Passing of Allstar Network’s Jim Dixon

Jim Dixon of Alhambra, CA was one of the developers who worked on hardware drivers for the Asterisk Voice over IP software. He took his knowledge and created app_rpt which then allowed Asterisk to function as a radio repeater controller usable by radio amateurs and commercial users. On the amateur radio side, this grew into a VOIP linking system for repeaters that is known as Allstar.

Steve Rodgers announced on the app-rpt-users mailing list that Jim passed away on December 16, 2016.

Jim’s contributions to IP telephony and to the amateur radio hobby were significant and he shall be well remembered.

Windows 10 Update – Unhappy Anniversary

The Windows 10 anniversary update came recently to my radio room computer. The folks in Redmond have some quality assurance problems to resolve. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.

All my firewall rules were deleted. This means that as I run applications which require external access, I have to reauthorize them. While it is not a bad practice to occasionally review these settings, I would have preferred to do so at a time of my own choosing.

The WINUSB driver used by my Perseus SDR was deleted. I had to reinstall the driver and to do so, I had to go through the multiple reboots to allow installation of the unsigned 64 bit driver. Not fun.

My sound device settings were changed. The friendly name for the SignaLink USB sound card device that is connected to my Kenwood TS-2000 reverted to “USB Audio CODEC” and Windows decided to make that device my default sound and communications devices.

This update was hardly the best anniversary present that Microsoft could have given me.

September RF Bits in CQ – Erratum

cq-contents-sept-2016As luck would have it, a key URL for the software mentioned in my September CQ Magazine RF Bits column no longer works. That is because the author, Mike Guenther, DL2MF, decided to withdraw support for the DV4MF2 console for the DV4mini. Whatever his reasons, we have luckily archived a copy for your convenience. So if you arrive at a German language page with a “no more available” caption in English at the top, fret not and get your copy of DV4MF2.exe right here.

While the author has withdrawn support, the software nonetheless functions as it did when my article was prepared for your enjoyment. Other software for the DV4mini is also available and supported by Wireless Holdings, although lacking the nice Brandmaster XTG support that DV4MF2 offered.

It would be great if more radio amateurs released their software under some open source license so that work by and for the community could be continued as needed. We have far too much orphaned software in regular use in the amateur community. A perfect example of this is UI-View32. The author’s last wishes upon his death included the destruction of the source code. Yet, the program is still used by many amateur stations around the world. Imagine how much more useful the orphaned software could be if the source code were available for further development?

Perspective of a former Gilfer Associates Employee

Anyone who listened regularly to the shortwaves back in the 1970s knew about Gilfer Associates of Park Ridge, New Jersey. They were a source of books, gadgets, and radios supporting the SWL habit. The company was run by Oliver P. (Perry) Ferrell and his wife, Jeanne. Perry was at one time the Editor of Popular Electronics Magazine.

I came across this recent blog post by Susan Ito, a former employee. It paints a nice picture of what is was like to work for the Ferrells as an after school employee.

How I Came to Love Shipping (and the Hot UPS Guy)

VOA Radiogram

Remember the Voice of America? It presented an American point of view to the world and helped the West to win the cold war in Europe. Well, VOA is still transmitting and is embracing modern technology to stay relevant.

Kim Andrew Elliot produces a weekly “VOA Radiogram”, which uses audio tones to send digital information that can penetrate jamming and get through adverse reception conditions. You don’t need anything too sophisticated to start playing with this technology, just a radio that can receive shortwave, a computer with a sound card input, a patch cord, and a free program called FLDIGI.

Much of the content is transmitted in MFSK32, which provides good results. Some transmissions include pictures as well as text. Some folks have even reported decoding content by holding their smartphone up to the radio speaker, although I have not tried this approach myself.

Give “VOA Radiogram” a listen this weekend. Here’s the schedule information:

Here is the lineup for VOA Radiogram, program 177, 20-21 August 2016, all in MFSK32 centered on 1500 Hz:

1:31 Program preview (now)
2:42 China launches hack-proof satellite*
8:32 Twitter closes terror-linked accounts*
13:59 Why is Washington’s subway system falling apart?*
26:40 Closing announcements
29:09 Flmsg surprise (with audio)

* with image

Please send reception reports to radiogram@voanews.com .

VOA Radiogram transmission schedule
(all days and times UTC):
Sat 0930-1000 5745 kHz
Sat 1600-1630 17580 kHz
Sun 0230-0300 5745 kHz
Sun 1930-2000 15670 kHz
All via the Edward R. Murrow transmitting station in North Carolina.

Transparency and International Funds Transfer

In June I attended the Ham Radio 2016 show in Friedricshafen, Germany.  I had the opportunity to purchase a nice, compact digital transceiver.  The Hytera PD365 cost surprisingly less than it would in the USA.  And, as a bonus, I could get the 19% Value Added Tax (VAT) refunded once I brought it home.

Sort of…

There are shops around the world that are setup to make the tax refund easy and will rebate it directly to your credit card.  Not so with Difona Communications GmbH, but they were able to provide a tax refund form at the show.  I had to get it stamped by customs upon leaving the European Union and then mail it back to the vendor in Germany.  They paid the refund via international wire transfer.

Here is where the fun began.  I received about $14 less than expected and set about trying to find out where the difference went.  It was not easy.  There is no transparency in such transactions.  I had to call my bank more than a handful of times before I could get to someone knowledgeable enough to assist.

Early calls revealed that the funds came in as US dollars via the Automated Clearing House (ACH).  The ACH received the funds from Fed Global.  What is Fed Global?  The Federal Reserve Bank.  The Fed suffers from a complete lack of transparency and will not speak to the consumer at all.  Kudos to those in Congress who want to audit the Fed.  I’m with you.

Anyway, after several weeks, numerous calls, and a case filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I received an answer.

Fees were deducted from the amount that the vendor paid to me.  The vendor — Difona — indicated that this is what should be done at the time of the transfer.  Difona did not disclose this to me when I sent them an inquiry asking for documentation on the transaction.  Had this been disclosed, it would have saved me and others a lot of time spent on calls and emails to research the discrepancy.

Caveat emptor!

Hytera PD365 compact DMR radio
Hytera PD365 compact DMR radio
Still, I purchased a good piece of merchandise at less than 2/3 of the USA cost.  I learned that in the case of a VAT refund, it is better to deal with Global Blue particpating merchants.  Otherwise, expect to pay an undocumented and substantial fee for a wire transfer and expect no documentation or transparency.