utilizes a few parts:

  • The Adagio activiTea.
  • No name tin from amazon. It holds 4-6 teaspoons of tea.
  • A teaspoon trimmed to fit inside of the the tin.
  • For longer travels, a secondary tin is useful. This was the method I used on my South-Eastern tour last summer. When the square tin ran out, time for a refill.

There are two ways to brew with the activiTea. The first, and Adagio approved, is to put the leaves in the top cap above the strainer, and lay the activiTea sideways to brew (they say upside down but I’ve found that sideways works better). The second, and my method, is to put the leaves in the bottom of the glass mug, add hot water, and then screw the cap and strainer on.

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When you’re ready for a cuppa, you get out the tin, and scoop a teaspoon into the activiTea via either of the above methods. Drink as you’re ready.

Bonus Round: Teas I recommend:

  • Adaigo’s Ceylon Sonata Of course. English Breakfast on steroids. Strong and dark.
  • Adaigo’s Lapsang Suchong. Not for the faint of heart. Brew carefully, and enjoy the smokey taste. Regarded as a lesser cuppa in China they’re happy to sell it to “foolish” westerners. Foolish or not, my cup of choice for thinking.
  • Adaigo’s Forest Berries. A fruity blend for the fruits out there. I like this on occasion with honey. A definite change from the above cups.

Installing OpenWebRx On Fedora 22

I’m a pretty regular viewer of Hak.5. The point still matters. Hak5 Season 19 Episode 16 featured OpenWebRx, a pretty awesome web powered interface for an SDR dongle. I thought it would be useful for monitoring my ham club’s repeater. OpenWebRX is kind of limited in its use cases (to my mind) because of its limited frequency range. It neatly centers about 15 Hz on either side of the set frequency. The author states that its because of the multiuser intentions behind the software. However, that doesn’t mean OpenWebRx still can’t be useful – or fun to play with.

For my use case, I have two purposes:

  • General monitoring of my club repeater. Even though I have a baofeng docked and listening, I like the thought of it.
  • Another use is to slide down the frequency range touch and be able to test radio microphones without needing another person to phone back – plus I’ll actually be able to hear myself.

While not a flaw of OpenWebRx, the listening range of the SDR is pretty limited – at least with the stock antenna. At present, its not able to hear my club repeater. I’ve picked an adapter from Amazon in the hopes that putting something bigger then a measly 6 inches will pick up my club repeater. After attaching my 1/4 Wave Ground plane, there was noticeable improvement but it was still hard to hear the repeater. Local copies are very strong however, using my 5 watt HT.

There are no install instructions for installing from source in Fedora and there is no package within the Fedora repos. At present, you will have to use the dev branch of openwebrx for the system to run. You’ll see (if you read the ticket) that I promised the developer install instructions for Fedora. The following are the commands I used to get OpenWebRx running on my Fedora 22 headless server.


#OpenWebRx Fedora 22 Install Script(ish)
#Get OpenWebRx dependencies from the repos when possible (assuming you started with the same packages I had - you may need to install Development Tools, among other things.  I often install from source.)
su -c "dnf install dh-autoreconf fftw-devel libusb-devel -y"

#Get openwebrx source from github
git clone https://github.com/simonyiszk/openwebrx
cd openwebrx
git checkout dev #and switch to the dev package so it will run on Fedora 22

#Get openwebrx dependencies not provide by the fedora repos
git clone https://github.com/simonyiszk/csdr
cd csdr
git checkout devs #also need the dev version of this
make
cd ..

#need to build rtl-sdr from source - since udev isn't installed apparently by the repos, so .... yup, build from source
git clone git://git.osmocom.org/rtl-sdr.git
cd rtl-sdr

#build guide available from http://sdr.osmocom.org/trac/wiki/rtl-sdr
cd rtl-sdr/
autoreconf -i
./configure
make
su -c "make install && ldconfig && make install-udev-rules"

#openfirewall port since I want to be able to access this from across my lan
firewall-cmd --add-port=8073/tcp --permanent
systemctl firewalld restart

At this point you have to do some configuring to the config_webrx.py file. Go ahead and pop it open in your favorite editor, and add in the required info. One important thing to note, use the local lan address for server_hostname=. Also, note that openwebrx supports opening your server to the world. My DSL won’t support it so I’ve decided to disable that feature for the time being.

To run openwebrx, a simcple chmod +x openwebrx.py && ./openwebrx.py will get you up and going. For running openwebrx unattending, you need to use screen or tmux. Using nohup doesn’t work and creates a mess.

 

openwebrx-screenshot


Workin’ The Birds: SO-50

For a change of pace, I thought that I would try making contacts through SO-50. SO-50 is another FM repeater satellite and until the commissioning of Fox-1 as AO-85 the only FM repeater still operational.

Unlike AO-85, the uplink for SO-50 is 2M and the downlink is 70cm. Here is my channel configuration that I’m using for my baofeng. Here’s what I’ve learned since my last attempt.

  • Open the squelch:
      I was debating whether or not I would leave the squelch open in my last post. I’ve deciding now that I will.
  • Mount the antenna on a tripod:
      I’d seen about as many people with mounts as just aiming the antenna by hand. Tracking a satellite is hard, let alone managing two radios, a recorder, a time piece, directions …. I could go on.
        I’ll be mounting mine on a camera tripod from now on. I found a piece of aluminum square stock, then I drilled a 5/8″ hole through it and then a drilled and tapped a 1/4-20″ through the side. Finally, I cut it off (about 2″ long) and drilled and tapped a 1/4-20 hole in the bottom. I find that I need a small piece of flat stock about 3 1/2″ long to put between the tripod and aluminum block. Clear as mud right?

    2016-01-06_18-51-11_328

      I cut a piece of 1/2″ copper pipe (that conveniently fits up the south end of a north bound arrow antenna). Insert it in the south end, then slide through the 5/8″ hole and tighten the thumbscrew to keep it in place. When I do a day pass and finish up a few other things, I’ll dedicate a post to the subject, with pretty high quality pictures.
  • I seriously need a way to orient angles
      Like, I set of protractors or something. Its very frustrating trying to track a satellite with no clue where the angles are.
  • Higher qualities recordings are only good if they’re complete:
      Oops. I noticed that my last recording wasn’t all that high quality so I tried to improve it. It worked, but I alo managed to get skips in the recording. I guess my droid 2 is getting old. Let’s see if I can’t find a decent dedicated recorder somewhere in addition to those protractors.
  • Relax, it’s late night pass and there’s only a few people on:
      No, seriously. I did an 11pm CDT pass and there were only 3 people trying to trade. Chill people. I said they were going fast and furious but for a late night pass it didn’t hold true.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve learned from my last two passes. Also, congrats to this young lady on her first contact. I also made my first contact last night, and yes, I was pumped.


Workin’ the Birds: Fox-1A

This is a continuation/review/progress report from my previous Workin’ The Birds post. The reason is to talk a little bit about the new bird on the block, Fox 1-A and notate what I learned while I tried to listen in on one of the passes.

Amsat just put in Fox 1-A into orbit and gave it the designation AO-85.  I was able to use the AmSat Prediction Tool to find out when the passes would be. I have a recording of what I was able to hear at the bottom of the post for you to listen to if you like.

My simple setup to get the recording was as follows:

  • A uv5r set for receiving, locked to 145.980. Placed on my left pocket with the volume cranked to max. I had the squelch set to 2.
  • A BF-F8HP setup to transmit to AO-85 w/ doppler shifts, using medium power, at 4 watts. I didn’t really have anything to say, and my tracking was so sporadic (as you can hear) that I didn’t try to get into the sat. I was prepared for transmitting with my throat mic however. Using a throat mic will prevent the echo crossing on the two radios. I had thBF-F8HP sitting next to the uv5r, clipped onto my left pocket.
  • For recording, I launched a sound recording app on my droid, then slid the phone mic out into my left pocket, underneath the baofengs. It should still have been able to pick up my voice.
  • I used an arrow antenna directional antenna.

What I learned tonight:

In my previous post, I mentioned that I thought magnetic declination might be an issue. NOAA has a website showing magnetic declination and for my QTH magnetic north is … only off by 2 degrees.

Rotating the antenna along the boom can make quite a difference in receiving ability.

I would debate the value of leaving the squelch open. In the future, I’ll set it to 1 or 2. When you get close to the satellite it will open the squelch, letting you know you’re in the neighborhood of what you’re aiming for.


Amateur Radio and Workin’ The Birds

You can view the follow up posts in the Satellites area of my blog.

I originally wrote this piece for Core Concept Podcast. While I hope to resurrect the podcast, I needed to gather my thoughts on what I know as I work towards my goal of making contacts via the ham birds. I decided to attempt contact via the birds after the ARRL Field Day 2015.

Please know that this is not a complete, working guide to making contacts via Ham Radio enabled satellites. These are my notes on the subject, a goal which I’ve been unable to complete yet. I needed to make notes of what I’ve found and learned so far. I figured that I may as well make them public for all to see in the hopes that someone will find them useful.

Equipment

Antenna

The equipment needed is pretty simple. Youtube has videos showing people making contact with an HT turned sideways. However, contact is made easier with a yagi antenna which focuses where your radio transmissions will be sent or received. I elected to purchase an Arrow Antenna but plans for tape measure yagis and beam yagis that you could make are available online. Ham birds usually have a 2m uplink frequency and a 70cm downlink frequency. Sometimes its inverted however, so you would want to make sure that your yagis tuned for both.

Radio(s)

It is often advised to use a second radio so hear whether or not you are coming through the satellite. Otherwise, enabling dual watch on your baofeng should be sufficient. So I can know if I’m making it through, I ordered a Baofeng BF-F8HP to use. Having a second radio will also give me a backup unit for my shack. Another advantage is that the BF-F8HP transmits with 8 watts of power instead of the 4 watts the Baofeng UV5R has, so the F8HP should expand my range, if even for just a touch.

Documentation

Another thing that is noted it it would be worth recording your session so that you can make sure you have copied your QSOs correctly. I will use my laptop and my Blue Snowball microphone to achieve this.

Prepping to Make Contact

Finding Satellites to Contact

If you’re using a baofeng HT, you’re limited to FM birds only. KD0HKD has a great page listing a number of birds equiped with FM repeaters. However, most of his documentation links for the satellites have gone dead, lost to the passage of time on the internet. That’s okay, because some of Amsat’s own links are no better.

I was advised to pick two satellites to work on a regular basis. I was going to try to work SO-50 and the ISS but, alas, the ISS Fan club reports the FM repeater has been down for quite awhile now. So, I’ll stick with trying to work SO-50 and wait for when Fox-1A is operational.

Getting your gridsquare

To make contacts via a satellite, you’ll need to know where to point your yagi. Your gridsquare will give satellite tracking software the ability to determine where a satellite will rise in relation to your location. Also, when doing an exchange over a satellite, one of the pieces of information you’ll need to trade is your gridsquare.

You can calculate your grid square using the awesome Grid Square Calculator from Levine Central which allows you to enter your call sign to calculate your grid square representing your location on the globe. QRZ.com provides one as well, but it is more complicated to use.

Your elevation can be a little hard to find, but the wikipedia page had the elevation for my home town so I used that (and suggest you do to). Satellite trackers need this information as well.

Finding Satellites

There are a few different ways to this. You can use one or more of the following three resources:

  1. The Amsat Satellite Tracker. Very confusing, will only give a list of passes and headings. Will only show the passes for a single satellite. Shows pass times in UTC, so you will have to convert them to your local time zone or it will be useless.
  2. Heavens Above android app. Has a nice “live sky” plotting ability. I don’t think it was designed with Ham radio enthusiasts in mind. Can pull your location from GPS.
  3. GPredict. Probably the best option in my opinion. Not very user friendly, but provides a wealth of information once you understand how the program flows. And there is actual documentation (so far).

On both the AmSat Satellite tracker and GPredict you will need enter your grid square, elevation. I think GPredict is the best option currently.

This is the point where I haven’t been able to translate technical knowledge into physical experience. So everything is abit fuzzy from here on out.

Go outside, and using either a lensatic or baseplate compass figure out the points on the horizon where the satellite will come up, the mid point of its travel, and the point on the horizon where it will descend. Remember to account for magnetic declination.

Connect your radios to the arrow antenna and open the squelch on your receiving unit. Coordinating with the times and azimuth points that GPredict provides, trace the path of the satellite. When you cross the broadcast path of your chosen satellite the static will fade from your reception. You may also hear the call signs and gridsquares of other sat users.

If you can’t find your satellite, Amsat has a status page that other hams can report if they have been able to use a satellite. It may be worth checking and seeing if others have heard from the bird recently.

Additional resources


Travelling Well: The Dopp Kit

IMG_2856

Ahh, the dopp kit.  A staple of every well constructed travelling kit.  If you can’t be fresh and clean after a quick shower, what’s the point of travelling?  I’ve posted my kit to give those who want to travel well ideas what they should include in theirs.  I’ll also include some of the reasoning behind my decisions.  My last trip has introduced yet another iteration of the kit due to the experiences of that trip.  I think its important to revise your kits based on your experience using them.

Contents from left to right, top to bottom:

  • Target Hawthorne Khaki Dopp Kit bag (which is washable).
  • Random Tin, containing:
  • Shaving Mirror (hard drive platter), razor handle
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Hair roller, Beard trimmer
  • Pointed Q-tips, thread, folding hair brush
  • Q-tips, ear dryer fluid, soap box, baby soap for cleaning piercings, isopropyl alcohol in sprayer.
  • Shampoo, conditioner (removed after my last trip – what hair I have left doesn’t require conditioner), mouth wash.

The sewing thread and needles are in case I need to fix something up on the road.  Or drain a blister, which is how I used them last.  Apparently its a bad idea, but I sprayed isopopyl on everything (after taking a hot shower), threaded the blister, and then went to bed.  Blister was drained when I woke up.  The small tin is one I got with a wallet years ago.  It keeps all the small bits together so I don’t have to worry about losing them.

I actually use a hard drive platter to shave when I’m home.  It hasn’t rusted yet, nor has it scratched despite being dropped numerous times over the last 6 years.  Since I had some hard drives to securely delete, why not?  My beard trimmer is actually powered by AA batteries.  I don’t like rechargeables I can’t replace the batteries in and I don’t want to have to wait for a trimmer to charge, especially if I’m trying to road trip. Dollar Shave Club actually has pretty good razors, and they last quite awhile. If you use the link to subscribe, I’ll get a fiver out of the deal.

I chose the tooth brush container based on ease of cleaning.  I keep my q-tips in these containers, also from amazon.   All the other toiletry stuff is from walmart.  It works well enough.  I dry my bar of soap before I put it away.

I keep all the travel-sized fluids in the TSA-required 1 qt ziplock baggie.  Not because I want to fly but to make sure nothing can leak and result in a few hours cleaning the kit from a leak a ziplock can prevent.  The added bonus is that if I do have to fly, I’m ready without much effort.

Anyway, this is my dopp kit.  I’m not a follower of Art of Manliness on their kit. I prefer to keep my Tylenol and eye drops in my messenger bag or backpack (depending on which one I’m using). As for money, that backup should already be in your cash capsule. Personally, I think its wise to travel with about $100 in cash in a money clip. Sometimes its easier, sometimes its safer, sometimes its the palm grease you need.


Fixing Over-modulation in a Cheap Throat Mic

I purchased this throat mic back in April. When I hooked it up to the UV5R, it was reported that I was over-modulating the mic. In layman’s terms, the mic was so sensitive that it was picking up my voice so well it was “overdriving,” or clipping the audio. You can see a fair example at the beginning of this youtube video:

So how to deal with the over-modulation in mics? If you have your Technician’s license, you know that this is one of the questions on the Amateur Radio Technician’s test. The answer is to move the mic further away from your mouth. But throat mics use a piezo element which translates vibration into an electrical signal. So, to work, they have to be touching the source of the vibration.

The solution is to dampen the vibration. One way to handle this is to rotate the throat mic about your neck so its not directly setting over your voice box. But, in my case, it wasn’t enough. To much low end in my voice, I suspect. In the end, the solution I employed was to put some theraband between the cup wall and the piezo element in the cup.

Theraband is basically rubber banding. Removed from sunlight, it doesn’t break down like a regular rubber band will do – an excellent quality for our intended use. Jorge Sprave uses it for his ridiculous launchers. I had some left over from a previous infatuation. If you don’t have theraband, you can use foam sheeting. I actually wanted to use the foam sheeting, much like this amazon product, but all I had was theraband. The idea was to reduce the amount of vibrations that the mic can “feel” by adsorbing some of the vibrations produced by speaking.

In the photo of the throat mic, the piezo element is located in that left hand cup. You can take it apart by removing the two Philips head screws on the inside of the band and gently pulling the cups apart. Then cut a piece or theraband or foam sheeting into a circle (a nickle is about the right size) and place it in the cup in between the piezo element and the inner wall that will be contacting your throat. Put the cups back together and then screw the screws back in. Be careful – the cheap plastic strips easily. I ended up needing to use some black electrician’s tape to hold mine together because I managed to strip out the screw holes and then lose one of the screws. I actually only needed a single piece of theraband to bring the mic into a usable range.

I used it to check into the local repeater net earlier, and heard no complaint. I’ll have to check with the fellow that pointed it out, but if I’m still over-modulating I’ll just place another coin sized piece of theraband between the cup and the piezo element. This is probably my favorite mic system to use. The acoustic tube makes for discreet listening and the mic needs to be directly on the sound source so it won’t pick up background noises.


Open Letter to the State Department

This letter was written in response to President Obama’s attempt to use the State Department to block speech about firearms online. In 2015, using the internet to speak is as natural as penning a letter to the local newspaper once was. The internet gives everyone a chance to speak and let their voice be heard. To gag firearm owners like hickok45, FPSRussia, Iraqveteran888, Jerry Miculek and even myself with Core Concept is a violation of our first amendment rights.

In this letter, I make the case that technical documents related to firearms should be protected much like technical documents about the brewing of alcohol is protected, even though I prove that alcohol is more dangerous then a firearm.

The people of America have no need to contact the State Department to disseminate information about firearms via the internet. To say that they do is a violation of our 1st Amendment rights. President Obama has continually made the case for a “free and open internet.” To regulate speech about firearms via the internet is an egregious violation of that pledge. This means that a sub 140 character tweet pointing out that .223 casings and 5.56 NATO casings are virtually identical could result in a $10,000 fine.

The internet is part of American speech in 2015 and talking about firearms is protected as talking about alcohol on the internet by the First Amendment of the United State’s Constitution.

I will make my case below. Free speech about firearms should be protected as much as free speech about the brewing of alcohol is on the internet. It is widely known that President Obama enjoys the responsible consumption of alcohol. In fact, the President’s brew recipes are available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/09/01/ale-chief-white-house-beer-recipe.

What if alcohol was regulated like President Obama wished to regulate firearm usage? After all, according to the CDC, 88,000 deaths are the result of alcohol each year. Quantifying the number of death from firearm accidents however, is impossible according The Washington Post. I will reference this article http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/09/04/how-often-do-children-in-the-u-s-unintentionally-shoot-and-kill-people-we-dont-know/. The Washington Posts cites the CDC statistic that there were 32,351 deaths as a result of a firearm in the United States. However, despite this “alarming” number, only 591 where accidental.

At worst, using a firearm is half as dangerous as imbibing alcohol. At best? Remarkable safer then riding a bicycle (Close to 800 deaths, the CDC does not provide exact figures.)

Yet, posting the recipe for the President’s brews is considered free speech and protected by the first amendment while the administration wants to restrict gun owners as much as possible through his Unified Agenda.

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Spokesman Tom Hogue stated that, “Potential for abuse isn’t grounds for us to deny a label.” He made this statement in regards to the approval of Palcohol – a powdered form of alcohol intended for those that desire the ability to transport alcohol but need to save as much weight as possible. Alcoholic beverages cannot be sold in the United States without this label.

As Mr. Hogue stated, potential for abuse is not grounds to deny a label. In the case of talking online about firearms, the potential for abuse is not grounds to deny a label. When you involve the 1st Amendment (which Cornell points out that “The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government.”), there is never any need for an American citizen to receive permission from the government to talk about firearms.