Apple figured out a new way to lock users in. The appleCard!

Computer company offering consumer products. Sure.

Computer company having its own storefronts and online store. Done.

Computer company offering their own media services. Ok.

Computer company offering a credit line to encourage purchasing... Fine...

Computer company becoming its own credit card company........ ?

Ok, this is something new.

The big three credit card companies, well two are processors, and banks license the name and ability to use the processing of the brand ( MasterCard and Visa.) These two and American Express ( who is a true credit card company bank and processor) all originated directly from the banking industry.

Discover was the creation of Sears which at the time was the most powerful and richest retailer in the United States. Sears pioneered the use of a credit line to encourage people to use Sears as their primary store. This allowed Sears to become one of the most powerful companies in the world. In the late 70s, Sears started to expand its internal credit processing network to compete with the other processing based banks through a self-funded credit card called Discover.

Discover disrupted the market due to its lack of fees, high credit limits, and generous rewards programs. This move, while revolutionary to the credit card industry led to the downfall of Sears. This and other company decisions led Sears away from their core market of being a retailer. They were not able to see the slowing use of malls and the rise of online purchasing. Eventually, Discover was sold off and thrives to this day. One can argue that other than dead hub stores in malls, Discover is the only remaining portion of Sears left.

Now Apple is getting into this game. They have created a credit card that is dependent on their consumer technologies for use. The card is intended to be a market disrupter with a focus on privacy. The card has none of the traditional features like a number, CVV, expiration date, or signature.

Since the focus is on privacy, all that is done on the back-end is transaction approval or denial. All information about the purchase is stored locally in the Apple Device and not in external servers.

The technology is highly dependent on Apple's Apple Pay NFC system that is becoming more common. A physical card will be available but will require an Apple device to be present for the transaction to take place.

Well, good luck. I can already see that Apple will embed this into all of their mainline products and it will be successful simply due to the number of users out there. More device lock in for Apple, which means more devices sold. Switching to Android will not only mean buying new apps and migrating your data, but it also means switching to a new credit card company. Well played Apple. This ensures that Apple will only have to put out a functional level in their product line to guarantees customer retention.

Personally, I do not want to be the person behind someone in line trying to get not only the watch to work with the credit card terminal at Walmart, but also making sure that the app on their phone is working correctly. If this is successful, I see Capital One building something similar that will be cross platform and just work.

A new HF digital mode - FT8

After my last trip, I caught the dreaded airplane flu and have not had the desire to do much but watch tv (which I hate) or go play with my radio.

A few days ago I decided that I did not want to ragchew, so I spun up WSJT-X and tuned 14.076. 

I saw a bunch of weird blocks of data every 15 seconds at the low end of the band? There was enough of it that it was screwing up my AGC and making it hard to do JT65.  

Intrigued, I made a screen copy of my flexradio and posted it on a couple of ham forums. The response was that it was the new mode FT8.

In a nutshell FT8 is a mode similar JT65, and JT9. The operation is very similar, but much more fast paced. With JT65 and JT9 the transmission is about 55 seconds long with 5 seconds for processing and operator control. FT8 is based on a 15 second interval with about 1 second for processing and operator control.

This means that you really need to automate your station or you will not have much fun with this new mode. The purists out there will say that this is not ham radio since it is computer controlled, and the operator does not do anything other than clicking. I am sure the guys who said that considers the use of anything but a straight key is not true ham radio since something is automated. Like all of the newer modes, this mode requires not only ham radio skills in the setup of a station, antennas, grounding, etc. It requires information technology skills.

If you want to have fun with FT8, I will suggest the following setup. This setup also works for all of the other modes that WSJT-X works with.

1. Download and install WSJT-X v1.8.0-rc1.

2. Figure out your maidenhead location. It is a mandatory requirement for operating these modes.

3. Go to Settings and go from here.

  •  Settings - General Tab
    • Make sure your call and location is correct.
    • Click Display distance in miles
    • Click Tx Messages to Rx Frequency
    • Click Double-Click on call sets Tx enable
    • Disable Tx after Sending 73
    • Set the TX watchdog to 10 minutes
  • Radio Tab
    • Select your rig and configure it.  I use a Flex6300 and the Paid Version of HRD
    • Test CAT and verify that the program is working. Your radio frequency should be on the display.
    • Test PTT - It should work.
  • Audio Tab
    • Make sure that the Input: matches the radios RX or output
    • Make sure that Output: matches the radios TX or input.
  • Reporting Tab
    • Click Logging
    • Click enable PSK Reporter Spotting
    • Enable UDP Server - IP, port 2237
    • Click on all UDP server options, this is critical for a later step.
  • Frequency Calibration
    • Do not mess with this unless you are having problems. Contact me directly and I will help you out.  My info on QRZ is up to date ( KB0FHF )
  • Advanced
    • Under JT65 - enable two-pass decoding

Now turn on your radio.

On the main window MODE, select FT8.

4. Operation Window Setup

  • In the MODE menu select FT8
  • The main window should display the frequency of the radio.
  • Use the pull down and select 20m.
  • The program and radio should be on 14.074 000
  • Lock TX=RX is enabled
  • Auto Seq is Enabled
  • Call 1st is enabled
  • Click tab 2 to use the canned response sequence. 
  • Power - I leave mine set at 100% and control the power on the radio.

5. Radio Setup

  • Drop your power to something below 30 watts. Go as low as you want. I usually run 30 watts.
  • Make sure the radio is always in USB, this applies to all bands.
  • Use the widest filter you have. I run a 4.0K on my flex.
  • Disable AGC and adjust it to a level that does not overload the radio.
  • Disable all DSP functions.
  • Disable TNF if you have that capability.

6. Make sure that your computer time is synced with an external time server. Even being off by a few 100ms will make FT8 unusable. Contact me directly and I can help you with this.

7. TX setup

  • Tune the radio via auto tuner or external tuner and triple check that you have the TX power set below 30 watts.
  • Turn off all TX processing. If you can't, make sure it is set to Normal and not the DX setting.
  • While on the empty frequency ( you did change to an empty frequency for tuning :) ) press the Tune button in the APP. This will send a carrier at the power your radio is set at. On the radio or via the PWR slide on the app, adjust the power to where you are not splattering all over the place. On a flex, Adjust until the Level is just below the yellow line and is still green.
  • Enable the Monitoring - MON on a flex and adjust the volume.

8. The program should be showing lots of QSOs at this point. Feel free to double click on one of the CQs. The actual QSO is automated, and you will be promted to save the log at the 73 portion of the QSO.

9. When ready locate an empty spot on the waterfall and select it. Click the Enable Tx button and wait until the end of a cycle and press CQ.  Sit back and let it go.

Now you make have noticed that the logs are separate from your favorite logging program and everything is so fast paced that it is hard to check your log book to see if you have worked this station.

Remember earlier when I said to enable the UDP server options?  Download and install JTAlertX v2.10.0, sound files, and call database.  Install in that order.

Shutdown WSJT-X.

Set up JTAlertX. The complicated part of this process is getting it to work with your specific logbook.

1. Settings

  • Own Call
    • Enable Own Call Alert
    • Put the call sign that you use in #1
    • Test the audio by pressing Test, you should hear some dings.
  • Enable CQ and QRZ Alerts
  • Enable Worked B4 - Once you have your logbook running, this helps prevent you from hitting the same person all of the time.
  • Logging
    • Pick your database and set it up accordingly.
    • I use HRD Ver 5 - THe program should pull the database info in.

2. Shut down WSJT and JTAlertX

3. Start JTAlertX and then start WSJT-X

4. If everything is working, you should hear CQ and see that JTAlertX has the information about the current cycle. Click a CQ and sit back. 

5. Once the QSO is at the 73 stage, you will be prompted to log. If the logbook is working, then JTAlertX will confirm the log entry. At a later time, check your logbook program.

6. In just a little bit, you should start to see stations that you have worked as with either a B4 after the call and it should be greyed out a little bit. 

This is much more that this program will do, but this is the starting point.

If you need any help, just ask me.

73 de KB0FHF aka The Technical Skeptic




Picking my next computer. I think it is time to divorce from Apple.

For the last 17 years, my main computer was some form of an Apple OSX machine.

Since Jobs passed on, Apple has made a shift to reject the needs of high end professional IT users and focused their efforts on consumer grade junk. The shift is even visible in the operating system where their main new features are things like Siri, and a new music app. Thus the windows machines and alternatives are starting to become attractive.

My last machine has been a first generation Macbook Pro 15 Retina. While it is a great machine, it is stating to show its age and I my career changed to where I travel somewhere in the US most weeks out of the year. 

Only people who travel all of the time will understand this, but the macbook pro is heavy, especially when you consider that I have to carry around a complete office in my backpack that includes another work laptop. 

A few months ago my screen starts to flicker and I decide it is time to consider replacing the computer with something much smaller and lighter. 

No big deal, just buy a MacBook or MacBook Air. Although I do have a decent home lab that I can remote into when needed, I need the ability to run some kind of local hypervisor for Windows and the occasional linux app. This requires a 16 gig machine and some kind of a decent multicore processor. This rules out the entire MacBook Air line and MacBook. Apple insists on soldered ram and limits those machines to 8 gigs. 

So I decide to downsize to a 13" macbook pro Retina. First the machine is limited to soldered ram, and then the processor is limited to dual core only. Next Apple is still using fifth generation processors in all of their macbook pro line. All of this is at a premium to a PC equivalent. 

It was not long ago that one could go to the Dell and other sites, and build out the equivalent professional model  (Precision line for Dell) of the same hardware in a macbook pro or desktop. The resulting machine would cost significantly more than the macbook pro or macintosh. Now the roles have changed. One can go to the Dell Site and build a machine that is impossible to obtain in the mac world for less than you can get a current high end macbook pro.  

An example of this is a Precision 5510. A model with the 4k screen, Intel mobile Xeon, 32 gigs of ram, 1TB flash, and a battery that gets around 8 hours, in a package slightly smaller than the current 15 inch MBP Retina, for $3100 before any discounts. The street price as of writing this article is $2,800 delivered. The highest end Macbook pro has a street price for $3,000 and is nowhere near the same level of machine. 

Now comes the inevitable operating system comparison. Yes, OSX is a unix. kinda... Each new version of OSX, umm macOS, has more and more iOS like restrictions. Even Apple admits that it is intentional.

One of the appeals of OSX is that it runs on unix and that makes power users like me happy. That is true. I still have to run windows apps and remote into other systems in order to both work and to play. Thus I have to run a VM from time to time.

What about Windows 10? Until a few weeks ago, that was simply impossible. I prefer a unix shell and do all of my script writing in unix. To accomplish this I would have to keep a running copy of linux in a vm on all of the time. This does not work well in windows or even macOS. Leaving a vm running all of the time kills the battery and you do not want a vm going into hibernation every time you moved the laptop. The next issue is that the slimmer the laptop, the worse performance VMs are going to have on it. Since one of my main goals is to downsize, this model is not going to work.

I then decided that I was going to run linux and use a hypervisor when needed.  I started to save money to get that dell precision I described earlier.

Everything changed a couple of weeks ago.

Windows 10 added a small little feature that is a game changer for the platform. The Linux subsystem is a re-implementation of their posix subsystem that was dropped earlier. Unlike Cygwin, the linux subsystem is a true interface to the windows micro kernel that runs actual linux elf binaries based on Ubuntu. The older posix system was a horrible implementation that lacked any support at all. I will not even go into the nightmare called Cygwin.

The Ubuntu based Linux subsystem allows me to run a true bash shell on my windows computer and most of the tools I am used to using on a linux machine. This product is still in beta and is improving as I write this. I am now in the situation where if I need to run a more powerful version of linux, I can either consider dual booting, or running a linux vm. So far I have been very happy with using the linux subsystem.

To test how useful this would be, I dug up an old Latitude 7440, i5 with a 1920x1080 matte display that I use for frequency coordination during football season. I changed the OS to windows 10 from 7, upped the system to 16 gigs of ram and added a second 512gig ssd to it. 

I have windows 10 pro installed on the 256g ssd, and will partition a 256g linux partition and a 256g common drive for both operating systems on the second 512 gig drive. 

Starting next week I will be on the road in NYC for three weeks and I am going to use this as my daily driver.  My plan is to see how well my use case works for this and point out anything that may help other power users out there. If this works, I will end up buying the precision I listed above and pay the extra $120 for Windows 10 pro.

From a travel perspective, this is going to be nice. My work laptop is also a dell that uses the same power supplies and dock. For road use, I only need to pack one power supply. At home in my office, I can use my dock during work hours and then change systems at night for fun. In a hotel, I rarely touch my work laptop unless I am billable thus the power supply is used on my personal laptop.

Lesson #1 - Change your console app. CMD.exe sucks and will always suck. There are many alternatives out there. I find ConEmu close to what is in linux or OSX. Change its default setting to where it executes a bash shell and you are up an running. 

To Be Continued. 


Rural Internet

What gets me is that people agree that living without phone or grid electricity is impractical. I have friends who live in Montana with no grid at all and they survive because her husband works in Silicon Valley most of the time.

However these same people do not see why having actual broadband is important. Then they wonder why there is a "brain drain" since they can not keep their children in the area and have to import people at very high costs or STEM careers.

Personally, I would love to move to a rural area, but I will not live in a place that I can not get unrestricted reliable high speed affordable broadband. In Paragould Arkansas, I talked with an executive at the local city owned cable company and even offered to pay for a custom package, I have no problems at all paying several hundred a month for access. His response was a simple, nope. They do not want the business. They only offer a cable internet package that does not even meet the FCC minimums for broadband and they have extremely low data caps, even for their business customers. My work vpn usage would exceed the cap, if I could even get it to connect since they are double natting everything. I asked about getting multiple service lines installed and he stated that it was not allowed. User reports for the service rate their towns internet offering as one of the worst in the United States.

Here is a way for a small rural town to compete in the world market. Invest in emerging technologies like fibre, etc. Improve the STEM classes in the local schools. There is an active trend for companies to remote their workers.