FLOSS Weekly 724 Transcript
Please be advised this transcript is AI-generated and may not be word for word. Time codes refer to the approximate times in the ad-supported version of the show.
Doc Searls (00:00:00):
This is FLOSS Weekly. I'm Doc Searls. This week, Sean Powers and I talk with Levi Maaia. Levi is not only an old friend, he is a polymath of the first order, a PhD computer guy who's an open source guy from way back. I knew him when he was in the cable TV business. He's so far past that now, and he is all about ham radio. He does good by flying all over the place. He's an I FFR pilot. That's just a tiny bit of what this guy does, but we really went deep into the open source side of Ham radio, and that is really good stuff, and it is coming up. Next
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Doc Searls (00:00:46):
This is FLOSS Weekly episode 724, recorded Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023, the Wide World Open Radio. This episode of FLOSS Weekly is brought to you by Collide. That's collide with a k Collide is a device trust solution that ensures that if a device isn't secure, it can't access your apps, it's zero trust for Okta. Visit collide.com/floss and book a demo today. And by bit Warden, get the password manager that offers a robust and cost effective solution that drastically increases your chances of staying safe online. Get started with a free trial of a teams or enterprise plan, or get started for free across all devices as an individual firstname.lastname@example.org slash TWiT. Hello again, everyone everywhere. This is FLOSS Weekly. I am Doc Searls and I'm joined this week by Sean Powers himself with a zero in the O for Powers. Hey, that's me on, on the visual thing there, the green theme. You've got, you've got green objects all around you as well as in your, in your hair, which is the wearing is the, I think the, the green is turning, turning brown, kind of like California Hills in May.
Shawn Powers (00:02:08):
I mean a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. But I guess looking at my backdrops, I guess I am, I'm going green. That's very
Doc Searls (00:02:15):
C Yeah, green is a theme and it, and our, on the zoom screen that we're sharing, it's sort of, of the share screen green, which kind of, you know, makes, completes the thing. So I I, I pulled you in to, for this show or with Levi Maaia. We'll bring it in a second. What I, did you do any homework on this one, Sean?
Shawn Powers (00:02:33):
A little bit. It was, it was a little tough, but then in the pre-show we've been chatting in I mean this affectionately, he's a, he's a fellow nerd, so it's it's gonna be great. Yeah, we already were talking about video games and all sorts of stuff,
Doc Searls (00:02:47):
So I wanna, I wanna bring this in. Le Levi's, one of my favorite people. He's a I've known him for I guess like close to 20 years, maybe more maybe from the last millennium. Where, and, and in Rhode Island, I mean, he's from Rhode Island, but in Massachusetts, though, we're both now Santa Barbarians. He is everything. He's a, a filmmaker explorer. I'm gonna read from this website, but it's good Explorer ethnographer educator works in sustainable solutions, a complex problems. He's a, he's a hacker, a Lennox, and other open source kind of hacker. He's a filmmaker. His latest is Pathways to Invention, which I've, I've seen and like a lot. He is, and this is a weird thing, I did not know he was a PhD until I looked at his thing here. So he got that from uc, Santa Barbara, and and he's, you know, cer he's a pilot. He's an I F R certified pilot. I have flown in his passenger seat <laugh>, and and he's involved in the NASA sponsored outreach program board, the International Space Station. He's doing ham radio stuff, and I think that's where we're gonna go today. So among other places. So I haven't covered half of it. Welcome Levi, to the show.
Levi C. Maaia (00:04:01):
Hi. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Good to see you, doc. And yeah, man, nice to, to meet you, Sean
Doc Searls (00:04:06):
<Laugh>. So you too. So I'm, I'm looking at your space. Okay. What am I seeing around you there? Look, it's a handshake, it looks like, but
Levi C. Maaia (00:04:12):
Yeah. Yeah. So no one
Doc Searls (00:04:13):
Used to look
Levi C. Maaia (00:04:14):
Like, let's see, behind me here is I've got my heath kit amplifier, which is sixties vintage 600 watts. And I run Oh, nice tubes, vacuum tubes. So it's a it's a vintage piece of equipment. And then above that is an old heath kit scope, so that's like the vintage Oh, wow. Section.
Doc Searls (00:04:33):
And, and do and do those who, of course, they, they heat the room, how much do they weigh?
Levi C. Maaia (00:04:38):
Ooh. probably together close to 50 pounds. Yeah, yeah,
Doc Searls (00:04:42):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I had, I had, I am as old as those things, and I, and I had a, a Johnson Viking one and a Hamlin HQ 1 29 X, but the Viking was 250 watts. So your heath kit is more than two x that. Yeah. And so what, what's going on on the, on the solid state side of, of your life
Levi C. Maaia (00:05:01):
There? The solid state side, and I'll have to kind of get out of the way because it's all right behind me here. Yeah. is a Icom IC 7,300 SDR software defined radio. So that's sort of like two ends of the spectrum, right? You've got tubes and software defined radio that's an HF radio, so it can talk around the world. Short wave does 80 through six meters.
Doc Searls (00:05:22):
So, so tell me, so I mean, the delta between ham radio, when I was doing it, when it was all tubes and CW continuous wave basically on off Morse code, my joke about not being a proper hackers that the only code I know is Morse and but, but ev you know, everything was, you know, it was all pre-digital. It transistors were around, but they weren't doing anything, any heavy lifting. They were like in little radios and stuff, and they, you count as seven transistor radio. That was a big one. You know, now your, your phone has, you know, what, a half trillion trans sisters or something like that. So, so where, where is ham radio at now? If one wanted to get into it, especially from an open source angle and the S d R angle, where, what does that look like?
Levi C. Maaia (00:06:14):
Well, you know I, I, I watched PHS 6 59 with Steve St. Stroh, and you guys covered a lot of stuff about ham radio on that episode. So I don't know if it was there or somewhere, but I, I, I, someone I think in that show made the comment, ham radio, amateur radio is sort of the original open hardware, right? People have been hacking on these things for years. And that tradition has continued and still goes strong to this day. Even manufacturers publish a lot of what they're doing with their hardware in the form of schematics, and it's well documented. So while you may buy an iPhone and the manufacturer, apple doesn't want you to know what's inside. With, with these SDRs and with many of the modern ham radios from companies like Kenwood and Icom and Yasu, they're all publishing a lot of what's going on, and the specs are well known.
It's not because people are taking them apart in reverse engineering them, but it's part of the design. Hams want to buy something, whether it's truly an open architecture or not, they still want to know how it works. So the sort of state of the art right now is software defined radios, and that comes in a lot of different forms. One of the, the things that's really made it very accessible for people to get involved with, even just monitoring the airwaves are these tiny R T l SDRs, which are little dongs that you can purchase for 20, 25 bucks. And they let you sort of see from, I will say, DC to daylight, but you know, from the 2030 megahertz up through gigahertz, and you can actually plug it into your computer, use a spectrum analyzer type program, and tune in something in almost any mode, in any frequency in that range for very little money. So, gone are the days where you need to spend thousands of dollars to get on the air. You can do something with probably some of the equipment you already own and maybe a, a, a quick cheap purchase from from Amazon or Alibaba or something.
Shawn Powers (00:08:03):
So you mentioned just like a, a dongle to plug in for the, the SDR stuff. It, does this, does that actually pull in the signals, or is this connecting to something else that's like distributing signals? So
Levi C. Maaia (00:08:17):
For me, and I think for a lot of people who are interested in amateur radio, there's, there's like multiple interests that we all have and kind of, it's an intersection of all of those things. But the one thing for me that I like is to be able to receive something directly. There's, it's fun to plug something into a network and sort of chat with someone and, and, and there's certainly opportunities to do that, but with amateur radio, if you're pulling the signal in directly that's sort of where for me, the, the in the interest is. And so the SDR dongle, the RTL SD R is a radio. It will receive things directly off of its antenna port, and you can plug in antennas of different sizes, whether they're a long for high frequency, or whether it's a tiny dish for a gigahertz range signal.
You can plug that into the device and you can receive it directly off the air with a, a very inexpensive device. Now, I mean, that has its limitations, but it certainly can do a lot. And some of the things that I wanted to talk about on on the program with you guys today, with some of the things that we're doing here in Santa Barbara that let you you know, that, that are pulling in signals of all different kinds. So I'm talking about amateur radio, but I'm kind of expanding that and talking about all things radio and this idea of signals that are out in the open, waiting to be wrangled in and, and, and tuned in by anyone who's interested.
Shawn Powers (00:09:33):
It's fascinating. Okay. So I guess that that was, that did answer my question. The, a dongle didn't seem like the kind of thing that would pull in significant radio waves, but these are, this is something you can attach and antenna it to that would then make it just a, an inexpensive version of the giant green box on your desk sort of thing.
Levi C. Maaia (00:09:49):
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it does. The, the inexpensive devices won't transmit, but they will receive. And any good ham knows that amateur radio is like 99% receiving and 1% transmitting. So,
Shawn Powers (00:10:02):
And the, you need the license to do the transmitting side of that anyway, right? So I mean, anybody can receive. Is that true or is that not true
Levi C. Maaia (00:10:09):
For folks watching in the us? Anyone can receive almost anything. That's being broadcast over the air. Legally in the uk, laws are a little bit different in other places that your mileage may vary, but in the US you're pretty safe tuning almost anything except cell phone calls.
Shawn Powers (00:10:25):
Fascinating. I, and this is actually a fun episode from you, because I am very unversed on all of this stuff, but it fascinates me. So if I, if I'm asking dumb questions, it's not because I'm trying to make up dumb questions, it's because I truly don't know. So
Levi C. Maaia (00:10:40):
<Laugh>, well, I, I think No, it's great to ask those kind of questions because I, I think there's a lot of people who are in the sphere of hacking and open source and, and geeks out there who would be interested in amateur radio if they knew what was going on in that world today. So these are the kind of questions I get a lot from people who I share similar interests with, and I love talking about it. So,
Shawn Powers (00:11:01):
Cool. Yeah, the, the coolest conversation I had was, gosh, it's been, it's been quite a few years now. I think it wa it wasn't at scale, it was at one of the open source conferences on the west coast. But anyway, about packet radio, like using ham radio to send digital signals very slowly, but using ham radio stuff for like remote villages and stuff. It, that was fascinating to me. So I and I'm not expecting like that you have any idea what I'm talking about? Just that it is still fascinating. I think the crossover between like the, you know, open source geeks who aren't necessarily ham people it, it makes sense because yeah, it's all fascinating stuff.
Levi C. Maaia (00:11:42):
Yeah. One of the, the things that's become tremendously popular in the past let's say five years or so, is a mode called FT eight, which is a digital mode that lets you connect a radio to your computer, and then they call it a weak signal mode. Because while the human ear would tune that frequency where the ft eight signal was and hear nothing but static, the computer can actually parse out the signal from the noise and deliver a message onto your screen. So people have become really fascinated with this, especially in a world where people can't necessarily have a a giant antenna tower in their yard. You can string up a wire from a, from a balcony or a patio or up in a tree in your yard or wherever you can make it work. And because this, this mode and the computer algorithms are so sensitive to the, to the signal that's hidden in the noise, you can actually make a contact around the world with very poor propagation, very a very weak signal can be pulled out of the ether with with the p power of the computer.
So there's, it's not just all about voice or morse code or FM or sideband, but these digital modes are taking hold because they require very little power. They require very little investment in the way of antennas and and power. You don't need a, a heath can amplifier with 600 watts. People are making contacts on the other side of the planet with five or 10 watts and and this ft eight mode.
Shawn Powers (00:13:05):
That's cool. I bet that's kind of what came, cuz I'm thinking about 10 years back, you know, that we're talking about this, it was a new idea that there wasn't like a standard or anything, it was just people trying to digitize a, a signal and then have it remain clear enough that somebody at a remote village could decode it kind of thing. So that's cool. I that's neat that it has progressed to a thing that is real, that normal people can do now. So, cool. Doc, I'm kind of taking the, the mic so go ahead. You.
Doc Searls (00:13:30):
Well, actually, I, I I, I wanna get into some of the cool things that Levi's doing array, especially around Santa Barbara. But first I have to let everybody know that this episode of FLOSS Weekly is brought to you by Collide. That's collide with a K Collide is a device trust solution that ensures unsecured devices can't access your apps. Collide has some big news. If you're an Okta user, collide can get your entire fleet to 100% compliance. Collide patches one of the major holes in Zero Trust architecture, which is device compliance. Think about it, your identity provider only lets known devices log into apps. But just because a device is known doesn't mean it's in a secure state. In fact, plenty of the devices in your fleet probably shouldn't be trusted. Maybe they're running on out of date OS versions, or maybe they've got unencrypted credentials lying around.
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Levi C. Maaia (00:16:02):
Sure, yeah. If we can bring up the second, second page of the slides I brought over. Give you kind of a overview of what I'm talking about. So I'm located in Santa Barbara, California, which is about a hundred miles north of la And here's a graphic that shows that the Santa Cruz Island, which is down at the bottom of the screen there, and the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club has facilities on eight sites around Santa Barbara County. So we've got them on mountaintops, we've got them at the American Red Cross. We've got two club stations that are for members to operate radios in. And one of them's down in the city of Carpenteria, the other one's in downtown Santa Barbara. And each of these sites sort of has a has a, a specific purpose and they have assets at them that allow us to support our amateur radio activities as well as data gathering activities.
And in a large part, we're using that RTL SDR and a Raspberry Pie to gather data off of the air. So what we can do is we can see where aircraft are, we can see where ships are. And so I'll bring this up to people and they say, well, what does the radio club do? And I'll say, well, we can track aircraft. And they say, well, I can do that with my phone, say, but where do you, do you think your phone's getting that information? The phone isn't receiving it directly from the aircraft beacons around the region, it's actually going through third party servers and sometimes gets delayed or, or whatnot. When we're picking it up directly off the air, we're getting live information. So when we see that there's an aircraft over, let's say fire that's in the Santez Mountains behind the city here, we know that that aircraft is there at that moment because we're receiving that signal live.
And we have received sites that are strategically located in places so that we can see with radio signals, we can actually see into the valleys and into these canyons. So unfortunately here in Southern California, we have fire season, which has become an all year event. And as a result of this system, we're able to see what's going on where, when, with these firefighting acti, aerial fire firefighting activities. And it's been a real help to our members to be able to be aware of what's going on. We have folks who live in the mountains and they can go on and they can see, okay, I can see firefighting aircraft or approaching this hotspot over here. It's, it's it's become something that people have gotten interested in because of, let's say, an emergency activity and then they realize, Hey, this tech is really cool, and they take a deep dive and just kind of geek out on it.
So if you go to the next page, which is slide three, you can see some of the agencies that actually rely on the data that the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club uses around the region. So it's yeah, it's, it's a lot of fun. And I, I think one of the things I wanted to talk a little bit about was how we actually accomplish that with open source and how this, like vibrant community has grown up for people who are interested in doing these different activities, like using a raspberry pie and an RTL S D R. A lot of times there's images out there you can download, throw it in a raspberry pie. And the cool thing about that is it, if you make a mistake, if you're not totally proficient with Linux, you can always nuke the card and start over again. It's not like you have to reinstall or go through all of the pans of of, of setting up the operating system for the first time. So it, the raspberry pie and the open source architecture really make these what would be complicated activities. Something that's like really accessible to the everyday person who may not be fully proficient with, with Linux command line programming, coding, all that kind of stuff.
Doc Searls (00:19:45):
So I, I'm wondering, do they like all these different agencies that you you you're a symbiote with in an open way, do they come to you? Do you go to them? Is it, you know, how, what's the, what's the convivial side of this thing and you know, where, where discovery happens? That's a big part of the way open source works too.
Levi C. Maaia (00:20:05):
So we're kind of doing it because we love doing it. People just wanna do it. We, we turn on a radio and we're able to receive the position of of a ship in the channel or an aircraft in the air. And it's just like, well, okay, that's fun and you move on to the next thing. But we quickly realized that there were these agencies who would find this data useful in that by supporting them, they could support us and we could create, like you said, a symbiotic relationship for our organization in there. So as an example, Scripps Institute in in San Diego, they're tracking whales and they're interested in where whales intersect with shipping corridors and shipping lanes. So they wanna see where the boats are, cause they know where the whales are. And if they can overlay that data on top of if they can overlay our data of ship traffic over their whale traffic, then they know where they collide and, and they can avoid that. So that's an example of, you know, we're taking our hobby or our, our geek interest and turning it into something that's useful for people so that they can save the whales.
Shawn Powers (00:21:05):
Now did you get any pushback about when the Elon Jet thing was happening? Because, I mean, this is the same sort of technology that was used to track, you know, his jet and there's, you know, the big kef fluffle on, on Twitter you know, privacy issues. And I know that like you can anonymize tail numbers and it, it gets deep. But my question isn't really about that. It's more did you take a hit as far as reputation goes or working with, you know, organizations? Are they less likely to want to utilize this information over concerns about, you know, being accused of, you know, being privacy, anti activist? I don't know what the word there I'm looking for is <laugh>, but did you get any blowback from that?
Levi C. Maaia (00:21:45):
Yeah, you know, usually I'm someone who's pretty privacy conscious and someone who advocates for privacy and for consumers particularly in, in a lot of forums. But I think in this particular case, especially with aircraft there's a system that was fully implemented just a couple years ago, years ago called A D S B, which is basically, rather than relying on active radar to track aircraft, A D S B is a G P SEN enabled beacon. That means that the aircraft is putting out its own position every second. So that's what we're receiving. And because the aircraft is transmitting its own position in the clear, the, it's sort of open source information, it's free information that's out there. If you can receive it, then it's yours to for the taking. And that's sort of become a little bit of the consensus, the, the kerfuffle, as you said about Elon's jet you know, it was, I think a lot of it was just sensationalization, Elon's jet's putting out its position.
It's tail number is known and if you're interested in tracking him, it's there, there are met methods, like you said, for obscuring your position and that sort of thing. But no for, to answer the, the, the first question you asked. No, we haven't really gotten any pushback from that. I think a lot of people realize that this information's out there, if you're in an aircraft, if you're, whether it's a commercial aircraft or a private aircraft that your, your position is being transmitted, military has ways of blocking it. I think the sheriffs and, and local law enforcement are turning their transponders off when it's sensitive when they're on a sensitive mission. But 99% of the time you can track most aircraft that you can see.
Shawn Powers (00:23:23):
Good. I I, I'm glad to hear that you haven't got any blowback because I mean, the, the whale example was the perfect lead in why we wouldn't want open source data to get sullied, you know, in the, you know, in the minds of people, you know, even the perception that it was improper to, to get that information. So that's, that is good to hear. That is good to hear.
Levi C. Maaia (00:23:43):
Doc Searls (00:23:45):
A couple interesting things. One, one is that you've got this a webcam and probably some other instrumentation going on out on Santa Cruz Island. And for people who don't, aren't familiar with Southern California Santa Cruz Island, like Catalina Island is the one of the channel islands that is actually settled by humans. But Catalina, I mean Santa, Santa Cruz Island is a huge island that's off the coast, but it's about 25 miles away. And it's kind of like this mountain ridge out there in the ocean and you're on top of that. And I have used that your camera there to look at ships going by, you know, cuz I can see them from our house. Our house is up in a hill overlooking Santa Barbara itself, but I'm like 20 something miles away. But I can get a closeup on it with your, with your, with your camera. And where I'm going with this though is well, lemme let me first visit. What, why did you put that out there? What else do you have out there besides the webcam?
Levi C. Maaia (00:24:42):
Sure. page six of the slides has a great picture of Diablo Peak on Santa Cruz Island. And that that particular site is really a crown jewel for the radio club because it's the tallest ocean island in the lower 48. So obviously Hawaii's got islands that are a lot bigger and so does Alaska. But this island is unique in that it's the tallest peak on an island off the coast. And we have had a, a telecommunication site there for a number of years, and it's sort of like going to the moon. I've been a couple times to it. We go by helicopter. The last time I was out, fortunately, got to ride on the county's Black Hawk helicopter, which was an amazing experience to get out there and be delivered by the fire department on the top of this hill.
But it's yeah, when you're out there, you've got two or three hours, it's a bit like a space walk. You realize that you forgot something and you need to make do with what's there. You don't have enough food for really much more than that and nor does the fire department want to come back for you. So you're there to, to accomplish your goal. And a couple years ago we went out and upgraded our camera to a to a high-definition camera. But the way we haul that information off that island, there's very weak cell phone signal out there is a, is a microwave data path. And that microwave data path points across the channel about 20 miles to downtown Santa Barbara. And we're able to haul the a d s DSB flight tracking information from there as well as a live, the live HD camera that you saw, and that camera can be controlled and you can look at things and you could, our, our eventual goal is to be able to marry it with this open source data. So when you click on a ship on the map, the camera can then zoom and focus right on that ship. Or if you know that there's a, an active fire, you can even look into the back country and track some of the aircraft visually based off of the flight tracking data. So
Doc Searls (00:26:35):
Yeah, I I've used it too also at night, look at the squid boats out there, there sometimes they're, and there's, there are times that that's legal, there are times that it's not, but there use very powerful lights to attract squid to the surface. And so it looks like there's a weird kind of little war going on out there. The, so there's a a site that I'm quite, I use a lot, it's not useful to me, it's just interesting called marine traffic.com,
Levi C. Maaia (00:27:03):
Doc Searls (00:27:03):
Yeah. And it is, it is endlessly a mine suck because it, to see what the marine traffic is is just huge. And, and every boat that can has a transponder on it is announcing where it is. Like every plane is announcing what and where it is. And but that's all open source data, is it not? I mean, this is all, I mean, they've aggregated it, they've done a wonderful job of putting it on a map and all that. But this is just stuff that is available to you or me too as well. Is that, is that part of what you guys work on and put together?
Levi C. Maaia (00:27:33):
Yeah, the, the marine traffic site is fed in a large part by what the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio call. Oh, does. Oh, that's cool. So we have, we have two sites. One of them is on top of San Nes Peak and that's about 4,000 feet above sea level. And that site can see, it feels like over the horizon, it's VHF instead of gigahertz microwave stuff that they're using in aircraft. It's an older system, it's been around for 20 or more years. So and very active. And yeah, because of the propagation characteristics of V H F, that has an in incredible range. And it also can show you when you get atmospheric propagation like ducting. So sometimes you'll see even well beyond the horizon because the V H F signal will travel in between, which is, which is essentially the troposphere or a duct inside of the atmosphere in the summertime in in particular,
Doc Searls (00:28:26):
Yeah, I, I've, I'm, I'm an old am am and fm and TV v d Xer from back in the fifties, sixties and seventies. And and Tropo it's called, it, it, it is, some of it's ducting and it's just basically the, the capacity of the dialectic, constant of the atmosphere goes up and it increases the bending properties of, of, of radio waves, especially VHF one s. So, and in fact, in Santa Barbara when that happens, TV and FM from San Diego and Tijuana comes in like a, like a local. And it plays havoc of course, with existing, with existing stations. This a station in Santa Barbara K Sbx K cbx, that sa San Lu Obispo turned off their Santa Barbara transmitter on 89.5 because K P B S from San Diego overwhelmed it most of the time. And most of that was due to, you know, tropospheric changes. They, now they're also people who report tropospheric stuff. Do you, do you deal in that where you're busy look, you know, monitoring the dielectric constant of atmosphere and that kind of thing? Or is that up to other agencies?
Levi C. Maaia (00:29:34):
So there are sites that do that. And one of the byproducts of all of this data being out there and all these signals out there that are reporting their position is that we can aggregate that data. When I say we, I mean hams at large, not specifically me or the, or our radio club, but we're part of feeding that data to this hive mind that can then analyze it and say, well, wait a minute, if this transmitter is located here, but it was received over here, then we know that there's a duck between these two places, or we know that there's some anomaly that's allowing this propagation to occur. So it, it's really kind of cool because now we have more sensors out there in the world to understand how the atmosphere works in a way that we've never understood in past. I mean, we, we knew that these sort of things existed like tropo inducting and and different atmospheric propagation characteristics of the ionosphere on high frequency signals. But now with computer and, and GPS added to it, we can really get a handle on exactly when and where that's happening.
Shawn Powers (00:30:36):
How, how is the data aggregated? I mean, you said it's not necessarily your, you know, your group, but is it a thing where multiple people pull data? I mean, it, it we're, I assume that all the people who are part of, like your group, for example, must combine or aggregate data somewhere by default, or is that not the case?
Levi C. Maaia (00:30:56):
So we aggregate some of that data with commercial services, some of it on our own. The A DSB data is aggregated on our website, SB wireless.org, and you can find maps that we are generating there, but we're also feeding some commercial services like FlightAware, and then there's other sort of more hobbyist groups that are doing these kinds of things. One cool site is called AP RS fi. And APRs is a automatic packet reporting system. It's a ham version of the things that we're talking about. It's ads dsb or ais, which is what ships are using. It's the ham version of that where hams have transmitter in a gp s in their vehicle or in their aircraft or any kind of personal transportation device, whether it be a backpack or, or, or anything of the sort. And they're reporting their position or their weather conditions.
Hams are putting it in weather balloons, which have gotten a lot of interest in the past few weeks here. But that's how hams are tracking these amateur weather balloons that they're sending up around the world is using a P R S. So when you zoom into Southern California, you'll see that there's a bunch of different dots on the map. Some of them have wx, which stands for weather station. Others might be in the shape of a car. It means it's probably located in someone's vehicle. And this data is exclusive to hands, and this is where a lot of this propagation stuff is happening. And there are websites that are analyzing the transmitter location, the receiver location, and then looking at, okay, if this traveled 200 miles, then we know that this is not normal and that there's probably some kind of tropo or ducting happening here. So the hams are the ones who I think are most in this. You won't find tropo analysis on flight aware.com or on marine traffic.com, but aprs.fi and the APRs system is where a lot of hams sort of geek out on atmospheric propagation.
Doc Searls (00:32:54):
So I <laugh>, I'm busy opening and closing tabs all over the place here, <laugh>, and so I, I know Sean has follow up to that. I have follow ups too, and you have a whole deck we'd like to go through as well. But first I have to let everybody know, this episode of FLOSS Weekly is brought to you by Bit Warden. Bit Warden is the only open source cross platform password manager that can be used at home, at work, or on the go and is trusted by millions, even our own Steve Gibson has switched over with Bid Warden. All of the data in your vault is end to and encrypted, and not just your passwords. Protect your data and privacy with bid warden by adding security to your passwords with strong randomly generated passwords for each account. Go further with the username generator, create unique usernames for each account, and even use any of the five integrated email alias services.
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Shawn Powers (00:36:01):
Yeah, so I, I've just been kind of non it, so I do not live near Santa Barbara. I live in northern Michigan but I'm surrounded by the Great Lakes with lots of shipping. So now I've been thinking about like, oh, I could actually like retrieve data, but the likelihood of actually finding a raspberry pie to purchase aside <laugh>. If, if I were to get like one of the, the doggle like mentioned and there was even a screenshot in the, the video a while ago and an appropriate antenna, what sort of data would I see? I mean, and would that be something you know, like I would actually see the, like map it to a map somehow? Would I have to feed data to another site? I mean, what exactly happens, you know, on the ground here in my office, what would I be looking at from the, the raspberry pie and like s d R radio?
Levi C. Maaia (00:36:52):
So the raspberry Pie typically can generate a map so you can overlay the data that's being received whether it's from ships or or from aircraft locally so that you, you can access it from a, a web browser on your land. So essentially it works like like an all-in-one solution and then you can decide whether or not you want to feed marine traffic or whether you want to feed a D S B exchange or flight aware or something like that. So, you know, even people who, who don't live near the water or the coast or, or the Great Lakes, they can pick up aircraft almost anywhere in, in the world pretty much. And and that information would be able to be seen locally without, without much effort. So it's, it's well researched and done before and, and there's images out there for the pie or other Linux-based devices that you can load and, and view
Shawn Powers (00:37:44):
Because I, yeah, I might wanna try that. So last summer for example, there was a big shipping boat that for some reason came into Grand Traverse Bay, or I'm sorry, little Traverse Bay, which is what I live on here in in the tip of the pinky finger of Michigan. If you look at the map of Michigan and like in town, nobody knew why it was there, even what it was or what was going on. And this seems like probably could have in pretty short order identified what the boat was. And that just fascinates me. So yeah,
Levi C. Maaia (00:38:12):
I might, I haven't played I haven't played with it much, but there's a a few different hats out there for the raspberry pie that that use ais. So, you know, if it's something you want to do a deep dive on, look for ais and open source and there's a bunch of different kind of projects and hardware and software. We've used the RTL SDR for a lot of the a d SB stuff for tracking aircraft, but there's other ways to do it. A lot of it, if not all of it is, is based off of open source technology, hardware and software.
Doc Searls (00:38:40):
Cool. I appreciate that. Thank you. Yeah, I just noticed that there's a, there's actually an r rtl sdr.com has a tutorial, cheap AIS ship tracking. There's, I mean, in the open source tradition, there's just a, an off lot of stuff out there. That,
Levi C. Maaia (00:38:58):
That site in particular is great. RTL sdr they have a blog there if you rtl hyphen sdr.com, they've got a tremendous amount of information on the, on the daily about what you can do with a, a dongo $20 dongle and a computer or a,
Doc Searls (00:39:14):
You know, it, it's interesting, I mean, when I was in the, it wasn't even a business. I mean, it was just when I was a a boy ham at that, you know, back in the Pleta scene I had an 80 meter antenna <laugh>, which was that long, right? Or half that long. Two quarter waves across two backyards, a 40 meter one that also did 15 meter. It, it's interesting that in the history of rf there was long wave, medium wave, which is we, you know, call AM and short wave and the shortest of short waves is very, very long compared to what everybody's using now and what's in your phone. And, and you were talking earlier about the sensitivity of these things that, that are doing stuff in software that used to be done in hardware. You know your, your FM radio is really good if it, if it gets like 12, you know, or less microvolts per meter of signal strength, which is like something like 12 db and, and your phone is good down to like minus one 10 tv.
It's like tiny, tiny, tiny fractions. And, and also, I know at least with phones, what used to be a problem with TV when you saw ghosts on your TV thing, there's just multiple paths for the same signal and, and sdr, any, even your phone, your phone's doing the same thing and inside your house ass looking at multiple signals and adding data on all those signals cuz it's just getting data. It's, it's, it's so much, it is so interesting to me how it's all changed and, but here's, here's an odd question. It's like, I'm wondering if antennas was just a huge part of this because n FM antenna, I mean, I could look at an antenna, I could tell what band it was for, you know mm-hmm. <Affirmative> by the length of it and the antennas in your phones. I don't even know what that looks like.
I know in the case of an iPhone, it basically gets part of the case. It's a little isolated part of the case and it's working on multiple frequencies up to five gigahertz and above. So how, how is the open source ham part of the world keeping up with all of this? Is that, I mean, when I was around a R R L, the American Radio Relay League was like the source and then there was I think Q S L or there was a, I'm trying to think of the name of a, of a magazine that was out at that time. What is there now? I mean, we're, you know, and I look around, I think this is overwhelming. There's so much stuff here. Where would I, where would I start if I wanted to like get gear and get, get little SD r and the rest of it? I obviously I could go to the S B A or C and all. You guys will help me <laugh>. Yeah, for sure. Do. Maybe I'll do that in May. <Laugh>
Levi C. Maaia (00:41:53):
Ham clubs are a great resource and Reddit has a, a subreddit called Amateur Radio, and that's sort of, they, I think in the description it says Reddit's Ham Radio Club or Reddit's Amateur Radio Group. And, you know, talking to people is really the best way, I think to get started finding people who are like-minded and, and Reddit's a great place to start. The people there are pretty welcoming. It tends to skew more experimental and less traditional. But they still honor the tradition of CW and tubes and all that. And if you ask a question about that, they won't, you know, they'll be just as polite to you and and knowledgeable as they would be about something modern. So I think it's a, it's a nice spectrum there. And a good group Q S T magazine is the publication of the
Doc Searls (00:42:36):
American's Right. Radio regulating, that's always been around qst.
Levi C. Maaia (00:42:39):
Yeah. Yeah. And
Doc Searls (00:42:40):
Yeah, and it's published by the A A L,
Levi C. Maaia (00:42:41):
It's published by the A R L. Yeah. it's a, it's a good resource to get started. It. They've made a concerted effort to to address the, the broad spectrum of interests with amateur radio operators from Morse code to FT eight and all the stuff in between. So, you know, as you were mentioning about different antennas and, and the ghosting and how do we resolve all that? And it got me thinking about like, what AI might actually do for reception. I mean, if you can analyze the data, if we're already able to pull signals out of the noise with the existing computing technology that we have today, imagine what AI is going to be able to do when it can analyze what we think is just noise and, and pull things out. We might, we might be revisiting SETI in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Doc Searls (00:43:27):
That's a, yeah, yeah. We lost a lot with Aris sibo. I'm looking at the, at our back channel, one of our back channel people is Santa Barbarian <laugh>, we may both know. For all I know says there are numerous amateur radio podcasters mm-hmm. <Affirmative> Ham Radio 2.0, ham Radio Crash course. And David Kassler. And and then there's Ham Nation, which used to be on twit. Yeah, we had a, we had a thing on twit. But the archives are probably still out there. But here, I mean, I had a question in my head. You got one quick, Sean, while I'm busy trying to find the one that I was looking at and the, well,
Shawn Powers (00:44:04):
My question I was actually more I know that you, you came on the podcast with things you wanted to cover, and one of our final questions at the end is, you know, did, did we, did you wish that we would've asked you something that we didn't? But I'm kind of curious, was there anything that you did want to cover while we still have actually a few minutes to go over
Doc Searls (00:44:21):
Stuff? Yeah, we have, we have about 10 minutes left. Yeah. Yeah.
Levi C. Maaia (00:44:23):
You know, we managed to squeeze in a lot of the things, and I'm glad that someone on the back channel mentioned YouTubers because there are a ton of amateur radio YouTubers that have some cool, and it would be, it wouldn't be a complete introduction if if we didn't mention that to, to folks. So yeah, check out the YouTubers, check out ham Nation, which has moved to YouTube. And I, I think that's a great, a great place also to get started. And I'm just looking through my slides. I think we've covered everything. You know the, the open source aspect of this is really important and I think there's a lot of overlap between hackers and open source enthusiasts and, and amateur radio operators. In fact, I think it's tomorrow make Magazine is having a like an online session where they're talking about the overlap between amateur radio and the Maker community because there is so much that that is shared dna.
Doc Searls (00:45:20):
Yeah. There, there's a I, I'm seeing it now and there's also on the back channel from Doug m who says he's wanting, he's wanting to find a, an a Makos M one client for RTL dash sdr. Mm-Hmm. I should add that NM two cuz I'm gonna have one of those pretty soon. But I have a lot of older Linux gear in the house in Santa Barbara, but I don't have, but I'm wondering how much dependency is there on having to have, like, say, an Intel based Linux box running, you know, a late distro or something like that?
Levi C. Maaia (00:45:57):
Depends on what you're doing. You know, historically Ham radio software has run on Windows and for a while people were trying to keep Windows XP running in order to run some of this legacy stuff. But in the past few years, I think there's been a lot more development for open source platforms for the Mac, for for Raspberry Pie. So there's actually a YouTuber I think it's KM four a c k who has a channel all about using the Raspberry Pie exclusively as the computer in your Hsh shack as the desktop Linux, Linux on the desktop in your shack. So I would say there isn't a necessity for you to have one particular kind of platform, one particular kind of hardware if you wanna get into ham radio,
Doc Searls (00:46:41):
You know, there, when I think about these dependencies something I, I'm putting in our chat, our, our private chat here, there's a thing called the Longly Rice model. And Longley Rice is a prop radio propagation model mostly used for hyvee low band vhf. But but it was like fair FM stations and low band and TV stations to predict actual coverage across terrain. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And but I, I'm bringing this up because when, when I first saw this at work and I wanted it so bad, it only ran on like old Windows machines. And and I'm wondering like just to bring up Longly Rice, is there anything like that that's now, I dunno if that even that, that hyphenated name makes sense is one that you know or not, but it, cuz it goes back to in 1968 I see here on Wikipedia, but is that, is that kind of stuff, I mean, is is that, I mean, do do, can you do predictive modeling before you set up? Like you go, you, you go to Diablo Peak, you go to Santa an S Peak, you go to LaMer Peak, which has now had all of the, the cable TV stuff stripped off of it. And then maybe the fire station is still there. But and, and look at, well, geez, we're, we're not gonna have loc sight here. We will have loc sight over there to, to see how that goes.
Levi C. Maaia (00:47:58):
Yeah. There are a number of web-based things that that can do that. I, I think the Canadian government had something like that for a while. I don't know if it's still available. I haven't used it in a bit, but yeah, an RF coverage calculator, something like that would I, I've seen a few of them online. I can't name one in particular that I, I would recommend. The other thing I think people, if they, if there's a takeaway that they might get from this is check out dx view.org and you can click between HF and VHF coverage and that kind of shows you what propagation looks like. So while it's not predictive, it's an analysis a little bit about, we were talking about before where you can see where these ducts are and it's it's analyzing this massive data set for for propagation characteristics.
Doc Searls (00:48:48):
So I, I'd like to jump, I mean, you, you've done so much in your life and you're not even an old guy, which is kind of amazing considering all the stuff that you do. So tell us about your, your, your filmmaking, because I think there's even even an open source aspect to that as well.
Levi C. Maaia (00:49:04):
Sure. Yeah. I just finished a film called Pathways to Invention and it's about 11 different invention teams across the US and sort of what it means to be an inventor to them and if they even identify as inventors. And some of them one of the takeaways I got from working on the project was we asked every inventor, you know when did you realize you were one? And one of them said, I don't think of myself as an inventor now. Or another one said, well, I didn't really think of myself as an inventor until I had to fill out the patent application and it said inventor's name. So my, my theory and, and take away from the whole project from start to finish was that we're all inventors. That we all have this power in our minds and in our hands to shape the world around us to create things and do things.
And, and that's very much part of the open source source ethos that if it doesn't exist, then I can make it. Or if something exists that's sort of like what I want, then I'm gonna shape that into exactly what I want. And so the, yeah, the film is, the film's sort of an inspirational empowering thing. It was funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which seeks to promote invention, especially in, in young people, so that they do identify as inventors, that they take the appropriate steps to get their inventions out there into the world. And that they recognize that they are living, breathing inventors and that inventors isn't a historical term that identifies people who aren't alive anymore.
Doc Searls (00:50:36):
So, so I remember when you were doing some of your early work in in Cuba, and it seems to me that what you saw there is how incredibly resourceful people can be when the conditions are not hospitable to it. People are rolling their own with everything. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, we are sort of familiar with people keeping cars from 1950s still running somehow. But I think it goes beyond that, doesn't it? I mean, in
Levi C. Maaia (00:51:01):
Doc Searls (00:51:02):
Levi C. Maaia (00:51:03):
This pro, the Pathways to Invention film grew out of a project that we had been working on pre pandemic that got really hampered by the pandemic and travel restrictions. That project making it in Cuba was to be about exactly what you, you said, and, and when I first went to Cuba. I, like many people were astonished by what people were able to do there with limited resources. And that this ingenuity existed in a way where people were determined to keep these cars running. Were determined to put the face of an iPhone six on the body of an iPhone five and just get it working so that they could get in communication with people, whether they could get transportation, whatever their needs were. They were meeting them with their own ideas and, and their own creations.
Doc Searls (00:51:54):
So as we we're getting down toward the close of the show, I want to talk to you a little bit about about history and the, sort of the arc of history here, because when I met you, you were still in the cable TV business. You had a, a f that rear thing, a family cable, television business in Rhode Island. What, what has happened? I mean, to me it's like we're p we're now paying nothing for cable because we don't have cable, although we get it on a cable. In our case here from from Xfinity, which is really Comcast and, but we're watching subscription stuff. We watch subscription stuff and, and even that is feeling almost retro at this point to me. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> I think it's kind of feeling exhausted, like Bill the, so, so where do you see that part of broadcasting going? Because you started out basically in the broadcast business, which is passive and you're very, very much in an active bro, not broadcasting, but RF business. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> now if is probably not a business, but it's to some extent I suppose. So what, what do you see as the, the big trend long, if you take sort of like the 50,000,
Levi C. Maaia (00:52:59):
Doc Searls (00:52:59):
That's it. View, if not wat view, <laugh>
Levi C. Maaia (00:53:02):
<Laugh>, 50,000 wat view. Yeah, the, it's such a tough question because things come along and they throw a wrench in what we think is going to happen. And I think chat, G P T and AI has has effectively done that. So what we, what I do know is that what everyone, what anyone is saying today, what the media landscape will look like in five years or 10 years is probably missing some big chunk of of the picture. I, I don't know. I don't know what's, what's, what's coming next. It seems like there is an opportunity for more user generated content that people are spending a lot of time in front of things like TikTok and YouTube in addition to the traditional media landscape. But I'm always reminded of the fact that AM broadcast radio is still around and people are still listening to it. And I think it was in the New York market where the, a, one of the AM stations, I think it was W A B C, actually received the highest ratings of all of the broadcasters in the market, FM included. So really
Doc Searls (00:54:02):
Levi C. Maaia (00:54:03):
On that. So it's like, okay, AM is still around and yet TikTok is around and all of these things sort of coexist for their audiences and people gravitate towards things. And I think media has a the news media have a, have a tendency to amplify the success or failure of something when in reality there's this broad spectrum of media that exists for consumption by a large variety of people and, and interest matters.
Doc Searls (00:54:32):
So I, I just checked the ratings and W A B C is definitely the top rated AM station in town, but it's got a, let's see, it's got a 3.9 right now. It's going up. But the interesting thing to me about it is that two things, one was their tower. They were, they're an original clear channel. Nobody else on this channel station in New York at seven 70 am it, it was a few blocks away from my house. It was the tower stood outside my bedroom window and we got it in the toaster. We got it on the TV when it was off <laugh>. I could hear it in the downspouts from the gutters cuz those were aluminum and they were vibrated by the RF coming off that tower. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And, and then when I, you know, we'd drive down to my cousin's house in North Carolina, like 10 hour drive and come in the middle of the night and they're playing it on a transistor radio there, same station.
And but ams close to sparks. I mean, it's, it, the, the wavelength is so low and long and it's so susceptible to interference from, from electronics there. There's not even am radios in in Teslas and other and other electric cars because it is just not feasible. So, but you're right, it's still around like the, the, the, the, the full, the full spectrum is there. I I really feel like we are really at a long liminal moment here between eras. I listened to a podcast yesterday about how the latest chat G P t or l l m or whatever it is passed the bar <laugh>, we cut a 90 on the bar exam <laugh>. Yeah. So
Levi C. Maaia (00:56:00):
If chat, if chat G P T has a hundred year run, like AM radio did then I, I'd say they're doing pretty good. <Laugh>.
Doc Searls (00:56:07):
Exactly. So, so is there anything we haven't, we haven't asked that you'd like us to cover at this point? Because they're pretty much there.
Levi C. Maaia (00:56:14):
Thank you so much for having me. No, I think we've covered it and you know, I hope people will, will check out some of those YouTubers who are doing thing good things in the ham radio sphere. Look at some of these open source projects. You don't need a license to listen and get involved
Doc Searls (00:56:28):
And, and quickly when we ask everybody at the end of the show, what's your favorite text editor in scripting language?
Levi C. Maaia (00:56:35):
Oh you know, I like text Made on the Mac. It's a goo editor. So I, I, I'm not up there with some, I I do use nano and whatnot in the command line when I have to, but I like text mate and scripting language. I'm starting to do more with Python, so I'm having fun with that and I think it's pretty powerful.
Doc Searls (00:56:56):
Well that is great Levi, thanks so much for coming on the show. I'm glad I buttoned hold you for this <laugh> and and I and I hope to see you next month when I'm back in town.
Levi C. Maaia (00:57:05):
Sounds good, doc. Thanks. And Sean, great to see you.
Doc Searls (00:57:09):
Sean, you're on mute. <Laugh>
Levi C. Maaia (00:57:11):
Doc Searls (00:57:12):
Better, better than being on drugs or fire <laugh>. It's true.
Shawn Powers (00:57:16):
I I I added just as much value I think <laugh>,
Doc Searls (00:57:20):
Shawn Powers (00:57:21):
You're good. No, I was just thanking him for for coming on the show. So yeah, the, the, in, the interesting part for me was the notion that you can listen without a license, at least here in the us that was something I wasn't sure about. But it's definitely a an easy way to get interested, right? I think that if you are fascinated by the stuff, it might be worth going through the the steps where you can actually you know, get a license and, and do some transmitting stuff. But being able to listen without, you know, being worried that you're doing something bad is, is cool
Levi C. Maaia (00:57:56):
Beacons, <laugh> that are flying over you. Yeah. It's all legal and you don't really need it to do anything other than mess around and, and get it working to to bring it up on your screen.
Doc Searls (00:58:07):
Well, thanks a lot Levi. This has been awesome having you on the show. I'll have to have you back when Ham Radio keeps moving forward.
Levi C. Maaia (00:58:13):
I'd be happy to, yeah.
Doc Searls (00:58:15):
<Laugh>, so Sean for going in this thing. Dry it. I think you did a good job.
Shawn Powers (00:58:20):
Oh, thanks. Yeah, no, I, it was one of those, so, you know, some of the shows you, you like to prepare a ton and you know, just know what you're talking about and some of the stuff today was one of the days where I was excited to be able to ask the questions that might make me seem a kind of dumb, but in a, in an accessible way, I hope <laugh>. Yeah. so yeah, it was, it was fun to, to learn instead of trying to pose questions about something that's not really my expertise. I was just here to learn and, and, and get interested. So it was great. Yeah.
Doc Searls (00:58:51):
I should say by the way on the back channel, awesome show today. Thank you Doc. Sean Powers, Levi and Prude and cha, great programs. Spectacular. There are three different responses. And a fourth one great subject matter philosophy, another one R t l dash s t r, number one Ang UV dash five R number two three, get licensed for profit <laugh>. I don't think so. It depends. So anyway, so, so anything to plug quickly? No, no, I, no, just learn everything <laugh>. Okay. All right everybody, we had to get to the, to, to post on this thing. Thank you so much. I have to, I don't think, I think we're still lining up next week. At worst we have, and this never worst is a round table, but I think we're still lining, lining up next week's guests. So cuz we shuffle 'em around and you know, they chess pieces. So we will have a good guest next week if, even if its are just ourselves <laugh>. So this is plus weekly. I'm Drs and we see you then.
Rod Pyle (00:59:52):
Hey, I'm Rod Pyle, editor-in-Chief, Ad Astra magazine, and each week I joined with my co-host to bring you this week in space, the latest and greatest news from the Final Frontier. We talk to NASA chiefs, space scientists, engineers, educators and artists, and sometimes we just shoot the breeze over what's hot and what's not in space books and tv. And we do it all for you, our fellow true believers. So whether you're an armchair adventurer or waiting for your turn to grab a slot in Elon's Mars Rocket, join us on this weekend space and be part of the greatest adventure of all time.