Sunday, April 17, 2016

My open letter on the BPQ32 group page, and general frustration with the HAM community as a whole

I know where stuff like this goes, if you ask 1000 ham radio operators their opinion, you get 1000 different opinions.   I caution you, the reader, as I know many hams are easily offended by rebellious thoughts or new ideas, i give you this chance to not proceed with reading my diatribe. 

Last chance---->

It seems rather strange when we consider that the viability of an operating mode is only as good as the volume/benefit of the mode usage.  Im sure we all agree on this point.

Nobody here can argue that the heyday of packet has long passed. Swallowed up just like dial-up, due to broadband internet connectivity. I realize, this being a ham radio group, half of the folks will be taken back by this highly offensive yet truthful comment. Because packet is not dead!!!, and there are HUNDREDS of people currently engaged in packet (NON APRS) radio communications, that are not specifically tied to some emergency response service.

So whats going on with packet, why aren't folks jumping on a mode that allows for communication and routing to multiple hosts over the same frequency and includes digipeating  onto HF for global communication. What about younger folks, those who might have been a bit too young to remember the heyday? Let me provide some insight that may be beneficial to everyone as a whole.

If 100 hams are interested in packet; truly interested.  As in "Seriously wanted to get engaged'.
(For this I again define packet as 'NOT APRS' which people/vendors refer to as APRS and not packet radio) 

Half will google it to get more info, find low quality, out of date web pages with erroneous information and move on to something else.

A continuing half will attempt to get something like Direwolf going, perhaps even Soundmodem,  maybe make their own din 6 cable as a primary hardware consideration, Find the one packet repeater in their area, discover that its yet another doomsday repeater, reserved for EMCOMM, that never passes anything more than a beacon every 2 minutes, get bored, and move onto something else.

Who ever is left will try to set up some BBS, just to see if they can.  If they manage to download a copy of  fbbs or something to that effect and get it working for a while, they will eventually get bored, because there are no other users to connect from/to and move on. maybe come back in 6 months and try again. Maybe not.

Those couple of people who are still engaged, will eventually come across BPQ32 in their searches, but not really know exactly what it does, only that it has something to do with packet radio and provides a BBS suite. They will find hundreds of websites providing bad, incomplete, or inconsistent information. BBS, being the catchy phrase, because nobody immediately understands what RMS, WINLINK, or flexnet or other acronyms are.

Consider that the main BPQ32 page.   The de-facto page, doesn't REALLY define what it is.......

Eventually that last person will find that the only community in support of information about the project is on a yahoo group. Im that guy.

And yes, while it evident that 100% of the people reading this, use Yahoo groups, email, and perhaps even usenet to collaborate on projects, well , nobody under 50 does that anymore. This is not a BPQ32 problem, this is overall a festering ham radio community problem.

Please note that when I say nobody, i'm referring to the statistical nobody, as in the bottom of the bell curve, not you, the particular person, being the exception, and reading this.

Truth be told, nobody under 50 actually uses email anymore. Not for anything useful, Nobody under 40 spends more than 2 minutes looking at a website with a painful looking background that has spinning globe gifs and annoying associated auto loading music. This also includes web sites that say "latest news" and don't include a date. (this is my age group BTW)

And though it might be unfortunate, nobody under 30 takes anyone seriously who has a web page that looks like a colorful text file and spells out their email address on their web page as a deterrent against spambots. It shows a lack of understanding of technology. Younger people do not want guidance derived from media which demonstrates the lack of understanding of the media used to convey the information they are seeking.   Thats life, accept it.

If you find this inflammatory, you are part of the problem, if you find this enlightening, you may be part of the solution.

Believe me, id love to gather around a group of people and say "Hey you should get into, or back into packet because of BPQ32. We have a large 2m repeater group here in Orlando 147.120  (Me, having a vague understanding of the software which carries a belief that BPQ is actually onto something here)

But then they ask, 'Whats BPQ32?', and I say, well, i really don't know for sure , and the documentation is terrible, but there is a support group on yahoo.

and their response, "Yahoo?.... Seriously?"

Ok, you get my point, i'm starting to rant about general ham radio frustration, this is my stop.

Its a shame,  ultimately ill just give up on this because there will be no traction, just complaining, that's my prediction anyway. Those with their staunch belief that email on yahoo and 100 non-sensical web pages is the best way forward, will congratulate themselves in defending the status quo against this defiant act of subversion.

For the rest of you thinking" he's right, HAM radios presence on the web is REALLY quite awful' well, this was my attempt to help, so  i'll see how many folks join the forum by months end, if the numbers are impressive enough ill reach out to the project owner further.

Carry on, and remember "Rome did not die from without, it died from within"




  1. Just discovering you and the forum, Jordan, and totally agree. Sad when pages are last updated in 2011 and they are on fairly modern topics like the Raspberry Pi. I'm hesitating getting into the packet world because I have no idea if it's being used around me- nor can I ask the clubs, who are barely online and meet at some suburban diner once a month.

    Part of the reason I'm interested in packet (and APRS *messaging*, not just location) is as a secondary "internet". That doesn't mean EMCOMM, which is hardly ever used and even less often is the best communication method.

    1. The "second Internet" is exactly my interest too. I'm very interested in this topic. I'm just digging into APRS exploring the ability (or inability -- I don't know which yet) to send and receive messages and services -- like access data behind functions a.k.a. a request for a service like an http request.

      Are you still looking? Have you found the capabilities you're looking for?

  2. I agree as well, the BPQ website is terrible. There is no good consolidated document that explains what you need to do and in what order you need to them. I am one of those that was considering setting up a BBS just for fun, but most likely will not because I don't have days to spend trying to figure out how to get BPQ configured and working.

  3. "clunk bang click!!" is this thing on?
    i to am astounded how far down the toilet some thing as cool as packet has gotten.
    i ran a ka/node and bbs on a kpc-3 on vhf back in the 90's and it was a blast!
    im currently trying to get a simple digi running using DireWolf on a Pi as i have access to a uhf stick up at 150ft (will mostly cover the county at 15 watts).
    but the ducumentation is so unbaked.
    maybe im to old to understand what im trying to do, i even went so far as getting a block of 44. ip addys for the project. but im quickly running out of skill.......
    btw ill be using Uronode not BPQ as at least N1URO is at least keeping the project alive

    de k9wkj

  4. Wow, Jordan, you described me in reasonably fine detail: "A continuing half will attempt to get something like Direwolf going, perhaps even Soundmodem, maybe make their own din 6 cable as a primary hardware consideration" ... "Who ever is left will try to set up some BBS, just to see if they can. If they manage to download a copy of fbbs or something to that effect and get it working for a while"

    I read about packet radio and built shortwave radios at the end of the 1980's dreaming of packet radio and the freedom of information, computing, and communication it would enable. Then the Internet came along and honestly in my zeal to create services with Linux and http I barely remembered my interest in radio.

    However, fast forward to 2015 and I finally had more time than money and was tuning a different signal (figuratively and literally) -- that of community directed wireless and digital communications. I (finally) got a ham license earlier this year. I've acquired some 2 meter radios and successfully configured a raspberry pi (and windows, while working on OpenBSD) to work with Direwolf. Yes, I even built the PTT interface. You nailed it!

    I've scanned lots and lots of frequencies -- some for satellites, mostly looking for terrestrial signals. I've found little ham data that I can detect except APRS on 144.390. That's where Xastir came in. I found that pretty interesting in terms of bootstrapping communications -- enabling digitally oriented hams to find others at a distance. I've just recently managed to transmit my own APRS data successfully and I'm psyched that it is the beginning of something I can build on.

    I am just getting into the nitty gritty of APRS to see just what it can and can't do. However, I gather that it doesn't have a good "store and forward" capacity built in. Email and remote application access, I imagine, are the foundation of the "RF web." Maybe APRS can be augmented with that? I don't know yet. I'm imagining, maybe, I can create a packet node with some features like what BPQ32 provides and then advertise its presence with APRS. Once others know about it and I provide some simple way to begin using it, the simplest how-tos I can cook up, I can create a little gravity and interest in the local ham community. If that works, then I write up great how-tos for folks not just to connect and use the BBS or rf-web, but also to make their own and interconnect it with mine and others. Given how much work I've put into this so far, I gather that packet radio is currently too complicated, too fractured, too spread out in time, and doesn't provide enough of a reward.

    I have noticed many of the same things you're complaining about with finding good information. One thing I see as a problem is there are a million ways to do any one thing. There are also lots of communities of interest split between Linux and Windows. Throw in the way packet has been cannibalized by broadband, wired, commercial, "packet" Internet, and I think the whole group of folks like us need a new inspiration.

    I feel like that new inspiration is something like:

    Let's spend a little spare time cultivating a very simple, very slow, very independent, wireless, digital communication foundation that can easily be replicated and self contained YET easy to modify, extend, and configure for new purposes.

    I have a nagging feeling that since APRS seems so ubiquitous and easy to get running, that features need to be built on top of that rather than building something separate or cobbling together all of those old systems that BPQ does because "nobody immediately understands what RMS, WINLINK, or flexnet or other acronyms are."

  5. Jordan: I am overwhelmed and overjoyed to read your open letter as it captures my frustration in trying to set up a BPQ32 HF Robust Packet system as well as trying to get help from a live HAM since I cannot find any decent set up files that speak to me. I happen to be 53 and somewhat knowledgeable with computers and radios. Set up a Pactor/RMS Express system a few months ago - and it actually works. That gave me the the unsupported belief that I could do something with packet radio. However, I can't figure any of this stiff out and I've been trying my best for a few weeks now. I've written emails to operators that seems to know what they are doing. One told me to, "read the manual, nothing much I can add." No wonder few people are trying these incredible digital modes that are especially relevant to emergency communications. Wish I had an answer or could point to someone who is actually willing to help us out. In the meantime, keep the faith, I enjoyed reading your honest words.

    Eric, KM4RDE

  6. Good stuff. I've been interested in packet for awhile now and aprs. APRS is capability without a purpose. I still tinker with it because it's interesting though.

    Agree on documentation. I want to set up a digipeater for APRS and it's like reinventing the wheel trying to figure things out. Additionally, I want to set up a packet station in the old sense of the word and it's really confusing. And I'm a guy who's fairly tech savvy, network savvy, and can write code.

    Keep writing.