Fred and his lovely wife, Claudene on a cruise in 2011
|(For info on the W6FNO Repeater, go to www.W6FNO.org)|
Simple Networks - I am fascinated by radio and networks. Most Land Mobile communication takes place using 25 to 100 watts of power, both in the mobile and the repeater (or base station). The only notable exception is with cellular. The difference is stark. It does not take a lot of power to communicate. Most cell phones just output 0.002 to 0.100 watt, that’s 1/10 to 2/1000 of a watt, or 3 to 20 dBm. The base stations run greater power to overcome multipath and signal fades, but usually not greater than 20 db more.
I would like to see more frequencies restricted to 2 watts, or 5 watts. With use of inexpensive Internet connections, low power repeaters can be networked to provide coverage over any size area. Today, every element is available inexpensively, including the site controller and IP Switch. All technology is Open-Source, both hardware and software. This is covered at www.Gnat-Net.com with links to all the bits and pieces.
Simple Radios – Last year I was thrilled to see Freescale introduce a complete radio System-on-chip. It was called MC13260 and worked 60 to 960 MHz, using analog FM or digital standards DMR, P25, Tetra, and dPMR, and it was to cost about $15 in small quantities. Only a simple preselector and a power amp was necessary for operation. However, just before the chip was to become available, the manufacture withdrew it from the market, without explanation. Some people say it was introduced to boost the value of the stock offering, of Freescale. Other people say, Motorola Solutions killed the project as they are a big customer of Freescale (previously Motorola Semiconductor). In any case, someone will eventually produce a simple System-on-Chip solution, and when that happens, radio will take another leap forward. Amateur Radio will again produce prototype boards and support software for this innovation to lower the cost and complexity of the repeater, or maybe mobile. Follow simple radios progress on http://www.OpenLMR.org website.
Small Stabilized Helicopters - These hobby copters are far beyond just toys. The most useful appear to be the quadcopters. Many buyers are placing two cameras on a unit and operating remotely at great distances. The FAA has become concerned, and is said to be writing a new set of regulations for the use of these copters for commercial and amateur use. There is an open source quadcopter site at http://aeroquad.com/ that may interest you. Let the fun begin.
Radiation – Have you wondered how you would detect and measure alpha, gamma, or beta radiation, in the event of a leak at the nearby nuclear power plant. I have been experimenting with various radiation detectors to gain a better understanding of the scope of what is available. There are kits and ready made detectors widely available. The least expensive are made with a giger tube, and can read reasonably low levels of radiation. These are in the $75 to $700 range. Look at this open source unit at www.cooking-hacks.comavailable with or without the giger tube. More sensitive detectors are available from $700 to $1,600 that are much better, and can detect low levels of radiation 20 to 80 feet away. The most common unit looks like a pocket pager (PM1703M) and is used by HazMat and law enforcement personnel to monitor their work environment. I have observed a person who has had a nuclear medical test, and they can set it off from more than 50 feet away, within several hours of their test. Their radioactive dose is widely considered safe, because of the very short half-life of the isotope used, so there is no measurable radiation several day later.
Solar Power – In 2012, the wholesale price of full size solar panels have come down to about $1 per watt. Add to this an inverter for another $1 per watt, and you have something quite useful. Most panels are used to create electric power to offset the owners utility consumption and reduce their bill. Should the solar system generate more power than is currently being consumed, the excess is fed to the utility to serve other customers needs. This excess is used to offset the owners utility consumption during non-daylight hours. Depending upon the utility rate plans and the state PUC, some owners actually get a negative balance on their electric bill. The only sour note is that if the utility power fails, the solar system is designed to shut down until utility power is restored. Therefore, the typical solar system does not provide backup service during a power outage.
3D Printers - This is really hot technology. Prototype items that previously required molding or machining can now be printed one very thin layer at a time. In the end, small quantities can be easily produced so even hobbyists can make professional looking products. The statue to the left was created on a 3D printer. If you do an image search on Bing or Google, specifying 3D printing objects, there are hundreds of examples of everything from bras to glasses. The real trick is to make a computer image of what you want to create. If you have CAD drawings or have an existing object that can be scanned, it does make it easier. If you have interest, I suggest you try it with someone who has a machine and will contract to make an object for you. There are lots of service companies on the Internet. It typically takes several hours, so it won't be too expensive to try before you buy or build your own printer. A open source project is at http://replicat.org/ and the site has links to open source hardware designs.
Open Source Projects - You can probably tell by now, I really like open source projects of any kind. I believe this is the most practical way for creative people to share their knowledge, for the betterment of all mankind. Even though the concept is contrary to the idea of patenting software & hardware designs, I believe the US Patent system has been used & abused by small and large corporations alike, for the past 30 years. Many innovations that are obvious to anyone in the trade, have been protected (read restricted) for the enrichment of a small number of people. Often times, software is patented but only a very very small portion is original work, and the balance is open source repackaged.
I first became interested in Amateur Radio in 1957, when I was 12. Within a year, I got a Technician license with the call W6NQS. Initially, I worked 6 meters AM using various radios. I eventually got a Gonset G50 and thought how great it would be to have push-to-talk. On several occasions, I nearly killed myself by electrocution, building tube-type transmitters with big modulators. While in high school, I earned money renting public address sound systems to touring rock & roll groups visiting the Pomona, California area. Several years later while in college, I got a part-time job working at a radio shop that specialized in Citizen Band radios, and did some commercial 2-way service work on the side.
From servicing & using commercial VHF equipment, I got the bug for 2-meter FM. No noise, clean signals, and no TV interference to deal with. This led to joining with Ken Sessions, K6MVH and others, to lease from the Forest Service, a small parcel on Johnstone Peak, above San Dimas, California, to construct a building strictly for Amateur Radio. We installed a 440 MHz repeater and it controlled a 2-Meter remote base station, usually on 146.76 MHz. The radio site was about 2,000 feet above the valley, so it covered the entire Los Angeles basin. We had great fun. We later installed a Johnson 6N2 Thunderbolt and ran 1,000 watts input from the mountain.
As time went on, I left college to work full-time. Our 2-meter remote base became a repeater and its use morphed into simply a repeater. I became self-employed in the radio service business and got married. For quite a while, Amateur Radio lost out to earning a living, and taking care of the wife & kids. I continued as the Trustee of the repeater. In the early 70s, the FCC insisted each physical radio station have a separate call sign & license, so the FCC assigned W6FNO to the repeater, and I continued as W6NQS. Years later due to government funding cut-backs, the FCC then decided that a single Amateur could only have one license and call sign. So I kept W6FNO for everything.
As my radio service business grew, adding more employees, and a sales force, I started building repeater sites throughout Southern California, to support client’s needs. With the technical knowledge from the many Amateur Radio projects, I was able to develop and engineer custom solutions for our growing customer base. By the end of the 70’s, the economy was in the toilet and I decided to sell my radio sales & service business, but kept the repeater sites. It felt like I just sold my first born child, but having the time to focus on the repeater sites was great. I continued to build more repeater sites.
In 1983, Chuck Crawford suggested that with Richard Somers, we merge all our assets to form the largest privately owned repeater & site company, in the USA. It was called Sigma Telecommunications. At the time, Los Angeles was also the largest two-way radio market in the world, so we did really well with hundreds of repeaters located in 35 sites throughout Southern California. With hard work from all three partners, we created a strong company providing trunked & conventional repeaters for many thousand Motorola, GE, and Johnson radios. In 1988, Nextel (Fleet Call, Inc. at the time) approached us to sell all of our repeaters to them. We agreed, and we continued operations with just renting space in the 35 sites. After the sale, we were told Nextel could not have reached their critical mass, without purchasing our Los Angeles operations and cash flow.
By 1992, all of the partners sold their interest in the site business and moved on to other actives. I kept entertained by forming a company using the old Bell IMTS Telephone channels to provide a low-cost alternative to cellular. It was fun, but unprofitable in the end. The channels were eventually sold for use by two-way operators. I also went back to developing repeater sites for investment and continued private consulting. Some of these were Daniel Peak near Hemet (sold to American Tower), Elsinore Peak, near Temecula, and Pleasants Peak, near Corona.
In the mid-90s, I formed a company to provide radio communication to marine clients on the West Coast, using narrowband FM on the AMTS frequencies from 217 to 220 MHz. This became successful, and with the help of Paul vander Heyden, we grew & expanded our licenses throughout the entire USA, under the name Regionet Wireless. The West Coast system eventually became the largest MPT-1327 Networked Trunked system in the USA, allowing portables in San Diego to communicate with portables in Seattle, on wide-area Group Call, and all places in between. As time went on, we were able to convince the FCC that also serving Land Mobile clients would not reduce our ability to serve the few marine clients available. In 2000, Mobex Communications made us an offer to acquire our company, and continue to expand the system. We accepted and I became an employee of Mobex for a couple of years. Several years later, Mobex sold all of their 800 MHz. repeaters nationwide to Nextel and later dissolved their remaining operations.
Currently, I still manage Elsinore Peak and Pleasants Peak. It is really just a part-time job, so I now have plenty of time for Amateur Radio. I enjoy learning more about networking and radio protocols. In 2012, I will be 70 and still in good health. I also tinker with photography and have a well equipped lab with lots of great test equipment. My wife likes to travel, so we travel & go on lots of cruises, around the world.
My vocation evolved from my hobby. I loved the magic of radio when I was 12, and still love it today. I was successful because I was willing to do whatever it took to meet the customers’ needs. In most cases, my Amateur radio system always provided better coverage than most commercial customers were getting from their Motorola, GE, or Johnson suppliers. Getting new business was easy, if we could demonstrate a better solution.
Along the way, I made many friends and shared much knowledge. Some people say I was lucky. I say, it was a desire to make my own luck, by being above average in everything and paying attention to details.