WAPR News - September, 2001

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

Hello and welcome to September and soon, Fall. This is the time to start looking at that bothersome pre-winter outside maintenance work. Checking feedlines, antennas, tightening guy wires and tower bolts are what Fall usually means to amateurs. That and perhaps, more activity on Packet.

Packet radio has had a certain level of activity over the summer months, and has been integral to some emergency operations and drills that we've undertaken this summer. Here in Northeastern Wisconsin, we've seen the automated report-and-print system at the Green Bay NWS office put to work with success. And a July 31st drill involving the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant went well - utilizing packet radio in addition to voice, of course. Kewaunee and Manitowoc Counties' ARES/RACES units were able to successfully conference with the Wisconsin DEM Ham Shack on the WIGRB Node in Green Bay with reasonable reliability during this drill. That was a far cry from a few years ago when the paths were not reliable and getting through was very tough. I'd like to thank all of the node owners and operators for their good work at improving this situation and look forward to more network enhancements in the future.

Wireless networking (the "new" term for radio-connected computing) is what we're all about, of course. In the last few years we've seen what I would consider an uncomfortable shift in our hobby. We've seen increasing reliance on the Internet to help complete our network, and sometimes this is not a good thing. While I applaud people who take the time and effort to provide packet radio operators with gateways and other such Internet-based connectivity, reliance on the Internet alone can prove to be a problem. This is especially true when you think of the disaster support communications that hams have been famous for over the years.

Sure, we could set up an Internet worm-hole and make our connections to the state DEM in Madison easy-as-pie. And it would be far faster than our current radio-based speeds (which could, by the way, be much higher). However, we have to consider that the Internet, for all of it's reliability, is vulnerable.

Consider what happened in July and August - it was covered quite prominently in the mainstream media. All the media outlets were covering the release of "Code Red", and it's even more devastating spin-off, "Code Red II". Code Red, as you probably heard, affects Microsoft Internet Information Servers installed on computers operating with the Microsoft Windows 2000 and Microsoft Windows NT operating systems. It's classified as a "worm" that spreads to other machines, intermittently probing other computers to find a host to infect. While it did not shut the entire Internet down, it slowed traffic to a crawl in some places when it was active. At about the same time, a major fire on the east coast burned fiber-optic lines, further crippling Internet traffic.

What was not reported in the mainstream media was the effect it had on computers that were connected to both the Internet and the Amateur Packet Radio network. Almost all Amateur Radio traffic sent through the Internet is routed through one computer system at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) that functions as a network "router". A router accepts packets from a source computer and sends them to the proper destination. This router was crippled by the Code Red worm - effectively preventing most Amateur Radio traffic from propagating through the Internet. This system was being "probed to death" and most all of the traffic stopped cold (or was drastically slowed).

This points out one important fact that should make most people reconsider exclusive reliance on the Internet - the Internet is indeed vulnerable and can't be counted on in times of disaster. If we had some disaster that required us to use packet radio over any distance while the Code Red worm was active, we would be out of luck if we relied heavily on the Internet to carry packet traffic. Times of disaster are when emergency management agencies rely on us most. Murphy's law dictates that we will eventually see this happen if we rely on the Internet exclusively to complete our packet network.

Which means that we simply must do all we can to complete our radio network. Not just an RTTY-speed text-capable network, but one that is nearly as functional as the Internet, and fast, too. Every amateur - even if they don't use packet radio on a regular basis - should realize that packet radio is a vital tool for hams engaging in emergency operations. UHF and Microwave Amateur Radio backbones are not as prone to the solar flares that disrupt MF and HF paths, and provide the added benefit of sending text, pictures and information files that would be cumbersome or impossible to send by voice.

Packet Radio networks are a chain - and we can't rely on the Internet as a link in this chain. Sure, the Internet is a nice addition to a network and if a radio system fails, we may be able to utilize it temporarily to complete a missing link. However, we need to get back to what we're all about - a reliable wireless computer network. Have comments or questions? Feel free to mail me.

One more thing to touch on this month. We'll soon be putting another WAPR meeting together. If you have a suggestion as to location, please do let me know. As soon as we can work out the details, I'll be sure to let everyone know.

That's all for now. Until next time, 73 from Andy.

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