Sunday, December 24, 2006

Amateur Radio and Morse

A couple of days ago, the Federal Commnications Commission (FCC) decided to cancel the requirement to pass a morse code test for the General or Extra license in Amateur Radio. This happened just after I passed my morse code test in November to get the Extra Amateur license. O well, I still think that it was worth it to go through the test because I had to practice the code, and there is nothing like a test to make you study.
I believe that morse code is still important and fun to work with, although many radio amateurs hardly use it in the age of the internet and digital communications. Morse code, however, is becoming more as a nostalgia commodity now than a necessity. Let's face it, nobody really needs to use morse code anymore when they can use voice or digital messaging. Still I believe there are situations when the only available means of communications is morse code. An example is moon bouncing of signals that are too weak and distorted to be intelligible as voice, but can be copied fine as morse code. Another example was an emergency situation when a person was too weak to speak but was able to transmit morse code signals until help arrived. So it seems that morse will still be alive and kicking in the foreseeable future.
I am kind of sorry that the FCC canceled the test to qualify for the more advanced licenses, but in the end those who want to use morse code will still do, because after all they are amateurs, and amateurs do things because they love to do them, not because they have to. What do you think?

Friday, November 17, 2006

PDA versus iPod

I currently use a Tungsten T3 PDA with Palm OS5 operating system that has been serving me very well for the last two years. Prior to that I used a Sony Clie T655 PDA with Palm OS4 operating system which also served me very well for another two years, and since then I must admit that I have become so dependent on my PDA that I don't know how I could do without it. It wakes me up in the morning, reminds me of all my important appointments and anniversaries, has all my contacts, keeps track of my financials, tracks my car mileage, carries my various databases, has my eBooks, plays my mp3 music, and even helps me practice my Morse code skills. I also use it to do simple programming and various computational tasks. This is all fine and dandy, but I thought I needed more serious music and video storage and playback while on the move, so I recently bought a 30 Gb G5 iPod which I am falling dearly in love with. This iPod has all my music library which is over 5 Gb; it carries about 2 Gb of my personal movies that I transferred from my MAC generated DVD's, and it holds all my photos library which is another 2.5 Gb. This is a total of 9.5 Gb, and I still have over 20 Gb of memory left for storing eBooks and Podcasts if I needed to carry any, or I could simply use it as a mobile hard drive to store regular files from my computer. In addition, my iPod has all my contacts from my MAC laptop, although I cannot change or input anything from the iPod itself, and it has an alarm system that I could use similar to the PDA.
Obviously there is some overlap between PDA and iPod here but I would surely say it is far from total at present. Is it possible that some day the iPod and PDA will be one device? Right now I would say the answer is no. To merge the two devices into one you need a PDA that has 30 Gb of memory, that is slim and light in weight, and has movie play capability. Or conversely, you need an iPod with data entry and programming capability.
I posted a question in this blog before whether or not the mobile phone and PDA could merge as one device, and now I reformulate the question as follows: Is it possible in the future that the mobile phone, PDA and iPod will all be integrated into one universal device that could do all their respective functions? It is quite possible that as the level of integration and miniaturization increases over time it would be possible to have one device that can do everything the PDA and iPod are both capable of, and, in addition, has communications capability like a phone. But at least for the foreseeable future, it looks like we will still have three distinct devices: The iPod for music and video, the mobile phone for communications, and the PDA for programmability and data entry. It might be a matter of time before all three can be integrated into one slim device, but I wonder if that makes sense from the business point of view. To me it seems there will always be a distinction between the three dedicated functions that people would prefer to have separate, and most importantly that the manufacturers would prefer to produce as individual devices. What do you think?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Past and Present Knowledge

When you look at the monuments that the ancient Egyptians left behind you wonder how they erected those huge structures. What tools did they have? I don't think it is known up to this day how they did it. In adddition to those enormous structures, they chiseled intricate details with vivid colors that remain until today for over three thousand years! But what really is mind-boggling the mumification process that they perfected, that kept their mummies in good condition for over two thousand years. How did they test their chemicals to make sure they would hold up over the ages? I don't know about you but I have many unanswered questions on how they did all that. Did they have technology that we don't have today? Certainly they had advanced knowledge, but what happened to it? Was it kept secret or did it simply get lost?
We tend to think today that our technology is far advanced than any previous time in history. Didn't we split the atom and release dreadful energy? We even landed on the moon and are on our way to conquer Mars and other planets too. We seem to understand better than ever before how the universe started and how it keeps evolving. We figured out how matter was formed after we examined its tiniest constituents. We have sophisticated machines and electronic devices that could not even be imagined a hundred years ago.
But in spite of all that it seems that there is a different kind of knowledge that was lost somehow along the ages. A kind of knowledge that could rival if not exceed our present day technology. One scenario comes to mind is that a nuclear war erupted and destroyed civilization on this planet once before, like in Planet of the Apes movie. There is an uncanny resemblance to our present day situation, as such a scenario is not too far fetched at all. What do you think?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is Music Inherently Digital?

Music is by default analog. Or is it? What is the most important thing in music? Isn't it the tempo? Tempo is simply a clock, and that is the core of digital! But the instruments that play are analog, you say. That might be more so for the violin or the cello, but the piano has discrete notes that the player can use, unlike the strings instruments where the player can slide his fingers between notes giving this analog feel. If you go down into the basic notes you will get into the world of digital, which I believe is the nature of all things. Any instrument can be digitized, and that is exactly what the musical synthesizer does. In the micro world, there is no such thing as continuous time, distance or energy. Everything is quantized. Have you heard of the uncertainty principle? It states that position and velocity cannot be simulataneously measured. If you try to determine the position, you affect the particle's speed, and vice versa. Same goes for energy and time, they cannot be determined simulataneously. So inherently musical energy that we hear is quantized if time is to be continuous, and vice versa. So it is either the notes' energies are quantized or the time itself is, or both are to varying degrees. In either case, deep down in the microworld, music then must be digital.
Today music is still played with analog instruments, especially classical music. Players still perform according to the sheet music that the great composers of the previous few centuries wrote. The symphonies are still conducted in real time by the maestro of the philharmonic orchestra. But that does not mean that the same music could not be reproduced digitally. It certainly could. You could have a software program read the sheet music and play it using different instruments whose sounds are synthesized with high fidelity. You could then generate a MIDI file that could be played by the computer. You could record track on top of another track and create a vast symphonic effect, and most of all you could do all that alone, without the need for a whole orchestra.
Still nothing beats the sound of the various instruments performing together in the symphony hall, which is inarguably analog. So it is not a question of is music digital or analog, but it is a question of which is better. What do you think?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The future of mobile phone

First came the FM based mobile phone from Motorola, then came Qualcomm's CDMA based mobile phone which improved the quality of the signal. Then there came G2 technology with various form and shape phones from Nokia, Motorola, Samsung etc. Then while G3 phones were in the making, a transitionary state called G2.5 emerged and the market was flooded with phones that could do email, interact with the internet and take photos. Now the real G3 phones are starting to emerge from Nokia. These new phones will deliver video, and will allow you to purchase songs online in addition to other internet services. Sprint Nextel is already offering songs for sale directly online for $1.99 a song, compared to Apple's iTune $0.99 price per song. The increase in the price is worth it for those who want to get their songs immediately wherever they go.
It does not stop here, because now there is talk about G4 phones targetting 2010, that are supposed to make you even more connected wherever you are. However, based on the delays in G3, it is expected that G4 won't come to the market until much later than 2010.
I am seeing that there a merger between PDA and phone, as phones are having more PDA functions integrated into them, while PDA's are adding modem and phone functions too, which makes the distinction between the two devices become more and more blurry. I wonder, are they going to be completely blended in the future, or are we still going to see distinct PDA and phone devices?
I always felt I did not need a connected PDA, i.e PDA/phone. I was happy with the applications I had on my PDA while reading material from the internet offline. I still don't see a need to be connected, but who knows, maybe if the connection fee goes down it will be worth getting connected. It certainly is a convenience which is just too costly now. But as the price goes down, who will not want to have a PDA/phone rather than just a PDA? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I keep worrying about obsolescence issues that threaten to deprive us of what we have today. Think of all the data that we are amassing from pictures, to videos to word documents to excel spreadsheets to pdf files. What will happen to all this data decades from now if the jpg compression format would no longer be there, or if Adobe changed its pdf format, or Microsoft ceased to exist? We will no longer have access to our data. Is that scary or what?
Our ancient ancestors left indelible traces behind them using indestructible monoliths and colossal granite structures. We can still read the hieroglyphic scripts on their walls today. Funny calling them scripts! I wonder how long will our JavaScripts be readable for?
My grandmother had a shoebox full of old sepia toned pictures. Those pictures still exist today, some are almost hundred years old. I wonder how long will the thousands of digital photos I am taking these days will last. I don't even bother backing up my hard drive. What if I lose all that?
I know what I am going to do. I am going to sift through my many gigs of pictures that I took, then pick the best few ones and print them at Sam's Club. This way I can keep them in a shoe box so that my grand children might get a chance to see them.
As for the other data, I don't know how I am going to prolong their existence. I feel worried that all the digital data I have is going to be lost some day. How do I preserve all my programs and documents? I hardly make hardcopies anymore as I depend only on the files I have saved on my hard drive. The most I usually do is copy the files to a flash memory or a CD. Floppies don't exist anymore, so will the CD's have a better luck? Are DVD's still going to be around twenty years from now?
The nagging question is how can I leave documents that could still be read two or three generations from now? Shall I print them on paper? Publish them on microfische?
I wish I could etch my data on a huge monolith carved out of granite. I bet you that would stand the test of time for a while, unless a nuclear war erupts. Even then, I think the monolith is going to have a much better chance of surviving than any of the electronic data saved in the forms we know today. What do you think?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Initial Posting

This is my blog site that I will try to keep up-to-date as much as I can. There will be times when I will not be able to update it frequently but I promise that I will do my best.