Ham Radio vs. GoTenna

According to the origin myths of the internet and mobile technology their decentralized qualities are supposed to function when we’re all hunkered down in our bunkers riding out a nuclear Armageddon. This fanciful narrative might just be a cover for a less appealing reality. In fact, our internet and mobile phones should probably be characterized as an attempt to build a dystopian and highly centralized surveillance network. Our “friends” at Facebook and Google have gone one step beyond the government by figuring out a way to make money off this surveillance.

As CEO of a new startup, Daniela Perdomo challenged this centralization with a provocative product, the goTenna. Johnny, over at Granola Shotgun, has purchased a goTenna and has a post up about it. Basically, the goTenna allows you to bypass the cellphone network and send text messages and your GPS location directly to other goTenna users, within around 1 to 5 miles, via an app on your cellphone that pairs with the goTenna device. GoTenna sells for $179 for a pack of two.

The more goTenna users there are in a particular area, the longer the communication range will be since the devices can hand off messages between each other by forming what’s called a mobile mesh network. A subscription service allows you to send goTenna messages over regular SMS networks so you can reach people who don’t own a goTenna.

The goTenna has been out for a few years and, as evidenced by user maps, if you live in a major metropolitan area I’d expect the coverage to be good. Due to communications regulations you’re only supposed to use a goTenna in the U.S. but the map shows a lot of goTenna users in Europe and a few in Canada.

GoTenna also has competition. Similar devices, some in production others just an Indiegogo dream, include the Gotoky, Beartooth, Sonnet and Radacat. A few of these competitors promise some form of voice communication. One big constraint on all these devices, including the goTenna, is the highly contested and corrupt realm of radio spectrum allocation. In order to develop expanded voice and data capabilities, governments would need to allocate more radio spectrum, unlikely if you don’t have deep pockets to pay for lobbyists and buy off politicians around the world.

Johnny asked me what I thought of the goTenna vs. amateur radio (a.k.a. ham radio) for emergency situations. Without testing a goTenna I can’t really answer that question. I will say that ham radio has a few pluses and minuses.  In order to use a ham radio you have to get a license which isn’t that hard especially since you no longer need to know Morse code. You are not supposed to use ham radio for commercial communication so if Johnny and I wanted to send messages over ham radio about our respective blogs that might be considered out of bounds. Of course, Johnny would also have to have a ham radio license in order for us to chat. And ham radio, in my experience, is not a “plug and play” type of technology. You have to devote a considerable amount of time to learning the technology as well as the communication etiquette and protocols.

On the plus side, with just an inexpensive 2 meter handheld ham radio (you can pick one up for as little as $24), you can communicate via voice in any emergency. Thanks to the Win System, I can use that same 2 meter radio to communicate around the world. And the goTenna is similar to the efforts of ham radio operators to create mesh networks with wifi routers. And ham radio, unlike the goTenna, is by definition open source.

Ham radio is really something you need to take up in a community of other ham radio enthusiasts. One could speculate, as has political scientist, Robert Putnam about the general disinclination in recent decades to do things in groups such as form ham radio clubs, bowling leagues, attend churches or synagogues etc. The goTenna is yet another technology for atomized individuals and for that reason, I think, it’s no coincidence that blockchain enthusiasts have taken to the goTenna. On the other hand, who wants to cede all of our communication abilities to a few centralized and greedy mobile carriers and creepy internet companies? Perhaps the answer is to form more ham radio clubs and encourage interesting and easy to use technologies like the goTenna.

If you’ve used a goTenna or any similar device please leave a comment with your thoughts. And, speaking here as KK6HUF, if you’d like to help me get back to learning how to use ham radio please also get in touch. I could use some help!

Saturday Tweets: RIP Mary Oliver

A Better Garage Organizational System

I gave übermaker Federico Tobon a tour of the garage when he visited the Root Simple compound back in 2017. He took one look at the pegboard and asked, politely, if I liked it. I could tell by his tone of voice that he was skeptical of this ubiquitous garage storage strategy.

Technically known as perforated hardboard (Peg-Board is an expired trademark), the idea dates to the early 20th century. You can still pick some up at almost every lumber yard or big box store here in the U.S. But here’s the thing. It sucks. Even with the little plastic doodads that are supposed to keep the metal hooks from falling out, in my experience, half the time you you go to retrieve a tool off the wall the damn metal pegs fall out.

This past week, inspired by an article in Fine Woodworking by Jason Stephens, I decided to put all my furniture building plans on hold and replace the pegboard with a more usable and robust home-brewed hanging system using 1/2 inch plywood and custom made tool holders.

The first step was a Marie Kondoing of the workshop. I decided to only keep tools that I know I will use. Since I’m focusing on woodworking this was fairly simple. A flurry of furniture projects in the past year taught me which tools are useful and which ones are not. But don’t worry, I also decided to keep the tools that I use for non-wood related household emergencies (toilet augers and stuff like that).

Stephens’ tool storage method begins by attaching 1/2 plywood to your workshop wall. Then you make a custom hanger for each tool or set of tools. This is easier than it sounds and took only a few minutes per tool. Having a table saw and air nailer makes this go faster but you could easily make hangers with hand tools. It would just take longer. For many of the tools I just put a nail or screw in the plywood to hang them. You could also make a small version of this system for an apartment and attach the plywood to the wall with a French cleat.

While what I put together was a storage wall for a wood shop, you could easily adapt this idea to any other craft. I could see a sewing or crafting room organized the same way. It does help to know which tools you need and to place the most frequently used ones close at hand. In my case that meant the measuring tools and hand planes were placed close to the workbench and the table saw accessories are on shelves next to, you guessed it, the table saw.

Rolling with Stephens’ suggestion, I used French cleat hangers so that I could remove tool sets, such as my drill bits and chisels, from the wall. As you can see I made a base so that you can put the whole set on a table.

There were a few other changes to the workshop I made in order to make it more useful for furniture making such as being sure that I could access my workbench from all sides, as well as improvements to the dust collection system. I can detail these changes in a future post but I’m more interested in showing that a well organized workshop can benefit any activity from sewing to gardening. Taking the time to plan a workspace makes work go much easier.

Aesthetics are important too. It helps to have a workshop that’s inspiring to work in. Towards this end I hung a few mementos on the wall. A St. Joseph icon reminds me to not cut off my fingers. And my late grandfather’s shop glasses, from his time riveting airplanes at McDonnell Douglas, look down from above the nuts and bolts.

Saturday Tweets: Bad Data and Cats

Water Harvesting Rock Star Brad Lancaster

Spend an hour with Brad at his Tucson compound circa 2016:

He calls the 1/8th of an acre site he shares with his brother’s family, his “living laboratory”. Here he plants around the greywater from his outdoor shower, bathtub and washing machine. He captures 100,000 gallons of rainwater per year on their property and surrounding public right-of-way. He cooks with a solar oven and heats his water using a 2 salvaged, conventional gas heaters stripped of insulation, painted black, and put in an insulated box with glass facing south to collect the sun’s rays.

Via Lloyd’s blog. Thanks to Dale Benson for the tip!