Prediction: Hams are going to lose spectrum

Amateur radio operators have allocations over most of the radio frequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In some cases, we have primary status in others we are secondary users. That means we’re allowed to use a frequency as long as we don’t cause interference with the primary users. Some frequencies get used more than others, especially where experimentation is expected. The trouble is, radio frequencies are a scarce resource bound by the laws of physics. Despite advances in technology, the number of users (commercial, government and others) is rising and something has to give. So when you seen a headline like DOD launches new spectrum strategy you have to assume that more spectrum is going to be involved regardless of how smart the technology becomes.

And where is that spectrum going to come from? You can’t make more so you have to start looking at current allocations and start evaluating what’s being used by whom. When you do that, many bands where hams are involved look mighty empty and mighty tempting. I suspect it might be gradual, with hams relegated to secondary status (if we haven’t already) before being denied use of the band entirely. But it’s going happen, I guarantee it.

Hams will survive. A lot of the spectrum we have access to is distinctly unfriendly to high speed data transmission and uninteresting to the DOD and others. But some of the higher frequency bands (> 430 MHz) are probably doomed for amateur use.

The FCC wants better location information for mobile 911 calls

When you call 911 on your cell phone, it includes location information that 911 centers can use to determine where you are even if you don’t know yourself. The problem is it isn’t always particularly accurate even outdoors and significantly less so indoors. In tests they’ve seen inaccuracy on the order of 200-750 feet, which in urban areas can easily encompass multiple buildings. Height information, which can tell responders which floor you’re on in a highrise, is only accurate 67% of the time. Yet the FCC wants carriers to report location accurate enough to pinpoint building and floor within five years.

A noble goal, but the technology isn’t there and won’t be for a long time. Location based on cell tower and WiFi hotspots isn’t sufficiently accurate and even GPS, which works well enough outdoors, is often unusable indoors. To reach the FCC’s goal, significant new technology and infrastructure must be built and all handsets updated to use it. Five years is just not enough time. But it will happen, lives depend on it.

One diabetic’s take on Google’s Smart Contact Lenses

Om Malik, himself a diabetic, looks at Google’s Smart Contact Lenses.

While I was aware that diabetics must be aware of a number of health issues (in addition to their blood sugar levels) the recommendation against contact lenses is new to me. Diabetic health is definitely an area that could use some automation, obviously, but smart contacts aren’t the answer.

Bletchley Park WWII archive to go online

England’s Bletchley Park wasn’t just the home base of Alan Turing and the efforts to break the Nazi’s Engima machine, it also collected communication transcripts, communiques, memoranda, photographs, maps and other material relating to key events that took place during the war. Now a donation of document scanners will allow volunteers to digitize the entire collection and make it available to researchers and historians. Expect a lot of untold stories to come to light in the next few years.

Early Apple Employee Reunion Celebrates the Twiggy Mac Resurrection

Recently a couple of “Twiggy” Macs, original prototype 128K versions from 1984 using the unreliable Twiggy drives from the Apple III, were restored to working order. In honor of that, a reunion of early Apple employees was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Among the attendees was Woz, Andy Hertzfeld, Guy Kamasaki and Chris Espinosa.

Every engineer dreams of making a great product that is well-remembered but few ever get that chance. These guys got that chance.