March 29, 2016

iPhone MVNO MMS issues - Ting

I love Ting as a cellular provider.  Overall their service is great, but the only issue I have (other than T-Mobile's low level of service in my town), is that every time I update the iOS on my iPhone, MMS messaging stops working.  SMS works fine, but the MMS stuff (pictures, video, etc) requires specific settings.
I just updated my iPhone yesterday and boom, it drops the configuration.  I'll list the instructions, just for my own gratification, this is just a copy and paste from the Ting link above:

The following steps will help you get your GSM device up and running with Ting.

NOTE:  Currently Wi-Fi calling and visual voicemail are not available for iOS devices on our GSM network.

1. Reset APN to Default

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap Cellular
  3. Tap Cellular Data Network (if this setting isn't visible then the phone is not unlocked the previous carrier needs to be contacted to unlock the device)
  4. Scroll down to Reset Settings and tap

2. Add Ting Data & MMS APN Settings

Note: After upgrading to iOS 9, you will need to re-enter the MMS APN settings for your iPhone. For more information, click HERE

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Make sure that Wi-Fi is disabled.
  3. Tap Cellular.
  4. Make sure that 3G Data is enabled.
  5. Tap Cellular Data Network. If you don't see this setting, then the phone is not unlocked and you need to get in touch with your previous carrier.
    • Tap the APN field
    • Enter wholesale
    • Leave the Username and Password blank
    • Tap the APN field
    • Enter wholesale
    • Leave Username and Password blank
  8. Under MMS:
  9. Under PERSONAL HOTSPOT (Note: this field does not appear in newer versions of iOS, so if you do not see it, skip this step):
    • Tap the APN field
    • Enter wholesale
  10. Tap the back icon on the top left of the screen until you're back on the main Settings screen in order to save the APN settings.
  11. Press the Home button to exit to the main screen.
  12. Restart your device and wait for it to find the Ting network--this may take a minute or so
  13. Check that you're able to browse the Internet in Safari and that you can send a picture/video/group message.


MMS Messaging Support

Picture, video and group messaging (or mms messaging) will all work on iOS devices on the GSM network, however it will be limited in the following ways:

  • Picture, video and group messaging cannot be enabled or disabled through the control panel. It is enabled by default.
  • MMS or group messaging settings may not show up on your device and can't be updated or changed.
  • Group MMS messages may be received as SMS messages.
  • Group messages sent to both Android and iOS devices will show up on as individual messages for all recipients and responses will come back in separate message threads.

July 30, 2015

The 3rd time is a charm..

I tried using the Glyde service twice in the past with pretty bad results.  The first time the seller pulled out.  In that case Glyde gave me a $50 credit towards a new purchase.  I tried once again with the same result.  They were nice enough to give me a full refund, but it really wasted my time.  Since then I have purchased used phones through eBay and Amazon with their own list of horrible problems, so I decided to try Glyde again after not finding what I wanted through Gazelle.  All the time I spent trying to track down a good deal is probably valued at the same rate as a new iPhone 6s, but I wouldn't have the same sense of accomplishment.  



March 30, 2015

Everything changes but the number

In the past I have written about the horror of porting numbers between landline/voip/wireless carriers.

Recently we've had some changes at home and my wife is changing her employer.  She's had the same cell phone number from her job for 14 years and they were nice enough to let her keep it.  I'll spare you the details, but it took about three weeks to get everything worked out.  This is what I learned from the process:

  1. Porting a phone from a business account to a personal account is a pain, since they never want to share the Tax ID or account number.  
  2. Glyde might have great prices online, but beware, as three of my transactions were cancelled due to the seller not completing the deal.  A waste of time.
  3. You can purchase a used/refurbished phone that has a Clean ESN, but if the phone isn't unlocked from the carrier and the account balance from the previous owner is not settled you are pretty screwed.  I was lucky that the Amazon seller was nice enough to provide a replacement phone, since technically they had sold me exactly what was stated.  The back and forth wasted a lot more time.
  4. I use Ting as my carrier and spent a lot of time on the phone with them trying to work out this situation.  While it did take a while, they went above and beyond to help me resolve the situation.  Since they are a MVNO, they have their hands tied by Sprint and T-Mobile in what type of phone issues they can resolve or what they can put on the network. 

December 07, 2014

Amazon Firestick - Part 2

After singing the praises of the Firestick in my last blog post, I've had some more experience playing with the unit.  Last night was the first time I've had some network delay issues with 1080P content, but nothing really terrible.

The big thing for me was looking at apps to do local streaming.  After doing a few google searches, I found that while XBMC is not an option from the Amazon store, you can "Side Load" the application.  While not seamless, running XBMC on the firestick is pretty amazing.  Streaming local 1080P content over my local network works like a charm.  If you are looking to do this, read these links.  As of the next release XBMC will be officially known as Kodi.

Using this method, you can load a lot of other APK file packaged applications beyond what I've mentioned.

March 26, 2014

We Started Nothing

So, after a decade or so of working in jobs that provided cell phones with personal use policies, I am now at a place that doesn't provide a cell phone.  That's not a huge deal, as it is nice to be off the night time and weekend on-call list. 

With a growing family, I need to be connected when I'm out and about, as well as keeping costs under control.  I looked into the major carriers, and while a basic phone wasn't bad, to go up to a smartphone was cost prohibitive for something that is used sparingly.  

After doing some research I found that a bunch of MVNOs that run carriers on Sprint's network and had decent pricing, but I decided to go with Ting, the wireless brand of TuCows.  I looked into using Glyde to buy a phone to bring over, but didn't find what I wanted for the price I wanted to pay, so I bought a phone on eBay.  It is a little riskier, but it turned out fine.  Fifteen minutes after I received my phone through the mail, I had my new iPhone up and running with voice, text and data on Ting's network.

On the bad side there are a few things.  There are limits on which handsets that you can bring over.  I was able to bring an iPhone 4s onto Ting during their beta program, but you can't just use a CDMA handset that is meant for Sprint and bring it online.  That is a risk if you buy on eBay or any other service, as if the phone doesn't have a "Clean ESN", you might not be able to use it on the network.  The other issue is coverage.  Sprint has terrible coverage.  I'm not the first to say this and I'm not complaining.  The voice and text portion of the service roams seamlessly onto Verizon's infrastructure in my area and I have had no problems with that portion of the service.

What doesn't roam is the data plan.  This is why the service is less expensive and could be a deal killer for some people.  In my case all the places that I need data indoors, I also have WiFi and fast Internet, so I never even use up my data plan.  When I am outside, Sprint's data service is pretty decent, but nothing to write home about.

In my first month of service, my iPhone bill was $18.20.  $17.00 in usage plus $1.20 in taxes and regulatory fees.  So, for below the price of any of the other carrier's minimal data plan, I was able to get voice, text and data service.  Hard to beat.

It goes without saying, but I will say it again, any public post that I make is a personal opinion and not the views of my employer and should not be seen as an official endorsement by any organization. 'Nuff said. 

And yes, the title is an obligatory reference to The Ting Tings, better known to the parental crowd as "the people who sing that birthday song on Yo Gabba Gabba"

February 17, 2014

Feature Wishlist for Chromecast

It is official.  I'm sold on Chromecast.  The whole KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!) concept seems to work out well.  Things are smooth with all the officially supported clients.  I have a 95% success rate with the Casting extensions running on the x86 release of Chromium on Linux.  For software that isn't officially supported, it really isn't that bad.

I hate to whine about something so simple, but this is the Internet and that is how we do things here.

Things that I would like added to the Chromecast in order of importance.

  • Ethernet Jack.  I know, I know, the future is wireless.  Tell that to my neighbor with a 2.4Ghz phone from a decade ago.  Things are streaming great and then *splat*.  Regular Youtube content just buffers, but it breaks the DRM on the content streaming from the Google Play Store.  Which brings us to...
  • Dual Band WiFi.  Actually this is probably cheaper than adding wired Ethernet.  In my neighborhood that 5GHz band is wide open and the 2.4GHz band is heavily utilized.  I can imagine in a high density housing situation like an apartment complex, dormitory or condo that it would be much worse.  
  • Ability to use local (network) media.  This is probably the most requested feature and I can see why you aren't giving it up easily.  The dongle is a loss leader for folks to use your services.   Even if you limited something like this to Google controlled hardware like Chromebook, I'd probably buy your hardware just to allow me the convenience.  I know you can cast a whole screen including the audio (which is in beta), but I'd rather have an experience similar to what Songza provides for the Chromecast, but with my local media. 
  • Application Partners that don't require a login.  I get it, Netflix, HBO to Go, Hulu Plus and the like are subscription services.  Pandora does both subscription and free models, but why should I have to authenticate with their site to cast their service to the Chromecast.  Songza has it right. has it right.  
  • Application Wrappers for Interested third parties.  An example would be a streaming audio site like SomaFM, which I enjoy.  If an API wrapper were to be created that would allow anyone who is a Google Adsense vendor to cast various application from their site, with Adsense taking 1/2 or 1/3 of the screen real estate for ads and the rest for the customer, it would be a win-win situation.  They would get revenue from the advertising, you (Google) wouldn't have to host the service or pay for the bandwidth and the content can be governed by the current rules of Adsense that doesn't allow it to be used for the purposes of explicit content. 
  • A bit more security.  You know that these things are going to be used to connect large projectors to laptops at conferences and conventions, right?  You made such a neat little product and people won't be able to help themselves.  God help the Hello Kitty convention that has some pervert blasting Goatse images or renaming the units with the iPhone client to objectionable words that get displayed on the idle screen. 
  • Digital Audio Out.  A minor thing.  Not all of us have upgraded our HiFi systems to do HDMI switching.  I take an optical output from my tv and run it into my surround sound setup.  Either a coax or toslink/fiber SPDIF output would be great, but you guys are probably saving that for some sort of set top box that will make us forget GoogleTV.

Most likely your marketing guys have already figured out this stuff, but if not feel free to bring Google Fiber to my street as compensation.

February 02, 2014

Chromecast on Linux

I was recently pondering purchasing a Google Chromecast unit to mess around with at home.  The price is so low that they are almost giving them away.  I assume that is so Google can harvest your viewing habits and resell them, but that is another story.  Originally I was thinking about using a Raspberry Pi unit with XMBC to do media streaming, but as cool as it is, I don't have the time to install, configure and train my family... even if it is way cooler and would give me way more geek cred.  While Minimum System Requirements for using the Chromecast includes most of the normal equipment to be found on my home network, it doesn't support Linux.  Now, thanks to the best (and in depth protocol) explanation from Paul Donahue on the AskUbuntu forum, I know that I'm covered with my Linux devices at home.  Now all is right with the world again.  Thanks again Paul, you made my day a little better.  Now if Google would officially support it as a product and not a beta, that would be cool.

Screen Capture Edit/Addition: I actually wrote this a few weeks ago but never ended up publishing it.  Since then I've bought two Chromecast units to hook up to various TVs around the house.  I would rather have a direct Ethernet connection to them, but they never skip and you really can't beat the price.  I mainly use Ubuntu 13.10 with Chromium to cast content to the Chromecast units, but my kids use the iPad client and it is seamless.  Sometimes less is more.







Continue reading "Chromecast on Linux" »

October 24, 2011

Off the grid

Sometimes you need to get off the grid and have a bit of privacy.  With the proliferation of phones that don't have removable batteries, it becomes fairly difficult.  Many other technologies such as RFID are embedded in identification documents and credit cards.  It is easy to wrap up these items in aluminum foil or in RF blocking Mylar bags, but you risk being unfashionable or as being branded a paranoid lunatic.  To control when and where your wireless devices can talk, a company called MIAmobi has created a fairly ordinary looking pouch that has a silver foil lining that blocks RF.  The company's website does not state specifics on the RF attenuation or what the frequency range that it blocks.  A similar, less expensive, less fashionable bag can be had from Ramsey (yeah, the guys who make the FM transmitter kits), which is designed for cell phone forensic testing.




May 06, 2010

Before it was "The Shack"

When I was growing up, one of the things that I loved to read was the Radio Shack catalog.  It was full of wonderful electronic gadgets and parts.  These items branded with Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Archer or just Radio Shack, were never deemed the highest quality and NEVER was on the high end of user interface design, but always did what it needed to do. From 1939 to 2003, Radio Shack produced a catalog of what was available through their chain.  Not everything was stocked in their stores, but anything in the catalog was available in a few days at any of their stores if you special ordered.  A fellow by the name of Mike has meticulously scanned and indexed all of those catalogs and put them online for your viewing pleasure.  I found a ton of things in here that reminded me of my childhood.

Radio Shack Catalog 1939 - Cover 

Before Radio Shack re-branded itself as "The Shack" and changed their focus on selling cellular phones, it was a place where you could buy a wide array of electronic components from individual resistors to stereo receivers.  I used to head out to the Radio Shack with my Mom to pick up replacement vacuum tubes for our little black and white travel TV as well as take advantage of their battery of the month program.  A lot of things about my childhood were Radio Shack branded.  My first radio was a Flavor Radio in Blueberry (1979 Catalog, Page 170).  My first foray into playing with electronics was with a 50 in One Project kit (1983 Catalog, Page 133).  I could go on and on about random stuff I purchased there over the years or drooled over.  Even when everyone would refer to the place at "Rat Shack" or "Radio Crap" or whatever other childish term, you still knew that in a pinch you could buy the part or cable there.  And it would work.    Good times...



January 04, 2010

BART Tube Cellular Update: Awesome!

After posting about the cellular upgrade in the BART Transbay Tube, I decided to check out the service for myself.  Using a Sprint 3G data adapter, I was able to keep a decent signal from the West Oakland BART station to the Embarcadero BART station in San Francisco without dropping a connection.  What is somewhat ironic here, is that the service under the water was better than in Lake Merritt Station, which is station closest to BART HQ!

BART Cellular Readings at West Oakland

BART Cellular Readings in the Transbay Tube

BART Cellular Readings in the Transbay Tube

BART Cellular Readings at the Embarcadero Station 

December 22, 2009

Huzzah! Cell coverage under the Bay on BART

It has finally happened.  Oh happy day! Four wireless carriers turned on their cellular coverage in the BART Transbay tube, which goes under the San Francisco Bay.  Now people will have more ways to annoy each other while hurtling at 70 miles per hour under water of the bay.  With the recent issues with the Channel Tunnel in the UK/France, it is nice to have a bit more communications infrastructure in place for a piece of mind.

(Photo Courtesy of Paul Wicks on Flickr)


September 03, 2009

Cheapskate Wi-Fi signal boost

If you travel on the cheap and are trying to find a free Wi-Fi hotspot to get on the internet, you might want to check out this website.  Most Wi-Fi antennas are very inefficient and are designed for a short range of a few hundred feet.  On the Free Antennas website, there are several templates to allow you to add inexpensive reflectors to your Wi-Fi antenna to increase the signal strength without any major electrical or structural modification of your equipment.   


(Photo Courtesy of IvyMike on Flickr)

This is much easier to travel with than the Wifi Wok solution.


(Photo Courtesy of J.D. Abolins on Flickr



September 02, 2009

Quick and Dirty SMS

How do you send a quick SMS message to someone without trying to figure out the email gateway for some random provider?  There are a bunch of different solutions, but a one stop (and free) solution is GizmoSMS.  They provide access without requiring accounts, but also have the ability to add your number to a blacklist if you are being annoyed through the service.  Of course this appetizer is the bait to get your to upgrade to their premium service, but the free service works great in a pinch.

The user interface is really simple.  Phone number, message and a captcha are all you need.


Even though the message is one-way, you get a confirmation that the message was transmitted to the network without error.  Not bad for a free service.


The selection of countries to send free SMS messages to is very extensive.




April 27, 2009

IED removal, FCC approved

What's this?  Just your friendly neighborhood non-jamming, FCC approved bomb neutralizer unit.  While wideband RF jamming units can often time cause IED and other explosive units to detonate, California based Protective Systems provides a unit that can safely neutralize ordinance.     



April 15, 2009

Free resources for secure web browsing (in insecure locations)

If you travel often, this scenario pops up often:

You get free access to the internet at a hotel or coffee shop, but worry about people sniffing the connection.  

Even when you use SSL, it is a pain that people can do a traffic analysis on your surfing, attempt a session hijack based on your credentials, or even worse, act as a man-in-the-middle and log every bit of your surfing.  Many corporate entities require the use of a VPN to tunnel all internet traffic through the headquarters network connection, so they can filter traffic the way they want to and do their best to protect your system from malware and probing.

If you are trying to be secure on a budget, one solution that I've worked with requires three packages.

Using this scenario, you install Privoxy, which works as a personal web proxy, on a *nix or Windows on a machine that resides at your home or office.  That same machine will also need to be running a ssh server.  Depending on your network architecture, you'll either need a firewall rule to allow port 22 (ssh) through to that machine, or if you have a NAT in place, you'll need a PAT or pinhole to that system through the firewall(If you choose to use a port other than 22, you will receive far less port scans and hacking attempts on your system.)

When configuring Privoxy, you'll want to select and some high port such as 8000 or 8888 to connect to Privoxy through.  In the version I have, they use the default of port 8118.  The reason that you would use the loopback address, is that it will only accept traffic from inside the machine.  If you have the SSH server on another machine, you'll want to use the address of one of the ethernet adapters.  On many Linux installations, you'll be editing /etc/privoxy/config

#        a snippet from /etc/privoxy/config
#        listen-address


At this point you should have the firewall configured, a ssh server running, and Privoxy up and running.

The next step is to connect to your ssh/privoxy machine over the internet.  In this example we'll use putty under win32, but you could be on OS X or Linux and use ssh at the command line to do tunneling.


Once you have that ssh connection up and running, you'll need to connect your web browser to the proxy server.  On your side you'll be using your own ip loopback adapter at  Normally you would NOT want to check the box that states Local Ports accept connections from other hosts, unless you are trying to provide proxy services to a large amount of machines through one ssh connection.

You can manually setup a proxy server in Firefox or IE, but I prefer to use Foxyproxy, which allows you to change settings on the fly, or also do proxying based on specific traffic rules.  So if you want to visit without going through the proxy, but only go to through the proxy, you can do that.  If you have limited upstream bandwidth on your privoxy host, this may be a good solution.

Configuration of Foxyproxy is fairly simple.  Once the add-on is installed, you'll want to create a new proxy entry.  That entry will point towards port 8888 (or whatever port you have chosen).  Once it is saved, you can turn the proxying on and off by using the right mouse button on the menu on the lower right hand side of Firefox.  You can create some fairly complex patterns for web surfing, but that is beyond the scope of this posting.  





So, what do we get from this?  If someone is sniffing your home connection, you are out of luck.  But if you configure the connection as I have stated, every web site you surf to, will be tunneled through your ssh connection, then proxyed by the privoxy machine.  If you have other applications that run outside of your browser, you may have to reconfigure them to point to the localhost proxy on your machine so that they will be secure as well.  So, someone sniffing your connection will just see ssh traffic from your machine to that host and nothing else.  Even if someone is running a rogue WiFi AP so they can perform and man-in-the-middle attack, all they will get is a bunch of garbage from your ssh connection.

April 14, 2009



I was on travel last week and needed to stay connected to the Internet.  I'm usually pretty cheap when it comes to broadband and try to get free WiFi or stay in a hotel that provides internet access with the room.  This trip I wasn't going to have that kind of luck, so I looked into a few different roaming WiFi providers.  I had heard of Boingo before, and looked into it once again.  They have slashed their access charges for unlimited service right to the bone.  They have an unlimited plan for $9 per month that rides on several other service providers networks, including T-mobile.  Yes, so instead of paying T-mobile's monthly plan or for a day of access, you get a month of access through Boingo.  For me this give me quite a lot of value, as both airports I am flying through and the hotel I am staying at are all served by T-mobile.  The unlimited access at Starbucks is pretty sweet as well.  By unlimited they mean 3000 minutes a month, which is really quite a deal.  Who is going to run Bittorrent at the airport?  Overall, the bandwidth and performance was great.  I was able to connect with both 802.11b/g and 802.11a at both SFO and LAX, which is impressive.  

February 28, 2009

Who watches the watchmen (or your baby monitor)

Recently I had a discussion about video baby monitors with a neighbor.  I mentioned that we had bought a unit that digitally encrypted the video and audio stream, so that creepy people would not be able to watch our baby sleep.  They seemed to think that it wasn't such a big deal and that you would need a lot of equipment to spy on your neighbors.  To rebut this I have two items that are freely available in the United States for a minimal cost.  Both of these items can be outfitted with higher gain antennas to allow for the long range monitoring and reception of video signals.


  • The discontinued ICOM R3 scanner with Video (About $400 USD on eBay)
  • The AOR-STV Unit.  At approximately $900 USD, this thing can view any NTSC or PAL nannycam, baby monitor, backup camera, or analog wireless camera in production. 


AOR STV unit 

February 21, 2009

Digital TV Conversion and what you can do to help

I just received this today in the ARRL weekly e-mail newsletter.  While it is targeted at Amateur Radio operators (Hams), it has a lot of great debugging tips for technical types wanting to get their friends and family back watching over the air television.



Even though the mandatory conversion date for television stations to
switch from analog signals to digital has been delayed by four months
<>, hams
are still assisting the FCC and their communities by providing technical
support to those who need assistance
<>. Although many TV
stations won't turn off their analog signals until the new deadline, the
law allows stations to apply to switch on the original date -- February
17 -- or any time before June 12.

According to the FCC, there are nearly 1800 full-power televisions
stations in the US. Of these, the FCC said that "220 will have
terminated their analog signals before Tuesday [February 17] and another
421 will terminate their analog signals on Tuesday [February 17] before
11:59 PM, for a total of 641 stations, or about 36 percent of all
full-power stations nationwide." The FCC has posted a list of stations
making the conversion on or before February 17 on their Web site

ARRL Media and Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP, said he has
been getting e-mails and phone calls from Amateur Radio operators
concerning the digital TV conversion, now set to take place on Friday,
June 12. "People are asking what's happening with the DTV conversion --
especially now that it's been delayed -- and wondering what we as hams
can do to help," he said. "There has been considerable confusion
concerning the extension of the date, but the role of Amateur Radio is
simply to be helpful to the people in our communities."

Pitts advises those hams that are helping to provide technical
educational assistance keep in mind the following troubleshooting
pointers, provided by the FCC:

* Check Your Connections
Check that your digital-to-analog converter box (or digital television)
is connected properly. Make sure that your antenna is connected to the
antenna input of your digital-to-analog converter box (or digital
television). If you are using a digital-to-analog converter box, ensure
that the antenna output of the converter box is connected to the antenna
input of your analog TV. If you are unsure of the proper connections,
refer to your owners manual.

Make sure that your components are plugged in and turned on.
If using a digital-to-analog converter box, tune your analog TV to
channel 3. You should see a set-up menu or picture on your screen. If
you do not see this, re-check your connections.

* Perform a Channel Scan
Digital-to-analog converter boxes (and digital televisions) have a
button -- usually on the remote control -- that is labeled "Set-up" or
"Menu" or some similar term. Press that button to access the set-up
menu. Using the directional arrow buttons on your remote, scroll to the
option that allows you to perform a "channel scan." The channel scan
will search for digital broadcast channels that are available in your
area. If you are unsure how to do a channel scan, please refer to the
owners manual for your converter box or digital television (whichever

Once the channel scan is complete, you will be able to tune to the
digital channels received by your antenna.

* Adjust Your Antenna
As many hams know, small adjustments to an antenna can make a big
difference; digital TV is no exception. If you have an indoor antenna,
try elevating it and moving it closer to an exterior wall of your home.
After adjusting your antenna, perform another channel scan to see if
your reception has improved.

While adjusting your antenna, it may be helpful to access the "Signal
strength meter" on your converter box or digital television set to
determine whether your adjustments are improving the signals' strength.
You can probably find your signal strength meter via the "Menu" function
on your remote control, and your owners manual will provide detailed
information on how to perform this function. Remember to do another
channel scan after you have adjusted your antenna.

Make sure that you are using an antenna that covers both the UHF and VHF
bands and that is connected properly (depending on what channels are in
use in your area).

Late last year, the FCC requested assistance from the ARRL in providing
educational support to local communities regarding the digital TV

"I really appreciate the willingness of the ARRL to actively participate
in helping Americans with the transition to DTV and your helpful
suggestions," said George Dillon, FCC Deputy Bureau Chief for Field
Operations (now retired). "The DTV transition will be an historic moment
in the evolution of TV. Broadcast television stations can offer viewers
improved picture and sound quality and new programming choices.
All-digital broadcasting also will allow [the FCC] to significantly
improve public safety communications and will usher in a new era of
advanced wireless services such as the widespread deployment of wireless
broadband. Our goal is to engage the amateur community on a cooperative
basis to help with the DTV outreach and to educate consumers."

The FCC said that it is seeking to ensure that even where all or most
stations in a market are terminating analog service, consumers who are
unprepared for the switch will continue to have access to critical local
news and emergency information. In a statement released by the FCC, the
Commission "examined each market in which stations planned to end analog
service to try to ensure that at least one affiliate of the four major
networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- would continue broadcasting in
analog after February 17. Many had such a station, but in those
instances in which there would be no top-four affiliate remaining in a
market, the FCC attempted to ensure that analog local news and emergency
information would remain available -- generally through what is being
called 'enhanced analog nightlight' service. Under 'enhanced analog
nightlight,' the top-four affiliates must keep at least one analog
signal on the air to provide programming that includes, at a minimum,
local news and emergency information"

FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps said that the Commission is "trying to
make the best of a difficult situation. While this staggered transition
is confusing and disruptive for some consumers, the confusion and
disruption would have been far worse had we gone ahead with a nationwide
transition on [February 17]."

For more information on the conversion to digital television, please see
the DTV Conversion Web site <>.

October 20, 2008

QWERTY security

Absolute security is a myth.  Most laymen would think that just because a computer device is wired that it has a higher level of security.  In most cases this would be true, but in the shadowy world of corporate espionage the stakes have gone one higher. At The Security and Cryptography Laboratory (LASEC) of Ecoles Polytechniques Fédérales de Lausanne, they recently released a paper called COMPROMISING ELECTROMAGNETIC EMANATIONS OF WIRED KEYBOARDS.  While this is not big news in the TEMPEST world, it is an eye opener for most businesses.  The scope of keyboard technologies affected, as well as the distance that keystrokes can be read is really quite impressive.


(Photo Credit: Andrew* on Flickr)

In a nutshell: Your hard wired stuff is not safe, but it never really was.  Try to mitigate your risks as much as possible and stay informed.



October 03, 2008


In late August, Byonics started selling the fully assembled SMT version of the TinyTrak4 APRS tracker.  I put in an order last week and received it on Friday.  Since I was using a TinyTrak3Plus previously this was an easy swap.  I have been messing with this over the past few weeks and have had a great amount of success.  I am finding that the smartbeaconing is working a bit differently (less beacons on the same track with the same settings as the TT3+), but overall it is a drop in replacement. I'm looking forward to the addition of the digipeater to the tracker in the coming months.  Here is a track of my morning commute across the Bay Bridge using the TinyTrak4 connected to a Duleo GPS  and a Kenwood G707A installed in my truck.



August 26, 2008

Electronic Childhood Regression

Recently I was reading an article in Computerworld about Richard Stallman and his zeal for open source computing, and happened across RMS's disgust towards the OLPC project making it possible for Microsoft Windows XP to run on that platform.  Operating system and tools preferences as a political statement is interesting, but not the point of this posting.  The fact that Stallman was using the XO-1 laptop as his portable of choice at one point was most interesting factor to me.   

I spent some time surfing through the XO Wiki to find out more information and ran across a full Livebackup ISO file that I could load onto my current laptop to try out the user interface.  After about half an hour I was sold.  I was already in the market for a smaller laptop for travel, so it was off to eBay to see what was available.  After a few days of bidding and losing, I found a nice XO-1 in Washington D.C. for about $200.  I know, I know, for $300 I could get a brand new ASUS EEE PC with twice the memory, twice the flash and I could run Windows on it.  That's not the point.


(Courtesy of Irregular Shed on Flickr)

So, I get this unit in the mail yesterday.  Right out of the box it is on my home Wi-Fi.  It has the feeling of the fun I had the first time I got my hands on an Apple ][.  I'll follow up with my experiences.


July 13, 2008

The iPhone can cure cancer and 100 other fables

I was at the local mall with my wife today to do my part in supporting our crumbling economy and ran into the line (or queue for all you folks across the pond) at the local Apple store.  Even on a Sunday in the suburban mall, there is a line 30 people deep to get an iPhone.   I was thinking back to 2007 when Maddox wrote an in depth analysis of his throughts on the iPhone.  18 months later, I think it still applies.



June 11, 2008

Wi-Fi on BART - Part 2

Back in February I wrote a post about BART getting WiFi service.  Last time I flew through SFO, I decided that I'd play around with the wireless signal when I was riding on the train.  In a nutshell, the signal was only available in the underground stations in downtown San Francisco from Civic Center to Embarcadero.   I was really hoping that that the signal would be available while the trains were moving, but unfortunately, no luck.  Just keeping a signal a few feet after leaving the stations was an impossible feat for my cheap Linksys wireless card.  Below are a few screen captures from the connectivity in the four station run.

1. The SSID's available as we rolled into Civic Center Station



2. The captive portal login screen


3. The SSID's available at the Embarcadero station, just before hitting the Transbay tube


The cellular providers use the "leaky coax" method to distribute cellular signals in the 800 and 1900MHz bands in the tunnels, so I don't see how hard it would be to do this at 2.4GHz.  A caveat as well...  I took this trip back in early May, so they may have improved the coverage since then.

This better be the pre-alpha testing, or they are going to have problems with their long term plans... 

June 02, 2008

July 1st Deadline

A few weeks ago, I received a mailing list announcement reminding me about the new Cellular Phone law that goes into effect on July 1st in California. With less than 30 days to go, I figured I should start looking into some solutions.

While I work on getting my TerdPhone(tm) hooked up to some sort of headset or hands free driving setup (it is true, I don't have bluetooth on my cell phone, how sad is that),  the thing that was interesting is that there is an exemption for two way radios service. So as long as you are a licensed ham radio operator, I doubt you will have trouble from the police.

Costco and some other office supply stores have some great deals on bluetooth handsfree speakerphones for the car, so there is no excuse for being a bad driver. 

My wife has been using the Jabra SP5050 for about a week, and that this is great, all for $49 USD. 

From the ARRL East Bay Mailing List: 

"There has been a lot of confusion around this issue and I am still
receiving questions from concerned Amateurs. Apparently, there was some
incorrect information on the DMV web site that added to the confusion.
DMV has updated their web site and makes it clear that the law applies
to "wireless telephone' use and not "dedicated two-way radio" use. For
more information go to the FAQ section at:"

For amateur radio operators, you might also look into the TalkSafe Ranger (doc file) product from RPF Communications in the UK. This unit provides Bluetooth connectivity to all manner of radio units. While it isn't required by law, it might be the safest bet.


May 31, 2008

SPOT my location, please.

Recently I was looking at Electronics at REI.  I ran across this personal locator beacon, that was fairly inexpensive, called the SPOT Satellite Personal Messenger.  This little box has a GPS receiver and a satellite transmitter all in a ruggedized and simple case.  If you are in danger, you can press the 911 distress buttons and it alerts their emergency operations center.  But the cool feature is that it can be used to "check-in" with your location, which gets forwarded to your designated SMS and e-mail recipients.  


I would love to see an SMS or e-mail to APRS-IS gateway that for a device like this.  Could you imagine the search and rescue implications for hurt hiker or boater to give their exact coordinates to the SAR staff this is trying to rescue them.  Heck, this might even be a wonderful tool for people that are outside of normal phone service range that just need a reliable way to signal their need for help.  It isn't complex, nor can it send complex messages, but a location and a distress signal is worth every penny you pay for it when you really need it.


April 07, 2008

Digital TV Deadline

$40 Rebate Cards - Yay FCC 

With the FCC switchover set to go February 17, 2009, I figured I should check out how the unwashed masses will be getting their television signals.  I've been using either cable tv or a form of satellite tv for the last 20 years or so.  The TV I have sitting in my garage still runs on a rabbit ear antenna setup, I so registered on the FCC DTV Voucher site for a $40 USD off coupon for a set top box.  When I received the coupons, I did the search online for vendors, only to find that it would be cheaper just to go down to a neighborhood Wal-Mart and pick up the box.  The following is an account of what I think...  

Update 4/14/2008 - The SF Chronicle has done a nice review of the same boxes, as well as several more.  It is worth taking a look if you are having a hard time making a decision.


Continue reading "Digital TV Deadline" »

April 03, 2008

Purloined WiFi

Open WiFi connections abound in any major metropolitan area these days.  Recently there have been several articles in regards to local laws regulating the "stealing" of WiFi from unsuspecting neighbors.  While local municipalities can make laws in regards to this, here are the problems that I have with these statutes.  First of all, the localality does not have the authority to make regulations in regards to the transmissions of wireless signals, that is left to the Federal Communications Commission (Look it up, it has been that way since the Communications Act of 1934).  Wi-Fi falls under Title 47 CFR Part 15, which designates it as an unlicensed service.  Since the wireless link itself has no "real estate" or exclusive license for the spectrum, you would need to prove that:

  1. There was due dilligence to lock down the access point with WEP/WPA or some sort of encryption or access control.
  2. There was a theft of services (i.e. bandwidth caps were exceeded, customer charged for overage)
  3. Or there was a denial of service (i.e. user could not access the bandwidth that was paid for)
  4. Or there was malicious and/or nefarious network activity going on (i.e. surfing kidding porn from the SUV or running a spam server on your internet connection)

The municipality that tried to prosecute someone in their car surfing WiFi, would have an easier time accussing the suspect of some sort of physical trespassing or loitering.  Beyond this, unless the accused was stupid enough to say "hey, I'm stealing that signal", the municipality has no probable cause to search the computer or to detain you.  What is to say that your proximity to a WiFi source is coincidence and you are just surfing the web through a 3G cellular connection.

Here is an analogy:

If you ran an extension cord to your front lawn and connected a landline phone, then a passerby uses that phone to make a call to a local number or toll free long disitance, are they commiting a crime?  You have made your connection accessible and they have not incurred any costs associated to your account.  Who then is to blame?





Continue reading "Purloined WiFi" »

March 22, 2008

Spies in the Ether

Bart Lee (KV6LEE) has written a very interesting paper titled Radio Spies - Episodes in the Ether Wars, which goes into the history of SIGINT, or the art of signal interception for intelligence uses. Whether or not you are interested in government secrecy, Bart Lee does an excellent job of explaining how radio communication technology help to get the decisive edge in several military conflicts.


The link is here:

March 10, 2008

An end to Wi-Fi hotspots???

According to this article Ericsson predicts the end of the Wi-Fi wireless hotspots.  It makes sense for a large Telco vendor to make this argument, but it really doesn't hold water as an argument.  As free Wi-Fi hotspots abound and the price of paid Wi-Fi service approaches zero with a food/beverage purchase, how will the trumph free and semi-anonymous access?  For some people the free factor makes it worth the annoyance of spotty coverage or annoying captive portals.

March 07, 2008

DVR != TiVo


Several months ago my DirectTivo finally gave up the ghost.  Beyond a hard drive crash, the MPEG decoder board was starting to go wacky several weeks before the final and bloody death.  I called DirectTV to see if I could get a replacement and I was told that the Tivo units were now legacy and that I would have to use their new DVR unit if I wanted a replacement.  Being an open minded lad, I decided to give it a try.  After the first week, we were beamed a software upgrade that made the DirectTV.  While the R15 unit we have at home only crashes about once every 4 to 6 weeks now, the scheduler absolutely sucks.  I am not an expert in regards to what patents that Tivo holds in the DVR product space, but it didn't patent the fact of a DVR working correctly.

Originally I chose DirectTV as my television provider.  1.) They had an exclusive on Tivo technology 2.) I hate Comcast Cable.  My wife can attest that I have a healthy dislike for Comcast, but that is fodder for another post. 

At this point in time I am very dissatisfied with my service, but I'm locked in for another 18 months or so.   Without the Tivo angle, television is a commodity and I might as well shop around the other satellite providers or even the local cable tv provider (*gasp*, yes that is how much I hate this DVR).  Or I might end up having to go to MythTV or some other system like that, but I don't want to explain another system to houseguests.

Rupert Murdoch, stop the insanity!  That other DVR company you bought really sucks, please don't force that crap down our throat.  Just be done with it and buy Tivo.  At least the DirectTivo units ran Linux on them, and a geek could feel good about watching TV on something that Linus Torvalds had indirectly touched.  If Dish network had Tivo built in to their receivers I'd be on the phone with them this second...   

Lesson Learned.  I should have googled for this crapbox before I signed up for it: 

weaknees blog 

February 28, 2008

FCC Spectrum Auction, memories of years past

Recently there has been a lot of articles about the 700 MHz FCC auction.  With Google and a bunch of other big heavy hitters going after the auction, it is an exciting time for wireless.  It got my mind spinning back to the year 1994. I think I can hear Stone Temple Pilots if I listen hard enough...

The company that I was working for at the time had partnered up with one of the IVDS license holders to create an asymetrical link demo for their newly minted 218-219 MHz license.  The ink was barely dry on the paperwork before we were commissioned to have a system up and running.  Older Ham radio folks get all worked up on this subject, as the lower end of the 1.25 meter band was "stolen" from them for the use of United Parcel Sercvice on an unbuilt truck tracking data network.  When the UPS license expired, this prime 1 MHz chunk of bandwidth was auctioned off in metropolitan regions, with an A and B license holder scheme, similar to the old AMPS cellular network in the US.  I can't remember the specifics on license costs, and I'm really too lazy to look it up.  500 KHz per license holder is a pretty huge chunk of spectrum.  While small compared to the 700 MHz band, around 200 MHz you have some strange propogation characteristics.  While it is VHF and works in a fairly line of sight manner, you also get some interesting multipath and beyond the horizon propogation without a huge amount of power.

If you think back to 1994, this is a time when 14.4kbps modems were a BIG deal and it cost and arm and a leg to get 128 kbps access via ISDN, so you can imagine that trying to figure out how to use 500 KHz of bandwidth to push data down to end users was very exciting.  The first demo used a ton of ham radio equipment purchased from Ham Radio Outlet and modified for use on this project.  The head end used a computer to take serial input from up to four sources, channelize it, then push it to a SSE satellite modem that used QAM modulation, but I can't remember exactly how many symbols.  The IF coming out of the modem was 70 MHz, so a custom mixer was used to take the output up to the RF frequency.  On the receive end a Standard Electronics ham radio HT (in layman's terms a walkie talkie), was used to receive the signal.  The IF of the radio was tapped, and run into an SSE modem that demodulated the signal, sent it via synchronous serial to a computer, and in turn the computer output a regular RS-232 signal.  The cool thing about this, is that what this ended up doing is to create an end to end one way RS-232 path that was transparent to the other equipment attached.


(images courtesy of DTN via

The first application of this was the use of a DTN networks box.  People on both coasts of the US probably have no idea what I am talking about, but DTN pretty much has owned the technology market for farmers from the beginning.  Basically at the time they transmitted their data to a Ku band satellite transponder, which you pick up at your location with a 36" dish and run it to the DTN box, which is a very simple teletext device connected to a TV monitor.  Crop reports, futures reports, etc.  Very cool and very simple.  


To test reliability we installed the head end unit in San Francisco on the top of the Hilton.  In the pre-9/11 days nobody even asked questions when you were hefting 1/3 rack of equipment through the kitchen and on to the roof.  Our equipment was installed along side the pager transmitters and other radio gear in the shack on the roof.  We tuned up a ham radio Ringo Ranger for the 1.25 meter band and started transmitting.  I think we had 50 watts of power or somewhere near it.

In the days after the installation we spent the evenings driving up and down the peninsula to see what type of coverage and interference we were getting.  With three in the mini-van, one drove, one watched the HP spectrum analyzer and one manned the rack.  We had incredible coverage all over the bay with the exception of Daly City.  It is amazing what you can do with a meager signal when it is transmitted from high enough and transmitted with forward error correction


In the end, the whole system wasn't developed, the IVDS license holders lapsed and just became an unhappy memory for company management.  I imagine there is some ham club in the south bay that has been active on 220 MHz in a big way over the years due to all the equipment we sold off for surplus over Usenet, back in the days when it wasn't just porn. 

When I think back to this whole experience it makes me smile.  This is the first time that I really got to work hands on with RF equipment other than just talking with friends on the CB.  The engineers that I worked with spent the time to explain things to me, even though I didn't have the math and physics background at the time to truly understand all of it.  I hope that every kid that has a fondness for technology has a chance like this to learn on the job.  It didn't pay a lot of money, but it was better than bagging groceries or flipping burgers. 

Oh, and BTW, whenever I think about RF spectrum these days, I think about this XKCD comic

February 27, 2008

A Safer DNS


Recently we have been hearing more about phishing and redirection attacks on internet connected client machines using hacked DNS or DHCP servers.  If you have reason to distrust the security of your network provider's DNS, or you are just fed up with advertisements popping up when you mistype a URL.  One such service that allows you to receive DNS service seperate from your network provider is called OpenDNS.

They have instructions for using their service on Windows, Mac, Unix/Linux boxes, DSL routersh, as well as corporate internal DNS servers to work with their service. 

I have found that this service works on most ISPs, but sometimes if you are at a hotel or Wi-Fi hotspot that requires logging into a captive portal for payment, authentication, or to validate the terms of service, you may need to use their DNS first before switching the settings. 
While you would have to put your trust in the providers at OpenDNS to keep their DNS servers hacker free, I would would rather use their service that rely on some random DNS server that is provided over a free WiFi connection.  This is not to be construed as an endorsement, but I have been happy with their free service.  There are a ton of other services out there, or you could even build your own DNS server and sync it to the ROOT DNS servers, but this solution is pretty mindless and mitigates a lot of security concerns.

IP addresses to use OpenDNS:

  • - Primary
  • - Secondary 

February 18, 2008

Wi-Fi, Hams, and Transverters


I was looking at the ARRL's band plan and started thinking about the higher frequency microwave bands.  While I know there are some experimenters working on using these allocations, in my limited experience it always seems as if operators are using tried and true narrow band modes such as CW and SSB.  I haven't worked out all the math behind it yet, but I'm thinking that it might be possible to build a transverter to upconvert a standard Wi-Fi signal to one of the higher frequency ham bands, such as:

  • 47.0-47.2 GHz
  • 78.0-81.0 GHz
  • 122.25-123.0 GHz
  • 134-141 GHz
  • 241-250 GHz


Frequency Allocation


Could Fit How Many Wi-Fi Bands?

47.0-47.2 GHz

200 MHz


78.0-81.0 GHz

3000 MHz


122.25-123.0 GHz

750 MHz



7000 MHz


241-250 GHz

9000 MHz


 In these bands, there should be much less crowding and you have the ability to upconvert a wide band signal (such as the 84.5MHz wide Wi-Fi band in the United States).  There are already similar products used to upconvert the 2.4GHz ISM band to 5.8GHz in production that use the 2.4 GHz frequency as the IF input.

Lots of other things that I haven't though about including cost, propogation and all of that I'll leave to someone else.  I just think that with such a crowded 2.4GHz band, it might be useful to use higher frequency allocation for such high bandwidth tasks as linking EOC centers, creating data links between hilltop reapeater sites, or just because it can be done. 

As I type this I am paying $12.95/day for Wi-Fi at the hotel I am at.  *SIGH*

February 04, 2008

Wi-Fi coming to BART

From the fun fellows at the BART RAGE blog, I'm hearing that there is ongoing testing of a BART Wi-Fi network outside of the four main San Francisco underground stations.  The link to the Wireless Developer Network article is here.  While $30 USD/month is a bit steep for my taste, it is better than a sharp stick in the eye.  If WiFi Rail were to partner with an organization such as T-mobile or AT&T, I think a lot of other people might look into getting this service, but at $30/month it better work at Starbucks or the airport too.

Train in Civic Center BART 

I'm really happy to hear this, as several years ago I tried the T-Mobile GPRS data service while commuting on BART.  I'd get connectivity for about 12-15 minutes of the 55 minute train ride. Boo. Hiss.  There is nothing more fun than 1000ms+ ping times.

For those of you outside of Northern California, this most likely be of no interest unless you'll be using BART to get to/from SFO.

July 08, 2007

The installation of a TinyTrack3Plus

The installation of a TinyTrack3Plus in my primary vehicle.

July 04, 2007

MicroTrak300 Test - Oregon Trip 2007

MicroTrak300 test along highway 5 on our trip to Oregon over the 4th of July weekend.

March 18, 2007

Building and running the Byonics MicroTrak300

Building and running the Byonics MicroTrak300 APRS Tracker

January 16, 2006

Tupper Track(tm)

The original Tupper Track page.