Publix: Where shopping is occasionally perplexing

i131212heathcliff
I’d wanted to put in that edited strip here with “No Meat Touching” and Heathcliff wearing the Kafkaesque hat but couldn’t find it… anyone have that saved somewhere?

So I was at a Publix somewhere out in suburbia and confusing things happened. There was what appeared to maybe be a high school football or basketball team shopping there, like 20 kids, and they were very much defying conventional logic on how anyone is supposed to shop for groceries… or… well, anything.

When I arrived at the store, there was one older lady sitting at the front who had a Kenwood commercial type handheld radio and was talking to the people from the team(?). Okay then…

I go into the store and start looking for stuff and her kids are just shopping in the most baffling manner. It seemed like each of them had a list that was a printout of an Excel spreadsheet, each line was numbered and they were calling out numbers to each other as they got the items on the list…

The odd thing was, though, they were broken up into four(?) groups who would just descend on a section in a Blitzkreig-esque manner, shove other shoppers and their carts out of the way, unload a whole section into an empty cart, then run to one of the main aisles where they’d pick over that cart then return it and its contents to shelves…. in near totally random order.

Probably half the store’s staff was cleaning up after them including the manager.

On a whim I decided to look for their choice of frequency and found it – GMRS, 462.600 mhz, no PL tone. I waited for a lull in their traffic and hopped on, well, to be a jerk.

“This is WQRZ855*, do you guys have a license to use this frequency?”

There’s this wonderful sound as about five people key up on top of each other like “what?”.

“This is an FCC authorized station, WQRZ855, is your group licensed to use this service?”

The radio goes silent and the group starts kinda yelling at each other then rushes to go check out as if they’ve just been caught doing something far worse than making a mess of a Publix…

They pretty much aborted their shopping at this point and all rushed to the front to go check out… consuming all eight of the open checkout lines, and leaving merchandise scattered everywhere.

The manager, meanwhile, was right next to me when I had this exchange with them over the radio and she just about doubled over laughing while telling me that this group shows up every week and makes a colossal mess of her store and this is the first time they actually listened to anyone.

Why hasn’t she used her managerial banhammer yet?

* Seriously, I’m like one of three people I know of actually having a GMRS license. Why do I have one? Because I’m a nerd, that’s why. Apparently it comes in handy to yell at people.
It’s not hard to get, basically all you have to do is sign up for ULS then log in and buy it. Or… just wait a couple of years, the licensing requirement will probably be dropped because nobody bothers to get licenses. However, you might not want to do that, as there’s a good chance the service will get nerfed and repeaters will be disallowed when that happens, unless you’re a grandfathered in licensed user… who the heck knows.

Quick guide to programming the Baofeng UV-5R from the keypad

Well…. I was today made aware that the Baofeng UV-5R dual band handheld radio dropped to below $30 on Amazon, and people are buying them and being, uhhhh, not exactly enlightened by the wonderful instruction manual they come with.

You got the technical writing you paid for, right?

Okay….

It is not necessary to buy the programming cable. While it makes life easier… you don’t absolutely need it.

Here’s the quick rundown:

Press Menu, scroll through until you find the options SFT-D, Offset, T-CTCSS, R-CTCSS… make note of the number for each one (you can just press menu then this two digit number to quickly access them afterwards to save a TON of time and button presses). Find the AL-MOD option and set it to SITE, and set RP-STE to OFF. (These latter two only have to be done once; they eliminate a couple of common annoyances with the radio … as in, a couple of “features” that tend to annoy others. Trust Me, I’m An Engineer.)

Common oddities: When you’re in VFO mode (the voice if you have it on will say Frequency Mode), the offset and shift direction are assigned to the individual VFO register – as in, top or bottom of the display – not to the specific band. These radios are not smart enough to remember that the common shift is 0.600 mhz for VHF and +5.000 mhz for UHF. They are also not smart enough to autoselect the proper shift direction on VHF or to not slop right out of the band if set up incorrectly.

If you are programming memory channels, you must have the silly voice turned on or you could get a surprise annoyance if there’s something already saved in that channel.Using the radio simplex: Switch to frequency/VFO mode. Press menu, go to SFT-D, press menu again, use the up/down arrows to set 0, then press exit until you’re back at the frequency display. Go to the menu for T-CTCSS and R-CTCSS and set these if you need a PL tone on transmit or recieve; otherwise make sure they (and the T-DCS and R-DCS) are set to off.Turn off dual watch (TDR) before trying to save things to memory or frustration may occur.Saving a simplex frequency to memory: Once everything’s set up how you want it, go to menu -> MEM-CH (I believe it’s 27, your mileage may vary based on firmware version). Press menu and enter the desired channel number, then press menu again – the voice should say “Receiving Memory”. If it said “Transmitting Memory”, there was already something there — you will need to go to DEL-CH, delete the channel’s contents, then go back to MEM-CH and save again. Exit the menus, go back in and do the same thing, the same channel number will still be set under MEM-CH so you only need to press menu twice and the voice should say “Transmitting Memory”. You’re done.Using the radio for repeaters: Start from VFO mode. Note what I said about the oddities above, it’s probably best to always use the top for VHF and bottom for UHF to avoid having to keep messing with the offset.On whichever side you use for VHF, set OFFSET to 0.600. On the UHF side, set OFFSET to 5.000.

Use the menu for SFT-D to set the proper split for the repeater. On UHF this is always +, on VHF it may be + or -, usually + at and above 147.000 (note that our 147.000 in Princeton has a nonstandard negative offset — in other areas it will almost always be +!)

Set the VFO to the output frequency of the repeater.

If the repeater requires a PL, use T-CTCSS to set it now. Once this is done, key up, it should work! Watch the frequency on the display to make sure it shifted the right direction/amount when you began transmitting.

Saving a repeater to memory: PLEASE NOTE THIS IS DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER RADIO YOU HAVE EVER USED, unless you’re already used to the Wouxun or other Chinese radios. The offset/shift settings WILL NOT be automatically saved. You have to program the memory channel twice!

From VFO mode, set the VFO to the output frequency of the repeater. The offset/shift settings do not matter and will be ignored by the radio. Go into the menu and set T-CTCSS as required for the PL tone on the repeater input. Here in Miami-Dade, most of ours take 94.8. Once you’re set up there, go to the menu for MEM-CH and enter the desired memory channel number. The voice should say “Receiving Memory”. If it says “Transmitting Memory”, go to DEL-CH, delete the channel’s contents, and save it again.

You are now halfway there… 🙂

Exit the menus, set the VFO to the repeater input. Go back into the menu, MEM-CH, pressing menu twice should make the radio say “Transmitting Memory” as it saves it. Now you’re done.

Quick note on the programming cable: If you buy a programming cable for the UV-5R and are going to use it on a Windows 7 64-bit system or Windows 8, try to ensure that the cable uses an FTDI serial chip or a genuine Prolific PL-2303. There are TONS of cables out there that use a counterfeit PL-2303, or a different chip that works similiarly but emulates the PL-2303. Prolific got tired of this happening and added a check to their driver which will cause the serial interface not to start (code 10 error in Device Manager). This problem will never affect you on a Linux or Mac computer.

HD Radio is bullshit.

The following is not necessarily the opinion of anyone else including the station named in these screenshots… however, I can assure you that a great majority of broadcast engineers agree with it.

IBOC subcarriers
IBOC subcarriers

“HD Radio” is complete and total bullshit.

 

What is HD Radio? Basically, it was iBiquity’s attempt to enhance AM and FM broadcasting by adding the ability for a station to incorporate additional digital audio streams to their signal, which can be decoded using a compatible radio and offer the listener additional programming choices… and in theory, offer the station an additional source of revenue, as ad space can be sold on the alternate programming as well.

What did it turn out to be? A colossal clusterfuck. That’s what. I can say fuck on the internet without having to hit the dump button, right? 😉

Here’s what’s wrong with “HD Radio” [Heavily Distorted, Highly Deceptive, Horribly Derpy…]

 

1) Royalties. iBiquity charges broadcasters $25,000 for a license to broadcast in “HD”. Does a station ever recoup that? Probably not. In addition… this is just for broadcasting the same audio you have on your primary analog program in compressed digi-poo. Want to add an HD2/HD3 additional program? That’s fine…. but you have to pay iBiquity a monthly licensing fee that’s somewhere in the low four figures. See Translator Abuse below.

iCockBlock disabled. Trust me, it works better this way.
iCockBlock disabled. Trust me, it works better this way. The warning is due to a loss of Exporter sync which is totally harmless when in analog mode. I’m still stuck in linear transmitter mode though, because this whole system is bullshit and is ALLERGIC TO TRANSMITTER EFFICIENCY.

2) Receivers. HD Radio is a totally closed, proprietary system. To decode it, you need a chip licensed by iBiquity. Some of the first ones I had the misfortune to play with drew up to 30 watts of power (I’m totally serious…!) and required a heatsink the size of a sandwich. Newer ones have improved, but their market penetration has not. You still have to pay at least $30 for an HD receiver. They’re being integrated into SOME car stereos and stuff, but it’s just not out there enough. Soooo how are ad sales going on that medium, where nobody can actually listen to it? Flatter than the compressed audio.

3) QRM!!! [QRM = interference from a manmade source]
HD radio places streams of data in spectrum that SHOULD be empty. This includes guard bands in the FM stereo composite that includes the monaural and l/r difference channel used for normal analog stereo. Some receivers will hiss as a result. In addition, as you can see in my screenshot off a Harris FrustraMatic— I mean, FlexStar HD exciter’s self-monitoring spectrogram, it makes the FM channel wider on the dial. This can make reception of a station on the next adjacent frequency impossible under some circumstances.

AM IBOC/HD radio is even worse. I don’t have a spectrogram of that nightmare handy, but what it looks like is this: the AM audio signal is bandwidth limited to 3 khz, making it sound like you’re listening over a distant telephone or something, and socked in by two solid bands of pure hash. This unyielding block of junk makes reception of distant analog signals impossible; it makes a more effective radio jammer than even that bubbly sounding thing Cuba uses! Reetch.

4) TRANSLATOR ABUSE!

A Beautiful Place Out In The Country...
A Beautiful Place Out In The Country…

A quick description: A broadcast translator is a special station used to fill in a gap in a radio station’s coverage area, or to expand its coverage where it is impractical or impossible to increase the primary transmitter site’s coverage. It works by RECEIVING the primary broadcast off the air and retransmitting it on a different frequency. I’ve installed two of these to extend WRGP-FM at Florida International University so you can actually hear the university’s radio station on their campuses – the primary signal comes from far away in the middle of a farm in Homestead and doesn’t otherwise reach very well.

For whatever reason, a couple of our major friendly radio conglomerates figured out that the letter of the law can be bent to allow them to use an analog output translator  fed by an HD2/HD3 stream off of another station they own in the same market as if it were a completely new station. It’s so much easier to buy up an unused translator license or apply for one than it is to go through the FCC auctions to get a new broadcast station license, so they’ve been doing that…. There’s a reason we call them Cheap Channel…

Nowadays since sales of HD Radio software licenses are flat, iBiquity has actually been PROMOTING this. Okay, how about no.

5) Audio quality. It sounds HARSHLY compressed. If you’re using the HD2, and heaven forbid, the HD3 subcarriers, they REALLY suffer.

2013-08-30 00.36.346) LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN! It takes a few seconds to compress and process the audio for the HD channel, thus, you have to delay the analog audio to match up so that a listener does not experience horrible time skips that make the station unlistenable whenever their receiver switches between digital and analog. The equipment to do this, the HD “Exporter”, is… uhhh… special. It seems almost like it was tacked on as an afterthought, and when it gets out of sync (and it will), your listeners are in for a treat. It’s about as pleasant to listen to as it was for me to wear this giant quarter-pound Teflon feedline spacer as an ear cuff. You know… I think there’s a general “making really disapproving faces at things in radio stations” theme going on here as of late.

For when just a few watts of horns.aiff aren’t enough

 

2013-10-07 18.04.56I forget just what was going on at the moment but I drew this depicting the best way to say “NO” ever: warm up a big honkin’ transmitter, hit plate on to put it on the air at full power, and blast horns.aiff… Or, better yet, a loop of alternating horns.aiff and the soundtrack to nope.avi. Sure, why not.

I wish the blower on the big crybaby of a Harris Z16HD+ I maintain blew out the front like that to create dramatic hair flowiness action. Ehhh… I’m just sufficiently happy with it when it’s not popping blower motors like candy.

This is my "HD Radio" face
This is my “HD Radio” face

Okay maybe it kind of does if you open the front PA cover and let it go all leaf blower. I dunno.

…And any other unspecified duties that may be added as necessary.

From Wm Watt Hairston on the fantastic “I Take Pictures of Transmitter Sites” group:

“Radio Engineer NEEDED ASAP, Duties shall include: Plumbing and toilet repair; Vehicle maintenance and repair; General building and grounds upkeep, modifications and repair; Removal of derelicts and other undesirables from building; Jewelry repair; emergency shoe and garment repair; kitchen appliance repair; office moves and logistics as requested; repair employees electronic equipment; equip, setup and tear down for remote broadcast as requested; install, maintain all phones, computers, as well as associated routers and networks; provide instant desktop support for all running OS and installed applications; Maintenance and upkeep of all FCC related compliance and record keeping matters; repair and maintain towers, transmitters and other broadcast equipment. Must supply own transportation and communications; On-call 24/7 is a must as well as a good attitude and willingness to take direction from anyone who ask….”

Telecom secrets revealed – A Sprint PCS cell site!!

What you can't see in this photo is that it's over 100 degrees in the room, lolz
The Now -- Failing --Network

This is what a particular Sprint PCS cell site in southwestern Miami-Dade County, Florida, looks like inside.

Shield your eyes, it’s horrible. No, actually, you will want to shield your eyes because the batteries were installed so badly that I felt the need to place some cut-up pieces of a plastic container in between the battery terminals and some aluminum-cased monitoring widgets that were sitting on top of them to avoid an electrical fire. (Upon testing the batteries I found then to be at about 10.1 volts DC. FAIL.)

And this kind of thing is why I trust ham radio for communications more than anything I pay a mystery team for “service” on. 🙂

The Water Cooled IC-V8000

I’ve always had a soft spot for the way Icom designs their mobile ham rigs. See, someone at Icom realized that hams are ridiculously longwinded and will overheat many commercial grade radios made for the typical 5/5/90 duty cycle (5% TX, 5% RX, 90% standby) easily… so they designed most of their radios with giant passive heatsinks integral with the exterior chassis of the radio. On some of their radios there is a small cooling fan at the back that pushes a little more airflow over the chassis if needed. I used to have an old IC-229H which just had a huge passive heatsink at the back, and there’s an IC-2100H in my parents’ car that just does the whole case/heatsink thing for cooling.

Unfortunately someone, in the process of building an Echolink node around an IC-V8000, thought they needed a bit more cooling and then this happened…

 I don’t entirely understand WHY this was done — the radio has a very large heatsink of its own… or HAD a very large heatsink of its own, as it may be. It’s a 75W radio and could easily be turned down to mid or low power to further reduce heating problems without doing… that.
The images were found on Facebook and I’m presenting them anonymously to protect the guilty party XD
Shown below is an unmolested reference model:

Anon Radio

For when you just want to talk…

There are three major license-free radio services available in the US that are of interest to us: CB, FRS, and MURS. Using these, well, you don’t need a license and nobody needs to know who you are. Thus, they may be Anon Radio.

CB Radio

This was the first service. Back in ancient history it did have licenses, call signs, and all that stuff. Now it  effectively just comes out of a blister pack at Sprawlmart. CB uses the frequency range of 26.965 to 27.405 Mhz, divided into 40 channels each spaced 10 KHz apart. Yes, all of them end in .xx5, which is weird as hell but who cares.* The signals are usually amplitude modulated; single sideband (SSB) is also allowable on this band.

Notable channels: In many municipalities, channel 9 is monitored by local law enforcement, REACT team volunteers, truckers, and roadside assistance personnel as an emergency call channel. CB radios may have a switch or button to quickly jump here if needed. The frequency is 27.065 Mhz and it may be interesting to leave it in your scanner.

Channel 19 is often used by truckers.  Channels above 30 are often used for SSB. If you have a basic AM only radio you may hear distorted sounding transmissions up here. Radios capable of SSB transmission and reception will have an LSB / AM / USB switch to set the mode to match other users on the channel. SSB tends to be more efficient in terms of how far away you can still continue to talk as signal levels become marginal.

These signals tend to get out best in open spaces and get blocked pretty badly by buildings. However, when the earth’s ionosphere becomes charged up appropriately, you can get “skip” which will carry your signal hundreds of miles by bouncing it back to earth from a high altitude.

The wavelength of the radio signal down here is around 11 meters long, meaning that the common 1/4 wavelength antenna would be taller than you are. CB is most useful communicating between vehicles and/or base stations where you can easily mount a fairly tall antenna. Handheld CB radios do exist but the antennas are either very inefficient or impractically long!

Channel recommendations: ? (any suggestions?)

FRS Radio

FRS is a somewhat more recent service, it was initially opened up in 1996. It used to be totally polluted in most urban areas before everyone and their cat got cell phones with unlimited minutes and text. It operates around 452 Mhz and the radios and antennas are quite pleasantly small. Hell, some smartphones are now bigger than the FRS radio and antenna. There are 14 channels here.

BULLSHIT ALERT: On most FRS radios there are ‘subchannels’, ‘sub codes’, or whatever the manufacturer chooses to call them. They might like you to believe that the radios on both ends have to be set to the same channel and subchannel to receive a transmission. THIS IS NOT TRUE and no privacy is offered by this feature. What it is, basically, is that the ‘subcode’ is a “CTCSS” or “PL” tone. If you set the code to 00 or OFF on a radio, or hold the monitor button, it is in “carrier squelch” operation and it no longer matters what tone or DCS code the radio on the other end is sending, you will hear anyone on the channel as long as the signal’s strong enough to detect. The only use for these tones/codes is just basically to keep the radio from bugging you unless someone’s transmitting the same tone with their audio. It’s just a selective calling/muting feature. It is, however, useful just to make sure the radio doesn’t bother you with transmissions you aren’t interested in or random noise bursts.

Irritating Bullshit Features: Turn off the “roger beep” (a pointless beep the radio sends after you let go of the push to talk switch) and never press the CALL button or I will use radio direction finding techniques to track you down and pour Elmer’s Glue down your airways. On some radios the roger beep is turned on and off from the menu, on others you hold one of the buttons while turning it on to disable it. The call button just sends an irritating ringing noise for a couple of seconds. Why the HELL is it even there?!

Channel 1 is recommended to be monitored as an emergency use channel, if you’re gonna talk like /b/, stay to 6 / 9. 🙂

Recommended channels here: 6 / 9 for what the hell ever. 4 / 2 for more technical discussion, 3 / 14 pi (22 / 7 on a GMRS radio, *almost* pi). I usually monitor 6 / 9. I guess we could come up with our own band plan for this but honestly who cares? 😀

MURS

Now here’s where it gets weird! MURS is a license free service, five channels in the 151 and 154 Mhz VHF range. I have not seen any radios specifically made just for MURS use. Since MURS was “recycled” out of a rarely used business radio service that once did require licenses, the FCC chose to allow any type accepted radio for that band to be used there.

The frequencies are 151.820, 151.880, 151.940, 154.970, and 154.600. Note that if you are near a Walmart store, you will probably find at least one of the channels in use by the store. This is because they are too damn cheap to license proper business class frequencies for their stores. (The frequency and PL may vary by store.)

The least expensive option for a radio here is probably something like the Baofeng UV-3R, Wouxun KG-UVD1P, or similar. Note that these radios are also very useful for ham radio frequencies should you decide to get a license for that.
*  I’m guessing this has something to do with the common 0.455 Mhz receiver IF frequency but the Nobody Gives A Damn alarm just went off.

I miss being that radio guy

image

This is me playing with a tower. I don’t actually climb towers… I just went up a few feet to watch the sun set over the horizon.

The energy around that site is amazing. I’ll say that much, without even getting into how a ghost watches over it for us. 😀

What am I doing here with solar…. and why am I not yet integrating it with my love of radio more?

I guess it’s time to do some more development work.