WAPR News - September 1999

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

Hello again to our regular readers and newcomers alike. As we face September, we can count on relief from what has been an unusually warm summer not only in Wisconsin, but in the rest of the country as well. This is the traditional time for the pace of our amateur radio participation to pick up. For some of us, it never really slowed. I am one of those "lucky" ones who have been active all along.

As a result of my busy schedule, I did not get a chance to schedule the Green Bay WAPR meeting as soon as I had liked. Therefore, we were unable to complete a promised mailing announcing the location of the meeting. As a result, we have had to rely on the BBS network, the internet, and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth to get out the notification. I apologize for the lateness of the scheduling, and will try to do better in the future. The minutes for that meeting will be published here in the Wisconsin Packeteer next month.

There is some packet radio news to report, however. It looks as though the western and central parts of the state will finally get connected together via packet, and it may nave come to pass as you receive this. As of this writing, I was not able to check this. However, I have seen mail headers on bbs messages that show N9BQMs BBS has been forwarding to KA9JAC in Neenah. This would suggest that the linkage is in place. As soon as I am able to verify this and show you the path, I will do so.

Another network extension may soon be in the offing. The northeastern part of the state may see a linkage to Sheboygan, Port Washington, and points further south very soon. The preliminary work has been done, and the only remaining thing to be done is to re-aim an antenna at Red, N9GHE's location in Manitowoc.

Josh KG9BO has put up a BBS in Sheboygan and has a 9600 bps port that, so far, has established a reliable link with the N9PBY nodestack in Port Washington. He has told me that when the "band is up", he can also establish a strong link to Red's Manitowoc node stack and BBS. However, in normal band conditions, the link fades away. This is because the antenna that Red used to utilize for the former NF9R nodestack in Sheboygan is a beam, and it was aimed at that location. Josh has forwarded his site coordinates off to Red so that he can aim the antenna toward him. Red is awaiting a tower climber to take care of this.

In the meantime, the Manitowoc node stack has been programmed to recognize Josh's station as a node, and as soon as the antenna is aimed at him his linkage will be "ready for prime time". I will report when this is done. I hope this does indeed work out so that we have reliable communications with the lakeshore communities and Milwaukee.

I had mentioned once before that there was an offer to put a node up outside of Milwaukee in Waukesha. I asked for input, on this and found two replies in my mailbox. I forwarded the results off to my friend who was contemplating entering the world of the Node Sysop. After evaluating the results, he decided that the expenditure was not going to be worth the results.

Which brings us to another related subject. Over the course of the past few years that I have been handling "The Wisconsin Packeteer" I have oftentimes asked for input on a variety of subjects. I have received little. I know that most packet people are busy, and do not have a great deal of time to devote to sending mail that they need to reply to, let alone generating a message they don't feel they need to send out. Which makes me wonder, just what do you want this page to be about?

Which makes me plead once again for input. I'd like to implore those folks who do have an interest to let me know what you think needs to be written about. Perhaps your ideas can help us increase the number of packet operators. I try and mix elementary information for people who might be curious about the mode, along with topics that may be of interest to more experienced packet operators. Without your guidance, it is tough to tell if I'm doing any good with the material 1 have presented so far. So, please write me one way or another with your thoughts - my packet, E-Mail and postal addresses are at the top of this page.

On a final note, a mention of the most popular BBS program in the suite, and Y2K. Many BBS Sysops use the MSYS BBS program to serve their user base. It operates on the MS-DOS platforms (including Windows 95 and Windows 98), and that is one of the reasons it is popular.

If you have been using this program, and wish to continue past January 1,2000, you wilt certainly want to upgrade to the latest version Version 1.20 has been bug-fixed and enhanced to deal with the Y2K situation. It also has a few other bug-fixes and enhancements. I have not checked it out myself, as we will discontinue using this program in Green Bay in a couple of months in favor of another program. For that reason, I can't elaborate on all of the changes in this program. I do not know if the baud rate vs attended forwarding bug has been fixed, and I am not sure if the TCP/IP subsystem has been upgraded. However, it is Y2K compliant and upgrading is a must for those BBS operators that will continue using it past the first of the year.

Keep in mind that upgrading to this new version will not fix a computer that is not Y2K compliant. You either have to upgrade your computer, or install a hardware or software solution to fix that problem. So if you have forgotten about the BBS quietly chugging away in the comer of your shack, now is the time to remember it.

I believe the MSYS site (www.hamnet.org) is still in operation, and the software was available at that site, as well as the companion FTP site. Otherwise, let your search engine find it for you on the internet.

That's all I have time and space for this month. Until next month, 73 from Andy.

Linux and Packet Radio by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN 

To some packet operators, a great deal of Packet Radio may have become old news, and some may have regarded their packet operation as "routine". They feel that there is "nothing new under the sun", so they relegate themselves to the same-old same-old. This time out we offer you an opportunity to engage in a newer activity that will not only free you of some spare time, it may just change your ideas as to what you can do with packet radio. New uses for packet radio, as well as new ways to operate packet radio are possible through the Linux operating system for personal computers. 

What is Linux?

We briefly touched on Linux in the last installment of "Using the Wisconsin Network". For those of you that missed it, we'll cover what Linux is.

Linux is a multi-user. Multi-tasking computer operating system based on the UNIX operating system that is commonplace on large mainframe-style computers and powerful workstations. Unix was regarded as just "too much" for the average computer user, and never really took off as a platform for personal computers in the early days of personal computing.

Enter Linus Torvalds, a young computer science student from Finland. He was tired of the limitations imposed by the MS-DOS operating system and wanted to make an operating system that was equal to UNIX in functionality, but would run on the Intel-based home computers  commonplace at the time. What was truly unique about this enterprise was the fact that he enlisted the aid of others, and did not keep the system code private. Anyone could modify the raw code, enhance it, and contribute to the evolution of the new operating system. Add to this the fact that it was, and remains "freeware", and you have a revolutionary concept. In a world where software makers have made a great deal of money from their efforts, this was a great departure from the status-quo.

The Linux operating system has caught on amongst the true movers and shakers in the computing community, and has quickly evolved into the "Next Big Thing" in the computer world. Many vendors now offer the system on CD-ROM for very low cost, and others package it nicely with installation programs of their own design. One of the most successful of these is Red Hat Software. Recently, they announced (heir Initial Public Offering of stock. By the end of the day, their stock had increased in value over 300%! If you have doubts as to the viability of the operating system, this may allay your fears.

One of the most effective uses for Linux is that of a server. The most popular World Wide Web Server being used today is Apache, which runs on Linux and UNIX operating systems. Linux is used all over the internet for server purposes, and it's this functionality that may make it attractive to the Amateur Radio operator. The term "server" may conjure up images of large, corporate computers and miles of wire connecting them. You may think that you don't need this kind of capability, so why bother?

The true beauty of Linux is that it's "scalable". Users don't need to nave some large server application running, it is merely capable of it. The robustness of Linux shows us that it will support these applications, but you aren't stuck with something that you don't need.

Why would Hams use Linux?

Simple, the versatility of it, and the applications available for it. Linux is meant to have integral networking capabilities, which can be used in Packet Radio. Because Linux is multi-tasking, it can run many applications simultaneously. One can have a web-server, a packet radio program, a word processor, and a plethora of other programs running at the same time. You would not have to stop what you were doing in order to make a packet connection, and you have access to applications that were unheard of in the packet world until recently. Aside from that, it does involve a certain amount of "tinkering" to get it to do what you want it to do, which is a natural for a ham. We do live to tinker.

Do I get Windows?

There is a graphical user environment that is available for Linux called Xwindows. It is not the same as the familiar Microsoft product, but some clever people have designed interfaces mat look very much like it.

One word of warning, however. Your MS-DOS programs and programs written for Microsoft Windows will not run in a strictly Linux environment. In order to use them, you would use a "DOS Emulator" that fools the application into thinking that you are running MS-DOS. Most applications work with this emulator, there are some that do not. There are also emulators that will run some Microsoft Windows applications. Again, not all programs will run with the emulators. However, if you have a favorite game or maybe a favorite word processor, you very well may be able to use it.

Some Ham Radio applications

The list of ham radio applications available for Linux is rapidly becoming longer and longer. In addition to satellite tracking programs, contest and logging programs, and programs for RTTY, AM TOR and CW, there is also the bask "learn Amateur Radio" type of program. Where Linux really shines in Amateur Radio is the packet radio capability.

Linux has native TCP/IP support. This is the protocol set -the method computers use to exchange data - that the internet runs on. Of course, we in the ham community still use AX.25. No problem, people have written support programs so that AX.25 can , also be integrated into the Linux operating system. This allows you to do TCP/IP over ham radio, as well as use the familiar things you have always done. You can make any standard AX.25 connection via a properly set up Linux computer as well. Checking into your local BBS and nodehopping are popular activities that you can still do, but the list does not stop there.

How about APRS? There are not only the standard APRS applications, but some with a unique twist. How would you like to have the computer .do something in response to an APRS event? This is possible with Linux.

Warn to fun a BBS? This is possible, of course. But here is a neat twist - BBS operators can have Linux running the BBS and a personal packet radio station all on the same computer.

Ever thought it would be nice to have your station do something at a certain time? Few of the garden variety packet programs allow you to do this. Linux, on the other hand, supports this with no problem.

Want to try 9600 bps operation but do not want to ante up fora TNC capable of this speed? Here's a neat twist - Linux can use your sound card as a modem, and do the work of a TNC. All you would need is a suitable radio and antenna. Sorry, Linux does many things, but it does not make RF!

How do I get started?

The real question may as well be "Should I get started?". That depends on your level of patience, as well as your level of curiosity. Patience is needed because some of the Linux configuration, and the configuration of the applications running under it, require tinkering with configuration files and some experimentation. If you are looking for something that runs out-of-the-box with no modification, you may be disappointed. While most of the installation programs used to set up Linux are pretty good, fine-tuning it to your purpose requires time and reading But if you are looking for a nice winter project that does not involve soldering or getting your hands dirty, this may be just what you are looking for.

More to come.

We've just barely scratched the surface of the capabilities of Linux, and what the applications running under it can do. In the next couple of months, we will look at Linux in more detail from a ham's point of view. We'll tell you about specific packet radio programs, what they do, and where to go to get further information. In the meantime, I can give you a source of information that will give you a taste of Linux and what hams can do with it. It is a mailing list called "linux-hams" and you can subscribe to it by sending a -message to:

[email protected]

Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message, put


subscribe linux-hams your_e-mail_address

your_e-mail_address is indeed your particular e-mail address (like [email protected]).

If you know nothing of Linux, you may well be confused for a little while. They speak of things that you may have never heard of. However, the info there will give you some kind of idea of what can be done with Linux in an Amateur Radio environment.

That's all we have time and space for this month. Until next time, 73 from Andy.

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