One More Reason To Dump Yahoo Mail

If you have been paying attention to the tech news you would be hearing how Yahoo is looking to sell off some or all of it's assets.  This may concern because if you use yahoo mail it might one day just go away.

I have a yahoo mail account but I do not use it for anything other than junk mail.  Mainly because it has become very slow, does not work reliably and sometimes not at all and now they are starting to play videos in my inbox when I have no mail.  No, they did not ask me if I wanted to watch their videos, they force them on me.  I can click the X and close them but that is an extra step I have to do when I clear my inbox, which is multiple times daily.

Now, yahoo mail is killing my battery.  Yeah, that is right, yahoo is killing my battery.

Let's take a look at a process for Google Chrome before I have logged into mail:

The important thing to note here is that Chrome is not preventing my laptop from going to sleep.  That means if I close the lid or select sleep from the Apple menu, it will go to sleep.

Now let's take a look at the same process after I log in to Yahoo Mail:

Now, Google Chrome is preventing my laptop from going to sleep.  Which means even though I close the lid or select sleep from the Apple menu, by morning my battery is completely dead.

If you are a command line junkie like me, you can also run this command to see what applications (if any) are preventing your Mac from going to sleep:  pmset -g assertions.

Once you run the command, look at the "PreventSystemSleep" line and if it not 0 (zero) then look in the list below for "NoIdleSleepAssertio" to determine which process is not allowing your machine to go to sleep.

If you are still using yahoo mail, it is time to find a new mail provider.  I think I only have 2 or 3 more things I need to move, everything else has been moved, not I really need to move them so I can forget about my yahoo mail account.

How do you keep your Shack organized?

I am about to embark on the task of re-organizing my shack yet again, this will be the 4th or 5th time.  I seem to keep acquiring new gear and running out of space.  Not to mention all of the cables that go along with it.

When I put up the tower I ran a bunch of LMR 400 cable.  That stuff is not flexible and I have a ton of rf cables everywhere.

I am going to attempt to put a small rack under the desk and rack mount the transcievers and build a panel for the rf connectors and label them.  I am not sure if any of this will help though.

Most of my radios have remote heads so that helps some, I can keep the radio out of site but there are just so many wires.

Here was the last re-org when it was just getting started:

After it was done it was not too bad:

Since then I have added the new antennas on the tower and moved a few things around.

I am curious how you keep your shack organized and non cable cluttered.

Post your suggestions and pictures as well if you have some.

D-star, DMR, Fusion, Which is right for you?

If you are an amateur radio operator and have not been living under a rock, then I am sure you have heard of one of the digital modes: D-Star, DMR or Fusion.  You may be wanting to dip your toes into the digital modes water but not sure which pool to dip them in.  This blog post is intended to present a fair unbiased opinion on each of the modes.  

Not until the end will you learn my preferred mode.  I use all of the modes I will discuss.  There are additional digital modes like P25, and Nexedge that I have not used and are also much less prevalent that I will not discuss.  I do not have enough knowledge of those modes to represent them.

Also, I want to make sure up front that this is not intended to bash any one mode.  I like all forms of technology and really do not like the people that are so biased toward one that every other mode is bad.  Each of these modes has a place and my goal is to help you decide which one fits you the best.

I am going to start off with a quick synopsis of each of the modes we are going to discuss then we will get into the comparison.

D-Star

Of the 3 modes we are going to discuss, D-Star is the oldest.  It was created by the Japan Amateur Radio League (JARL) and is an open standard.  It is important to note that is was created for Amateur Radio.  Most people relate Icom with D-star as they have been the primary manufacturer of D-Star equipment, however, they are just a manufacturer that has implemented this open standard into their products.  There are other manufactures that make add-on boards for D-star.  There is also a lot of other solutions for getting on D-Star that do not require a radio or local repeater.  We will discuss these later.

DMR 

Digital Mobile Radio is known as DMR and sometimes you will hear it referred to as MOTOTRBO.  MOTOTRBO is the motorola implementation of the DMR protocol.  DMR originated as a business communication standard in Europe.  It is important to note that it was created for commercial communications, this will help to explain some of it's features.  There are many manufactures of radios for DMR and they vary greatly in price.

System Fusion

Mostly referred to as Fusion is the newest digital radio mode.  It was designed by Yeasu and is not an open standard.  Yeasu is the only manufacturer of radios for this mode.  Yeasu repeaters are true multi-mode capable and can replace an existing analog repeater while still providing digital capabilities.  It can also transcode an incoming digital signal to analog or an incoming analog to digital or it can transmit what it receives, no matter if it is digital or analog.

Yeasu offered a special price to radio clubs and groups.  You could get the repeater for $500.  Clubs with old repeaters and looking toward digital saw that as a great time to update their repeaters.  Because of that there are lots of System Fusion repeaters around.  But most of them still only have FM analog users on them.

The following is a comparison chart of features of each mode then after the chart I discuss each feature listed and go into more detail on each mode.

 

Feature / ItemD-StarDMRFusion
Ease Of UseEasyEasyEasy
Ease Of ProgrammingMediumLow High
CostLow-MediumLow-HighMedium
FlexabilityHighLowHigh
SurvivabilityHighLowLow
ExtendabilityHighLowLow
Multiple ManufacuresFewLotsOne
Access The Network via "Non Radio"YesNoNo
Multi-band Radios AvailableYesNoYes
Field ProgammableYesSomeYes
ConnectabilityYesYesYes
Voice QualityGoodGreatGreat
Digital IDYesNoYes
GPSYesNoYes
Can Send DataYesNoYes
Bandwidth6.2512.512.5 / 6.25
Concurrent Voice Channels121
Error CorrectionGoodGreatGreat
Mixed Mode RepeatersNoWith LimitationsYes
Ease of Multi-UserGoodPoorGood

Now lets go through each of the features and talk about each of the modes and why I rated them the way I did.

Ease Of Use

All of these modes are easy to use.  They are different than analog so it takes some getting used to but none of them are difficult to use.  If I had to pick the one that is easiest to use, it would be DMR.  As we will discuss in more detail below, DMR is not as flexible and therefore, it is easier to use and more structured.

Ease Of Programming

It is a bit of a mixed bag in this category.  D-star is not hard to program, however, there is a new concept that you have to understand first and that is routing.  With D-star you can talk to your local repeater, another repeater, a reflector which can have 10 or hundreds of repeaters connected to it or even an individual person.  This sound complex and complicated but one you understand that your gateway is attached to the repeater you are talking to, it is very simple.

I put DMR into the low category because depending on the radio you have depends on how difficult it is to program.  The concepts initially sound simple but it is complex to implement.  You have to know what each repeater is carrying as far as talk groups and on which timeslot, etc.  The other thing is, some of the commercial radios that do DMR like motorola require some very expensive software to program them ($300 for 3 years) unless you have a friend that has it and is willing to program it for you.

For Fusion, programming is not much more difficult than an analog repeater, because by itself System Fusion has no connect-ability and it is nothing more than a repeater.  If your repeater has Wires-X installed it is a little more complicated but for just the radio portion, it is just as simple as analog.

Cost

Again, this is a bit of a mixed bag and even within each mode.  For D-star, the primary manufacturer has been Icom, there are other manufactures of add on boards for other radios.  The Icom gear I would say is in the medium to high range.  However, for around $100 you can get a USB based device that you plug into your computer and you are on the D-Star network and can talk with your computer to any repeater, reflector, etc.

There are 2 companies that say they are coming out with D-Star radios soon, if that happens the pricing in this market could change.  An entry level handheld for D-star is around $300.

The cost of DMR radios vary greatly, there are many manufactures of radios for DMR.  You can get a Tytera radio in the low $100s or go up to a Motorola radio that is above $500 approaching $1000.

With Yeasu being the only manufacturer of radios for System Fusion, you are limited.  The entry level handheld radio for System Fusion is in the mid $300's

Flexibility

This is a category where I may get some flack, I rated both D-star and System Fusion high and DMR Low.  I will explain my reasoning behind this.  On D-star, if I want to listen to a specific reflector or connect to a repeater anywhere in the world I can do that through my local repeater, my hotspot (more on this later), devices connected to my computer, etc.  If I am using my local repeater, I do not have to have the repeater owner do anything.

System Fusion works similarly if there is a Wires-X node attached to the repeater.  There is nothing required of the repeater operator and you can go anywhere at any time.

DMR has no flexibility.  The repeater operator decides what talk groups he wants to allow, which ones are pinned up (always on) and on what timeslot.  He tells the C-bridge operator what he wants and that is what you get.  If you have a friend that is on a different talk group, to bad, so sad you cannot go to it.  What is available is fixed and not flexible at all.

You have to remember that DMR was created for commercial use where they do not want the flexibility.  They want the user to not have to think about anything, pick your channel and use it.  Unfortunately this does not match the experimentation part of amateur radio.

Survivability

When I talk survivability I am referring to in the event network issues or natural disaster occur.  Each mode works very differently and each have it's pro's and cons.

Just to note, every mode can survive on it's own as a local repeater.

D-star uses regular internet DNS to connect it's nodes.  If one node goes down, it does not affect your ability to connect to another one.  Of the 3 Modes, this is the most survivable mode, there is no reliance on a central control system.

DMR requires it be connected to a C-bridge.  I think some explanation is required here.  Unlike the Fusion and D-Star repeaters, DMR requires a central controller called a C-bridge to function.  Think of it like the dumb terminals of old mainframes that displayed the data and took input but sent it all back to the main computer to process.

The problem is if the C-bridge becomes unavailable the repeater can only work locally, it can't go around the C-bridge to other repeaters that are still working.  So as an example, if your repeater is connected to a C-bridge in Boston along with 100 other repeaters up and down the east cost, if something happens, natural disaster, terror action or someone accidentally cuts the cable to the data center, 100 of the east coast DMR repeaters just went offline as a network until that is fixed.

Because of the dependency on the central control, I rated this as a low.

I rated System Fusion as a low also, I know I just said it has more logic, what gives right?  Well, I recently was told that the central control for Wires-X is in Tokyo Japan.  This is nothing against Tokyo Japan, but there is a lot of things that can happen to the internet between the US and Japan.  Also, what does that do for latency?  So in addition to be a central controlled system, it is very far away and just asking for trouble.

Extendability

So I need to explain what I mean by extendability.  What I mean by extendability is anything beyond a radio to repeater.  What other options are there to extend access to the network.

For all 3 modes, there is a device called a DV4Mini (US Seller, German Seller) that allows you to access the network for D-Star, DMR and System Fusion plus a couple of others.  To use this you must have a radio that can operate in the UHF range for the mode you want to use.  So you must have a D-star, Fusion or DMR radio in addition to the DV4Mini.  So why rate DMR and Fusion low?

The DMR currently available on the DV4Mini is tied to the Hytera DMR network and most repeaters are tied in the DMR-Marc network.  There is only one talk group that connects between the 2, 4639 Nationwide.  So, you can talk anywhere on the Hytera network but that is not the most common network in use.  With Fusion, yeah you can talk digital but no Wires-X.  Also, in both modes, you cannot easily change talk groups or rooms from RF, you have to change it in the software.

Now with D-star, there are tons of different ways to get on the network and it seems like there are new ones coming out every week.  The DV4Mini will work but you can also get DVAP's, DVMega boards that you connect to a Raspberry pi and have your own mini hotspot, there are USB dongles like the Star*DV that plug in via USB and you can connect up a Icom Microphone and use it just like a radio over the internet from anywhere.

If you want to do more of the computer thing with a headset there are a number of USB dongles like the ThumbDV, DVDongle, and there are many many more.  If you wanted to create your own repeater or high powered hotspot, free software on a raspberry pie and a low cost GMSK modem and one or two radios that have the din data plug in the back you are up and working.  I have a 20 watt hotspot that I can reach for miles around, a battery powered portable hotspot I plug into my lighter in my car to charge.  Using a wireless hotspot from my cell carrier, I have d-star anywhere I go as long as there is cell service or a repeater.

If you are an experimenter, then of the 3 modes, D-Star is the way to go.

Multiple Manufactures

Of all of the modes, DMR has the most manufactures of radios at current.  Because of the large number of manufacturers you have a wide range of prices as well.  The low end Chinese radios come in in the mid $100 range but the high end and very reliable ones like Motorola still up close to the $1000 Range if purchased new.

Icom is by far the main manufacturer for D-Star, if it was not for them it would be more like D-what?  Other manufacturers have cards you can install to make them D-star capable but none are nearly as popular as the Icom radios.  There has been rumor of 2 other companies entering the D-Star market this year.

As mentioned before Yeasu is the only manufacturer for System Fusion.

Access The Network via "Non Radio"

This goes along with the extendability above.  At current D-Star is the only mode that has the ability to connect to it without a radio involved.

Multi-Band Radios Available

This category is an oddity to me and I am sure at some point this is will change.  Both D-star and System Fusion have radios that work on both VHF and UHF.  However, DMR does not.  So if you live in an area where you have both VHF and UHF repeaters you need to buy 2 different radios if you want to work both bands.

Why is this?  I do not have an official answer but it would make sense if the radio is for business use, your repeater is only going to be on one band so why pay for a radio that can support more than one band?  This can become a challenge depending on where you live.  However, more than 90% of DMR repeaters are UHF.  But there are still some VHF repeaters out there.  Some organizations have good reason to stick with VHF, but it is not the norm.  So if you live in one of those areas where you have both, you will need to buy 2 radios and label one VHF and one UHF.

Field Programmable

The D-Star and Fusion radios are all field programmable.  For DMR it is a bit of a tossup.  Some of the new DMR radios allow you to program them from they keyboard, the ones that do come by default not allowing you to program them, you have to use the PC programming software to turn on that feature.

Other DMR radios do not have the option to field program them at all.  So why is this....  It goes back to it being designed for commercial business use.  You would not want your bus driver being able to change the programming in the radio.  You want to control how the radio is configured so everything is standard, etc.

Connect-ability

All of the modes have the ability to connect to anywhere in the world if they are attached to the internet.  Each mode does it differently but there is a big difference between D-Star and Fusion compared to DMR.  It is like a push pull model.  In D-Star and Fusion, you tell the repeater or other device you are connected to what you want to connect to and it goes and does that.  Both of these modes can connect to anywhere and anything.  You find a new repeater was put in timbuctu and you can connect to it.

In DMR, it is pushed to you, you cannot do a link request, you can listed to what talk groups are setup for your repeater.  To get a new talk group added you have to talk with the repeater operator and get him to ask the C-Bridge owner to add a new talk group, assuming the repeater operator wants to do that.

Voice Quality

In this category, DMR and Fusion have excellent voice quality.  It is noticeable especially when you go from analog to either of these modes.  D-Star has good audio, much better than analog, but sounds a bit mechanical.

Digital ID

D-Star and Fusion both send your callsign in digital format every time you key up the Mic.  According to the FCC this qualifies as an ID.  So technically you do not have to voice ID on either D-Star or System Fusion.   However, it is still good to keep in practice for when you are back on analog.

DMR sends a radio id and your subscriber ID (CCS7 ID) in data, not your Callsign.  This does not meet the FCC ID requirement so you must still voice ID when using DMR.

User Data

On D-Star and Fusion, when you hear a contact, there is a header that your radio receives that has details about the user that is connecting.  From that you can see the name of the person, their call sign, a short message and if they have GPS enabled, you can even see direction and distance information.

With DMR, their subscriber ID is what you get, to see who is calling you would have to enter into your contacts everyone you know, otherwise there is no user information available.

GPS

There are radios available for all modes that can provide GPS data.  However, since DMR does not meet the ID requirement that are required, it is illegal to send the GPS data when using the radio under Part 97 Rules.

In both D-Star and System Fusion, the GPS data is used to display the direction and distance between 2 contacts.  In addition, in D-star you can click on the orange link in the dashboard and view it on a map.  Also, the GPS data in D-star that they call DPRS is transmitted to APRS.  So if your D-star radio has GPS and is enabled, you can look on sites like aprs.fi to see your location reported.

Can Send Data

All of the modes have some form of data available.  In D-star you can send up to 9600 Kbs data.  It is just data not formatted messages, etc.  In DMR you can send text messages.  In fusion you can send formatted messages, pictures, etc.

It would seem more thought was put into System Fusion as far as using the data features without connecting it to a computer to generate formatted data.

Bandwidth

Each mode uses the bandwidth differently.  However they are all narrow band compliant.  Not yet a requirement under Part 97 Rules but it could become a possibility.  D-Star uses 6.25 Khz of bandwidth that is 9600 Kbs separated into 2  data channels, one for low speed data and one for the voice data.

DMR uses 12.5 Khz that is split in half, one for time slot one and one time slot two.

System Fusion uses either 6.25 or 12.5 Khz.  In regular voice mode, 6.25 Khz is used.  If you are sending data and talking or are using the mode called voice wide then you are using 12.5 Khz

Concurrent Voice Channels

DMR is the only mode that can support more than one voice channel at a time.  It can support 2 different voice channels in the same 12.5 Khz bandwidth.  DMR refers to these as Timeslot 1 and Timeslot 2.

Error Correction

All of these modes have Forward Error Correction (FEC) but not all of them are created equal.  From my experience DMR has the best and can recover from bit errors quickly making for a great sound.  Fusion is a close second with great sound, especially in Voice Wide mode.  D-Star trails behind them, If you are on the fringe and get some packet loss D-Star like the other modes puts out something unintelligible (called by Many R2D2).  However, D-Star takes longer to recover when that happens than the other modes.

Mixed Mode Repeaters

D-Star does not support mixed mode at all.  It is digital all the time.  DMR and System Fusion both do but not equally.

DMR can run in mixed mode but when you setup to support both analog and digital you lose the networking ability that makes these digital modes so compelling.

System Fusion was designed to support mixed mode.  Their plan is to replace aging analog repeaters with one that can do both analog and digital in the hopes that people would start using digital because it was there.  Because of that, their handling of mixed modes is great.  There are lots of options around how the repeater handles it and there is transcoding from one to the other, etc.

Ease of Multi-User

I wanted to add this to the end because this is one thing that really bothers me.  On both D-Star and System Fusion, when you ask the repeater to connect to a different location, anyone that is listening on that repeater hears that you are there and can tell you have moved the repeater.  If they want to move it, it is proper etiquette to ask if the channel is in use and if not go ahead and link it somewhere else.

In DMR this is not the case.  DMR uses talk groups and the repeater operator specifies which talk groups are on which timeslot and which ones are connected full time or (pinned up).  On your DMR radio you select what talk group you want to listen to.  However, say you want to listen to North America and that talk group is not pinned up all the time, you have to tell the repeater by keying down on that talk group. 

The C-Bridge then will stop sending the current talk group to the repeater and start sending North America.  It will keep sending North America until either there is no activity from the repeater on that talk group (you do not key down for a period of time) or someone requests a new talk group.

So you are listening and having a QSO on North America and suddenly it is like the person you were talking just stopped talking.  So while you are having a QSO on North America, I key down on TAC310 to talk to my friend.  I unknowingly just took over the repeater, disconnected you from North America and told the C-bridge that the active talk group is now TAC310.

You do not know what happened and I do not know that it happened.  I have had this happen to me a couple of times.  If the repeater is not busy and with lots of people then the likelihood is lower but in large metropolitan areas the repeaters are busy and it happens.

With DMR, you have to setup a scan so that you can scan all of the possible talk groups on the repeater, but if you do not like one of the talk groups because it it too busy, etc and do not scan it, the likelihood continues.

Now What?

I just went down a long list good and bad things about each mode.  There is not one that stands out above the other, they are all legitimate modes, you have to decide what is right for you.

I assume if you read this far you are likely one of 2 people.  An amateur radio operator that is investigating the digital modes or maybe a club or repeater organization considering putting up a new digital repeater or replacing an existing one with a digital mode.  I will break this down into some things to think about for each

Amateur Radio Operator

The first thing you should do is go to repeaterbook.com and check to see what types of digital repeaters are around you.  More than likely you would want to pick a mode that you can use in your area.  You may live in an area that has all of the modes available or may live in an area that has none.

If you live in an area that has none, then your only option for DMR or Fusion is to look at the DV4Mini.  For D-Star the DV4Mini is still an option but if you do not want to spend the money on a radio and the DV4Mini, look into some of the USB dongles.  If you do not want to dedicate a computer to the job, you could look at putting a DVMega board on the $35 raspberry pi and then you can walk around your house with an HT talking all over the world.

If you live in an area with all of the modes, you have a harder decision to make.  If you like flexibility,extendability and/or love to experiment, shy away from DMR and for experimenter, get closer to D-Star.

If you want to be able to just turn it on and not have anything confusing (after it is setup) look at DMR.  DMR radios have 2 knobs, volume and typically a 16 channel knob.  You pick the talk group from the channel knob and that is it.  

Club or Repeater Group

From a Club or Repeater Group you have to first think about it's purpose.  Is it mainly for the club members to Ragchew and talk to people around the world or are you looking at more as a communication system when SHTF.  If you are looking more towards an emergency communication system then I would look at DMR.  It is much more controllable.  You can setup talk groups for the different agencies and groups.  If you are going to have more than one, I would setup your own C-Bridge on your network so that if there is some kind of natural disaster your repeaters remain connected but when all is good you can still enjoy the communication to the outside world.

If you do decide to go DMR, the question is do you go UHF or VHF.  The biggest reason I have seen for people going VHF is because the repeater group or club already have a VHF repeater and by sticking to the same band, the DMR radio can be setup for analog and still use the repeaters in the same band.

Also, really think out your talk group layout.  You can put talk groups on either timeslot.  It might be that you put a local (across your repeater system) talk group pinned up on time slot 1 and on time slot 2 you use for things like TAC310, etc.

In DMR, the etiquette is, you make contact on the larger talk groups like US Nationwide but for an extended QSO you move to a Talk Around Channel (TAC) so that the US Nationwide is free.  This can be the same etiquette you apply to your own talk group for your organization.

Ok, so you are wanting it more ragchew, fun and experimentation....

Is it going to replace and existing repeater?  If so, how busy is the repeater?  If you have regular users, how are they gonna feel if you replace it with a repeater that only does digital?  Keep that in mind.  At the same time, adoption of digital is slower if you give them the option of using both analog and digital on the same repeater.  

Does the repeater site have internet connectivity?  If not, there really is only one option of the 3 modes that will get you connected to the world without internet.  That is System Fusion.  The Wires-X box that connects to the internet does not have to be directly connected to the repeater.  For D-Star and DMR, you have to have an internet connection at the repeater.

Assuming you have internet, is the main purpose so you can connect outside your area and connect to groups of other repeaters?  If so, D-Star is the way to go.  It is the best connected, most resilient Mode of the 3 and it is also the most flexible.  Fusion is a distant 2nd with DMR after it.  I only say that DMR follows Fusion because it is not flexible but fixed in what it provides.  Meaning you cannot decide to connect to Germany today, Australia tomorrow, etc unless the repeater has talk groups already present for them.

There are lots of things to think about and much of it is confusing at first.

The Future?

You can never predict the future, especially when it comes to technology.  My best guess would be that Fusion is going to struggle and may go the way of BetaMax.  D-Star it still growing quickly and I do not see that stopping anytime soon.  DMR is growing in pockets too.  It seems the DMR people are hardcore and are a lot of professional radio people that like the Motorola hardware.

I do not want to predict a winner of the modes as I hope there is not a single winner.  DMR has a ways to go to catch up with D-star as far as footprint, users and especially the extendability.  However, DMR is the perfect solution for some people and that is awesome.

PS.

I said in the beginning that not until the end will you know my preferred mode.  If I did an objective view in this blog post you should still not know....

My goto when not analog is D-Star.  I have a D-Star radio in my car, a couple of handhelds, base stations.  However, that being said, I have 3 HH DMR radios, a fusion HH, etc.  I use all of the modes.  When at home I have a house based D-star hotspot, a portable D-star hotspot with battery, charger and cellular modem, a 20 watt D-Star hotspot, a DV4Mini running DMR and a DV4Mini running Fusion.  So I give all modes equal time.  I sit here at my desk with a HH for each mode right here.

Most of my friends are on D-star, in fact we get on D-star to talk about DMR.  Not because DMR is bad, it is awesome (except for what I mentioned above about taking over talk groups).  But I cannot reach a real DMR repeater from my basement where my office is so I have to use the DV4Mini.  However, that uses the Hytera network and some of us use a repeater which is DMR-Marc and some us DV4Mini.  On D-star, everything connects, there are no different networks so it is just easier.

The Radio Tower

Since I got back into Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) I have been wanting to put up a tower to mount my antennas on.  I had been making due with some homemade antenna mounts using PVC pipe.  Over the summer the pipes started to bend with the heat and weight of the antennas.

I had been looking around for a used antenna from a silent key (Amateur radio Operator that has passed).  I found one on Craig's List that was never even put into the ground.  It had 4 10 ft sections and the ground post.

This is not a really big antenna tower and looks very similar to a lot of old TV antenna towers.  It is built a bit stronger than those but from a distance it really looks the same.

With the help of my brother in law and step father, the first saturday it got stood up, mounted to the house, guy wires connected and cemented into the ground.  A couple of antennas were mounted but most were put up a couple of weeks later.

First Week (CLICK TO SEE FULL IMAGE)

As you can see we used a rented pull behind man lift which made the process so much easier.  We basically assembled the tower on the ground and used the lift to pick it up assembled and lifted it into the 3 ft hole.  After getting it mounted to the house and putting cement in the hole, things like the guy wires were added and just a few antennas.

2 weeks or so later the rest of the antennas were added.  Again we rented the tow behind man lift from Rentals Unlimited.  That makes it so quick and easy.  It is $250 to rent for the day but it is worth it.  That Saturday I also had the help of my Father In-Law with some of the grunt work like digging holes, etc.

BTW...  I did not mention that I got the 40ft tower and the base for $400.  That is really inexpensive.  The only problem is I do not know who the manufacturer is.

Here are pictures from the completed installation on the 2nd Saturday:

CLICK FOR FULL IMAGE

CLICK FOR FULL IMAGE

You will notice the large bundle of cables at the bottom that look like a mess.  I did clean that up:

CLICK FOR FULL IMAGE

This is the last picture I took.  There is still some cleanup needed in this picture, I did manage to clean it up some more after this picture was taken.  I am still considering adding another 10 or 20 feet to the tower so I have not shortened the cables yet.  If I can ever figure out who the manufacturer is I might grow the tower another 20 feet.

Everything has been grounded and those thin cables you see running into the house have now been replaced with LMR-400 cables to match what is running up the tower.

The main reason I am still wanting to add some height is I am close to the top of a hill, I need just a little more height to get a clear view over the hill.  Particularly for the RocketDish to the MAIPN network.  It is pointing directly at the front of a Catholic Church:

That image is from a camera that is mounted directly below the RocketDish and pointing the same direction.  Just after church the ground drops off into a valley so the church and the few trees around it are what would be impacting my connection to Braddock Heights MAIPN POP.

Here is what I have mounted on the tower as of the time the pictures were taken:

  • The dish is a Ubiquity RocketDish with a Rocket M5 radio that is pointing towards Braddock Heights MD where there is a MAIPN node.
  • At the very top is a 7 band HF vertical antenna.  In the spring I am considering replacing it with a 3 band beam and moving this to the ground.  I have found that this works better with the ground plane actually in the ground vs being high on a tower.
  • There is a 3 band (6m, 2m, and 70cm) on the right top of the tower.  This is currently connected to an ID-880h and is my main D-Star radio when I am not using a hotspot.
  • There is a 2 band (2m/70cm) on the top left.  This is connected to a 50 Watt TYT 9800D and is my primary 2M/70CM FM radio.
  • There is a QFH antenna for receiving weather satellites.
  • There is a 440 antenna and a 2m Jpole that are connected together with an MFJ combiner.  This is connected to a Yeasu radio that is used for experimenting with digital data mostly.  It will be the radio for the high power hotspot and can do packet, etc.
  • There is a homemade antenna for receiving ADSB data from airplanes.
  • It is hard to see but there are also 2 ubiquity IP cameras just under the dish.  One facing the same direction as the dish and the other one facing the opposite direction.
  • There is a Oregon Scientific anemometer, wind direction and temperature and humidity sensor.
  • Down the tower a little bit there is a 80 meter dipole mounted.
  • Not too far below that there is a 40 meter wire antenna (gray box).
  • A little further down are 3 mag mount antennas for 2m/70cm on ground planes.  These are mainly used for experimenting and other random things.  For example:
    • One is connected to a 10 watt VV-898 and used for monitoring or listening to things like APRS, etc.
    • One is connected to an ID-880h and is mainly used to connect to my local hotspot and do some packet radio.
    • One is connected to the my local Open Repeater Project test system.
  • Below the 3 mag mount antennas, there is another grey box, this houses a raspberry pi that has a SDR dongle that is connected to the homemade ADSB antenna at the top.
  • You will also see a Ubiquity 5Ghz AC Sector Antenna pointing into the house, this is for testing the Ubiquity gear.  I will do a post at a later time on that project.

If you want to learn a little more about my Amateur Radio hobby, you can visit the Amateur Radio page under the Projects and Hobbies menu item or just click here.

If you are not an Amateur Radio operator I strongly suggest you check it out.  There is no Morse code requirement any more and the radios are dirt cheap.  The thing is, they will work when the Internet or Cell Phones don't.

Update:

Here is the picture from the other camera mounted on the tower, you will see my homemade ADSB antenna in the picture.


Licensing Your Drone For Real

Back in October I wrote about how I was all for having to license your multi-rotor (remember I do not like the work Drone).

Well, it is official now.  The FAA has developed a licensing program.  If you already have a drone, you have 60 days to register it and for the first 30 days, it is free.  After the 30 day period the cost to register the multi-rotor is only $5 so it is not a bank breaker.

My best hope is that through this process education is a priority.  Although I know that even educating people does not stop the idiots from causing problems.

Here are the rules around the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Rules:

  1. Any Unmanned Aircraft that weighs between .55 and 55 pounds must be registered in the US, it is mandatory.
  2. You must be a US citizen or legal permanent resident and at least 13 years of age.
  3. If you already have an Unmanned Aircraft that is between .55 and 55 pounds you have to register it by February 19th, 2016.  Between December 21st 2015 and January 20th 2016 registration is free.
  4. If you buy a Unmanned Aircraft after December 21st, 2015, you must register before your first flight.  If you get one for Christmas 2015, remember that registration is free until January 20th 2016.
  5. The registration fee is $5 and each registration is good for 36 months (3 years).
  6. When you register you will need to enter some details like your name, home address, email and some details about your Unmanned Aircraft.  You will be given a registration ID that must be put on the Unmanned Aircraft.  The registration has to placed in a location that tools are not needed to be able to read it.

This registration is only for recreational use, there has been no rules around using it for business use yet.

Also, please note that the FAA refers to Unmanned Aircraft which would also affect remote controlled planes.  Most of the news has been around "Drones" but if you fly remote controlled aircraft of any kind, these rules affect you as well.

Currently, you have to register online with the FAA.  There are plans to open an API that would allow registration to be processed by other applications.  This will provide multi-rotors that are controlled by smart phones, etc to be able to register for you without having to visit the FAA web site.

If you have a $40 quadcopter it might be under the weight limit so be sure to check before you register.  There is a link on the registration page that gives examples of what size needs to be registered.  For me the link did not work unless I right clicked and downloaded it.  Here is a link to the PDF that will give you an example of what does and does not need to be registered: http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/faqs/media/UAS_Weights_Registration.pdf

To register you will need to go to this site: http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/

Registration is pretty painless, so go register your multi-rotor, airplane, etc today.

 

Licensing Your Drone

As most of my readers know, I fly drones and love it.  Recently I have been getting questions on my opinions about licensing drones.

First of all, I do not like to call them drones, when people think of drones they think of something bad, evil or destructive.  The military uses drones to shoot at things.  I prefer either quadcopter or multi-rotor.  I do not even mind if you call a hexacopter a quadcopter.

This may surprise a lot of people but I am all for licensing multi-rotors.  There are a few people that do not respect what a multi-rotor can do.  It is these people that give the bad name to this hobby.

Of course there are times that a multi-rotor can fail and as anything man made that is in the sky, it WILL come down.  But if you respect and prepare any damage can be minimized and probably avoided all together.

I would hope the licensing process would help distinguish the true hobbyist from the weekend terror creator.  I would also hope that the license comes with some kind of training.  I really think that so many multi-rotor owners do not know there is such a thing as a five mile no fly zone around an airport.  Not to mention the no fly zones like say Washington DC. 

Many of the smaller multi-rotors that are sold today also have a very limited control range.  Those lower end "toys" do not have features like return to home, etc.  So most when they go out of range keep going further and further out of range until...  The battery dies and then....  They fall back to earth.

I have also heard so many people worried about their privacy.  There are cameras everywhere these days.  That includes on multi-rotors.  Most of the "toy" multi-rotors have a terrible cameras so not much need to worry about that.  I would be more worried about someone crashing one of those toys into your car.

I do use a multi-rotor to do arial photography and videoghraphy.  By the current rules it is illegal to do that and charge for it.  I hope that in this license process, those rules change because there is a lot of beautiful things on this earth that are even more beautiful with a bird's eye view.

You will find there is a lot of sport around the multi-rotor hobby these days.  There are multi-rotor battles that is done in a square arena, there are races that are officiated that use slalom flags to create a race track and path to follow.  There are non official races that race through woods, etc.  I am sure this sport will continue to grow.

As part of this growth there does need to be "regulation" around the hobby.  I am not a fan of the government getting involved into things like this but, just like had to be done with JetSki's here in Maryland on the rivers.  You have to stop the idiots from hurting themselves and other people.  It is sad that it has to be done, but unfortunately I think it does.

 

Weeks 2 and 3 with COIN

In my last post I mentioned about the new COIN 2.0 and my first week with COIN.  I have had it about 3 weeks now and there are some things that still amaze me and have me thinking about the device from a more nefarious point of view.

First, a quick recap about COIN.  COIN is an electronic device that looks like a credit card.  Not only does it look like a credit card it acts like one too.  You can store 8 of your credit, debit and loyalty cards in COIN.  You pick the one you want to use and the either swipe or tap just like your regular credit card.  And there are other security features, etc.  You can refer to my previous post to get more details.

Ok, so the last 2 weeks since my last post have been interesting.  So far I have only found 2 places where it would not work.  The first one is Lowes when I getting some electrical supplies.  It was at the regular checkout not the self checkout.

The card readers are different at the regular checkout and the self checkout so I will give the self checkout a try next time.

The other place it did not work was Popeyes.  The Popeyes I tried it at has an older small credit card machine that everyone uses, it is not built in to the terminal.  So it might just be the terminal is old, not sure.

Here is the other amazing thing, not one person has questioned it.  That really surprises me and concerns me at the same time.  I have even changed cards in front of a couple of them by pressing the COIN button and still, nothing.

So either COIN managed to get every employee and at every location where credit cards are taken trained on what COIN is or we have become way too complacent with credit cards.  I am leaning toward the latter which would also explain how credit card fraudsters can duplicate a card and go use it at a store to buy products and never even get questioned.

This got me thinking, what if a credit card fraudster put in 8 stolen credit cards into COIN?  Then COIN could be used to run up charges on 8 different cards.  Programming COIN is simple and they even provide you with a swipe reader to scan in a card.

COIN has built in some safety features when entering a new card, things like your zip code, etc.  But, if the fraudster has your card information they probably have that information as well.

Let me just add though that COIN does do a good job at keeping your personal credit card information secure.  If your card is further away than bluetooth range from your phone, you must use your secret tap code to unlock it.  And it does wipe the information if you enter the code incorrectly too many times.  I have experienced that my self so I know it works.

I will post from time to time on my experiences with COIN.

My First Week With COIN

First thing I should probably do is explain what COIN is.  COIN was a crowd funded project that I invested in.  The COIN is a credit card sized device that stores all of your credit, debit and loyalty card information.  You can then activate it, select the card you want to use and then use it in place of a credit card.

It looks like this:

After you put in all of your cards, you press the button to activate it.  After it activates you can push the button again to change what card you want to use.  Once you have the card you want to use selected you can swipe the card yourself or hand it to a cashier and they can swipe it just like a regular credit card.

There is a little screen that gives the card name that you assign, the last 4 digits and the expiration date.  All of the information that a cashier might need to know.

So how secure is it?  Well, I have mixed feelings around that but here are some safety features that are built in.  If you are within about 20 feet of your phone then it will let you right in just by pressing the button.  But if you are more than 20 feet or so from your phone, you must enter a code for it to activate.  So if your COIN gets stolen, it will be unusable unless they know your code.

While we are on the security subject.  COIN does not improve the security around card skimmers.  Basically it changes the magnetic strip to match whatever card you select.  So if you use a machine that has a credit card skimmer on it, your card number will still be skimmed.

This was my first week with COIN and I have been curious to see how well it works at different locations as well as what happens when you hand it to a cashier.  So far it has worked everywhere except one and that one I am going to try again when it is not raining.

I have used it at a drive through, at a sit down restaurant, at a gas station and at Sams getting Gas.

The only location that I had a problem was at Sams gas pumps.  I have had problems in the past using a debit card there and that is what I was trying to use.  However, the real debit card worked right after I tried COIN.  It was raining really hard and I was getting wet so I did not try too much before moving on from COIN.  And it is possible, the strip on the COIN had some mist on it.

What has surprised me the most is I have handed it to 2 different cashiers and neither one has even blinked when I handed them the card.  I was expecting resistance when I hand it to them because it does not look like a traditional credit card.

I am curious about the durability of the device.  Credit cards in my wallet seem to start bending because of my wallet.  I put COIN on an inside flap in the hopes that it will not get bent as much.  We will also see how long the battery lasts.

So far my first week has gone well, better than I expected.

Cleaning Up and Some Memories

My Mother and Father In-Law will be moving in with us late in October.  They are both in great health, they are selling their house and building a new one in North Carolina.  Plus, my mother-in-law is a school teacher and will be retiring after this school year.  So the stay with us is only for 7 - 9 months.  So nothing serious, just temporary.

3 and a half years ago when we moved in to this house, we put a lot of things into our unfinished area and never really went back to the area to clean up.  That area just kept getting worse over the last 3 years.  To prepare for my in-laws visit, we needed some space to temporarily store some stuff in the unfinished area in the basement.

So we have been going through and cleaning up and throwing an amazing amount of old stuff away.  Most of it really old technology and things that have been collected over the years that have been boxed up so we obviously did not miss them.

It was interesting finding some of this old technology from years ago that was high tech at the time.  Who remembers these digital cameras:

 

This was high tech, took pictures is 640x480 pixels.  Yeah do the math, that is just less than 1/3 of a megapixel.  It write the pictures to 1.44 MB floppy disks.  This was even before cell phones had a camera.  How about this cell phone:

Or how about a portable CD Player:


We have pretty much gotten is cleaned up and it looks amazing.  It has never been this clean since we moved in.  It was long overdue.

The other thing that I am still working on is the network racks.  When we moved in I put up network racks for test equipment and more but never really completed it like I had intended.  During the past few weeks I have been working hard on the network racks.  I am going to do a separate post on just the network racks.  I am about 80% complete on that part of the project.

And the Call Sign Changed Again....

My call sign changed again and hopefully for the last time.  When I submitted for a vanity callsign the first time there was some error in processing the payment.  So a few days later I resubmitted a second request thinking the first one was dead and was going to submit a request for a refund.

Apparently both did go through because not long after I got the KB3MM callsign I got another one, K3DO.  More than anything it caused a bunch of confusion with the rapid change of Call Signs.  I liked KB3MM because of the MM was easy to remember for most because they just had to remember Mike Myers for the MM.

K3DO is not bad either, it is a 1x2 that are normally hard to come by so I am not complaining, just that the process of getting a Vanity call was a little confusing.  Now that vanity call signs are free of charge the process may be a little bit simpler.

Call Sign Change

Today I got my official vanity callsign from the FCC.  My new callsign is KB3MM.  Of course you know the MM is for Mike Myers.  I am still going to try to get a 1x2 or 2x1 call sign but they are hard to come by and take some time.  So no longer am I KC3ELZ, I am now KB3MM.  Now I need to figure out where all I need to change the information.

Plus, I have to figure out how to tell D-Star my new call sign.  I have been spending a lot of time on D-Star and really enjoy it, but it is a bit more complicated than regular FM or AM communications.  But it is really cool that I can sit around the house with a handy talkie and talk to people all over the world and it sounds like they are sitting right next to me.

It may take me some time to change my mind from Kilo Charlie Three Echo Lima Zulu to Kilo Bravo Three Mike Mike when I ID on nets, sorry in advance to anyone if I butcher that initially.

Move To Squarespace 7

So I finally too the plung and move to SquareSpace 7 from SquareSpace 5.  It is one of those things that you get used to what you are using and hate to change.  But the transition from 5 to seven went very smoothly.

There is still a lot to learn about this newer platform so be patient as I continue to improve the site.  I also have found some outdated information or maybe newer information that needed to be added, so I am taking the time during this transition to clean up a few more things as well.

No more Fedex Shipping For Me, They Owe Me a Tablet

Ok, it is time for another rant.  My title says it all...  So why have I lost total trust in Fedex?  Let me tell you a story...

I recently ordered a 10" Android tablet to do some testing of my apps on a larger screen device.  A few days later I get a call from my wife telling me that when she backed out of the garage she heard this crunch.  Yep, she just backed out over the new tablet.

Now, it is not her fault, after all, when you get in your car that is parked in your garage, do you walk behind it to see if there is a package that you are going to drive over?  I surely don't and should not have to.  The Fedex guy is just too lazy to walk the extra 20 feet to put it on the front porch.  He put it right up to the garage door, even the backup camera didn't see it.

The front porch is covered too so it is protected from weather.  Two days after this incident, another package was left the same place in the rain.  The box was ruined from the rain, fortunately, what was in the package was a plastic bottle of cleaner that did not get damaged from the water.  Had it been electronics like most packages are that arrive here, it probably would have been ruined.

My wife and I work at home quite a bit and more than 90% of the time there is someone home that he could have handed the package too (at the front door of course).

So, back to the story at hand...  I called Fedex to put in a claim.  The person on the phone was not rude but also made the process very difficult.  He put in a claim and said I would get a letter in 5 - 10 business days asking for evidence of damage and evidence of the cost I was claiming.  Ok, sounds good so far.

I got a letter in the mail as promissed however this letter was not asking for anything, in fact it was telling me my claim was denied.  Ok, now I am starting to get angry but I had not talked to anyone yet about it.  I was not even given the opportunity to provide the evidence which is still sitting on my bar countertop.  The crushed shipping box, the crushed product box the the crushed tablet that is even bent backwards.  How is that for evidence.  Oh, and the shipping box has the fedex information on it.

Tonight I call Fedex and the person was rude and basically said we denied it, go away now.  So, the lazy Fedex driver cost me a tablet.  How can I trust anything I ship to a company that treats customers like they do not matter?

So...  What would you do?

TeamViewer To Replace LogMeIn

I have been a long time user of LogMeIn.  When I say a long time, since it was released.  After all of those years I had more than 50 machines in my account because I do a lot of remote support for family and friends.

A little while back I got the notification that the maximum number of computer I could have was 10 unless I wanted to pay about $200 a year.  I did reluctantly end up paying the annual fee for a year.

A few weeks back a couple of friends introduced me to TeamViewer.  After playing with it some it is a nice piece of software.  It works differently than logmein but also has some more features.

After I adjusted to the differences on how it worked and how it was structured I really liked what it could do.  It is a more than adequate replacement for logmein.  So I am moving all of the computers that are in logmein to teamviewer.

Teamviewer is free for non commercial use which all that I use it for.  There is a minor nag message at the end of every remote control session reminding you that it is free for only non commercial usage, but that is no big deal.

So I am preparing to say goodbye to LogMeIn for good, it has worked well for me and I hope that TeamViewer works just as well.

How secure is your password?

Anyone who has any kind of electronic account has a password.  But what is that password protecting?  For most people they have passwords protecting their private and financial information.  If you work on a computer at all for your job you hopefully have a password to access your computer.  That password is probably protecting much more than just your information, but also your employers information as well.

Just how secure are your passwords?  Strangely most people still do not take their password security seriously.  Once you have your accounts accessed, money stolen or just your reputation tarnished because someone used one of your accounts to do bad stuff, you will take password security much more seriously.

We all have heard of those that put their passwords on their monitors or on the bottom of the keyboard.  Hopefully that is not you!  There are some simple ways to keep passwords very secure and easy to remember.

Before I get into some quick ways to make your password secure I want to talk about the 2 methods that are used together to crack your password.

Most modern password crackers use a dictionary and the brute force method.  The dictionary has the most common words used in passwords and will use the dictionary to generate many variations of the words in the dictionary.  They also do some of the most common modifications to the dictionary words.

For example, lets say your password is cutePuppy1.  The password crackers probably already have the words cute and puppy in them.  In the process they will try every word and word combination and will try just about every variation of cutepuppy, for example: Cutepuppy, CutePuppy, cut3Puppy, Cut3Puppy, etc.  In addition they will add modifiers like 1, 2 to the end of the combinations.

Seems like there would be millions upon millions of combinations right?  Yes there are but you have to remember that a computer can do many millions of checks per second.  And with a good dictionary the process takes no time at all.

If the dictionary cannot get a match then comes the brute force attack where it starts with a-z then aa-zz then aaa-zzz and so on until it finds a match.  So how long would it take to break the cutepuppy password?  About 56 seconds.  By changing the P in Puppy to capital it takes 7.8 hours and the 1 on the end takes it to 3 1/2 months.

So now that you understand the methods to break a password, how can you make your password more secure?  First, use no words that are in a dictionary.  I am sure you have always heard not to use your kids names, birthday, your address, etc.  Let's expand that to any word in the dictionary.

I understand that makes it hard to remember passwords because the password looks like rubbish.  Here are some techniques you can use to make them easy to remember:

  • Use acronyms, for example, I like the song from The Police called "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic".  So the base password would be "eltsdim".  Add some modifiers to that like "!3ltsdiM!".  Just remember the longer the better.
  • Use a Pattern.  For example, a simple pattern would be 1qaz2wsx#EDC which is the first 3 columns on the keyboard with the 3rd column being in shift mode.  You could fo every other column, start at the 3rd column, etc.  Mix it up.  Just try to keep a good mix of upper and lowecase, numbers and special characters.  My first pattern example would take 1.7 thousand centuries to bruce force.
  • Use a password mangement program like LastPass or 1Password.  These tools not only keep track of your passwords for you, they will also generate long and secure passwords.

 Now that I have given you some ways to make an easy to remember and secure password, let me show you how you can check how good your password really is.  First, remember no dictionary words.  Go to https://www.grc.com/haystack.htm and put in your new password.  Look at the "Offline Fast Attack Scenerio" for the amount of time it would take the average brute force attack.

I mentioned 2 password management programs above, here are the links to them as well:

https://lastpass.com/
https://agilebits.com/onepassword

I have used both and both are great.  I am currently using lastpass with a yubico as an additional level of protection.

Please comment and ask questions if you have any, I love the feedback.

 

Crisis Financial Malware Spreads Via VMs

The Crisis financial malware that was recently found can spread using the capabilities in VMWare.

The malware is also known as Morcut or the malicious rootkit.  Morcut is spread via an installer that is disguised as an Adobe Flash Player installer.  It was first found by Kaspersky last month who found it attacking Macintosh OS X computers.  The installer which is a Java archive (JAR) called Maljaba by AV vendor Symantec.  The archive looks like is has been signed by VeriSign.  The Java archive also has the ability to infect Windows macines that have the Crisis rootkit.

The Java Archive has two programs, one for OSX and one for Windows.  The proper executable is dropped on the machine based upon which operating system it is running.  The executable that is dropped on an infected machine  open a back door into the infected computer.

The Crisis malware includes some Windows only features and proagation techniques.  On Windows systems the threat makes a copy of itself and an autorun.inf file to an attached removeable disk (USB thumb drive, etc).

Another method it uses is to install itself onto a VMWare virtual machine.  And the last method could be the most scary of them all, it tries to install itself onto windows mobile deivces.

There are many pieces of malware that will not run if they are running on a VM machine but this is the first one I have heard of that tries to distribute itself via VM's.  According to research from Symantec, the malware does not jump into VM's via some security hole or flaw in VMWare, instead it writes directly to the files that make up the VM image.

As I learn more I will keep this post updated.

 

What happened to Internet marketing?

I have been getting a lot of questions about what is happening with Internet Marketing.  For many people, their whole marketing engine has just almost come to a stop.

I agree, there have been over the last 6 - 8 months major changes in the IM world.  I have some thoughts on why this is. 

It seems the most affected are those that market to the actual Internet Marketing community and those that are looking for a way to make money online.

It was bound to happen...  There are self proclaimed guru's re-hashing the same material over and over and at the same time selling thier "secrets" for pennies on the dollar.  So, people looking to learn how to make money are getting more than anything junk which turns them off.

Plus, now we have PLR everywhere for just a couple of bucks.  Low price equates to low quality in most people's minds.

Now, if you are not selling to the IM community, things are still good, not as good as they were but still making money.  It is getting harder and hard though because there are some big companies now getting into just about every product.  For example, say I am selling an ebook on dog training.  I am sure amazon has much more on dog training than my ebook.  Plus amazon has a great reputation already with just about everyone.  However, I have no reputation with people just searching.

So what now?  That is the 2nd most popular question I get.  There is no single answer, it really depends on the niche you are in.  If you are in the IM niche, get out.  In my niche's I have done a number of things.  I have created real books from some of my ebooks and they are selling on amazon now.

One of my niche's has a "kit" that is physical.  In that case I have teamed up with other sites that in the niche to have them promote on an affiliate basis.

So are info products dead?  No, but they are much more difficult to sell.  Think about turning that info product into a video training and selling that as a DVD, on-line training or even a micro membership site.