Sunday, November 30, 2008


Tonight's dinner featured home-baked challah.  This is the first time in a while I've baked bread (although we had home-baked dinner rolls with Thanksgiving dinner) and I must say it turned out reasonably well for being out of practice, making a slightly sweet and very flaky bread with a crunchy crust that serves very nicely with butter.
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 package (about 1 tbsp) yeast
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • Water (80 to 100 degrees), about 1 cup
In a mixing bowl, mix flours.  In a glass measuring container, beat eggs and 1/4 cup water; reserve 1/4 cup of liquid and add water to total 1 1/2 cup.  In stand mixer with dough hook combine yeast, one cup of the mixed flours, and half the liquid; blend with dough hook until well-mixed.  Let stand covered about 20 minutes.  Add sugar, salt, remaining liquid, and remaining flour a half cup at a time with mixer on slow, then knead until well-defined dough ball forms, about five minutes.  Raise for one hour or until doubled.  Punch down (by hand or with dough hook), knead into ball, and let sit for ten to fifteen minutes.  Then divide dough into three equal portions.  Shape each portion into a rope (about 14 inches long) and braid ropes.  Brush with reserved egg wash and let rise again for one hour.  Brush again and bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Reduce oven to 375 and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more.

This recipe has a lot of "oven bounce"; the dough will double in size or nearly so in the oven.  I baked mine on a Silpat on an airbake cookie sheet, but I imagine just about flat cookware would do.  A baking stone might also be worth a try; unfortunately the only one I have has been used extensively for pizza and likely has baked-in flavors that are not well-suited for non-savory breads. 

The recipe I followed for this also called for 1/4 cup olive oil, which I forgot to add.  The bread was delicious without it, but we'll have to try it with it just to find out which way we like better.  The oil would go in at the same time as the remaining egg-water mixture, I would assume.  I'm also going to try using this recipe, or one very similar to it, to make bread bowls for soup.

Update: Made bread bowls tonight with this recipe but with the added olive oil.  The oil is a definite improvement when used as a bread bowl, but I fear it would diminish the quality of the bread as a "tear-apart" loaf (as one would expect for challah).  It really changes the texture (and to some degree the flavor) of the bread.  You'll have to experiment on your own to see how you feel about it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Is it safe to edit in Wikipedia?

I normally don't write about Wikipedia, but of course I used to write more about it and so I still get search hits for the Wikipedia-related content in my blog.  A recent search that did hit was "Is it safe to edit in a wikipedia".  The simple answer is "probably, but you can't be sure".

I'm going to assume that the searcher was interested in the English Wikipedia.  There are lots of other Wikipedias, very few of which are read by anyone anyway and so editing one of them is of virtually no consequence whatsoever.  I seem to recall that some months ago one of the lesser-known Wikipedias was completely subverted by a gaming clan and used by them as a message board for quite some time until someone noticed and cleaned up the mess they made.  Obviously, someone who tried that on one of the major projects wouldn't last long.

But back to the English Wikipedia.  It is not entirely safe to edit Wikipedia, although exactly how unsafe depends mainly on what you edit, and where you live.  If you should live in a country, such as Thailand, in which lese majeste is a crime, and you should happen to edit Wikipedia so as to speak ill of the King, you might find yourself wanted by the authorities as a result.  The same would be true if you were to edit Wikipedia so as to forward holocaust denial; this could make you subject to arrest in countries, such as Austria, where holocaust denial is a crime.  A way in which this could be unexpectedly problematic is if you should make edits which are legal where you live, but which offend the law of some other country which you then later travel to.  Of course, you can avoid this risk by not editing topics in manners that are illegal in places in which you are likely to travel to. 

There's also the risk that you'll edit a topic in a way that offends a wealthy or powerful person, who will then seek to sue you for defamation as a result.  This could happen even if you make an innocuous edit to an article which contains defamatory content elsewhere, because legally when you hit "save" you're taking responsibility for the entire text of the article, not just the part you changed, and so if six sections down the article says that Jack Doe is a child-molester you are on the hook if Jack decides to go after you, even though you didn't think to check for that.  I don't think anyone has actually been sued in this way yet, but it's a matter of time before it happens.  And there have been lawsuits over Wikipedia content, although none that have gone all the way to trial as far as I know.

Finally, there's the risk of being stalked.  If you reveal any personal information along the way as you edit Wikipedia, there's the chance that one of the handful of people who hang about Wikipedia looking for targets will latch on to you and stalk you.  This is more likely if you edit one of the topics that these people monitor; unfortunately, often these people stake out topics that one wouldn't expect to be "risky" (they're often ones with personal connections to them).  If you should offend their inscrutable sensitivities, they may seek to identify your full name, residence, place of business, or other personal information and then stalk or harass you for the "offense" of making "inappropriate" edits to "their" articles.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia is not very open about the identities of the handful of people who are known to have stalked or harassed editors, or what actions tend to set such people off.  The Wikipedia community has refused calls to warn editors of the risks of editing, so quite a few people have been caught badly unawares as a result.

You may also be harassed on the site itself, but that's not really a safety issue; the worst these people will typically do to you is annoy you, piss you off, and perhaps if you're especially unlucky ban you from the site.  If you make the mistake of editing under your real name, you may find that your reputation will be slightly damaged as Wikipedia will gleefully publish all sorts of defamatory content in perpetuity about its editors and former editors, so if you're concerned about this admittedly minor problem, you might want to refrain from editing under your real name.  A good idea anyway, for reasons given above.

All in all, there's a small but not entirely neglible risk of real harm from editing Wikipedia, and people considering doing so really should weigh the benefits (which, due to Wikipedia's rather messed up community, are sadly quite low) against the risks before deciding to participate.  In any case, I would encourage those considering editing Wikipedia to do so pseudanonymously, to refrain from revealing any personal information on the site, and to keep their "Wikipedia" existence as separate from their other online activities, and offline identity, as possible. 

For more on the risks and problems of Wikipedia, see the Wikipedia Review discussion site.

Spaghetti sauce

Tonight's dinner was spaghetti, mainly because I'm tired from the past few days and also because I had Italian sausage that needed to be used up before it went bad.

Here's the sauce recipe:
  • One pound ground beef
  • One pound mild Italian sausage
  • One red onion, diced
  • One pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • One tablespoon butter
  • Three cloves garlic, pressed in garlic press or diced fine
  • Three bay leaves
  • One can Red Gold petite diced tomatos
  • One can Red Gold tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp adobo (Mexican seasoning)
  • Mexican oregano, black pepper, and sea salt to taste
In skillet, brown Italian sausage.  In same skillet, brown ground beef.  About half way through browning ground beef, add red onion.  When beef is browned and onion is clear, remove and set aside.  In same skillet, sauté mushrooms with butter and adobo until mushrooms are cooked.  Mix all ingredients in large saucepan and simmer over low heat at least 15 minutes.  Remove bay leaves before serving.

I've recently discovered adobo, a Mexican seasoning that seems to be a mix of salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic, along with other things I'm not as clear on.  (I don't have the brand linked, but the brand I do have doesn't appear to have a web presence.)  I've also discovered that Mexican spices are a fraction of the cost of those sold by traditional sellers like McCormick's.  For example, I bought a honking huge canister of celery salt in the "Mexican spices" section for $3, which is half the price of a canister a third the size from McCormick's in the regular spices section.  I can't tell any quality difference (if anything, the Mexican varieties are better), so really I don't know what McCormick's is up to with that.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Amateur radio software for Internet use

I see this search quite a bit.  It's kinda vague, when you think about it, as there's several ways that the Internet and amateur radio intersect.

First, there's methods for using the Internet to control an amateur radio.  The best-known of these is probably Echolink, which allows hams who validate with them to use an application to control other people's radios, or sometimes to link into repeaters.  A number of the various rig control programs can be used over remote desktop control programs; a discussion of various methods people have used to accomplish this is here.  I've also heard of people using Asterisk as a component of a remote rig control solution (as well as as a component of a repeater controller, apparently).

Next, there are applications whose main function is to link distant stations to one another.  The main one of this is IRLP; I've heard rumors of others but haven't seen anything of substance on any of them.  The typical use of IRLP is to extend the range of a voice repeater group beyond that possible via line-of-sight radio links.  APRS-IS servers serve a similar purpose for the APRS data protocol.

The next category would be applications which use the Internet to facilitate activities related to amateur radio, but which do not directly involve going on the air.  Probably the largest group of such applications are those related to QSL logging and the electronic submission of such logs to various QSL bureaus, of which there are so many that I can't begin to count them all, and since I don't use any of them I won't bother naming any. 

The one category you won't find are applications that facilitate accessing the Internet from an amateur radio.  That's because under current regulations there are too many regulatory problems with it, as I've talked about before.

11 meter repeater

I got a hit the other day on a search referral for "11 meter repeater".  Of course, "11 meters" is the common name for Citizens Band radio, more commonly known as CB.  CB is part of the so-called "personal radio services", a group of allocations made by the FCC that allow unlicensed persons to use radio communications for "personal" purposes.  CB is the best known of these, popularized in the 1970s as part of "trucker culture" by movies like Smokey and the Bandit, TV shows like BJ and the Bear, and songs like "Convoy".  CB has a well-earned reputation for extremely poor operating practice, overpower operation, noisemakers, and all sorts of other frankly antisocial behaviors that make CB less than maximally useful for the purpose for which it was originally envisoned.

Repeater stations are stations that receive and automatically retransmit communications typically in order to extend the usable range over which people can communicate.  Repeater stations are widely used by amateurs (who are permitted to use them on all bands 10 meters and shorter, with some restrictions in 10 meters, 6 meters, and 2 meters); there are thousands of them out there.  Repeater stations are also used in many of the private fixed & mobile services (i.e. business and public safety uses), and in the General Mobile Radio Service, another personal radio service that requires only very minimal licensing.  However, the regulations that control CB radio in the United States do not allow repeater stations.

Now, there's another type of "11 meter repeater", though.  It seems that there's a small number of low-power stations that use channels between 25.87 and 26.47 MHz for "broadcast remote pickup stations".  These are small stations used by broadcasters for remote operations, and may be used as repeaters with a 2.5 watt emission limit.   It's possible that a unit such as one of these might be called an "11 meter repeater", although I rather doubt it.

11 meters is, or at least was, also used by various federal agencies, although most of these uses have moved to other bands due to heavy interference from CB users; the cheap illegal linears that many of them use to get "MO POWA" causes them to splatter all over the place and renders much of the adjoining frequencies useless much of the time.

This particular search hit came from an IP owned by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.  It seems unlikely that this particular governmental unit would have a broadcast license.  I've checked ULS for licenses issued in Louisiana for the range of 26 to 28 MHz (which covers all of 11 meters) and there are a few, but all of them are either broadcast stations (broadcast remote pickup stations) or radio repair or sales shops.  So I have to wonder just what our dear friends in the State of Louisana are interested in 11 meter repeaters for…

Friday, November 14, 2008

Morse code for your phone

This one comes from a search for "ham radio morce code for windows phone".  I'm not 100% certain what the searcher was looking for here. 

The most obvious would be software for Morse code training that can run on a Windows cell phone.  There is apparently an application called "MorseMaster" for the Windows Mobile PocketPC.  I have no idea if it's any good, and this post is no endorsement.  Other than this app, I'm not aware of any Morse training app that runs on a cell phone, and is probably not that viable on the mobile web platform.  I've heard rumors of someone doing one for the iPhone but haven't actually seen any evidence that it exists.

Another possibility would be a Morse code ringtone generator; there are quite a few of these out there (the one I linked is just the first one I found).  This appears to be a somewhat popular thing to do, and is sorta cool in a steampunk sorta way.

It seems rather less likely that someone is asking for the ability to actually send or receive Morse via cellphone.  This seems like a rather useless capability to have, and I can't think of any real incentive to do it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

10 meter repeater range

I've written about 2 meter repeater range before, and actually this is an area I spend not a small amount of time fiddling with, what with my ongoing splat project to generate coverage details for every repeater in Tom's database.  However, there's a big difference between 2 meters and 10 meters when it comes to range, due to the difference between VHF and HF.

Two meters is a VHF band.  As such, it is mostly line-of-sight.  2 meters is somewhat prone to various long-distance effects, mainly in the summer, due to sporadic E skip, ducting, or other phenomena.  There's a site that provide nice real-time estimates of VHF propagation by examining APRS packet hops.  However, for the most part these effects are unpredictable and sporadic, and do not reflect the normal state of affairs.  When we talk about range for a two meter repeater, or any repeater operating in VHF or above, it's going to be based on the radio horizon without much regard to the possibilities of skip.

There are also repeaters in six meters, also considered a VHF band; six is more prone to skip than two, and can pretty reliably be expected to skip in certain directions at certain times of the year, depending on where you are.  However, the number of six meter repeaters is much smaller than that of two meter repeaters, probably because of the larger antennas required for good operating performance.

However, the search that prompted this article was seeking information on "ten meter repeater range".  Ten meters is an HF band, and as an HF band is much more amenable to skip.  In fact, when the sunspot cycle isn't in the doldrums like it is now, ten meters is pretty consistently a worldwide band; it is quite possible to work a contact all the way around the world with just a few watts if you know what you're doing.  So while the "space wave" component of a ten meter repeater is going to be substantially similar to that of a six meter or two meter repeater, the "sky wave" component will be completely different.  You can use splat, or any other line-of-sight (or Longley-Rice, preferably) modeling tool, to get a pretty good prediction of the space wave component of a ten meter station's listening zone.  For the sky wave component, though, you have to look into ionospheric modeling, which is much more complicated and less predictable.  In practice, a ten-meter repeater operator should assume and expect worldwide exposure and plan accordingly.

There are only nine repeaters in Tom's database that operate in 10 meters, and one of them is a crossbander.  I haven't splatted any of them yet; only one of them is in the United States (the crossbander) and I don't have terrain data for non-US locations anyway.  If you happen to have a 10 meter repeater, please consider adding it to Tom's database.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dongle, dongle everywhere

I see a good deal of traffic looking for information about DVSI's AMBE and IMBE vocoders.  Not surprising; these vocoders are at the heart of D*STAR and APCO 25 (respectively), and I've blogged about both before (APCO 25/IMBE here, D*STAR here).  As D*STAR is becoming increasingly popular with hams, and APCO 25 is increasingly widely deployed in public service radio, it's not surprising that people are looking for ways to decode these signals.

Unfortunately, they're not going to find it.  DVSI refuses to release much information about their vocoders, and virtually everyone using them is using the DVSI-provided DSP chip, which has been readlocked so you can't suck the program out of it.  I haven't heard of anyone selling an IMBE dongle in the end-user market, although there may be IMBE add-on devices for some scanners; check with your manufacturer.  For AMBE, there is the "DV Dongle", a USB dongle that contains a DVSI AMBE chip.  In theory, it should also be possible to cannibalize an AMBE or IMBE chip from a radio that had one and interface it; there should be enough information in the market to do that, at least, especially since reportedly both chips are standard DSP chips with known interfacing characteristics.  There are also reports of AMBE and IMBE boards for use in a PC, but at very high prices ($1000 and up).

The tightly controlled trade-secret status of these decoders makes it impossible, of course, for a third party to write a compatible codec.  This is, of course, deliberate by DVSI; they have a captive market and they'd like to keep it that way.  IMBE's widespread adoption within APCO 25, which is all-but-mandatory in public service now gives them a lucrative cash cow, much of which comes from Department of Homeland Security grants to improve national readiness in the event of terrorist attack.  Just how much economic rent is being paid (mostly by taxpayers) to DVSI for this monopoly?

(Updated to correct AMBE/IMBE confusion.  Sorry about that.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weird ham radio hats

Oddly enough, my blog is number two for this search, even though I've never talked about hats in particular.  I'm not much of a hat wearer, let alone a weird hat wearer, so I don't really have much experience with hats, ham radio hats, weird hats, or especially weird ham radio hats.  That said, probably the weirdest ham radio specific hat I've heard of is the guy (who may not actually exist) who mounted an antenna on his hat.  This is a pretty bad idea, in general; RF energy is not good for the body in general, and the brain in particular, and putting a radiator next to your head is just not a really good idea.  See also this blog post, where someone did actually put an antenna in a hat....

My experience is that most hams that wear hats will wear ball caps with their callsign applied in those fuzzy letters you've been able to get from T-shirt customization shops since the mid-70s.  A few will have had it properly embroidered, but that's unlikely.  A more likely combination will be a ball cap with the callsign applied using mailbox letters; for some reason hams are inordinately fond of mailbox letters (you know, the ones made of metallic foil on adhesive, typically gold on a black background) and use them to decorate their cars, their stations, and just about anything else they can find.  The rest will wear a service cap from whatever military unit they served in back in the day.

Of course, really the weirdest are the headgear these guys (I think they're guys) wear.  But that's their business.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Alternative methods of oil production

Another recent search phrase is "what other methods do we get oil".  I'll take this to be an inquiry into methods of oil production other than via drilling into underground resevoirs and pumping the oil therein out.

There are about four alternative sources for petroleum (or petroleum-like substances that are usable as fuel): the extraction from oil sands and shales, the conversion of either natural gas or coal into a petroleum-like substance, and the conversion of organic waste matter into petroleum by depolymerization, and direct biofuel production.

The first method is not widely used simply because it is still cheaper to obtain oil by drilling.  There are huge reserves of petroleum locked up in oil-bearing mineral deposits (oil sands and shales) far more than believed to exist in underground resevoirs, which simply haven't been exploited because of the high costs of recovery.  As drillable reserves exhaust, eventually the price of oil will rise to the point that exploiting these reserves will presumably become cost-effective. 

Converting natural gas or coal reserves into liquid fuel has been exploited at times, usually by nations who had been cut off from the world petroleum market by war (Nazi Germany) or economic sanctions (South Africa).  As a result, the possible processes are reasonably well-developed, but not widely used because they are not terribly efficient.  Natural gas conversion may also enable more effective exploitation of gas fields that are too remote to be effectively exploited currently due to the difficulty of transporting the natural gas.

Depolymerization has the theoretical possibility of converting nearly any organic waste (from petroleum coke to ordinary garbage) into petroleum or at least a petroleum-like liquid hydrocarbon fuel, using heat and pressure.  As with the other methods above, these approaches require a lot of energy, and also tend to be rather polluting.  Unlike the other methods above, depolymerization does not draw down the earth's limited oil feedstocks, but instead draws on various waste streams (which would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated), a substantial fraction of which represent the consumption of renewables.

The final method is by direct production of biofuels such as ethanol, methanol, and various vegetable oils, which may then be modified into so-called biodiesel.  This also represents a renewable source; however, the fuel use of agricultural production competes with the use of the same for food, which could drive up the price of food and may increase the risk of food shortages.  The earth's total capacity to produce crops is limited, and many of the methods that have been used in the past to increase that capacity are energy-intensive; as a result some (in fact most, presently) biofuel production methods actually consume more energy than they produce.

None of these methods is generally cost-effective relative to drilling, although the differential costs are getting narrower as the price of drilled crude increases and the costs of production of the alternative drops as technology improves.  All of the alternatives are in limited use due to local conditions that favor them (usually legal in nature), but none is widespread.  In practice, the existence of these alternatives means that we'll continue to have "petroleum" for a long time—but not necessarily at a price we'll be all that comfortable with.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Name the two states which are smaller than many countries in some of the larger states

I've now had two or three searches hit my blog on "name the two states which are smaller than many countries in some of the larger states".  Of course, my blog matches on on this because of this post, which was itself a response to a search referral.

States don't, in my experience, contain countries, at least not as I understand the terms.  So I don't understand what is meant by "many countries in some of the larger states" because states don't have countries.  So let's assume this is a typo, and the intended word is "counties".  States do contain counties (except for Alaska, which has "boroughs", and Louisiana, which has "parishes").  The largest county (by area) is San Bernardino County (in California), which checks in at 20,052.50 square miles of land area (most of it mostly empty desert).   There are three states that are smaller in area than this: Connecticut (14,356 square miles), Delaware (6,446 square miles) and Rhode Island (4,002 square miles).  I don't know which of these three is the desired answer to this particular trivia question, so you'll have to pick two of the three and take your chances.  I suggest using Delaware and Rhode Island, just because they're the two smallest states.

As to where this question came from, I have no idea.  Perhaps someone will tell me.

P.S. I'm assuming the inquiry is with respect to area.  It doesn't make that much sense if you do it with respect to population.  The two largest counties in terms of population are Los Angeles County, California (9,948,081) and Cook County, Illinois (5,288,655).  Only eight states are larger than Los Angeles County in population, and only twenty larger than Cook County.

P.P.S. Corrected flipped wording which I thought I fixed previously but apparently not.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Christian Principles in an Election Year

This isn't from my church or anything; just something I saw on the web.  It's hard to argue much with these, at least in principle; you can quibble with the details of the phrasing.
  1. War is contrary to the will of God.
  2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation.
  3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well being of our global neighbors.
  4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society.
  5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth.
  6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good.
  7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers.
  8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick.
  9. Because of the transforming power of God’s grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other.
  10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of God’s children is a moral imperative.
The world would be a better place if more people actually led their lives guided by these ten principles (or a close enough approximation as fits one's beliefs about the supernatural).  Whether or not it's an election year.

Don't forget to vote!

Why is There a Lack of Civility in the World?

(This is another post inspired by a search referral.)

Many years ago, Robert Heinlein presents, in his novel Friday, the thesis that the spread of incivility is indicative of a failing society.  There is probably merit to this; as circumstances become regularly more dire, people are more likely to revert to their more natural survivalist behaviors, which include a tendency to be suspicious of those not related to oneself.  The whole notion of of living in cities (which is what "civil" means, fundamentally) with people to whom one is not related is artificial, learned behavior that has to be taught to and reinforced in each generation.  So the question is, have we gotten less good at teaching and reinforcing civility in the past generation?

It's probably too soon to say for sure, but I'm concerned that this might be the case.  From where I stand, the world changed in 1985, when Elmo first showed up on Sesame Street.  Elmo is aggressively self-centered and largely unconcerned about anyone but himself; he is fundamentally selfish and has been teaching children to be self-centered brats since 1985.  Prior to that, virtually all child-oriented television has emphasized cooperation, friendship, and respect of the other; Elmo teaches none of these virtues, and (as anyone who pays attention to such things knows) Elmo now commands nearly half the airtime in your average episode of Sesame Street.  A study reported on the radio here some months ago reported that today's teenagers and young adults (who would have been exposed to Sesame Street starting after 1985) test higher on metrics for narcissism than do prior generations.  Other studies have reported no change, however, and this remains a debated topic.

We certainly are seeing an increase in people's concern about broader issues, especially with younger people, but it's largely impersonal things such as "the environment".  A concern for a depersonalized environment, no matter how deeply held, doesn't necessarily translate into a concern for the feeling of one's fellow man, and in fact I've seen quite a bit of grossly uncivil conduct by committed environmentalists, who feel that it's justified to be mean to evil polluters because they're, well, evil.  The gross personal selfishness and lust for money that has captivated the national consciousness since the mid-1980s also contributes to a lack of civility.  The encrustation of the upper crust with its protected children of privilege who do not, and will never have to, work for their keep also contributes, as they have grown to expect their privilege without accepting any of the social responsibility that only a few decades ago was expected of those of means. 

I'm hoping that we're starting to grow out of this phase; to some degree the outcome of tomorrow's election will (in my mind) be a bellwether for this (it's plainly obvious to me that Obama/Biden is far more concerned about civility than McCain/Palin, whose entire campaign strategy has been rife with incivility).  Only time will tell for certain.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

What Will Happen to Amateur Radio If Obama Is Elected

I must admit I gain much inspiration from looking at referrals; the search keys people use often inspire.  I'm doing this one today because the election is just over a day away now and there might actually be someone undecided out there looking for guidance.  Unfortunately, I can't offer much.

I haven't heard word one from either Obama or McCain regarding amateur radio.  The FCC Commissioners are, of course, appointed by the President, and so in theory whether we have Obama or McCain in the Oval Office will presumably at some point have some effect on who the FCC commissioners are, but that said it is very rare indeed that a Commissioner actually gets involved in a matter related to ham radio.  Nor has either candidate, as far as I can find, ever taken a strong position for or against any legislative issue with any well-defined relation to ham radio.

However, in a broader sense, I think Obama is likely to be ever so slightly better for ham radio than McCain.  There are two reasons for this.  First, McCain has spent many years doing the bidding of the large telecoms.  If it came down to a large telecom wanting a patch of spectrum that hams currently have, I have slightly less faith that a McCain-appointed commissioner would give a moment to listen to the concerns and interests of hams, or take the time to understand ham radio's long history of public service, before ruling in favor of one of McCain's friends in Big Telecom.  However, this just isn't a very likely scenario.

Second, Obama's positions on issues related to science and education seem to me to be more favorable to restoring interest in engineering and technology with America's youth than do McCain's (who favors widespread cuts to virtually all forms of research funding).  As such, I think Obama's platform might just have a side effect of increasing interest in ham radio as an interesting hobby to pursue.  This factor is pretty tenuous as well, though.

There's a third issue, one which is near and dear to many of hams: the dreaded CC&R.  This is a topic that goes beyond hams, of course; fighting with the HOA seems to be a pastime of a fair portion of homeowners these days, over issues as varied as clotheslines, flagpoles, playsets, and parking.  I haven't heard either candidate say anything to this issue either, and I can't say that I have a feel on where either candidate would stand with respect to legislation that might tend to weaken the power of homeowner's associations in general, or specifically the federal legislation that would be needed to expand the scope of PRB-1 to invalidate conflicting CC&Rs (the way existing law already does for DishTV).  I have to call the candidates a wash on this issue.

So if you're still waffling on who you're going to vote on, and you're a ham, I'm afraid that this issue doesn't give you a whole lot of guidance, and quite frankly if you're swayed by any of the above I suspect you weren't really that undecided to begin with.  You still have 36 hours to make up your mind, in any case.  Don't forget to vote (if you haven't already).

Paying Taxes as E-Bay Seller

So many of the searches that hit my blog seem to be people trying to find answers to questions.  Being the nice person that I am, I try to provide answers, so that the next person who has that question will, maybe, find my answer and find it useful.

So this person was apparently trying to find out about paying taxes as an E-Bay seller.  Well, the short story is, yes, you have to pay taxes.  If you are an occasional seller, then you are expected to report the entire amount of income you received from the sale of merchandise on E-Bay as "miscellaneous hobby income" on whatever line it is for that on whichever for you file.  However, if you should happen to forget to report it, it's extremely unlikely that the IRS will ever find out, and I imagine most people who are supposed to report such income never actually do.

On the other hand, if you're in the regular business of selling stuff on E-Bay, then you're expected to file a business return, typically Schedule C of Form 1040.  This method of filing at least allows you to deduct the cost of whatever you sold against what you were paid for it, which means that you'll end up paying less tax.  You will, however, have to pay self-employment taxes on the net income of your business venture.

Also, if you sell to someone within your own state, and your state collects sales tax, you may be required to collect sales tax from whomever you sold to and forward that on to your state's revenue department.  Check with a local tax advisor on this, as some states exempt so-called "occasional sales" from the obligation to collect sales tax, while others do not.

In practice, a lot of the people who are supposed to pay taxes on E-Bay profits do not, as much of their income is undocumented.  This is actually a pretty big loophole, costing the government as much as ten billion dollars a year, and much hay was made about this a while back when Chris Dodd proposed to make it harder to conceal income derived from online sources.