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2004 ARRL and TAPR Digital Communications Conference

23th.jpeg September 10-12, 2004
Des Moines, IA

See pictures from the conference.

Proceedings are available.

By Darryl Smith, VK2TDS, Reprinted from PSR #93

Elsewhere in this issue of PSR, the subject of the DCC (Digital Communications Conference) is mentioned in a few places. As a board member of TAPR, it is my responsibility to attend the DCC whenever possible. With the distances I need to travel, it has not always been possible. But, thankfully, this time it worked out.

For example, back in 2001, I had all the arrangements booked and then could not get out of the country thanks to the chaos following September 11. In 2003, work commitments stopped me from traveling close to half way around the world for the conference.

I should explain the travel a bit more. I live in Sydney, Australia. To get to the USA I have basically only one option fly into Los Angeles. This flight is one of the horrors of modern aviation at up to 14 hours in a Boeing 747. As you can imagine, this is not something that I look forward to.

This time, I made a detour on my way to the USA flying via New Zealand. This reduced the flying time down to about 11 hours, which is a bit more manageable slightly. Still, it requires a full day or two in Los Angeles to get over the jet lag. In North American summer time, the time difference is seven hours between home and LA. In winter, things improve to five hours.

To get to Des Moines from LA required a four-hour flight to Chicago, followed by an hour flight into Des Moines, making a total of 19 hours in the air.

As bad as these flights are, they are a chance for me to catch up on all those movies I thought I might want to watch at the cinema and never got around to watching. And also, I find that some flights are good for working on presentations and writing letters.

With my work commitments, I had not really had a chance to do much work on my presentations before I left. I had started on one, but that was it. I volunteered to do another two that I had yet to start.

This was the first time I really got to use this laptop as a laptop for more than the 20 minutes or so that I usually ever need it in meetings without power. The power seemed to last forever and was still running nicely after 2 hours running on batteries.

The conference hotel in Des Moines was actually walking distance from the airport, even with baggage. After spending five hours flying that day, the last thing I wanted to do was to wait for a shuttle bus.

The Holiday Inn in Des Moines had free wireless access. At the start of the event, the access would constantly drop out. Following some technical support calls, the access was reconfigured to allow long sessions and things improved significantly. There were times that the Internet was slow, but that was mainly when lots of people were downloading lots of files from the Net.

Wednesday, I had dinner with TAPR Vice President Steve Bible, N7HPR. After dinner, we ran into John, W9DDD, and Laura Koster. John is a board member and as a couple, they run the TAPR office.


Thursday morning, I woke up about 6:30. About 7:00, I went down and started work on my presentations and checked e-mail. Sure, I could have done this from my room, but it was more social to go down to the cafe and work. A bit later, John Ackerman, N8UR, came down and we had breakfast. John had got in overnight and had actually got the room next to me. Steve Bible with John and Laura Koster arrived a little later.

The board meeting started about 9:00. At the start of the board meeting, we found out that Roger Barker, G4IDE, had died. This was rather sad, but was certainly not unexpected. Just the timing was a bit strange.

Following the board meeting, we all congregated under the Holidome. For the uninitiated, like me, the Holidome is a 1960's or 1970's concept where the hotel is built around a courtyard. They build a round roof on the dome and have the swimming pool semi in doors. After a break to wind down, the board went to the restaurant allowing us all to catch up in an informal session.

After dinner, we adjourned to the Holidome. This was a good informal time. Basically, we talked about computer animation, graphics, ham radio, wireless access, and just about anything else. I finally got to meet Scott Miller, N1VG, who I had been in discussions with about his tracking hardware and protocol.

During this time, I got a phone call from my friend Jack in Australia via his mobile talking about some work stuff. It was amazing how the world has changed in the last few years. My cell phone just works and Jack had rung my mobile number from somewhere in the Aussie Outback; it just worked thanks to the international nature of GSM.

After a while, I went to my room and did some more work on my presentations, which I had to have done by the next day.


Friday morning, I went down for breakfast nice and early and did more work on the presentation. Once I had done a bit of work, a few other people joined me and we continued to discuss just about anything.

After breakfast, I registered for the conference, then went into the main venue and scouted out a desk. The important thing was power. I found an outlet, but the outlet was full. Scrounging, I found a TAPR extension cord that worked for a few of us later.

Sitting in there, I did some more work on my presentation. An hour or so later, it was my turn to present my first talk on Spread Spectrum Power Control and Alternative Routing Techniques. Presenting it went well and I stuck to the time. Phil Karn, KA9Q, asked some interesting questions and despite what I thought, he had changed his views in the last ten years.

One of the reasons I wrote the paper was that he had made a statement about power control and spread spectrum many years ago and then made comments to the contrary later. I disagreed with these later statements and I needed to say why.

One of my friends IM'ed me and asked about what laptop he should get. My reply was along the lines of I use a Dell, but really since Bdale Garbee is sitting next to me my reply must be a HP running Debian Linux. What you need to understand is that Bdale, KB0G, works for HP and he is a former head of Debian.

After some more presentations, came lunch. My idea for lunch at these things is to find a table with no one I know sitting at it or even better, find an empty table. You get to meet some very interesting people that way.

After a short lunch, I went back to the room to finish my second talk. This one was a general update on tracking technology in general. The way it was structured was as a whole lot of fiveminute segments. More talks by others followed this talk.

Friday night was time for the DCC Social. This is an excuse for people to gossip eating finger food and the like. This lasted for a couple of hours or so.

Seems that the conference people do not drink much as a rule and there was a $100 minimum if we had a bar. So we decided on soft drinks and that worked well.


Saturday was another full day with a slightly earlier start, but it was not that bad. I got to see about 75% of the first talk before I needed to leave for my session. It is always a good sign when the speaker is there before anyone else. I put on a slideshow of some APRS photos that I had collected doing consulting work. And the audience was impressed. I had finished working on this talk literally just before my talk started. Talk about cutting things fine.

The talk was an introduction to APRS. It started off with some cool uses I had put it to and then worked through the basics. Some of this, I admit, was a bit out of order, but it was good. People were asking the right questions. Having Internet access there was cute. I could demo some of the Internet services available.

The entire session of 90 minutes went very well. One of the standout sessions of the conference was from TAPR President John Ackerman, N8UR. John is a lawyer and his presentation was on some of the legal situations with software and particularly Open Source. Basically, he gave a talk to us poor uneducated hams that he normally gives as a continuing education seminar to internal lawyers at his company. I would suspect, though, that as a rule, we got the legal implications better as a group than the people he normally speaks to.

Following the talks, we had a TAPR membership meeting. Following this was the DCC Dinner. The keynote address was by Ken Kaplan, N0GZ, who wrote the OS/9 operating system many moons ago. Near the end of the evening, John Ackerman, TAPR president, took the opportunity to talk to those assembled about TAPR's special Lifetime Achievement Award for Roger, G4IDE, for his work on UIView. John read the text of the award.

After the dinner, there was a huge number of little groups talking and gossiping about who is doing what. You know the sort of thing. Reminiscing. Some people see each other only twice a year. Others see each other every few months. With this in mind, it should not surprise you that Saturday was a late night.


Sunday was to be early, but not too early. No talk, but there was a session from 8:00 AM to midday on DSP. This was really interesting. Not much to say apart from the fact that I did some e-mailing during this time. Other people were speaking through instant messaging.After the session finished, everyone quickly went their own way, until the five or six of us left went to an Italian restaurant for lunch. Quite nice, but I am sure that things will be better when I am in Italy itself though. They tried to give some weird concoction to one of the people with us when he ordered ginger ale. They gave him a Pepsi and bitter and something else mix without telling him. Since he did not want to have caffeine, he was not impressed not at all. At the airport, I made the mistake of not taking my laptop out of my bag. After all, there were no signs. This was not a good move as they did the treatment on the bag including bomb scanning.

John and Tim (from Boston) with John and Laura Koster were the ones left at the hotel. Then John and Tim left, although Tim did return when he realized that he had left the radio he had won the previous night. The flight to Chicago from Des Moines was pleasant enough.

In Chicago, I used the Admirals Club lounge. This is a place that is slightly better than the one in LAX, but not much. Power outlets were hard to find, but I did find the bar even if I didn't use it. The phone was good enough for my to ring Oz with a support issue I needed to fix.

Some stuff I forgot about the conference: Bdale, I believe, showed me an antenna plot that someone in AMSAT had made recently. It was a plot of the antenna gain for the GPS transmitting antenna as you change direction. This is information that AMSAT has asked the US Navy for a number of times, each time being told that the information was classified. Well, it is no longer classified since AMSAT has experimentally determined what the plots look like. Funny thing is that they look exactly what I thought they would look like being an end-fed helical.

The plots do prove something though. The GPS antennas are pointed to Earth, but you can receive the signals from behind the satellite in outer space.

With some modified software in the GPS receiver, you can actually use GPS many, many thousands of km from Earth! The other thing is that there are plans for AMSAT to launch a space probe. They have done a lot of work on satellites on Earth, but now they are looking at sending a probe to Mars. There are some unknowns here, but they hope to have it launched by the end of the decade. One of the problems would be that you only have a launch opportunity every couple of years and if you miss it, you need to wait until the next one.

Then again, there is also the feeling in AMSAT that even if you miss getting to Mars, then there is still science to be done. Sending a probe just out into space missing the planets altogether would still be a success.

Conference Photos

DCC Main Session Room. Wonder what the chap in red is Googling? (N7HPR photo)

Show and tell in the DCC Demonstration Room. (N7HPR photo)

The audience is held spellbound at the DCC. (N7HPR photo)

Laptops galore at the DCC. (N7HPR photo)

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