Art Bell and the Alien Pirates

You’ve probably heard by now that Art Bell, known to radio amateurs as W6OBB, is now a silent key. That’s what us ham ops call a dead guy. Well Art may be physically dead, but I think he is alive somewhere (or many wheres) in time.

Art Bell, amateur radio operator and talk show host extraordinaire.

My favorite memory of Art goes back to a show he probably did about 20 years ago. I don’t remember the exact date, but he announced one night that if aliens were really trying to contact us we should agree upon a common radio frequency. He threw a frequency out on the air and said that people should listen in case the aliens call. So I listened.

Sure enough, after some time listening to static, someone turned on a transmitter and started playing the sounds from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I don’t know if it was transmitted by Art himself, but what a prankster.

73 Art, you will be missed.

Facebook Fails the Third Party Risk Test

Information security professionals often examine “third-party risk”. Simply put, associations with business partners and contractors can present outside risks to the data, financial, and/or physical security of an organization. The risk may be contractors with access to secure areas or sensitive business processes. The risk can be shared data in the temporary custody of a partner. The risk can be virtual access to a network or a facility without adequate audit.

Today I was informed by Facebook that my privacy could have been compromised because “friends” of mine used an application platform profiling app called “This is Your Digital Life”. I wish I could tell you more or show you the notification, but in typical arrogant Facebook fashion, the notification was a fly-by. It was presented on the screen of my smart mobile device. I put the phone in my pocket and headed to my office to compose this piece, but once the Facebook feed refreshed I can no longer find it. It is not on my notification list. So much for transparency. So much for ease of use. Now you see it, now you don’t.

So what does this mean? Well, in this case Facebook allowed a third party that I did not authorize to access my profile data. They allowed the third party because a second party (my Facebook friends) accessed an application that pulled the data. They allowed this even though I opted out of the Facebook application platform and therefore had a reasonable expectation of data privacy. Facebook fails. And my mom was right. You are impacted by the actions of your friends.

What is the answer? Take ’em down. Let’s see a class action lawsuit financially impact Facebook. There are enough of us in this potential class that have, by Facebook’s own admission, suffered harm. Congress is not likely to impose a satisfactory regulatory solution any time soon. So let’s take it to the courts and show companies that a willful direct and careless violation of our data privacy will be the most expensive mistake that their companies can make.

2018 SWL Fest Talk Links

Here are the links mentioned in my 2018 SWL Fest presentation, “RTL-SDR: more SDR on the cheap!”

Receiving NRSC-5 by Theori
NRSC-5 Proof of Concept Code
NRSC-5-D Standard
Other NRSC-5 Related Standards
NRSC-5 Metadata GUI by K2DLS
dump1090 blog post
Dire Wolf source code
Xastir wiki
Xastir source code
Raspberry Pi Foundation

Other useful links

SDR#
Digital Signal Decoder+
Virtual Audio Decoder
Unitrunker
HD SDR
Linrad
DAB Player

If you attended my presentation, thank you for your interest. If you have never attended a Winter SWL Fest and are interested in any aspect of radio reception, consider attending next year. All frequencies from DC to Daylight are fair game.

A New Kelement

I’ve been a fan of internet radio appliances ever since the AE1 hit the market in 2006.  I still find them to be more convenient than using a smartphone paired with a bluetooth speaker.  However, my Grace models, a few years old now, stopped working with Sirius a couple of years ago.  It was the same with a Logitech Squeezebox.  Google Home provides a decent way to access Pandora and TuneIn, but not Sirius.

Our kitchen counter has added a new Kelement WiFi Internet Radio and I like it.  It is an appliance based upon an Android screen and familiar apps, along with two speakers and a subwoofer.  No, the sound won’t blast you away, but it is fine for the $80 I paid during Black Friday/Cyber Monday.  The price on Amazon is now $90, but I would still recommend it at that price.

It is nice to be able to again listen to Sirius while downstairs and the Android touch screen interface makes sense.

Google Home Goes Multiuser

Google Home has rolled out multiuser functionality. Despite an initial glitch, it seems to work well.

Each member of your household records their voice saying “Hey Google” and “OK Google” by kicking off a dialog on their Android mobile device. They then get access to their personal calendar, music content, and other personalized services to follow. Once enabled, each user can voice query, “Hey Google, what is my name?” and Google Home knows!

I was the initial owner of Google Home when we set up our two devices. After Tina enabled her profile, we found a glitch where Home did not know who I was any longer. It kept referring me to my Google Home app to enable multiuser functionality. But, it took a few days for Home to offer me that option within the app.

Yesterday, when I tried to listen to some content, Google Home complained that it didn’t recognize me and again asked that I enable multiuser. This time, the option was present and I was able to complete the setup.

Tracking North Korean Numbers

My Aussie mate, Mark Fahey, has spent a number of years studying the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  He passes on the following information about North Korean “spy numbers” stations:

“The Pyongyang numbers (designated V15) have either become less regular or changed their schedule since March. Its been a few months since I have personally received them – but I also haven’t been specifically tuning in for them lately so maybe I have simply missed noticing a timing change.

“If you want to find the North Korean numbers, they are read out in a block between songs within the regular programing of the Pyongyang Pangsong radio station. The choice of music immediately before the number block seems to indicate which recipient agent the transmission is directed to. For Agent 27 “We Will Go Together with a Song Of Joy” is played, whereas Agent 21’s song is “Spring of my Hometown.”

“The announcements typically take between 5 to 10 minutes to read dependent on the number of digits passed. The transmission schedule is variable; in early 2017 the broadcast alternated with a cycle of one week on Thursday night at 12:45AM Pyongyang Time (1615 UTC) and the following week on Saturday night at 11:45PM Pyongyang Time (1515 UTC).

“Pyongyang Pangsong can be heard on these shortwave band frequencies (it is also on MF & FM on the Korean peninsular):

3250 kHz Pyongyang 100KW Transmitter
3320 kHz, Pyongyang 50KW Transmitter
6400 kHa Kanggye 50KW Transmitter”

If you’re interested in learning about what life is like “Behind the Curtain“, Mark has compiled a detailed multimedia publication based upon his actual observations inside North Korea.  It is available at no cost via iTunes.

RetroPie, A Tasty Gaming Platform

Retrogaming, the enjoyment of older computer based games and platforms, has been growing in popularity. I was intrigued a couple of years ago when, at a Vintage Computer Fest, I saw a multigame platform with hundreds of game ROMs copied onto a single emulation device. I had been wondering what the old games would look like connected via an HDMI input as opposed to the old low resolution RF transmitter method.

Then I came across the RetroPie project. RetroPie is a framework, delivered as an image, that allows you to run a number of game and computer system emulators on a Raspberry Pi. RPi models 2 and 3 are much better than older versions for this application. It is very simple to install and I was even able to use an old Colecovision controller to play Donkey Kong, Ladybug, and Carnival.

To connect the old controller, I came across a device called the Vision-daptor. One side sports a DB9 male connector, the other a USB B jack.  It arrived just a couple of days after my order.  The RPi recognized the device as a joystick controller without adding any additional drivers.

The Coleco emulation is handled by an optional component called CoolCV. CoolCV will also run under Linux, Mac and Windows. If you use a controller, rather than a keyboard, you may need to make some changes to key mappings in a configuration file.

There are plenty of sources for games online, but remember that games may still be covered by copyright. Some folks copy the contents of ROMs that they have purchased allowing them to play games for which they no longer have a gaming device. This requires some specialized hardware.

If you do download games via the internet, keep in mind that some sites may be vectors for the transmission of viruses and other malware. Exercise caution while you kill off those space invaders.  And the games do look great on an HDMI monitor!

On the current unrest

The liberal-left media, it seems to me, fails to understand the motivation behind all of the on-the-street in-your-face unrest by progressives against the new Washington Republican regime. Yes, folks are angry about the policies, but that is not why they are taking to the streets in the cold of winter. I believe the unrest to be about hypocrisy, self-dealing, and ultimately, the bad behavior of Donald Trump.

Policy differences we can discuss. But would you raise your son to emulate Donald Trump? Would you leave your daughter alone with Donald Trump?

Donald Trump may already be on his way to impeachment. He has not been transparent in his finances. We do know that there is clearly a conflict of interest in his lease for his new DC hotel. We don’t know the extent of his dealings with foreign regimes. We know for sure that he thinks he can put a stack folders on a table at a press conference to try to fool and impress us.

The right wing controlled Congress is willing to suspend long standing rules to get their way. That is bad for the nation no matter who is in power. The Republicans have the nerve to demand speedy acquiescence in the approval of unqualified Cabinet Secretaries as they disregard our fresh memory of how they ignored a moderate and eminently qualified Supreme Court nominee for 10 months.

Their President has invited white supremacists into the seat of decision making. He cannot seem to be civil to friendly leaders of other nations. He has appointed Cabinet members who either have no experience in the function that they are supposed to manage or want to abolish that function. He is so insensitive to our friends that his appointee as Ambassador to the European Union is known to be an advocate for the dismantling of the EU and the Euro currency.

Trump is a nasty, insecure, narcissistic, lying, crooked shell of a leader. He does not care that the First Amendment precedes the Second Amendment in the interest of a free press. He can’t control his Tweets nor his outbursts. He shrugs off societal norms of behavior as an unnecessary impediment on his crusade to smother dissent. He is a loser and the nation loses.

Then, there are those false Christians who endorse this behavior because, they believe, Trump will make America great (again). I believe he will lead us straight to hell.

Progressives, however, know that this country is (and has been) great, despite its many flaws. And they want to make it better. They certainly don’t want this petulant child to destroy progress that we’ve made toward economic and racial equality. We are reminded every time he opens his ignorant mouth to attack the “media”, or to start a tweet war with a celebrity or foreign leader, that he and his ilk menace our nation.

That is why the fight has been taken to the street.

Chromecast and Google Home — A Great Combination

Two new toys showed up at the front door today. I took my time deciding between Amazon Echo and Google Home. I decided that Google Home was the my best choice. When I went to order, I saw that the Google Store is offering a discount on a Chromecast dongle purchased along with Home. The discount of $15 is available through midnight Pacific time on January 28.

Google Home is about what I expected, although it currently has some limitations. If your content is on Pandora, YouTube, or Netflix you will love the device. It cannot currently access content on Hulu or the various broadcast network apps. However, you can still access the content via your mobile device and then press the “Cast” button to view the content on your big screen.

The sound quality of Home is good for the size of the device. Setup of home is fairly easy using the Android app. Chromecast connects via an HDMI port but just hangs there. It ought to have some way of attaching it to the rear of the monitor. I may try some 3M double faced tape.

Home integrates with my Google calendar, so in the morning I can say, “Hey Google, what is my day like?” I’ll hear appointments, the weather, and the NPR news. It is supposed to be able to support multiple identities but I haven’t tried this yet. Tina will want to be able to hear her calendar too.

I tried listening to a number of different audio sources via Pandora and TuneIn. It all worked, except for CKTB, a news talk station in the Niagara area that I enjoy. Google thinks I am asking for CK TV and cannot locate it. I was able to cast content from the CBS app installed on my phone with little effort.

I’m sure I’ll learn more about the capabilities of Google Home and Chromecast as the days go on. Home is said to rely completely on the cloud so lacking features such as Hulu ought to be remedied in short order.

If you’re concerned about privacy, you should know that all your searches are logged, but can be deleted via the Google Home Android app. The device also sports a mute button should you wish to prevent Home to hearing private conversations.

If you enjoy varied media content and like to experiment, Chromecast and Home make a great combination and will provide hours of enjoyment.

A Modern Manchurian Candidate?

Max Boot writes in the NY Times, “The fact that Mr. Trump seems to give greater credence to the Kremlin than to United States intelligence agencies is precisely what has set off so much speculation about his real motives in cozying up to Mr. Putin.”

The quote comes from his article covering the publication, by Buzzfeed, of unsubstantiated foreign intelligence about the next President of the United States, CNN’s reporting on the matter, and Mr. Trump’s reaction.

I think that Max has succinctly summarized a fundamental concern that Trump continues to raise with his Putin praise.