Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Oh, the irony!

By Don Keith

Interesting news stories--with a common theme--in the October 2017 issue of the amateur radio magazine CQ. They are:

A report that the U.S. military has, after much experimentation and testing, decided that the high-frequency radio spectrum (HF, often referred to as "shortwaves") offer excellent communication capability and could be of great value. The story includes a quote from a Navy spokesperson that, "We tested our ability to talk, and we were able to send text to one of our other units that is across the Pacific Ocean." The military release goes on to say, "HF has become a viable alternative for military forces when more common forms of communication, such as satellites, are unavailable." Such technology offers legitimate and valuable backup to whiz-bang satellites and digital yakking.

Well, "Duh #1!" Even now, when solar propagation is approaching a minimum, the shortwaves do offer propagation to all parts of the world. Talk across the Pacific?  Heck, I did that just this past weekend...from my basement!  Guam and Japan, to be exact, all the way from Alabama. And I also made a contact with a ham radio operator in Western Australia via what we call the "long path," not the usual 11,000-mile route to my west and to the Land Down Under.  No, we communicated with my signal leaving my basic little wire beam, running about 500 watts, and headed eastward, across the Atlantic Ocean, over Africa, across the Indian Ocean, about 13,500 miles to the other amateur's station. If the U.S. military is still not convinced of the capabilities of HF, I invite them to take a look at my logbook.

Then there is another report that the Navy is revisiting more ancient technology, the LORAN earth-based radio navigation system that has been mostly replaced by GPS satellites. Someone realized that those satellites can be hacked and most ships at sea would instantly be lost...unless they could locate their sextant and wait for a night sky. (Last I heard, most Navy vessels, and especially submarines, still carried that truly ancient device, the sextant, just in case. They can only hope somebody aboard knows how to use them.)

"Duh! #2."  LORAN worked pretty well, I understand. The fact it was based on radio and required some rather bulky antennas spelled its doom years ago. Appears, though, that somebody realized that sparkly, spangly new technology may have its flaws.  Just as with our trusty and reliable computers, a backup is always a good idea!

And finally, it probably would not surprise you to know that most people under 25 years old would have no idea about what a 33-and-a-third RPM record was. Or an 8-track tape. Or even a cassette tape. Not even, in many cases, a music CD. But did you know that many younger folks today don't realize that your television set can pull in programming from, in most cities, more than a dozen 24-hour-a-day content generators?  A source not associated with a satellite or cable? And that such stellar programming is absolutely free?  It's called over-the-air television broadcasting! Yes, a tower on the hill, pumping out hundreds of thousands of watts of high-definition TV programs. These stations DO still exist! All you need to get this programming is an antenna.  Your TV set is already equipped to pull in the signals. And once you pay for the antenna, the rest is free. Gratis. No cost whatsoever, other than having to watch commercials.

The CQ article quotes a story in The Wall Street Journal reporting that the National Association of Broadcasters--the industry group that represents, in part, those over-the-air telecasters--says one in three Americans are completely unaware of such technology. They also quote a merchant that sells antennas saying that many of his customers question the legality of intercepting this programming for no charge. "They don't believe me when I tell them that these channels are not only free but legal, too," the merchant says.

The final "Duh!" Technological change has become so rapid that even existing technology that still offers real benefit--HF radio, LORAN, over-the-air TV--can get lost in the swirl of sexy new stuff.

(And a personal note, my dad became a TV repairman and antenna installer way back in the early 1950s. That was when people realized that they could get television programming in their home, that it was like radio only with pictures, and they only needed to purchase a set and put up an antenna. My dad put up masts with antennas on top of them all over East Central Alabama. Maybe some of those are still up there after sixty years and can still pull in a picture. Who knows?)

Oh, the irony!



No comments: