No really? Have I abandoned this blog for that long? I’ve been posting updates on projects and such to g+, but that’s not very discoverable, so I think I’ll come back here and post about some longer-form topics.

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Politics – Things we can agree on, and discovering a method

Larry Lessig is a brilliant guy.

Lately he’s been focusing on things that Americans across the political spectrum can agree on.

I think that this keynote he gave recently is worth the hour it takes to watch. I strongly encourage you to watch it.

The whole thing is great, but I’m going to seize on the content from 30:00-33:00 minutes to make a connection . . .

That section is about how temporary extensions of tax policy have become an engine for raising campaign funds. Judging from Larry’s comments, this is openly acknowledged and understood. The recipients of the (tax) benefits become predictably dependent on the grantors of their benefits, and value is exchanged.

Can this method of establishing a dependent class of beneficiaries be extended beyond legislation? Yes, and you don’t have to look far to find an example:

As a man in the business of shaping intellectual environments, Hertog has been described as the “the epitome of the conservative benefactor who bases his politics on conservative intellectualism and moves patiently and strategically to create, support and distribute his ideas.” Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, said of his longtime friend that, “Roger thinks of philanthropic endeavors as investments. The return he expects is long range.”

Hertog has been a staunch advocate of a conservative, results-based “new philanthropy” – the replacement of open-ended funding for endowed university chairs with money for selected projects, made available on a two- or three-year basis. He makes little distinction between the nonprofit and for-profit ventures that he funds, and has spoken of “retail” and “strategic philanthropy” as “leverage” to transform American universities.

Although the article that quote is taken from focuses on the content of the programs being established at universities, it’s the implementation of these programs I wish to point out, not the program content. They’re designed with short-term funding, to guarantee that the results suite the Patron.

Although “patronage” may be a correct name for these relationships, that word has fairly benign connotations in English today. Perhaps we need a new word or term to describe this sort of thing more accurately.

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Antenna modeling, part 2

Disclaimer: I’m going to start using Amazon affiliate links for books that I recommend.

I’ve prepared another video about how to use xnec2c.

Here’s the link to the video on

This one begins to explain the input file format which is used to describe antennas for modeling. I only noticed one major mistake I made, toward the end, I say “vertical dipole”, when this is actually a model of a quarter-wavelength vertical antenna over a ground plane.

I also briefly touch on the fact that these models shouldn’t be taken as absolutely accurate for any specific installation. The types of modelling used accounts for some types of interactions with the ground, but does not model refraction effects, and has a very limited number of ways you can model the shape of the ground under an antenna.

As I mentioned in the video, the limitations of NEC modeling and the input file format are well described in the Arrl Antenna Book. If you’re interested in antennas, this is probably the best single book to have. The book comes with a bunch of windows software, and the text is in reference to that, but the section on NEC input files is also useful for using Linux modeling applications, including xnec2c.

If you’re using Ubuntu for amateur radio applications, be sure to check out Ubuntu Hams.

Let me know what you think and what you’d like to see next.

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Antenna modeling using nec2c on Ubuntu Linux

New Thing! Video!

I’ve been playing with antenna modeling, and decided to make a video series introducing this to other people who may be interested.

I’m new to this, but I think it came out pretty well. I only misspoke a couple of times, but it will probably only be noticed by the technical pedants (I count myself among these).

The first episode covers the basic user interface and some basic concepts. I already have plans to make more episodes, possibly with these topics:

  • Basic data input file format for xnec2c
  • Antenna tuning, resonance
  • Single band beam antennas, more elements for more directivity
  • The dB (Decibel) – as a unit AND a referenced quantity
  • SWR – what it is, why it matters, and when it doesn’t
  • How antenna height affects gain and impedance
  • How to model traps in xnec2c
  • Near field analysis – why do you need it and what does it mean?

I need to figure out where to place show notes for these, as there are a lot of good information sources about these topics on the internet already, and I need to reference those in each episode. I’ll get smoother at all that.

For the first episode, here’s how you can fetch the example files:

git clone

Here’s a link to my show page on

And here’s the embedded episode:

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I feel like I found an easter egg!

I was jotting some notes for a future wiki page about how to debug network connections to dx clusters, and for my examples, I decided to use the host name

and I ran across this:

sconklin@xps-1:/src/ubuntu$ whois

[ snip ] – some stuff removed

Ron Stordahl
701 Brooks Ave So
Thief River Falls, Minnesota 56701
United States

Registered through:, Inc. (
Domain Name: DXSPOTS.COM
Created on: 20-Nov-01
Expires on: 01-Jan-13
Last Updated on: 04-Oct-10

Administrative Contact:
Stordahl, Ron
701 Brooks Ave So
Thief River Falls, Minnesota 56701
United States
+1.2186817900 Fax — +1.2186817901

Technical Contact:
Stordahl, Ron
701 Brooks Ave So
Thief River Falls, Minnesota 56701
United States
+1.2186817900 Fax — +1.2186817901

Domain servers in listed order:

Interesting. Almost any hardware hacker recognizes Thief River Falls as the home of Digi-Key, in the same way as one might hear a bell when someone mentions Benton Harbor.

Looking a little deeper:

sconklin@xps-1:/src/ubuntu$ nslookup

Non-authoritative answer:

sconklin@xps-1:/src/ubuntu$ whois
# Query terms are ambiguous. The query is assumed to be:
# “n”
# Use “?” to get help.

# The following results may also be obtained via:

Digi-Key Corporation DIGIKEY1 (NET-204-221-76-0-1) –
Onvoy ZAYO-204-220-0-0-15 (NET-204-220-0-0-1) –

# ARIN WHOIS data and services are subject to the Terms of Use
# available at:

Ooooh, Digi-Key is actually hosting the dx cluster. Cool!

Final discovery? The registrant of the domain is Ron Stordahl, the founder and CEO of Digi-Key. Read the history for your self.

Nice! Thanks, Ron.

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Amateur radio operators: How to prepare to assist in disasters

In a previous post, I covered a bunch of ways in which you can prepare to be useful after a disaster. If you’re interested in helping as a radio amateur, or you’re already a ham and want to get more involved in emergency communications (EmComm), then here are some additional things you can do to prepare and to be available as a resource when needed.

Get licensed

If you’re not already a licensed amateur radio operator, go ahead and get your license. See information in my previous post about how to do that.

Join the American Radio Relay League and participate in ARES

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the primary organization in the U.S. for advocacy and lobbying on behalf of amateur radio. They provide publications, training, and many other services, as well as ARES, Amateur Radio Emergency Services. In many areas including here in Madison county, AL, it is through the ARES organization that the Emergency Management Agency makes use of amateur radio resources when needed. Using this list of ARRL sections, contact your section Emergency Coordinator, and ask them how to get more involved.

Take ARRL EmComm courses on line

Online courses offered by the ARRL are a great resource. They aren’t free, but the cost is reasonable for the value you will receive. Start with the EC-001 course. Prerequisites include some of the free FEMA courses mentioned in my previous posting.

Participate in RACES if available

In many parts of the country, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) is a protocol under which local emergency management agencies make use of amateur radio operators to provide communications services when needed. In Madison County, we operate ARES and RACES as a joint organization, with very good results. Your local, county, or state Emergency Management Agency (EMA) may be able to provide more information about opportunities in your area, or you can get more information from other local hams, which brings me to my next suggestion:

Join your local amateur radio club

The quality and nature of local amateur radio clubs varies widely. Some are simply social gatherings, others provide technical programs for education of members, and some are highly involved in public service and emergency communications. We’re very fortunate in our area to have the Huntsville Amateur Radio Club (HARC), an active club, as well as a DX club that has a very technical orientation. Try your local clubs, and even if they don’t seem like what you’re looking for, ask people for suggestions – asking “I’m interested in emergency communications, who should I talk to around here?” may get you to the right people or club.

Ask questions

Keep asking questions like the one above. You can call the local Red Cross chapter and ask the person who does disaster assistance there which organizations in the area provide emergency communications. Ask people on your local amateur radio repeater. Listen for the times when local training nets are conducted, and announcements of local meetings. Check into the net, and feel free to ask for more information if they haven’t provided the information you need.

Find out who maintains your local repeaters and support them

There are a lot of factors that go into being ready to mount an effective response during and after a disaster, and infrastructure is a really important one. Amateur radio repeaters are a very important asset, and it’s easy to forget them when they’re not needed. However, good maintenance and continuous support means that they will be ready when needed. In my area, a number of repeaters are jointly supported through the North Alabama Repeater Association (web site is out of date), which funds repeater maintenance through memberships. We make it easy for people to support NARA by conducting a joint membership renewal drive each year with a single form for the Huntsville Amateur Radio Club, NARA, the Amateur Television club, and the packet radio club. We also have a dedicated group of hams who handle the maintenance tasks for the repeaters.

Participate in the practice nets and drills

Check in to your local nets, and participate in drills and Simulated Emergency Tests (SETs). Volunteer to be net control for training nets. All this builds skill and verifies that your equipment works but more importantly, it helps you build the social connections you need to know who is who within the local disaster response community.

Go to Field Day

Every year, ARRL sponsors Field Day on the fourth full weekend in June. This year it’s on June 25th and 26th. This is a good chance to meet amateur radio operators, many of whom will already be involved in emergency communications. Most Field Day sites have a “Get On The Air” station set up for new hams and non-hams to have an opportunity to talk on the air under the supervision of a licensed radio amateur. If you are already licensed for HF, try working a station – the skills you gain working a pileup of stations calling you is great experience. Hint: if you show up around lunch time on Saturday, a lot of Field Day sites will have a bunch of hams hanging around during lunch, and you can meet people and ask questions. To locate a Field Day site near you, try this online locator.

Go to Hamfests

Attending hamfests is a great chance to learn new things, especially at the hamfests which offer technical forums including topics on emergency communications. Like Field Day, you can meet other people with similar skills and interests, and hear stories about what worked and didn’t work during past disasters. See if you can find one near you.

Work DX, and try some contests

There’s skill involved in being a good radio operator, juggling technical management of your equipment with information transfer, and in training your brain to hear useful signals among noise. The more you are on the air, the better those skills get. If you have a license that grants you use of the High Frequency (HF) bands, then working distant (DX) stations is good experience. So is working contests, even if you aren’t equipped or motivated to be a serious competitor. Trying to keep up with the pace of a contest while operating your equipment and accurately recording information will build the same skills you’ll need in the middle of a disaster when multiple stations are calling, events are breaking fast, and you need to keep up.

Participate in public service events (marathons, bike races, etc)

This is good chance to meet other people active in your area, learn about repeater coverage in different areas near where you live, and compare the effectiveness of different pieces of equipment. You’ll also probably get to know the people who are active in emergency communications in your area, and will already know them before you’re needed in an emergency. Public service also builds awareness within the community, and demonstrates capabilities and professionalism to other organizations with which you may work during and after disasters.

Get some operating time in each of the radio rooms you may need to work in

If there are stations or radio rooms set up locally, get familiar with them in advance. For example, we have stations locally at the Emergency Operations Center, the American Red Cross, and at several area hospitals. See if you can visit and operate these stations. Find out which frequencies and nets they participate in during training, and learn their call signs. See whether they need operators present during Simulated Emergency Tests, and volunteer to get trained on their equipment. If they have HF capability and you can operate on HF, see whether you can use the station during a contest or on field day, or for a state QSO party. Being trained on all these locations improves your ability to help, and helps insure that any problems with those stations are spotted early, before an actual emergency.

Meet your ARRL officers

If you are an ARES member or want to be, then introduce yourself to your ARRL officers and get to know your Emergency Coordinator (EC) and assistant ECs. Many areas do not have an active ARES or RACES organization, and local emergency management officials may even be hostile toward volunteer hams. Sometimes this is due to past history, and sometimes due to a lack of understanding for what a good volunteer organization can bring to the table. In this case it may be difficult, and you may be the one who pioneers your local organization. Your best approach is to organize and train, and continue to demonstrate a high level of usefulness and professionalism. Eventually, your value will be obvious.

Starting from Scratch

If there isn’t an active emergency communications organization where you are, volunteer to start one, and contact the ARES ECs in neighboring counties and ask for help. It can take a long time to establish very close working relationships with Emergency Management Agencies. The effective collaboration that we enjoy between ARES/RACES and the EMA here in Madison County is due to years of very hard work, a lot of it by a handful of very dedicated people.

Summing it up

There’s a lot listed here. You don’t have to do all of it, or even much of it, to be useful in your community. After the tornado disaster here on May 27th, many hams participated who only had a mobile or handheld radio, and who had EmComm training and were not members of our ARES/RACES groups. Almost anyone who was available was able to contribute. But – if you want to maximize your effectiveness and the contribution you can make, then participation will help you achieve that. I haven’t mentioned equipment at all. It does cost money to establish a highly capable station, but the entry level equipment is not too expensive and to me, is worth the additional safety and peace of mind it brings to my family, even without my abilities to perform public service. It doesn’t matter what equipment you have if you don’t have the skills to operate it and understand how you can help during an emergency.

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Crowdsourcing incentives, and applications for open source communities

While it’s only a single study (disclaimer, blah blah blah), Here is some interesting data to consider for everyone involved in open source projects which have a community, or would like to. Especially for corporations for whom a community is an important part of your model, and community leaders for whom a corporation is a major driver of your project.

The study isn’t directly related to community, but you should be able to make your own connections.

I will point out one result in particular, which is that “[the results] suggest that workers perform most accurately when the task design credibly links payoffs to a worker’s ability to think about the answers that their peers are likely to provide.” When I read this, my first thought was of the Linux kernel process, in which contributions generally undergo public review on mailing lists. New contributors quickly learn to think about what mailing list participants will think about their contributions. We use the same process within the Ubuntu kernel team, with public review by peers. Many other projects do as well. So is the kernel development process the same scheme, with a feedback loop wrapped around it? (i.e. you actually DO get the feedback, you don’t just think about it).

This reward scheme, called “Bayesian Truth Serum”, produced more accurate results than schemes which awarded a bonus for accuracy!

I can think of a few really simple redux statements that might be made about how this applies to community projects, but (as this blog is subtitled) I think it’s more complicated than that. I’d rather just throw this much to community leaders and let them think about it.

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