Sunday, March 31, 2013

Contemplating Privacy and Radio Communications 6

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

First off, back a few days ago, an anonymous commenter asked
Do you know of any available resources to build freq hopping and encrypted radios available to the public. It might be a good project to get some of your engineers working on, perhaps using this as a foundation:
All you need is a laptop and the Hackrf USB radio, throw on a GUI that makes signal strength and frequency selection easy, encryption and frequency hop loads, and you've got a military grade radio. 
I haven't kept up with this tech - the last time I saw similar things (and it may have been a dead end on the Internet) it was certainly not military grade, and I wasn't even sure it was Belkin grade.  That is, I'm not sure it was as good as commercial WiFi you can buy anywhere pretty cheaply.  I can't say I'm an expert at this, having just looked it over, but this is not a usable radio; it's a digital board that allows you to experiment with software defined radios (SDRs).   The HackRF page on Ars Electronica says
There are relatively few people in the world with the knowledge and tools required to develop new radio communications hardware, but there are many millions of people who have the ability to program a computer. General purpose computers are widely deployed, and opportunities to learn how to program them are available to a huge number of people.  HackRF gives all of those people the capability to explore the radio spectrum and develop creative new ways to communicate.
The difference is that HackRF doesn't seem to have any receiver sophistication and only a very low power transmitter stage that I can see.  I freely admit I could be wrong, but the block diagram sure doesn't show anything.  One of the paradoxes of SDRs is that they don't eliminate the need for filters; if anything, they become more important due to the aliases they respond to.  He describes it as combining "Licorice, Lemondrop, and Jellybean into a single USB-powered software radio".  Maybe I'm searching in all the wrong places, but a few searches with Bing retrieve nothing on them.  I don't think this is a GUI away from being useful, but hey!, prove me wrong!

SDRs for experimenters are not new at all.  Hams play with SoftRock, (also) a low power CW transceiver (Continuous Wave, the name hams tend to use for Morse code communications) that plugs into a USB port and a sound card.  These guys produce an HF SDR, transmit and receive, that is architecturally very similar to one I recently completed for a commercial design (naturally, I prefer the design trade choices that I made over theirs).  RFSpace has a product line of SDR receivers.   FlexRadio is a staple in the ham world; their SDRs are considered among the finest radios on the market. 

I recommend getting an amateur radio license because it brings with it the privileges to experiment with new modes and new technologies all on your own.  You can buy an FRS radio to talk to someone, but if you're a ham, you can invent your own mode with an outwardly similar radio, because you're expected to understand the technical requirements.  The technician class license conveys all amateur privileges above 30 MHz, plus it gives holders some privileges in the HF spectrum (high frequency or shortwave - capable of worldwide communication).  The American Radio Relay League is the dedicated organization that is closest to a "universal American ham club", although like the NRA, the ARRL is often criticized by non-member hams (well, not as often as the NRA).  If you want a completely non-official page, this guy seems pretty good.  

If you want to experiment with modes that require more than audio bandwidth, you need to be above 30 MHz, and you're going to need to experiment with radios (or have someone in your group that knows radio design).  Simply, most amateur gear is either surplus commercial gear or designed from the ground up for the narrowband modes that dominate.  Except for TV - hams have done regular TV at 400 MHz and above and are now doing digital TV.  A few months ago, I met hams who were buying surplus video equipment at WiFi frequencies and above.  They were playing with extending it out to long distances, and had made WiFi connections at 125 miles.  There is a ham band that overlaps the band allocated to WiFi, so the surplus gear is being used for ham purposes all the time.

As I said the other day, the use of ham radio to send encrypted messages, like a PGP-encrypted text file, is illegal, although the Feds have routinely allowed all sorts of things when a disaster happens.  If there is a total failure of civil order, I can't imagine this would be an enforcement priority.  Sort of like this old Far Side cartoon:
I think if you're going to learn how to set up and use communications, a ham license gets you the ability to do it in a licensed and permitted way. You can save the encrypted stuff for when you need it.
Simply using UHF or microwaves on a point to point link (no repeaters) will give you almost total anonymity. 

Finally, a couple of people (here and in email) have asked for book titles or other ways to learn about this field.  Most of the books I know of are at least somewhat mathematical.  Electronic Communications by Robert Schrader is a very good book, often used as a junior college text or supplement in ham classes.  Spread Spectrum Systems by Robert C. Dixon is one of the standard books.  Both of these are available in several editions and are often found used or in library sales.  The ARRL Handbook, published every year, has long been considered a very complete summary of modern ham radio theory and practice.  There's a difference between books published for working engineers and those published for school, where the aim is to impress the professors enough to become the textbook.  Because of this, I have a tendency to pick up old textbooks written from the working engineer's perspective.  I've often thought I've learned more from magazines and ham radio publications than my engineering texts, as those books have more insights per square inch than textbooks do. 

He Is Risen

Mostly a repost from 2011 with some fresh thoughts:
 (Source here)
Last Saturday, author Lee Strobel wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal called "How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism".  It's short, only about "a page", so it's worth your while to RTWT - if you're the kind of person with any questions about faith, or can't understand "how can an intelligent person believe in God?", a common idea.  Ever noticed how when the average comedian does a parody of a dumb person, it's always someone with a southern accent?  If they're going to make fun of Christians, it's always a dumb southerner who pronounces "Jesus" with three or more syllables?  I'll leave the topic of perceived intelligence of southerners vs. northerners for another day (well... except for this).

In a way, his story starts the same way mine does:
It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. Two words shot through my mind. The first was an expletive; the second was “divorce.”
This was me in the mid 1980s.  In Lee's case he goes on to say,
I thought she was going to turn into a self-righteous holy roller. But over the following months, I was intrigued by the positive changes in her character and values. Finally, I decided to take my journalism and legal training (I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune) and systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity.
My wife didn't show any of those "positive changes in her character and values" that I could see - she really didn't need any - (no disrespect to Mrs. Strobel intended).  And although I didn't have "journalism and legal training", I had studied biochemistry and microbiology in college through my third year before eventually getting my degree and starting to ply my trade as an engineer.  Strobel's own book, "The Case for Christ"* played a role in filling in the gaps in my historical knowledge.

Easter is the most important day in Christianity and far more important than Christmas because of the resurrection.  Everyone has a birthday, but only one man in history has been resurrected.  So since virtually everyone, including honest atheists, agrees Jesus was a real man in history and died on the cross, the question becomes whether or not it can be verified that Christ was seen after the resurrection by someone other than the closest circle of disciples. An experienced legal/crime writer, Strobel knew the essence of the question is the resurrection, and independent witnesses are the key.  The gospels talk of Jesus appearing several times, but what about other historians?  Sobel writes:
Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them.
Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!
In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.
The other religions of the world are about ritual and ultimately about self, about you proving yourself worthy; Christianity is about grace.  (Borepatch writes today about the sin of pride - completely about self.  My church home group/small group leader uses the saying "SELF - Satan's Eternal Location Found").  Forget self; you're not good enough on your best day; you are saved by Grace.  No other religion teaches Grace.  Islam teaches that Allah is unknowable.  Christianity teaches that not only is God knowable, he wants us to know him.  Islam doesn't teach salvation, it teaches servitude to a fickle, arbitrary, distant Allah.  Christianity teaches forgiveness by Grace; that you're given a gift by a God who so wants a close personal relationship with us, he gives us a gift we could never possibly deserve.  I like the way the Message translation does this verse (Ephesians 2: 8)
It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. 
Evolution vs. creation? I believe people pay way too much attention to this.  There's no mention of evolution in the bible, but there's no mention of the laws of thermodynamics, Avogadro's number, or relativity.  The bible isn't a science book.  Look at it this way: the creation story, how we got here, takes up a page.  The next thousand pages (or more, depending on font size, paper size, and so on) are concerned with how we treat each other while we're here.  Creation is clearly not the emphasis of the book, it just starts out that way.  And saying a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum foam exploded sounds remarkably like nothing springing into something.  If you were trying to explain the standard model of cosmology to people who hadn't developed Algebra, let alone the Calculus yet,  "Let there be light" sounds like as good a picture as I can think of.  Lets see you explain partial differential equations to kindergartners. 

Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your families.  I have a pork shoulder and a duckling in the smoker as I type.  Enjoy things while we can.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Contemplating Privacy and Radio Communications 5

Something I neglected to cover yesterday - not deliberately; I just couldn't find reference details for it - is how resistant to interference or jamming these digital modes are.  I can tell you they won't be as resistant as a specially designed communications data link because they just don't have all the attributes of one, but I can't give you numbers for how resistant they are.  Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of operating experience with the various wider band/faster amateur digital modes.  Also, the exact effect of an interferer or jammer would depend on what sort of radio system we're using, FM or Single Side Band (SSB).  An SSB radio has the effect of taking the modulation band we produce at audio and converting it to a small band of radio frequencies, wherever we choose to place it.

Jamming is complex phenomenon, but it usually works by overloading the radio; exposing it to a signal so strong that some part of the radio can't respond properly.  Some systems are easier to jam than others, but basically older modulation forms (AM and FM) are easier.  Depending on the modulation mode and type of jammer, it can cause the detector to just respond to the jammer.  AM radios will receive everything on the channel they're tuned to, and make annoying squeals and squawks.  FM radios have a limiter that amplifies everything to high level, and in doing so, "captures" the stronger signal.  Even a slightly higher signal level can dominate the audio delivered to the speaker.  (In an engineering lab I worked in, ages ago, one of the guys hated the music another guy tuned in on his FM radio.  His answer?  Put a signal generator on that FM frequency and stick a small wire in it's output connector as an antenna.  The generator's unmodulated output made the FM receiver produce no audio output).  The weak point of jammers is that they need to either put lots of power everywhere, or they need to some power on frequencies they know an "enemy" is using.  The second one is much cheaper and easier. 

In the case of these complex MFSK modes, especially the ones with error coding like Olivia or MT63-2000, I imagine they'd be rather resistant to jamming, because they're designed to be resistant to interference.  Some jammer effects can probably be made up by error correction.  They'd need to wipe out the entire audio passband.  I believe it would be easier to find and jam a narrowband FM system running these modes than to find and jam an SSB system running the same modulation.  (This page has tabs for many of these modes that lead to descriptions of how they work).

True story about jammers.  I heard this as hall talk, I did not see it with my own eyes, but have no reason to doubt it.  Major Southeast Defense Contractor made an AJ (Anti-Jam) modem for the military.   The buyers specified a variety of jammers it would be tested against, with very specific parameters.  Late in development, after all these specified tests were all passed, someone happened to turn on a Dremel Moto-Tool next to the system while it was passing data.  The Dremel completely jammed this complex, multimillion dollar data link better than all of the jammers specified by the customer. 

I tell this to bring up a simple point: jamming can work both ways, just like tracers.  It's not just simple systems that can be jammed by simple methods.   I'm picturing a huge Dremel now... maybe 40 feet tall... just kidding.  Maybe a TIG or MIG welder.  But with online stores selling GPS jammers, movie theaters adding cellphone jammers, and other electronics stores selling jammers of all types, it is becoming a rather brave new world these days, isn't it?  I've heard of people going down the highway, with their in-dash or other GPS receiver telling them when the next turn is coming, suddenly losing their GPS link when a truck or panel van goes by. 
(an FM broadcast jammer schematic.  Takes out the entire FM band.  Quite illegal.  Not responsible for you.  Educational use only.  YMMV.  Do Not Remove This Mattress Tag.  Blah blah blah)

Probable conclusion tomorrow...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Contemplating Privacy and Radio Communications 4

One of the major advances in ham radio over the last decade or two has been the development of many more digital modes.  There are many reasons for this, curiosity and experimentation are two of the big reasons many hams get a license in the first place, but putting high horsepower computers on virtually everyone’s desk, most of which come with a DSP capability that was pure dream-world only a few decades ago plays a big part.  Put creative people together with advanced hardware and innovation is what happens.  Plus, the modes are popular with hams who just operate the radios the way most people operate their kitchen appliances. 

These modes are aimed at keyboard typing speeds, not high speed data transfer.  Most hams chat on the air, and the design emphasis has been on modes that allow easy, natural conversation without a lot of delay for error checking and correction.  They also tend to be aimed at overcoming the common propagation issues hams face: fading, interference from other stations, and multipath (where several versions of the transmitted message come over different propagation paths and reach the receiver almost simultaneously) are the big ones.  This is keyboard chat, much like texting each other. 

There are currently at least a couple of dozen modes that can be found with many software programs that support them.  Any sound card based mode is going to emphasize signals in the audio bands the radios handle, usually that 3 kHz bandwidth that voice signals occupy. 

What I’d like to think of as a best approach is a mode that sounds more like noise than like audio tones being played.  The best I’ve heard is a mode called MT63.  There’s a few bandwidths of MT63 supported in the cheap/free software, and MT63-1000 is 1000 Hz wide (audio tones from 500 to 1500 Hz) and it supports a typing speed of over 100 WPM.  100 WPM is pretty good, but everything you’ve read to this point takes just over 3 minutes to transmit (plus some time for overhead).  There’s an MT63-2000 that goes 200 WPM, too.  Here's a screen capture of my transmitter sending a short test ("testing testing de mycall mycall") in MT63-2000:
For those that have never seen this sort of display, it's an audio "waterfall display"; the numbers along the top row (500 to 2500) are the frequencies in the audio passband (in Hz), and the vertical lines show you an indication of the intensity of that frequency; reds are hot - high intensity; fading through yellow to green to blue, which is very low audio.  The vertical dimension is time.  The taller a stripe, the longer it lasts.  The software is DM780, by the way. 

MT63 is a family of MFSK – Multiple Frequency Shift Keying – modulation modes.  That means many audio tones are used, and while there are many MFSK modes, what’s novel about MT63 is that it’s OFDM with FEC.  (FEC’ing what?)  OFDM means orthogonal frequency domain multiplexing; it has 64 independent tones in that 2000 Hz bandwidth (500 Hz to 2500 Hz) spaced at 1/64 of the 2000 Hz BW, and each tone is differentially Bi-Phase Shift Keyed (BPSK – sometimes called DPSK when differentially encoded).  It also includes FEC – Forward Error Correction – a method of reducing errors and increasing robustness.  FEC depends on sending redundant information, so the price for FEC is forward speed, but 200 WPM is pretty decent sending speed.  It will be slow for sending text files, but is good for tactical messages.  To be honest, I’ve seen professional systems that aren’t this sophisticated. 

There are other good MFSK or PSK modes, but they all have a tendency to sound musical to some degree.  The most popular mode is PSK31, a BPSK mode with a distinctive audio sound, that runs at 31.25 Bits per second or roughly 20 WPM.  Many of these PSK or FSK modes use tones that change in some sort of rhythm and can sound like some sort of music.  An early mode was called piccolo, and the name was what it sounded like.  DominoEx16 is a fast MFSK mode, too, allowing 140 WPM typing.  It doesn’t incorporate FEC, but is said to be so good in its basic approach that it doesn't really need FEC.  It's very tolerant of frequency drift, up to 200 Hz/minute, something that might be important with radios built from spare parts.  It's also helpful with microwave frequency radios, since even relatively good crystals drift a lot when multiplied by thousands to around 10 GHz.  The only drawback to the mode is that it sounds more like a quick riff on a flute than noise.  It is a quick riff, though. Here's the same message as before, plotted from DominoEX16:

A mode that puts emphasis on reliability of communications rather than pure speed is called Olivia.   Olivia is another MFSK mode, which uses two layers of FEC; one in the the number of tones and protocol for switching tones, with another FEC layer in the information coding.  It is robust, very error resistant, but 39.1 WPM is the fastest protocol for Olivia.  Most contacts occur at the lower 24.4 WPM.  39.1 is still faster than the vast majority of people can receive Morse code, though, so it's still a good mode for conversing.   Here's a picture of the same text as the previous two transmissions using Olivia 1000/16  
This message isn't done: in the DominoEX plot my entire message ("testing testing de mycall mycall") is above.  DominoEX and MT63-2000 take essentially the same shortest vertical space, (time) with Olivia 1000/16 taking quite a bit longer.  By the way: notice in this chart of Olivia formats, that it decodes as much as 14 dB below the noise in its bandwidth.  Better performance is at slower speeds.
(source: Multipsk by Patrick F6CTE)







*Common formats for calling CQ or to initiate QSO

Here's your problem:  You and your small group of rebel forces are trying to take out the power station on the forest moon of Endor, allowing the Jedi knights to take out the new Death Star.  You need to communicate stealthily so that the mighty empire doesn't detect you and send Imperial Walkers your way.  Unlike the movie, though, you find the Ewoks have been visited by natives of the planet Redneck ("You just might be a Redneck Jedi if you know the taste of Ewok") and they've been hunted to extinction, so you have to do it on your own. 

The application I think of is modulating a small HT for UHF or microwaves with this audio.  If heard, it would probably be considered some sort of local noise source.  Especially if it was only present intermittently (if you’re not used to it, it will surprise you just how much radio noise is present, especially at lower frequencies). 

"But old man!  I don't want to try to drag a radio and a laptop to communicate!  Don't you have anything better for me??"  ("There is no try!  There is only do...") sorry.  I think I will, but not tonight.  I think the killer app here is a little box that plugs into any HT's microphone and speaker jacks.  The box takes in microphone audio, digitizes it and turns it into these tones to transmit.  On the receive side, it takes the tones and turns them into bits that then are converted to analog voice that you hear in your headphones.  The box doesn't quite exist, but I think I can see how to get there. 

Still more to come...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Contemplating Privacy and Radio Communications 3

First, let's pause for a quick summary of the first two parts.  Radio communications is extremely useful, but inherently not private.  Once a signal is launched from your antenna it expands in all directions and can potentially be heard by anyone who can put together (or buy) a receiver.  Two ways of addressing the privacy concerns are to make the signal harder to detect, and to hide the contents of the message in some way, either encoding it in common language that doesn't mean what it says, or encrypting it in a way that's essentially impossible to break.  Simple ways to make a signal harder to find include to reduce power to the bare minimum needed, use brief messages, turn off radios when not in use, and to use a continually changing set of frequencies, in a relatively unused part of the spectrum. Finally, this is somewhat academic because while some of these techniques (such as reducing transmitter power, or using other frequencies) are encouraged, others (such as encryption) are illegal. 

What other technical means are there to ensure that only an intended recipient could get the message?  An obvious one is to not use radios.  Use wire, or optical fiber.  The equally obvious disadvantage is inflexibility.  First, the users have to be in located where the wire is.  Second, if the wire is found it can either be cut, or more dangerously, it can be tapped (yes, fiber optics can be tapped).

A way to decrease the power even further is to ask whether it's possible to get information out of a weaker, noisier signal, a lower SNR.  This has been researched for much of the last hundred years of radio, and it's quite possible to do that.  I have to go over some background before I get to signals below the noise.

A necessary detour here is into information and bandwidth.  Even people who are relatively new to communications probably have an idea about bandwidth - it's what you're buying when you buy a fast internet pipe.  The universe is put together in such a way that to send more information either takes more time or more bandwidth.  That tells us that time and bandwidth are inversely related - if you were online in the days of 56k dial-up modems (or 28k, or... or if you're still on dial-up) you'll remember how long it took to download a jpeg. 

But what do we mean by information?  Among the most useful pieces of mathematical theory to be developed in the last century is Claude Shannon's information theory.  Information theory starts with a concept that's so simple it's stupid: if I tell you something you already know, I haven't conveyed any information.  I like to use the example that if I come in from going to the mailbox some day in August, and I say, "it's hot out there", I've conveyed no information.  You know it's hot because you know it's August and this is Florida.  What conveys information is telling you something you don't know: to radio signals that means changes in state.  

A lot of very useful thoughts come out of that simple idea.  Let's say I put a radio signal on the air.  No modulation, no voice, music, nothing - what's called a carrier.  The only information I've conveyed is the presence of that signal.  That's not necessarily useless: I could be telling you "I made it to the destination". The world's superpowers have used a signal like this for nuclear submarines.  The signal being there tells them the homeland hasn't been vaporized so there's no reason to launch their nuclear doomsday weapons.  A digital way of looking at it is that I've conveyed one bit of information.  Friends from the Three Letter Agencies will tell you it's possible to encode more information with a single carrier, the time of day can have meaning.  The exact frequency could mean something.  We could agree in advance that one frequency means "everything is ok" and the other means "mission failed".

Shannon tells us that the way to get optimum information transmission is make changes in the signal.  The simplest way to add information to the carrier is to turn it on and off.  On Off Keying (OOK) can be Morse code, or it can be a custom code - some cars' remote door lock systems use OOK.  Adding information to the signal - modulating it - increases its bandwidth.  In a Morse code system, the bandwidth is usually considered to be about 5 Hz for every Word Per Minute (WPM) of code speed, so a 20 WPM signal occupies 100 Hz, while a perfect carrier has virtually zero bandwidth.  Think how long a sheet of text would take to send at 20 WPM, what used to be considered an expert's speed.  Voice conveys more information but, of course, occupies more bandwidth. 

Over the years, radio experimenters have developed a broad set of techniques to modulate a radio signal.  Any characteristic of a signal can be controlled or modulated from OOK to control of amplitude with the information or Amplitude Modulation (AM), control of the frequency or Frequency Modulation (FM), Phase Modulation (PM) and probably the most common systems today are Phase Shift modulated (called Phase Shift Keying or PSK, in general).  In most of those systems, the bandwidth used is the minimum required for the information to be transmitted. 

An interesting aspect of modulation is that some improvement in SNR can be obtained by using more bandwidth than the signal requires.  Broadcast FM radio achieves process gain by using rather wide bandwidths - any signal level higher than the threshold gives more SNR than a narrowband modulation would. 

Putting the idea of process gain together with that of LPI/LPE design, we've found advantages to using much more bandwidth than the data requires.  This is called Spread Spectrum or SS.  A few weeks ago, I posted about how actress and mathematician Hedy Lamarr developed a way of hiding radio transmissions based on changing the channels between a submarine and a torpedo.  Most workers consider her patent the invention of FHSS or Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum, the simplest form of SS. What makes it impressive is that you can't just change channel whenever you feel like it - what if you're in the middle of a command to the torpedo?  The hop rate has to be slower than the modulation rate, and likely synchronized to it, or the modulation gets lost.  She had to understand that. 

Most systems, like the WiFi systems found everywhere, are a form of Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum, DSSS.  The idea is straight from Shannon.  To convey information, we have to change some aspect of the transmit signal.  What changes state the most?  Noise.  The most information is sent in a given time when the signal is most like noise  In DSSS, the modulation is a digital data stream which is then multiplied by a pseudorandom number to make it more noise-like (more transitions).  The pseudorandom number is usually generated in a circuit consisting of a sequence of logic elements, so it's also called pseudonoise or PN sequence.  This multiplication can make the spectrum as wide as we'd like it.  Why would we want to?  It becomes harder to jam.  Spread spectrum takes the information (blue) and spreads it out over a wider chunk of spectrum, like this (yellow is the resulting spectrum which gets transmitted) :
The wider spectrum has a lower peak power because all of the transmitter power gets spread over the wider chunk of spectrum.  At the receiver, this power can be below the thermal noise in that bandwidth, which makes good on my promise to tell you about modulation that can work with lower SNRs.  The receiver has the task of synchronizing itself to the received data, a process called correlation.  When it does so, it turns that wide pedestal of data back into the narrow modulation the transmitter started with.  In the process something interesting happens to a jammer (shown in red, here).  The jammer gets de-correlated and spreads out, reducing its power, making it less effective.    
This requires a more complex receiver.  When you think about it, the whole point of this is making the transmitted signal harder to detect.  We also make it harder for us to detect our own signal.  
This is a lot for one reading.  Next we'll get into some digital modulation modes that are easy to get started in. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Contemplating Privacy and Radio Communications II

Let's say you and I were out in a crowd - a party or something - and you wanted to tell me something that you didn't want other people to hear.  How would you handle that?  I'll bet you'd lower your voice and get closer to me, whispering it to me.  The radio equivalent of this is to lower your transmitter power.  You wouldn't want to stand on the tallest table on the other end of the room and use a megaphone to tell me, while scolding the other people for hearing it.  That's the equivalent of legislation.

The obvious question is how much transmitter power do you need to get your message to the other guy?  That depends mostly on the modulation type you're using, the distance, and the frequency.  If you want to be analytic and calculate it, you want to calculate what systems engineers call a "link budget" which centers on the "path loss" from transmitter to receiver.  You can find examples and background with a few minutes in your favorite search engine.  This one seems like a pretty decent online path loss calculator.  You enter a transmitter power, frequency, distance, and antenna gain, and get the power at the receiving station.

One of the things you need to to know to use these solvers is how strong the signal needs to be in order to be usable. In professional radio, they assume that a 12 dB signal to noise ratio (SNR) is good for voice work. I find that's pretty accurate for people with a lot of radio experience, they can often work with lower signals (they sound noisier), but inexperienced people might need a stronger signal.

So let's say I need to get a confidential message to a friend a few miles away.  We both have a ham license and a dual band HT (Handy Talkie - I think that was Motorola's trade name for a grown up walkie talkie).  Like most of these VHF/UHF radios, they use narrowband FM voice.  At VHF, these radios are usually very sensitive; they can deliver 12 dB Signal to Noise Ratio at 0.2 microvolt or about -120 dBm and sometimes even less.  If my friend is 2 miles away, the path loss using that link above is 86 dB.  That means that since -120 dBm is all I need to create at the receiver I can transmit at a very low power of -35 dBm.  I can use the lowest power my HT will put out and then attenuate it even more.  Ordinarily, they put out one watt (+30 dBm) or so on their lowest setting.    
I'm afraid that's going to read like gobbledygook to many.   A dB is a ratio of two numbers, 10*log (ratio).  A dBm is a ratio to a specific power: 1 milliWatt, .001W, in 50 ohms.  To be honest, more than half the engineers I work with use these terms improperly.  When I say "one watt (+30 dBm)" I'm specifying 30 dB > 1 mW: a ratio of 1000 times 1/1000 of a watt.  -120 dBm is a very small power: 10 to the minus twelfth power times 1 mW.  Once you get used to it, it's much easier to use than any other way of keeping track of many problems in radio work. 

I don't want to spend too much time talking about exactly how much power to use and how to get it because there's an amazingly big problem lurking just under the surface.  Let's say I get a power attenuator and reduce my transmitter power a million times (60 dB) until I'm putting just enough signal into my friend's receiver.  Furthermore, there's no other local noise, no big obstacles between us and no other things that could make me need more power are present.  2 miles away, my signal is essentially undetectable unless someone is tuned to exactly the right frequency at exactly the right time.  People 2 miles farther away are less likely to hear it since it has dropped another 6 dB.  Just what I want. The problem is that at my transmitter, I'm still putting out a signal that's pretty strong to a receiver.  Think about it: that signal is 86 dB (the path loss) stronger than it has to be for that receiver to hear it, and that's amazingly strong to the receiver!  If someone is trying to find me,  they just need to be within a few hundred yards of me.  This is sometimes called the Near/Far problem.  To make a signal useful far away, it becomes extremely strong to nearby receivers. 

If I use encryption, even if they heard the signal they wouldn't be able to use the intelligence it contains.  But maybe they don't really care what I'm saying.  Anyone transmitting in this town is assumed to be a terrorist and gets a SWAT raid - pick your scenario.  Plus, for a simple system like FM voice, all they need to do is generate a strong signal on frequency at the receiver's end, stronger than the expected signal, and they "capture" the receiver, making it impossible for the receiver to hear what they want.  

There are ways to try to get around their electronic countermeasures (counter-countermeasures).  Perhaps you change frequency regularly.  Perhaps instead of using a popular amateur frequency like 146 MHz, you use one that hardly anyone ever uses, like 1220 MHz or 10 GHz.  A narrowband, low power signal at 10GHz can be very hard to find, for a variety of reasons.  Whatever frequency you use, turn off your radio when you're not using it.  99.9999% of modern radios contain a "Local Oscillator" or LO (local means local to the radio) and these can be detected from some distance away.  There used to be a TV ratings agency that instead of calling and asking what you were watching, or putting a monitor box on your TV, instead would drive around neighborhoods watching the LO signals and determining what channels the TVs were tuned to. 

And if something big depends on this communications link, try it out while times are good and a transmitter doesn't get a Hellfire through your window. 

Much of this is going to go over the heads of people who aren't familiar with radio.  I'm aiming this at hams, GMRS or FRS users, and others who have played with radio but never thought about things in this way.  I apologize if it's too much geek speak.  And tell me if nothing makes sense.

More to come...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Contemplating Privacy and Radio Communications I

As a ham radio operator, I'm required to comply with FCC Rules, Part 97 of the Commission's Rules whenever I use the amateur bands.  One of the rules is that we must identify our transmissions at the start and end of a contact with our federally issued callsign.  Hams have a tradition going back as far as the hobby exists of swapping little post cards, called QSL cards, commemorating the contact.  (The name is one of many "Q signals" that hams using Morse code developed to shorten the text they needed to send.)  In the days before the Interwebz, you bought a phone book sized directory called a Callbook, which was a listing of every ham in the US by callsign.  You looked them up in the book, and mailed the card.  Today, hams go to a number of online sources like QRZ to look up anyone by callsign. As with all information in today's society, it's easier to trace a ham by callsign than ever before. 

Because this information was always available to anyone who cared to look, hams were always a rather open group.  Many guys just identify themselves online by their calls, including the rather famous ones (and there have always been famous ones).  If you go to hamfests, it's so unusual to see someone without a callsign badge or monogrammed shirt or hat that you just assume they're not a ham.  Many hams have carried this into the rest of their online lives.  I can't tell you how many identifiers I've come across on forums that either are the callsign by itself or a name and callsign made into one identifier. 

Most of the folks that visit here are preppers, as I am, and preppers have a completely different mindset about privacy than the typical hams do.  We're of a mindset that many in the country would describe as at least mildly paranoid.  We're certainly not the mainstream in the country, partly because we choose to think about things that most people refuse to look at.  Someone I recently heard being interviewed said he couldn't even talk with his wife about a storm pantry, just a few days worth of preps, because she "just refuses to think about it".  As a counter example, in the mid '80s, I recall deciding I would never say things like "I'm going out of town this weekend" on the VHF (2 meter) radios because I considered it a home security risk.  It's not as easy as the kids today telling everyone on Face Book or Twitter that they're far from home, but someone who had a scanner and a callbook could hear me, look me up, and visit the house while no one was here.

The concept here is "reasonable expectation of privacy".  If you're on an amateur frequency you don't haz one.   But let's say you wanted or really needed privacy.  What then? 

The military was among the first organization to have this problem and address it.  They typically describe systems as LPI/LPE: low probability of interception / low probability of exploitation.  You'll also see LPD, where D is detection.  It's handy to think of it that way because it can help you channel your thoughts on how to solve the problems.

The easiest one to accomplish is actually the last: low probability of exploitation - using your transmission against you.  I've written before on the topic of encryption or encoding which is the answer here.  It's important to note that encryption is not allowed in the amateur radio service.  There's an important distinction between encrypting something and encoding it.  As I said in the linked piece:
When you encode things, you simply change their language; when you encrypt something, you attempt to hide its meaning.  For example, any language is a coding of symbols, and in typing this, I'm encoding my thoughts into a computer code (ASCII) that can be read on your terminal.  The difference is subtle, but it matters - especially in legal context.  Some systems prohibit encryption, or “non-standard” codes.  I could transmit the phrase, “the wheat is ready for harvest” in plain English to someone who knows that I mean, “I've planted the evidence” and it is encoded, not encrypted.  If, instead, I told them, “516EE75994BA0DC137BE1074E46CB27D069C39A4” and it means the same thing, it has been encrypted. 
Either way, encoded or encrypted, I've prevented a casual listener or even a determined adversary from knowing what I told the person on the other end.  If they've broken the code somehow, they know what I meant and can exploit that information.  There are many ways of breaking codes - from getting the information from someone who knows the code to analysis of the words and frequency of usage and many other tactics.  People have been studying this around as long as there have been people.  And, of course, I can't talk about encryption without lifting this XKCD cartoon yet again.

One of the standard ways of maintaining secrecy in codes is by changing them all the time.  But what about reducing the chance of an adversary ever detecting or even knowing you're transmitting?   This is the realm of a lot of technology.  While we're not allowed to encrypt transmissions, experimentation with interesting technology is one of the stated purposes of ham radio.  The rules actually encourage many of the things we can do.   

Stay tuned...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cyprus And The Threat to 401k Plans

Cyprus, as you've undoubtedly read, reached a deal to survive as a country.  They're going to destroy one of their second largest bank, Cyprus Popular, transferring assets to others. 
(T)he plan will wind down the largely state-owned Cyprus Popular Bank, known as Laiki, and shift deposits under 100,000 euros to the Bank of Cyprus to create a "good bank", leaving problems behind in, effectively, a "bad bank".

Deposits above 100,000 euros in both banks, which are not guaranteed by the state under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki's debts and recapitalise the Bank of Cyprus, the island's biggest, through a deposit/equity conversion.
All of that last sentence is a government doublespeak that means, the Cypriot government is going to confiscate assets from deposits over $100,000 Euros ($130,000) to bail out the banks and the government.  The government bought Greek bonds, fer cryin' out loud, of course they need bailing out.

Cyprus shows the willingness of governments to go after privately owned money to pay for stupid business decisions - by themselves or or other privileged classes like bankers.  In the US, the most noticeable (and therefore most vulnerable) group of accounts with large amounts of money in them are 401ks or IRAs.  One of the leading advocates for going after your 401k accounts is Teresa Ghilarducci, a policy analyst whom I've encountered and linked to before. 
In a 2009 research paper, Teresa Ghilarducci declared “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRA’s) are like universal 401(K) plans except that the government, as befits a large and enduring institution, will invest and manage the pooled savings.”  That’s because, as the professorial Ghilarducci believes, “Humans often lack the foresight, discipline, and investing skills required to sustain a savings plan.”  (Of course, that analysis of “humans” would not apply to left-leaning PhDs, members of Congress, and bossy bureaucrats – who somehow are endowed with the skills needed to manage everyone else’s investments.)
 Financial advisor and retirement plan creator Jim Dreos puts it this way:
Ghilarducci touts her proposed accounts as enabling everyone to avoid stock market risk and still earn guaranteed inflation-beating returns.  She would have you believe that the government can magically guarantee that the money under its control will earn a 3% annual return on top of inflation.  The notion that anyone can guarantee sizable inflation-beating gains in perpetuity and zero downside is a naïve fantasy at best.  It’s probably more accurately described as a canard put out to hoodwink the gullible public.
I've written on the topic many times, as have many others.  The threat is real.  No, I can't give a good prediction of when.  The people in Cyprus were told right up until the moment that the banks closed that everything was fine; there's no need to be concerned.  And don't take financial advice from me any more than you would from any random dood on the internet.  I take my own advice, and put my money where my mouth is, but I may be less than 100% consistent.

Maybe not now, but coming to a country near you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Planting Season

This is probably going to annoy my readers in Hoosieropolis, New England and the other places undergoing Winter Storm MustBeMajorBecauseTheWeatherChannelNamedIt Number Twenty-Something, but it was 88 here yesterday and probably about the same thing today.  The main difference today was that snowstorm you're getting dragged the southern end of its butt over here and we had 30-40 mile an hour winds today.  It's currently cooling and is supposed to cool down to 60 tonight and 40 by Tuesday morning.

So it's planting time.  And time to start working the yard again.  I have some antenna work and some other outdoor jobs I want to do before it gets too hot.  We had a great crop of tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, buttercrunch lettuce and a few other things last spring, which tapered off as the the summer unfolded.  I personally think our growing season only extends until about June or early July.  Late July and August are just too dang hot for anything.  The last few years we've had issues with the Asian stinkbugs that seem to be all over the eastern US lately and last summer our tomatoes that were latest in the season had blossom end rot - a calcium deficiency.  Some plants (jalapenos and ghost peppers) produced reliably well into the fall.  To this day we have green onion plants big enough to eat paperboys and other small animals if they get too close.   

Looking around for a way to get them off the ground, we stumbled across these at Home Depot: 
They're called City Pickers and are plastic planters, well-designed for the small garden.  After looking at John Robb's reference to table gardens, we liked the idea, but didn't think that system had enough room for a good root system.  The closest Home Depot had one of these with several large, tomato plants, basil, and several other plants.  Very healthy looking and the tomatoes were several times the size of some plants they simply put in a bag of potting soil on the same date.  We picked up a few.  We'll have to see how these work out. 

A main goal is to be able to position them around the yard as sunlight dictates, and to get them above ground.  I hate it when fire ants make a nest in food plants.  I don't want to use insecticides because I don't know what transfers onto the food portions of the plant.  But fire ants are nasty creatures.  I'd like to figure out how to endanger that species!  (Yeah, I know: Save the Ants will come protest.  Get in line). 


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Notes From the EconoMatrix

In which I grade myself.  In the summary, the big picture, but by no means in detail, things are unfolding pretty much as I thought.  I think I haven't been bad.  But I think anyone who has eyes to see or ears to hear will see what I do.

What I've consistently gotten bad is timing.  For instance, in 2010, I swallowed the expert opinion that by Christmas of 2011 there would be tax riots and civil unrest.  Oops.  I also made a mistake by putting too much belief in the Occupy Whatever movement as a serious bunch of rabble rousers, assuming they'd be a serious problem last spring.  Essentially, the world moves much too slow for me - maybe it's from living in a world where I count picoseconds - and things I expected to take place long ago are still playing out.

Take that 2010 piece.  It was about Greece circling the bowl and on the verge of collapse.  Depending on who you talk with, Greece has collapsed already or will soon.  I vote that it has.  With unemployment officially reported as "dipping" to 26.4%, that sounds like collapse to me.  It's probably much worse than that.  Consider the US officially reported unemployment at 7.7%, when the reality derived by Shadowstats is closer to 24%, the Greek number is probably wildly optimistic. So Greece has collapsed, but they haven't pulled the EU down with it. 

Cyprus was out of the blue to me.  As a small country, I had not paid attention to them, but they could be the small domino falling that starts everything.  Or not.  Cyprus today is struggling to come up with 10 billion Euros - about $12.9 B dollars - to stave off default.  The IMF says their entire GDP is less than $23 B dollars.  To put that into perspective, the Fed is creating $85 B out of nothing every month and has been doing so since last September - half a trillion dollars already, created out of thin air.

Bayou Renaissance Man grabs a link from Casey Research which does a good job of showing the big picture of US Spending.    
As the total US debt approaches 17 Trillion, and the debt to GDP ratio climbs (next milestone 107%), it gets easier to see how we're somewhere in line after Greece, Cyprus, and the EU as their problems work out.  If you include the unfunded liabilities - payments the has promised to pay in the future - the US Debt/GDP ratio is almost 900%.  As the writer for Casey Research aptly puts it.
What you can also observe from this chart is that the federal government has grown into a behemoth, a huge prop under the economy… the world's largest economy, for the record. The idea that the politicians will find the backbone to cut this level of spending back to the point where it balances the budget is ludicrous. Even if enough of them wanted to make such cuts, the ensuing depression would trigger a public backlash that would see them voted out of power in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Which is to say that the current trend of currency debasement is almost certainly going to continue until it simply can't anymore.
The next country to fall into the toilet might well not come from the European Union.  It might be Japan.  Forbes contributor James Gruber writes on how he expects Japan to fall into hyperinflationary collapse.
Given its over-indebtedness, Japan has few good options left. But the policies being pursued by Shinzo Abe will fast-forward a major debt and currency crisis. It’s a matter of when, not if.

Government debt to GDP in Japan is now 245%, far higher than any other country. Total debt to GDP is 500%. Government expenditure to government revenue is a staggering 2000%. Meanwhile interest costs on government debt equal 25% of government revenue.
And that's the essence of it.  What can't go on forever won't go on.  All that writers are doing is taking a guess at when it ends.  That's inherently unpredictable because it depends on a Godzillion variables and those depend on human psychology as much as numbers.  The dollar is currently strong against other currencies - "the least disgusting girl at the dance" theory.  I expect the dollar to stay high while other countries are going through their issues. 

There are two things I want to mention as I wrap this up.  A few weeks ago, I got the chance to view a couple of DVDs called the Isaiah 9:10 Judgement.  I know many of my readers are Christian or come from a friendly perspective and I'd recommend you watch this if you get a chance.  The first thing is that the video marks the attacks of 9/11 as corresponding to the events of Isaiah 9:10.  Seven years to the day after the 9/11 attacks - on the Hebrew calendar - was the market collapse of '08.  By extension, to me, the next major hit to the US or our final collapse, might well be seven years to the day after that.  That's in September of 2015.  I don't know the exact day.  Anybody here have the Hebrew calendar?  The second thing I want to mention is that our pastor said something very interesting tonight.  He said that he and his wife have both had the quiet inner voice tell them "faster... time is running short".  My wife and I have had the same thing. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Small Victory in Florida

The NRA-ILA reports that a resolution in the Florida House called HM-545 passed its committee vote by 10 to 3 today, and has moved to the floor of the house.  What is HM-545 (pdf)?  It's a House Memorial, a resolution from the Florida House to the Federal government telling them the right to keep and bear arms is protected in Florida. 
... it is the sense of the Legislature that the proposals of the President of the United States to restrict the arms available to law-abiding citizens violate the United States Constitution and that the Legislature, on behalf of the government and citizens of the state, hereby notifies the Congress and the President that it intends to lawfully use all of its authority and power to resist or overturn any federal gun control measure that violates the right of the people of this state to keep and bear arms.
Small victories are still better than defeats - by a long way.  The marathon is just starting, but it's a good start to a long run.  

The NRA also posts a list of all the bills they're interested in which are currently in process in the state legislature (pdf here).  If you want to catch up on what's up there, it's a good place to start.  I've always heard it's better to tell your congress critter to support a specific bill number or name rather than to not be specific.  They're busy, they will get lots of mail on most of these bills.  A simple "Please support HM-545" and "Thank you" is better than nothing. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Never Ascribe to Malice...

You know the saying: "never ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity".  It's kind of a false choice; as if stupid people can't be evil or evil people can't be stupid.  When our Glorious Leader does something that comes across as incredibly evil, like supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, it just might be they're incredibly stupid.  Or evil.  Or both.   

David Goldman writing for PJ Media says "the Russians Think We're Wrecking the World on Purpose".  They think the administration can't possibly be as stupid as they appear, therefore it must be deliberate.  You should RTWT.
“In Russia, most analysts, politicians and ordinary citizens believe in the unlimited might of America, and thus reject the notion that the US has made, and continues to make, mistakes in the [Middle East]. Instead, they assume it’s all a part of a complex plan to restructure the world and to spread global domination,” writes Fyodor Lukyanov on the Al Monitor website today. Lukyanov, who chairs Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, laments what he derides as a “conspiracy theory.” Nonetheless, he reports, President Vladimir Putin and the Russian elite think that the United States is spreading chaos as part of a diabolical plot for world domination.
Pardon me while I laugh my ass off.   Sorry.  All better, now.

Goldman writes from the perspective that the Russian psyche has been prone to conspiracy theories (this may be why they get along so well with "the Arab street" - where "buying a soda is studied deeply for underlying motives" - Rabbi Daniel Lapin)  He notes that the phrase "paranoid Russian" is redundant. 
 “The fact is that all Russian politicians are clever. The stupid ones are all dead. By contrast, America in its complacency promotes dullards. A deadly miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy them,”
As Goldman puts it, Americans play Monopoly; Russians play chess.  It's no small coincidence that most of the grand masters of chess are Russian; it's an ideal game for conspiracy nuts.  Every move, no matter how small, is part of a carefully crafted master plan.  Every piece is working together.  He continues:
Syria’s Sunni majority started an insurgency against the minority Alawite government of Basher al-Assad in response to the ill-named Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa. America’s abrupt dismissal of its long-ally Hosni Mubarak and the ascendancy of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood emboldened Syria’s long-suffering Sunni majority to stake its claim to power. Like Mubarak, the Assads suppressed the Muslim Brothers, but far more viciously, leveling the Sunni town of Hama in 1982 with casualties estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000.

Western policy thus provoked Syria’s civil war. The prospect of a Sunni fundamentalist regime in Egypt under American patronage, the emergence of the ”Sunni Awakening” in Iraq during the Petraeus ”surge”, and the victory of Western-backed Sunni jihadists over Libya’s Gaddafi, gave Syria’s Sunnis little choice. America’s fecklessness with respect to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, moreover, gave Saudi Arabia and Turkey strategic reasons to fund and arm various branches of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.
As you might have gathered, I find it entertaining with highly interesting perspectives.  I have to admit that he tweaked me uncomfortably, lumping anyone who would support Rand Paul as a bunch of American paranoid conspiracy nuts.  These are the people he calls out for thinking that the administration might intend to use unmanned aerial vehicles to kill American citizens anywhere in the world, including in the US itself.   Or that they passed a law called the NDAA which allows imprisoning people without trial, or worse.  I assume he would think the same about MRAPs on the street or huge orders of ammunition for DHS. 

So he got that part wrong; it's still an interesting read. 
 Chess boards are always full of lines of attacks, blocks and combinations.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In the Emails Today

Because my muse must be off doing her hair or something, a picture from an email today.  A guy who seems to be having a hard time seeing why his AR won't cycle properly...
Or maybe he's trying to figure out how he got that magazine in there in the first place. 

Better get that figured out pretty quick. The way things are going, you may end up needing that any day now.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Strange Thing Happened; Something Good

In the midst of of the constant barrage of bad news we get every day; everything from the Cyprus bank situation to MRAPs on the streets and confiscatory gun laws, I stumbled across an item of good news.

A California Circuit Court Judge (I repeat - California!) has ruled that the National Security Letters that the feds have been using since the Patriot act started are unconstitutional.  The idea of an NSL has been around since the 1970s, but the Patriot act really put the gas pedal to the metal on the use of these instruments.
In a ruling released today, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said that NSLs suffer from “significant constitutional defects” and violate the First Amendment because of the way they can be used to effectively gag companies that receive them.  Illston has ordered the FBI to stop issuing NSLs and cease enforcing their gag provisions in all cases.  
I have to immediately add that this has been appealed by the already and the ruling has been stayed for 90 days, giving the government the chance to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals because of the “constitutional and national security issues at stake.”

National Security Letters are particularly bad in the way they've been used.  The feds will subpoena a company like Google, an ISP or a cellphone provider to turn over tons of information on users and give the subpoena recipient an NSL that says they can't tell anyone, not even their lawyer, what they were required to do.  Stories circulate that defendants have been ordered to commit perjury in court by lying to the judge about what the feds have ordered.
Between 2003 and 2006 nearly 200,000 NSLs were used by the FBI to obtain information about people.  In 2007, a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general raised concerns about the use of the letters to “obtain vast quantities of telephone numbers or other records with a single request.”  The DOJ said in a statement today that it was reviewing the California ruling.  It is likely that it will file an appeal. In the meantime, civil liberties and privacy groups will continue to celebrate what they are claiming as a landmark victory that will "help restore balance between liberty and security."
To be honest, you have your head pretty far up the butt of tyranny to not see this is unconstitutional restraint of speech.  "But it's national security!!  Terrorists!!".  It's the sort of question left and right should agree on and it shouldn't have taken a decade for them to be declared invalid. 
Judge Susan Ilston who ruled on the NSLs.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Flypaper Laws

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.- Ayn Rand
I've had the chance to read the proposed Florida Assault Weapons Ban, SB1670, and it's as big a steaming pile of crap offered under the guise of law as ever has been written.  It is remarkably close in wording to the version of the New York bill I was able to read several weeks ago, as that monstrosity made its way into law.  No surprise, since they all appear to have been written by the same Bloomberg apparatchiks after the Aurora theater shooting.  When the argument for more gun control fell flat, they sat on these draft laws with the intent to ram them through as soon as another mass shooting happened, as documented there by Politicker.  Since there have been about 20 mass shootings per year as long as records have been kept, it was bound to come up soon.  Alex Jones presents his line of evidence that the entire cast of characters behind these bills have had them written and waiting so that they don't let a good crisis go to waste. 

Bloomberg was angry that the July Aurora shooting didn't bring gun control into the presidential election, but Obama was too close to victory to want to jeopardize it with talk of gun control or confiscation, as Democrats only talk about that when they're safely in office.  Given that Romney has been perpetually weak on the issue, he might well have gained a few points by going hard after gun control.  All of which is water under the bridge and merely interesting background.

The pile of suckage that is the Florida bill contains features I haven't seen before.  It makes my 44 year old Remington Nylon 66 an assault weapon, by virtue of its built-in 14 shot fixed magazine (lines 64-66).  It further outlaws the manufacture in Florida, not just possession, of its broad definition of assault weapons.  With Taurus, KelTec, and Colt, to mention a few, Florida has a pretty healthy firearms industry.  Lines 131-134 outlaw manufacture unless the guns go to the military or the police.  Of particular concern to me is that it often makes reference to things that can be "readily converted".  Readily converted by whom?  A 10-year old with a nail file or someone that knows their way around tools?  I have a desktop milling machine; I can modify a lot of things. 

The point to make in fighting these laws is not that the language is wrong, or that they'll outlaw virtually every modern weapon in the world; I think the backers view that as a feature, not a bug.  The point to make is they'll make no difference.  They're laws intended to make lawmakers feel good.  When you get Feinstein-like crocodile tears about the dead bodies, the answer is that disarming people who aren't the problem will never change that.  Chances are they'll try to distract you by saying "background checks!" or something like "surely you'll agree we need to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable?".  Send them here.  (H/T reader Dan, via private email).  Until Minority Report happens and we get the ability to see the future, mass shootings will never be completely prevented.  They may get stopped before the shooters get too many victims, as just happened recently in Oregon, or they may be more rare when we get rid of gun-free zones, but there's no way to prevent them all. 

To you and I, these are flypaper laws, laws intended to trap completely innocent people and make their lives miserable.  Make them spend money on lawyers and legal process.  So the law allows you to keep your AR and three of your standard, 30 round capacity magazines: so what?  Say you're driving home from the range with a couple of ARs and your 30 round magazines when you get rear-ended at a stop light.  The officer  responding to the accident sees the magazines and Bam!, you're under arrest. You have to hire the attorney, you have to go to court; you get the arrest record and you have to take the time off work.  When you get to court it comes down to you telling the judge "I've had these magazines since long before the ban".  The judge then asks the prosecutor, "What's your evidence to the contrary?", and when he says there is none you go home.  Only you're about $10,000 lighter and a have a criminal charge on your record that doesn't go away.  Maybe they seize your guns and won't return them, since you were arrested for "just cause" (the magazines are banned, and you did possess them, you just had an affirmative defense).
(H/T, the Daily Clash - just because I like the picture)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Doing Their Best to Wipe Out Jobs

One thing you have to say about this bunch in power in DC, they sure do hate for people to be employed and working!  (the better to enslave you with, my dear).  There's the rather consistent 6000 regulations every 90 days from (although they went over that in a push before the election), the idea that the answer to every question is "raise taxes", shutting down the coal industry, tying up the big Keystone pipeline project with endless red tape, the 99 weeks of unemployment, and so much more.

The latest is a ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Center that an employer can't consider an applicant's criminal record while deciding employment.  Most companies do a criminal background check before hiring employees, but the new policies discourage this by having severe penalties if the background influences hiring.
If a background check discloses a criminal offense, the EEOC expects a company to do an intricate "individualized assessment" that will somehow prove that it has a "business necessity" not to hire the ex-offender (or that his offense disqualifies him for a specific job). Former EEOC General Counsel Donald Livingston, in testimony in December to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, warned that employers could be considered guilty of "race discrimination if they choose law abiding applicants over applicants with criminal convictions" unless they conduct a comprehensive analysis of the ex-offender's recent life history.
In essence, the EEOC is all but establishing "criminal offender" as one of the protected groups that get to sue over any problem, real or imagined.  By threatening legal action against businesses for rejecting applicants for legitimate security reasons
The EEOC's new regime leaves businesses in a Catch-22. As Todd McCracken of the National Small Business Association recently warned: "State and federal courts will allow potentially devastating tort lawsuits against businesses that hire felons who commit crimes at the workplace or in customers' homes. Yet the EEOC is threatening to launch lawsuits if they do not hire those same felons."

The EEOC is confident that its guidance will boost minority hiring, but studies published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum and the Journal of Law and Economics have found that businesses are much less likely to hire minority applicants when background checks are banned. As the majority of black and Hispanic job applicants have clean legal records, the new EEOC mandate may harm the very groups it purports to help.
Progressive policies "harm the very groups they purport to help" at a rate approaching 100%.  Add this to the list. 

I think I've said before that in Major Aerospace Company, where I work, most new hires are not brought in as employees.  With the exception of salaried "exempt" personnel (exempt from hourly labor law protection), new hires are contractors from one of the temporary agencies.  After six months or so, if the person demonstrates a good work ethic and is considered a good addition, an offer is made.   I can see this idea spreading, and many companies simply ending the practice of having long term employees, where they can. 

With the problems of Obamacare, the EEOC, EPA and all the other agencies being intrusive no-so-silent partners, I can see businesses switching over to only working with contractors and having no employees.  Or they get much, much more selective about choosing employees.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Fast Can You Turn Up The Heat?

You know the famous analogy of a frog in water, right?  If you heat it slowly, it they say the frog won't leap out of the water, he'll just sit there until he dies; but if you heat the water and toss the frog in, the frog leaps right out.

Are we heating the water too fast?  First New York, then Colorado, and at the Federal level, Chuckie Schumer floats a law that makes many everyday things into federal felonies. Schumer's bill, S.374 was supposed to be the bill to "stop illegal transfers", only it takes the idea of transfer to whole new levels.  This isn't just making illegal things, like a straw purchase, "more illegal-er", it's much, much worse.  What follows is my own combination of Sebastian's piece and John Richardson's piece at No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money.

  • If you left your home for more than 7 days, say for a business trip or hospitalization, and leave any unrelated person at home with the guns, you’ve committed a felony. This should be called the “denying gun rights to gays act.” Remember that the federal government does not recognize gay marriage, even if your state does, thanks to DOMA. 5 years in prison.
  • Actually, even married couples are questionably legal, because the exemption between family only applies to gifts, not to temporary transfers. The 7 day implication is if you leave your spouse at home for more than 7 days, it’s an unlawful transfer, and you’re a 5 year felon. I suppose you could gift them to your spouse, or related co-habitant, and then have them gift them back when you arrive back home. Maybe the Attorney General will decide to create a form for that.
  • Steals the livelihood of gun dealers by setting a fixed fee to conduct transfers. The fee is fixed by the Attorney General. What’s to prevent him from setting it at $1000?
  • Enacts defacto universal gun registration, because of record keeping requirements.
  • All lost and stolen guns must be reported to the federal and local government. This means everyone will have to fill out the theft/loss form, and not just FFLs. You only have 24 hours to comply. If you lose a gun on a hunting trip deep in the woods, and can’t get back home to fill out the form in 24 hours, you’re a felon and will spend 5 years in federal prison.
  • No exception for state permits. All transfers must go through a dealer or 5 years in federal prison.
  • UPDATE: Teaching someone to shoot on your own land is a felony, 5 years, if you hand them the gun. Not an exempted transfer.
  • The exceptions include:

  • Bona fide gifts between spouses
  • Bona fide gifts between parents and children
  • Bona fide gifts between siblings
  • Bona fide gifts between grandparents and grandchildren
  • Transfers made from a decedent's estate by will or operation of law
  • Temporary transfer between unlicensed persons if

    • It occurs in the home or curtilage (adjacent property) of the transferor
    • The firearm is not removed from the home
    • And the duration is less than 7 days.

  • Temporary transfers in connection with lawful hunting or sporting purposes

    • At a range if kept within the premises of the range at all times
    • At a "target firearm shooting competition" under the auspices of a State agency or non-profit organization and the firearm is kept within the premise of the shooting competition.
    • If while hunting to a person with the requisite hunting license during a designated season for a legal game animal.
    You can transfer a gun to someone in your home for less than 7 days if the gun never leaves the house?  What exactly does that cover?  Me letting a visitor see and handle my new precious?  I suppose if I have a house guest stay over, I can loan them a gun for the night.  I can loan someone my gun if we're at a competition on a (state registered, I'm sure) range if the competition is run by someone graced with the magic pixie dust of the state, but not if the host is a for-profit group?  If I loan a friend a gun to hunt pythons in the Everglades, they're not a game animal, so is that a felony?

    The end of life as we know it?  Too far, too fast, too soon?  If this thing becomes federal law, has the frog (that would be you and me) been thrown into boiling water?