The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a simple parable that teaches children the fatal risk of raising a false alarm. To do so is to risk one’s life when raising the alarm about a real emergency that may go duly ignored.
Today, we rarely fear wolves, and we don’t worry about them eating us, our sheep, or our children. Instead, we worry about bigger threats, like incoming nuclear weapons, tornadoes, and earthquakes. We’ve built systems to warn us of these calamities, and authorities take a very dim view of those who misuse these alarms. Fox did just that in a recent broadcast, using a designated alarm tone for an advert. This quickly drew the attention of the Federal Communication Commission. Continue reading “Fox Fined For Using EAS Tone In Football Ad”→
Recently, the media was filled with articles about how turning on 5G transmissions in the C-band could make US planes fall out of the sky. While the matter was ultimately resolved without too much fuss, this conflict may have some long-term consequences, with the FCC looking to potentially address and regulate the root of the problem, as reported by Ars Technica.
At the heart of the whole issue is that while transmitters are regulated in terms of their power and which part of the spectrum they broadcast on, receivers are much less regulated. This means that in the case of the altimeters in airplanes for example, which use the 4.2 GHz – 4.4 GHz spectrum, some of their receivers may be sensitive to a part of the 5G C-band (3.7 GHz -3.98 GHz), despite the standard 200 MHz guard band (upped to 400 MHz in the US) between said C-band and the spectrum used by altimeters.
What the FCC is currently doing is to solicit ways in which it could regulate the performance and standards for receivers. This would then presumably not just pertain to 5G and altimeters, but also to other receivers outside of avionics. Since the FCC already did something similar back in 2003 with an inquiry, but closed it back in 2007 without any action taken, it remains to be seen whether this time will be different. One solid reason would be the wasted spectrum: a 400 MHz guard band is a very large chunk.
For radio enthusiasts worldwide, the inexpensive Chinese handheld radios produced by the likes of Baofeng and other brands have been a welcome addition to their arsenal. They make an ideal first transceiver for a new licensee, a handy portable for any radio amateur, and an inexpensive basis for UHF or VHF experimentation. Unfortunately with the low cost comes something of a reputation for not having the cleanest spectral output, and it seems that this has caught the attention of regulators in Germany and Poland. In Germany this has resulted in the announcement of a sales prohibition (PDF in German) which seems likely to be repeated across the rest of the EU.
It seems what has happened is that the quality of the Baofeng radios on sale doesn’t match that claimed in their conformity documents, which should honestly come as a surprise to nobody. It is interesting that the paperwork mentions the Baofeng UV-5R specifically, as it seems likely to us that an inevitable game of whack-a-mole will ensue with the same radios appearing under ever more brand names and part numbers. The basic UV-5R already appears under a number of variants, for example the one where this is being written is a near-identical but slightly more powerful BF-F8, so this should again come as no surprise.
We have to admit, it was hard not to be insufferably smug this week when Facebook temporarily went dark around the globe. Sick of being stalked by crazy aunts and cousins, I opted out of that little slice of cyber-hell at least a decade ago, so Monday’s outage was no skin off my teeth. But it was nice to see that the world didn’t stop turning. More interesting are the technical postmortems on the outage, particularly this great analysis by the good folks at the University of Nottingham. Dr. Steve Bagley does a great job explaining how Facebook likely pushed a configuration change to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) that propagated through the Internet and eventually erased all routes to Facebook’s servers from the DNS system. He also uses a graphical map of routes to show peer-to-peer connections to Facebook dropping one at a time, until their machines were totally isolated. He also offers speculation on why Facebook engineers were denied internal access, sometimes physically, to their own systems.
It may be a couple of decades overdue, but the US Federal Communications Commission finally decided to allow FM voice transmissions on Citizen’s Band radios. It seems odd to be messing around with a radio service whose heyday was in the 1970s, but Cobra, the CB radio manufacturer, petitioned for a rule change to allow frequency modulation in addition to the standard amplitude modulation that’s currently mandatory. It’s hard to say how this will improve the CB user experience, which last time we checked is a horrifying mix of shouting, screaming voices often with a weird echo effect, all put through powerful — and illegal — linear amps that distort the signal beyond intelligibility. We can’t see how a little less static is going to improve that.
Can you steal a car with a Game Boy? Probably not, but car thieves in the UK are using some sort of device hidden in a Game Boy case to boost expensive cars. A group of three men in Yorkshire used the device, which supposedly cost £20,000 ($27,000), to wirelessly defeat the security systems on cars in seconds. They stole cars for garages and driveways to the tune of £180,000 — not a bad return on their investment. It’s not clear how the device works, but we’d love to find out — for science, of course.
There have been tons of stories lately about all the things AI is good for, and all the magical promises it will deliver on given enough time. And it may well, but we’re still early enough in the AI hype curve to take everything we see with a grain of salt. However, one area that bears watching is the ability of AI to help fill in the gaps left when an artist is struck down before completing their work. And perhaps no artist left so much on the table as Ludwig von Beethoven, with his famous unfinished 10th Symphony. When the German composer died, he had left only a few notes on what he wanted to do with the four-movement symphony. But those notes, along with a rich body of other works and deep knowledge of the composer’s creative process, have allowed a team of musicologists and AI experts to complete the 10th Symphony. The article contains a lot of technical detail, both on the musical and the informatics sides. How will it sound? Here’s a preview:
And finally, Captain Kirk is finally getting to space. William Shatner, who played captain — and later admiral — James Tiberius Kirk from the 1960s to the 1990s, will head to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on Tuesday. At 90 years old, Shatner will edge out Wally Funk, who recently set the record after her Blue Origin flight at the age of 82. It’s interesting that Shatner agreed to go, since he is said to have previously refused the offer of a ride upstairs with Virgin Galactic. Whatever the reason for the change of heart, here’s hoping the flight goes well.
Last week we featured a story on the new rules regarding drone identification going into effect in the US. If you missed the article, the short story is that almost all unmanned aircraft will soon need to transmit their position, altitude, speed, and serial number, as well as the position of its operator, likely via WiFi or Bluetooth. The FAA’s rule change isn’t sitting well with Wing, the drone-based delivery subsidiary of megacorporation Alphabet. In their view, local broadcast of flight particulars would be an invasion of privacy, since observers snooping in on Remote ID traffic could, say, infer that a drone going between a pharmacy and a neighbor’s home might mean that someone is sick. They have a point, but how a Google company managed to cut through the thick clouds of irony to complain about privacy concerns and the rise of the surveillance state is mind boggling.
Speaking of regulatory burdens, it appears that getting an amateur radio license is no longer quite the deal that it once was. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a $35 fee for new amateur radio licenses, license renewals, and changes to existing licenses, like vanity call signs. While $35 isn’t cheap, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s better than the $50 fee that the FCC was originally proposing. Still, it seems a bit steep for something that’s largely automated. In any case, it looks like we’re still good to go with our “$50 Ham” series.
Staying on the topic of amateur radio for a minute, it looks like there will be a new digital mode to explore soon. The change will come when version 2.4.0 of WSJT-X, the program that forms the heart of digital modes like WSPR and FT8, is released. The newcomer is called Q65, and it’s basically a follow-on to the current QRA64 weak-signal mode. Q65 is optimized for weak, rapidly fading signals in the VHF bands and higher, so it’s likely to prove popular with Earth-Moon-Earth fans and those who like to do things like bounce their signals off of meteor trails. We’d think Q65 should enable airliner-bounce too. We’ll be keen to give it a try whenever it comes out.
Look, we know it’s hard to get used to writing the correct year once a new one rolls around, and that time has taken on a relative feeling in these pandemic times. But we’re pretty sure it isn’t April yet, which is the most reasonable explanation for an ad purporting the unholy coupling of a gaming PC and mass-market fried foods. We strongly suspect this is just a marketing stunt between Cooler Master and Yum! Brands, but taken at face value, the KFConsole — it’s not a gaming console, it’s at best a pre-built gaming PC — is supposed to use excess heat to keep your DoorDashed order of KFC warm while you play. In a year full of incredibly stupid things, this one is clearly in the top five.
And finally, it looks like we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our airline pilots, or at least a subset of them, aren’t seeing things. There has been a steady stream of reports from pilots flying in and out of Los Angeles lately of a person in a jetpack buzzing around. Well, someone finally captured video of the daredevil, and even though it’s shaky and unclear — as are seemingly all videos of cryptids — it sure seems to be a human-sized biped flying around in a standing position. The video description says this was shot by a flight instructor at 3,000 feet (914 meters) near Palos Verdes with Catalina Island in the background. That’s about 20 miles (32 km) from the mainland, so whatever this person is flying has amazing range. And, the pilot has incredible faith in the equipment — that’s a long way to fall in something with the same glide ratio as a brick.
Remember DSRC? If the initialism doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry — Dedicated Short-Range Communications, a radio service intended to let cars in traffic talk to each other, never really caught on. Back in 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission set aside 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9-GHz band, it probably seemed like a good idea — after all, the flying cars of the future would surely need a way to communicate with each other. Only about 15,000 vehicles in the US have DSRC, and so the FCC decided to snatch back the whole 75-MHz slice and reallocate it. The lower 45 MHz will be tacked onto the existing unlicensed 5.8-GHz band where WiFi now lives, providing interesting opportunities in wireless networking. Fans of chatty cars need not fret, though — the upper 30 MHz block is being reallocated to a different Intelligent Transportation System Service called C-V2X, for Cellular Vehicle to Everything, which by its name alone is far cooler and therefore more likely to succeed.
NASA keeps dropping cool teasers of the Mars 2020 mission as the package containing the Perseverance rover hurtles across space on its way to a February rendezvous with the Red Planet. The latest: you can listen to the faint sounds the rover is making as it gets ready for its date with destiny. While we’ve heard sounds from Mars before — the InSight lander used its seismometer to record the Martian wind — Perseverance is the first Mars rover equipped with actual microphones. It’s pretty neat to hear the faint whirring of the rover’s thermal management system pump doing its thing in interplanetary space, and even cooler to think that we’ll soon hear what it sounds like to land on Mars.
Speaking of space, back at the beginning of 2020 — you know, a couple of million years ago — we kicked off the Hack Chat series by talking with Alberto Caballero about his “Habitable Exoplanets” project, a crowd-sourced search for “Earth 2.0”. We found it fascinating that amateur astronomers using off-the-shelf gear could detect the subtle signs of planets orbiting stars half a galaxy away. We’ve kept in touch with Alberto since then, and he recently tipped us off to his new SETI Project. Following the citizen-science model of the Habitable Exoplanets project, Alberto is looking to recruit amateur radio astronomers willing to turn their antennas in the direction of stars similar to the Sun, where it just might be possible for intelligent life to have formed. Check out the PDF summary of the project which includes the modest technical requirements for getting in on the SETI action.
The only thing more surprising than finding out TiVo actually put out a new 4K set-top box recently is learning that somehow they didn’t bother to build WiFi into the thing. You’re forced to buy a special wireless adapter to the tune of $60 USD to add the feature. We’d make a joke about the company living in the past, but frankly, it would be too easy.
Operating under the assumption that the TiVo would only talk to a WiFi adapter based on the same Broadcom BCM43569 chipset used in the official one, [xxbiohazrdxx] started by trying to find a standard USB dongle that might be a drop-in replacement. Unfortunately, it looks like this particular chip was almost exclusively used in proprietary applications, most commonly as a WiFi board inside of smart TVs. But as it turns out, that wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker.
After some searching, [xxbiohazrdxx] eventually found the promising CyberTAN NU361-HS board. Not only was it based on the right chipset and ran from 5 volts, but its FCC ID entry had a complete pinout for the connector. This particular WiFi module is used in a number of budget TVs and is widely available as a spare part for less than $10. By combing the board and a USB breakout PCB inside of a 3D printed case, you’ve got a plug-and-play WiFi adapter that the TiVo thinks is the real deal.