[aprssig] 20th century radio (was: APRS MileMark data base)

Bob Bruninga bruninga at usna.edu
Sun Apr 13 18:47:25 EDT 2008

Having said all of that, I am interested to hear what kind of APRS penetration other clubs have in providing "fully automated APRS support".

I know Baker-to-Vegas is probably the largest APRS tracked event in the USA.  But only say 1/3rd or less of the teams are tracked.  Does Ham radio ignore the rest?  For an event that large, probably so, but it is easy to DR a few of the most important other VIP teams that dont happen to have trackers, but that would be highly visible to the event organizers...

APRS will always be in the category of a technology demo "see what we could do if....".  unless operators approach the event with additional goals:
1) Put trackers on immportant moving assets *and*
2) Be prepared to track any *other important assets* by manual update when their position has changed.
3) Communicate logistics data where applicable
4) In ottherwords, take things off the voice net that can be sent via APRS, so that the voice net can be more responsive and flexible.

Its nice to show what we "can do", but better to then do more with what we have...  Bob, WB4APR

A perfect example of the problem in a nutshell! 

>> APRS operators need to get into the mindset 
>> that their job at their ARPS display is mostly 
>> as INPUT-OPERATORS, inputting objects about 
>> everything going on in the event area right now. 
> With GPS units as commodity items, I really don't 
> understand the emphasis on manual data entry.   

Because 95% of important things that impact an event and that people need to see, will never have APRS GPS gizmo's attached to them! 

> it's good to know how to do this, but the 
> reason we use machines (electronic or otherwise) 
> is to make work _easier_. 

No, providing real-world communications in support of events is not just about making our jobs easier, but to provide BETTER information than they currently have now about the situation.  Dreams about cute future gizmos does not provide results.  People showing up as volunteers ready to work are what provide results. 

> Likewise I use a GPS to enter my position 
> so I don't have to take time and effort to do so. 

That is all well and good.  But maybe the information needed at the event or situation has nothing to do with where you are.  But where you know other things are..  and those other things don't have GPS...  In my area, maybe 10% maximum of all volunteers that show up at these events or situatinos have any APRS abillity at all.  The other 90% don't.  Do we ignore them? 

> If a data entry system can be completely automated, 
> then we can get data consistently and reliably, 
> and not depend on the fact that Joe Ham happens 
> to be at the controls of his D7 trying to fumble 
> some numbers in via a numeric keypad. 

I have not seen any disasters or events or situatinos that have been completely automated.  And the ones that do are often the ones that fail completely, beucase all the whiz-bang promises of technology have a small glitch that brings them to their knees.  HAM radio really shines when it then comes to the rescue.   

ANd coming to the rescue often means manual entry of data and information.  The purpose of APRS is to make the collection and dissemination of that info more efficient than relying on voice nets.  Sure the more people we can get on APRS the better.  But it will never be much more than 10% of what is really needed.  So those 10% need to concentrate on reporting good relevant information about everything going on, not just themselves. 

> We _need_ to be able do things automatically, 
> preferably with unattended systems. 

Such automation assumes the task is well defined.  Providing emergency communicatisn support is rarely so well defined. 

> If I can integrate an electronic compass and GPS 
> with my DF unit, I can create DF objects 
> automatically, instead of the error-prone method 
> of manual entry. 

By all means do it.  APRS had automatic DF interefaces to ALL existing DOppler DF units since 1995.  Yet few of the APRS clones even included it, and still only 1 in 20 club members have any DF equiepment.  Fancy toys are just that.  They are not there when you need them, and since you can do almost as well with a mobile rig and HT and the gray matter between the ears, I'd rather have manual data from 100% of the people that heard an emergency signal, rather than no data at all because the shiz-bang automated DF gizmo was still a dream in someones future plans... 

> I just got home from the cubesat conference, 
> and one comment was to the effect of: why are 
> we still using ham technology for data transfer?   
> There have been no advances there in the 10 
> years we've been using it. 

Maxwell's equations have not changed since the 1800's.  Simplicity in risky systems usually wins out over complexity if absolute reliability is required.. 

> In this age of ubiquitous computing, APRS and 
> the rest of ham radio quite honestly appears 
> to be stagnant to the point of being dead. 
> The APRS network is defined by a 20 year old 
> TNC design for the data link layer... 

And so is the entire financial system of credit cards and point of sale terminals which I think is still using something like dial-up 1200 baud because it is quick, reliable, takes no tune-up complexity and handshaking, and just works fine for short data like credit card purchases over unreliable phone lines... 

> Digital hams need to understand that a new 
> way to use the keypad on a D7 is not 
> technological advancement. 

Tell that to the current billion people that are using TEXT MESSAGING from their cell phones keybads.  APRS has had the same text messaging for 15 years!  Why in the world are we not using it in the field? 

> New modulation techniques, higher data rates, 
> FEC, better protocols, etc. _are_ advancements. 
>   I haven't seen many of those. 

FEC would be nice, but what exactly about a LAT/LONG, a course and speed, and a few bytes of text message would benefit from "better protocols", "Higher data rates (but shorter range)", and better modulation (at higher cost) provide? 

> The rest of the world is in the 21st century 
> - let's set out sights a little higher so we 
> can join them. 

That is easy, go to the cell phone store and buy the latest gizmo.  Everything you want is there.  But that is not ham radio.  Ham radio is there to provide a basic communicatiosn service when all that junk fails (and an experimental playground for testing new ideas).  And the more fancy and automated it gets, the more vulnerable and disasterous it becomes when there is a glitch (though it is more fun for the ham radio inventors).. 

Ham radio CAN keep up and even lead with new technology and new ideas, but only a very narrow and small subset.  Those experimenters greatly benefit from the resource of ham radio. But the other 95% of Ham radio operators, the ones that show up to help out with comms as needed, will never have that technology until an entire generation passes.  In the mean time, I just want operators to use what they have in the best way possible while we wait for the inventors to bring something new... 

No way can APRS or ham radio keep up with the consumer toys.  But just for that same reason, we are GUARANTEED to always  be able to communicate when they fail.  And that is what we should be practicing as operators. 

Again, I am all for adding bell's and whistles to APRS.  But that is not the point of this thread.  The point of this thread was to the OPERATORS to learn to USE what they have effectively while they wait for the wunder-kids to bring out something new. 

Bob, Wb4APR 

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