KR0L: Amateur Radio, Wikis, and Linux

Since I got my amateur radio license back in July, I’ve had a lot of fun with it. It’s a great hobby for anyone technically-inclined or anyone socially-inclined, and between those categories that includes a lot of people. I’ve learned quite a bit over the last few months and really enjoyed it all.

I passed my extra class exam back this fall, and thus got my new callsign, KR0L. So long, KD0MJT. I’ve enjoyed some contesting, as well as general conversations on the system. I’ve also done some work with the keyboard-to-keyboard digital modes on HF. Debian includes a very nice program called fldigi for this.

Of late, I have developed an interest in packet radio. Packet radio uses a networking protocol called AX.25 over RF links. AX.25 bears a familial resemblance to TCP/IP, and in fact, you can run TCP/IP over AX.25 and AX.25 over TCP/IP. My learning curve on packet was somewhat steep. It has declined in popularity significantly since the growth of generally-available Internet access, though seems to be once again growing now. So a lot of information about it is 10 years old.

As I was learning about packet, I of course was using my Debian system. The Linux kernel has long had AX.25 support integrated as a first-class networking protocol. You can open AX.25 sockets, monitor AX.25 traffic, etc. from the Linux kernel. You can use soundmodem to make a software-defined packet modem (called a TNC), or you can use kissattach to hook up to a traditional TNC via a serial port and a protocol strongly similar to SLIP (which, for those of you with shorter memories, is a predecessor to PPP). Linux can do what you’d expect out of a modern networking system: multiplexing with AX.25, handling lots of simultaneous users, etc.

So I was a bit surprised and baffled to keep running into systems that only supported 1 user at a time, couldn’t easily do some things I was taking for granted, etc. Until I realized that Linux is the only major operating system with integrated AX.25 support in the kernel. Things started to make a bit more sense. I hadn’t realized just how awesome a setup I had until I started learning about the hoops some other people went through. It is pretty easy to run a basic client on Windows, but to run the “server” side of things as I am doing — well some of the features just aren’t there or are really kludgy.

Anyhow, I have decided to start documenting things I learn as I go. Beyond amateur radio, I also have sometimes wanted places to stick bits of information. Things that other people might benefit from if they Google, but that maybe aren’t the best blog fodder or website material. So I have set up a wiki, openly editable of course, at http://wiki.complete.org/. To date, only the amateur radio section has much content in it.

I’m also sending in patches and bug reports to the various projects involved in amateur radio in Linux, and am glad to see development has resumed on several of those.

10 thoughts on “KR0L: Amateur Radio, Wikis, and Linux

  1. Hey, great post. I am using your info as a guide to getting started with ham radio. I have started reading the book you recommended today. I live in Arkansas, so maybe we will be talking before too long. Hope you are open to the occasional question.

    Bryan

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Glad to hear. I’m very happy to help with questions. And besides, I still don’t have Arkansas for Worked All States so I have some incentive too ;-)

    Reply

  2. Great news! I’m just about to take the test. I look forward to connecting with you, and learning about AX.25 as well!

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Glad to hear it! Drop me an email anytime if you have questions or would like to set up a scheduled contact.

    Reply

  3. Given that you have only one callsign, does this allow you to keep your packet radio station on and connect to it from remote? Is that just about using different SSIDs?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Yes, that is possible. The FCC regs provide for 3 ways for you to control your radio: local control, where you are physically at it; remote control, where you are, say, controlling it via an Internet link; and automatic control, where it is controlled by preprogrammed procedures. Repeaters and AX.25 systems fall under automatic control, and it’s perfectly legal for you to to leave an AX.25 node on at home and contact it from elsewhere.

    On the technical side, at least in the US, you are not required to use your callsign as your AX.25 station name. It is, in fact, common practice for AX.25 nodes to support both a callsign and an alias reflecting their geographic location (similar to a webserver listening on two IPs.) You do have to transmit your callsign every 10 minutes and at the end of your transmissions, and TNCs (and Linux) have a beacon feature to let you meet this requirement. (It also typically serves to let others know how to connect to you.)

    Reply

  4. There was, collectively a lot of work done with hamradio and Linux. In fact the history of hamradio and Linux and Debian are intertwined.
    It’s been a while, I’d be curious to know if there still is any packet radio activity now, with internet so available now.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    There is. There are some significant VHF/UHF linked systems still running. There are also networks on 20m and 40m. I am quite sure it’s not what it once was, but it seems there is some small measure of resurgence of interest.

    Reply

  5. John,
    I lost the link between you and w4bgh in Tampa.
    I no longer see the GSL BOX NetRom node.
    Do you still wish to fwd with Tampa?

    73
    <>
    k4gbb

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Sent you an email, but short answer is yes.

    Reply

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