It’s official! I have added VE4VC as one of my call signs!

When I obtained my Amateur Station license 5 years ago I had my examiner make a special request for me. I wanted my Grandfather’s call sign. It was a request that was outside of the rules for call signs in Canada as he had a 2-letter suffix and I would have had to make the request within 1 year of his death otherwise it would go back to the general pool of call signs. Because it had been 15 years Industry Canada denied the request. I was disappointed but knew the likelihood of someone else requesting it was low. In Canada we still have regional call signs and Manitoba being a small province it was unlikely that someone else would request it

This January was my 5th year of having my license so I applied back to Industry Canada (now Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) to request VE4VC as an additional call sign. It wasn’t the smoothest process in the world, but an email or two with a government employee got everything straightened out.

I’ve known for about two-weeks that the call sign was mine. However, today I received the official certificate showing that I’m now allowed to operate with my original call sign of VA4XRY and my new call sign VE4VC.

Hughie passed away 20-years ago the day after my birthday, Dec 9th, 2000. It’s fitting to me that close to the 20 year anniversary of that event that VE4VC returned to our family with my successful request of the call sign. I know that Hughie would be tickled to know that his Grandson now was using his call. Quite possibly the VE4VC license plate will be back on the road in the near future.

First Weekend of DMR

So my first DMR radio arrived this weekend. Well to try and not tell a long story, two DMR radios arrived. I originally ordered a TYT MD-380 and decided against it. It arrived even though I thought I cancelled the order. I changed my mind and purchased a Ailunce HD1 instead.

Why the switch in radio? The HD1 was designed for radio amateurs and supports VHF and UHF in both FM and DMR modes. It’s a larger radio but more capable than the MD-380. I believe there are three variants of the MD-380. A VHF, a UHF, and a VHF/UHF version. I had ordered the UHF version because that’s the band of my local DMR repeater. While the MD-380 is smaller, it is less capable. I’m still deciding whether to ship it back or keep it around for shits and giggles.

DMR has been a bit of a learning curve. I’ve had an FM receiver tuned to the DMR repeater so that I can hear when there is digital traffic to see whether I should be receiving something or not. It took me a bit to find Promiscuous mode, however that setting makes learning what is going on with the repeater much easier. There is a periodic broadcast on my local repeater that doesn’t decode on either time-slot with promiscuous mode set, I’ll have to get my SDR out and DSD+ to decode that traffic.

All in all the learning curve for a DMR radio is a little steep, but if you have a decent technical background it’s still not too bad. The concept of connecting to talk groups by setting a contact and then keying up is a little strange, but I guess not much different than using DTMF tones to link an FM repeater. Watching what is going on with your local repeater and talkgroups you are connecting to on is also a great way to speed up the learning curve.

What the etiquette is for a DMR repeater I’m not sure. I still have a bit of learning to do on that front and will be monitoring to learn. I know with FM repeaters you need to key up and check if the repeater is free before linking to other repeaters. For now on DMR I’ve been monitoring and waiting until late evening to connect to talk groups. The DMR repeater in my area is quite new and does not appear to have a heavy load on it.

My next step is to build a MMDVM hotspot for a Raspberry Pi. There are a lot of Chinese sources for MMDVM hotspots, but from my research most of them are a rip off an Open Hardware project from some North American hams. To be a good citizen of the hobby I plan on working from their Open Hardware designs and will build the unit by hand myself.

Book Review – The Existential Pleasure of Engineering

The Existential Pleasures of Engineering – Samuel C. Florman

I think it should be stated that any book with Existential in the title is probably not going to be an easy read. I naively thought that this book would be much easier and lighthearted than it was. Florman comes across as highly defensive of the profession of engineering in a way that gives me the impression that he had his hackles raised up from ongoing events.

The Existential Pleasure of Engineering was first published in 1976 though it originates to an address that Florman gave at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences. Florman believes that the golden-era of engineering had ended shortly after World War II. It had lasted nearly a century from 1850 to 1950 during which new strong alloys, new analysis techniques, and a strong scientific process had brought forth many technological advancements like railways, bridges, skyscrapers, dams and so on. After World War II the world was weary from war. Nuclear weapons, the beginning of the Cold War, The Korean War, and the advancement of Communism resulted in a lot of fear and pessimism in the general population. This pessimism gave rise to the Flower Power and Hippie movements of the ’60s in which people wanted to turn away from technology. Along with the Hippies were anti-technology and anti-technocrat philosophers that were highly critical of the technological advancements and utopianism of the 1950s

The blame for the horrors of war was at times shifted on to the shoulders of engineers as a whole and people questioned why engineers wouldn’t refuse to work on these projects. Florman makes the valid argument that engineers represent a similar cross-section of society than any other group. Some engineers did refuse to work on some projects, some felt that working on defensive weapons was warranted, while others felt working on any weapon that prevented the advancement of fascism or communism was for the betterment of society. Florman doesn’t hint at what his own beliefs are on this subject, instead, he makes the argument that engineers bear no more responsibility in society than any other group. Engineers do not represent a monolithic block of people with all the same political and moral views. Further, he makes the argument that it is contradictory to argue against a technocratic society while also making the argument that engineers should act as a monolithic block.

Florman also defends engineers from arguments of being boring dullards who are completely detached from the natural world, that there is no joy found in their endeavors. He argues that it is quite the opposite, engineers are closer to the natural world than most people through their understanding and application of the physical sciences in their creations. He does agree that engineers can at times be dull because of their serious focus and dedication to their projects, but at the end of a project there, is a great joy and celebration to be had.

I feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this book. There are a lot of references to articles, editorials, and literature that I feel would be of benefit to read in full to get the context of what Florman is arguing against. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering is well worth a read for the engineer, technologist, or layman to understand an engineer’s place, or more correctly, many places in society. Like the few other books of philosophy I have read like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I will be coming back to this book again after doing some further reading based on Florman’s references.

One final thought, I felt that this book would have been better titled In Defense of the Engineer. Florman had a bone to pick with those that questioned the advancement of technology in society and the role that engineers played in that advancement. That tone was felt throughout the book.

Lotus 25 – A Pinnacle of An Era?

I have a lot of favorite F1 cars from over the years, but the pre-aero Lotus 25 always comes out on top for its simple, spartan, and essential design. Wheels, suspension, a Coventry-Climax FWMV V8 engine, and monocoque body. You could not strip a race car to less than what the Lotus 25 was. Jim Clark and the Lotus 25 brought poetry to the race track with every appearance.

Damon Hill, one of the most gentlemanly men of the sport, and the Lotus 25, by far the most beautiful car to hit the circuit.

The Lotus 25 was the pinnacle of the pre-aero days of Formula 1 and a mere 5 years later Lotus was racing the Lotus 49 with front wings for steering and a high rear wing for acceleration traction. The high rear wings would later be banned for their fragility and subsequently mounted to the body work of the car directly.

Race of Champions, Brands Hatch, England, 1969. Graham Hill races toward the win in a Lotus 49-Ford. CD#0777-3292-0624-15.

In a sense the Lotus 25 represented and end of an era, the point at which technology had reached its peak without a disruptor or game changer making it’s appearance. The introduction of aero would forever change the look of F1 racing. However disruptors are not always obvious, and it’s not obvious that the Lotus 25 was a disruptor in its own regard. It was the first monocoque F1 car on track which resulted in a body that was significantly stiffer and half the weight of the previous generation Lotus 24. With an engine only producing 195 bhp, this represented a significant gain in performance.

Lotus 24 2018 Silverstone Classic.

On the surface the Lotus 25 and Lotus 24 are essentially the same car. A simple body, engine, wheels, suspension, and driver. The change to a monocoque body was not nearly as obvious as the addition of wings. Which change was the most significant to Formula 1? That is a much more difficult question to answer. The immediate and obvious answer would be the addition of aero. Since the Lotus 49, aero has been the main battle ground of the sport, however, a single season reduction of weight of the chassis by half cannot be ignored. Formula 1 would also see a shift to a monocoque design in the same way that cars shifted to relying on aero to squeeze out every ounce of performance.

Jim Clark did not win the 1962 season of Formula 1, narrowly losing out to Damon Hill’s father Graham Hill. However, in 1963 season of Formula 1, Jim Clark won the Driver’s and Constructor’s championship. The 1960’s were not an easy era to attribute technological innovation to Formula 1 performance. It was a driver’s era and races were lost and won in 10’s of seconds to minutes instead of the hundredths of seconds to seconds they are today. The Constructors Championship of the Lotus 25 in its second year on track still affirms the change it brought to Formula 1.

I’ll end with one last video. David Coulthard driving the same Lotus 25 in 2013. Poetry in motion.

BBC Sport F1 2013 – David Coulthard drives Jim Clark’s historic Lotus 25

Brief Book Review – Sandworm

This is one of the scariest non-fiction books I have read. Sandworm details the industrial hacking during the Russo-Ukrainian War. The capabilities that the Russians showed for hacking networks that caused damage all across the world, whether intentionally or not, garnered a distinct lack of response fro NATO countries. Quite possibly so that the US and NATO countries could freely use similar tactics in future conflicts. Hacking industrial networks that provide power, water, natural gas etc to civilian populations encroaches on provisions in the Geneva Conventions that are supposed to protect non-combatant civilian populations. Hacking is an asymmetric warfare technique that allows less capable militaries to wreak havoc on populations of stronger nations. The Ukraine conflict over the past 5 years is just a taste of what the future of conflict and war will be.

Book Recommendation – The Pragmatic Programmer

The Pragmatic Programmer

After almost 18 years in the industry, it’s amazing how close I could get to writing this book from my first-hand experiences. I do wish I read this at the beginning of my career, it might have saved me some stress and grey hair. It’s nice to see all this information codified in one place. I would say there are a lot of aspects that could easily be adapted to any engineering or design based profession. This book will go on my shelf at the office and I will be recommending it to many folks I work with.

The book contains a philosophy of how to go about programming instead of hard step by step instructions. When I had to write a coding standard for my embedded team 8 years ago, this is almost the same approach I used. Coding standards and style guides typically result in holy wars with the team. We had worked on writing a nice compact 8-page coding standard, gave it to one of the team members to review, and he blew it up to over 45-pages of mind-numbing eye-bleeding rules. I threw the document out, wrote a 3-page coding philosophy, and adopted the Linux Kernel style guide as our loosely followed standards. It’s amazing how well that worked and the step-up in quality that followed. I will be doing this again with the software teams I will be growing over the next 24-months, and adopting something with a very similar philosophy with my hardware/electronics team.