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Eric, Amateur Radio Hobbyist

Eric "Sparks" Christensen, a computer security expert from North Carolina, has been an amateur radio enthusiast since he was in high school. These days Fedora plays a big role in his amateur radio hobby. Learn more about what amateur radio is and how you can get started using Fedora!

Eric Christensen

Where are you from?

Originally from North Carolina although I'm temporarily based in Newport News, Virginia.

What is your profession?

I'm an Information System Security Officer contracted to the US Government.

What's your IRC nick? Where does it come from?

Sparks. I was a Information Technology Specialist in the US Navy for eight years. I specialized in radios and, like earlier Radiomen, got the nickname Sparks. I'm honored to hold the nickname that so many excellent communicators held since the invention of radio!

Was your experience in that position in the Navy how you got into amateur radio?

It was actually the other way around. I got into amateur radio when I was in high school and when I decided to join the Navy I was already ready to jump into all the cool toys they use.

So how would you explain what amateur radio is for our readers who aren't familiar with it?

Maybe a little history... When radio was first invented it was all amateur. When the governments, worldwide, stepped in to better manage the spectrum some of these amateurs went the way of commercial radio stations, both broadcast like today's shortwave, AM, and FM radio stations and two-way like your cellphone, while some people just wanted to tinker.

The ones that wanted to tinker became what we know of today as amateur radio. Here in the United States we cannot take money for our services. Most of our work is either experimental or emergency driven.

Do amateur radio operators have their own radio programs on specific radio bands? Or is it less like programs and more like chatting over the air?

It's more like chatting over the air. We don't broadcast. It's more point-to-point communication, or point-to-multipoint... as the case may be. We often do round-table chats.

How do you use Fedora to participate in amateur radio? What advice would you give an enthusiastic beginner to the amateur radio world wanting to try it out with a fresh Fedora install?

So there are many aspects to amateur radio that makes Fedora great to use. First you need to keep track of all the people you talk to... There are at least three different pieces of software packaged for Fedora to help you manage all that information. Want to build your own antennas? You can model your own designs using nec2c which is in Fedora. Maybe you want to design your own circuits. Yep, that's in there as well. Need to see when the next pass of the satellites you like to talk on will occur? Gpredict is already there for you. Probably the most popular of the software that is available are the ones that allow radio remote control and digital modes. There are eight pieces of software already packaged for amateurs to utilize digital communication modes! There is so much software already in Fedora that the Docs Project is writing an Amateur Radio Guide just to keep up with it all.

What are the three programs for keeping track of who you talk to? What are some of the specific digital communication mode tools you mentioned?

The three logging programs are LinLog, qle, and xlog. I'm hoping to have CQRLOG ready in the next few months which is a really awesome program.

For the digital modes we have fldigi, which is probably the most popular, gmfsk, linpsk, lpsk31, qpsk31, qsstv, xfhell, and xpsk31. fldigi performs most of the modes available to the amateur radio community. The others are more mode-specific.

What exactly do you mean by a mode?

So a mode is a type of digital algorithm. Each algorithm uses a different method of transmitting the information. Using different bandwidths, different bits per second, different codes. A couple of different modes would be RTTY (radio teletype) or PSK31 or even Morse code.

There is a set amount of bandwidth available... maybe 10 kilohertz. And inside that band you can establish communications with someone else using different "languages" (or modes). As long as everyone uses the same language then everyone can talk. So if everyone is using PSK63 then you can read the conversation that is occurring.

How do you find people to talk to, and how do you meet up? Do you meet at specific times, using a specific mode, on a specific band?

I do have schedules with some people but most of the time it is by chance that I talk with someone not that there is a shortage of people to talk to.

Is amateur radio chat text-based, voice-based, or both?

I do both voice and text, although I like text-based contacts better for some reason.

How do the folks you find on amateur radio bands differ from folks you could find in a chatroom or IRC? Is it a different sort of person you encounter there?

Yeah, I guess. It's a different forum... although Linux users and Amateur Radio operators aren't that different. Both communities enjoy experimenting and open source. Heck, there is a software-defined radio out there that allows you to make the radio do whatever you want it to.

So tell us about a recent conversation you had using Fedora to connect on amateur radio. Where were the folks you were talking to from? How did you find them?

Well, just a few minutes ago I was listening to 17-meters, 18.101 MHz, and I made contact with Abdul 7Z1CQ in Saudi Arabia using BPSK-63. I'm actually connecting remotely to my amateur radio station using VNC & SSH so I can utilize it on my lunch break at work. So from my RHEL workstation at work to my Fedora workstation at home I'm able to work the world using only FOSS. And fldigi allows almost full control over the radio so I can operate from anywhere I have Internet access.

For folks who want to learn more, are there any resources you'd recommend they check out?

Well... if you have questions about Amateur Radio I'd visit the American Radio Relay League or their country's radio league... questions about amateur radio programs in Fedora can go to the Fedora Amateur Radio SIG or you can check out the Fedora Amateur Radio Guide which is currently in draft. And, of course, the Fedora resources get better as more people get contributing!

Thanks, Eric!

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