Category Archives: Slightly Off Topic

goTenna: Turn your smartphone into a text transceiver

goTenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Richard Cuff who has apprised me of the goTenna: a small device that allows you to use your smartphone to send and receive messages and share your GPS location with others without the need of mobile phone service.

goTenna describes their device:

“goTenna is a small, rugged device designed to make “No Service” no problem. Just pair your smartphone with a goTenna and communicate off-grid with those near you who also have goTenna, anywhere on the planet, regardless of access to cell reception or wi-fi. goTenna allows you to send and receive texts and share GPS locations on beautiful offline maps, without ever relying on central connectivity. Depend on it in all kinds of situations: when hiking in remote areas, traveling, attending music or sporting events or during an emergency. Plus, because goTenna is end-to-end encrypted, it’s not just for when you’re off-grid, but when you want to be.”

Some sources claim the goTenna is based on “short-wave” radio frequencies;  I discovered that it operates between 150-154 MHz, so this is not the case.  Still, it would be fascinating the see the potential in a device that could use the HF spectrum to create a smart phone mesh network. Though the antenna would need to be longer, communication distances in rural areas could surpass that of VHF frequencies. In the end, text messages would be an ideal format for such a system.

ETOW’s HumanaLight featured on HamNation

hn600I would like to give a hearty shout-out to the good folks at HamNation, via Leo Laporte’s TWiT network, for so prominently featuring Ears To Our World–and ETOW’s new HumanaLight kit!–in the latest episode.

This year at the Dayton Hamvention, I was pleased to meet George Thomas (W5JDX), who produces the excellent “Solder Smoke” series of instructional videos which teach novices how to build kits and other electronic projects. I’ve always found these videos clear, highly comprehensible, and easy to follow. George kindly agreed to make an instructional video for us, clearly illustrating how to build the HumanaLight.

George is also a co-host of HamNation, but I never thought he would include the HumanaLight in an episode. I was surprised to find that he made the HumanaLight kit a “Solder Smoke” segment, then went on to prominently promote ETOW...truly an honor. His video, moreover, does an excellent job showing viewers how to build the HumanaLight (and mentions that you can purchase one at Universal Radio).

For the interesting history behind the HumanaLight, read this post or check out HumanaLight.org.HumanaLight

The ETOW HumanaLight now at Universal Radio

If you’ve been an SWLing Post reader for long, you probably know that I’m the founder and director of Ears To Our World (ETOW), a charity built on the belief that access to information is access to education. And that access is achieved, of course, via radio:  self-powered radios distributed to schools and communities in remote, impoverished regions throughout the world.  ETOW is my passion; we see tangible results come from this practical, simple mission.

Even if you’re familiar with ETOW, most likely you’ve never heard of the HumanaLight because it’s a new product, and we haven’t been selling it for long. If you’re interested, click here to find out…

What is the HumanaLight?

HumanaLight-Front

At ETOW, we receive feedback from the teachers, children, and communities where we regularly work; through them, we’ve learned how important the little LED lamp on our self-powered radios is, especially in communities that live largely or entirely off-grid.  At the same time, because there is often a glut of used-up batteries (and other trash) in the communities we serve, I wanted to find a way to recycle this waste product.

I realized this might be a good opportunity for an innovative LED flashlight that would offer longevity, shining longer than flashlights that can be purchased locally. Inspired by the Joule Thief, a simple flashlight circuit that cleverly allows light to be produced from a depleted or “dead” AA battery, I wondered if the design could be made even more efficient, and even easier to build…perhaps easy enough for a school-age child to build?

I contacted ETOW volunteer engineer, Gregory Majewski, who immediately set to work on the HumanaLight project. His goal: to make a bright, highly-efficient LED flashlight that could be easily built from common, inexpensive electrical parts, and powered by either new (or used) batteries. And what did this talented engineer deliver? The HumanaLight.

Greg’s HumanaLight design was astonishing: it produced light–continuously, meaning, without being turned off at all–for two full weeks on a depleted cell. A fresh battery yielded four full weeks of usable light. The original HumanaLight prototype (affectionately known as the “TrashLight”) could be built on most anything, including scraps of wood or plastic. This design, now used in the field, requires no soldering whatsoever and can be built almost entirely from recycled components.  Moreover, it can be sold, and the profits reinvested in local schools, health clinics, and other crucial services.

In 2011, I presented this light at the IEEE’s inaugural Global Humanitarian Technology conference, where it generated much interest.

The HumanaLight Kit

This year, with the assistance of another volunteer engineer, David Cripe (NM0S), we set about the creation of a simple HumanaLight kit that we can offer for sale here in North America, in order to apply the proceeds to ETOW’s mission.  School children, makers, experimenters, and hobbyists of all stripes will all find this a fun kit to assemble–and a useful light in times of emergencies.

Ears To Our World, and those we serve, are very much in debt to our volunteer engineers who made this possible. Many, many thanks to Gregorgy Majewski for developing and designing the original HumanaLight circuit; he put many hours into testing this amazingly efficient circuit and bringing it to fruition. We also heartily thank David Cripe (NM0S) for designing the HumanaLight circuit board and kit.  And David’s design makes this kit affordable and functional, too, in support of the light’s original purpose.

If you would like to purchase a HumanaLight kit–and support Ears To Our World–please purchase at Universal Radio.  Thanks!

The Radio New Zealand coastal forecast

(Source: stuff.co.nz)

In response to my post on the BBC Shipping Forecast, SWLing Post reader Mark writes:

I just read your latest blog about the BBC marine forecast. It sounds very similar to the RNZ coastal forecast…..but they also have a mountain forecast!

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/weather/coastal

Broadcast times

  • Short: with hourly news bulletins
  • Regional: 5:30, 6:32am on weekdays, and 5:30am and 7:05am on weekends
  • Main centre: 5:05, 5:35, 6:08, 7:08, 8:08am on weekdays and 5:05, 5:35, 6:05, 7:05 and 8:08am on weekends
  • Urban: 7:32, 8:32am
  • Long-range: 12:32pm on weekdays and 1:04pm on weekends
  • Coastal: 4:05am
  • Mountain: 4:05pm

Many thanks, Mike! I had no idea New Zealand had a coastal forecast similar to that of the UK. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, as New Zealand is very much a maritime country and indeed, Aukland, NZ has the highest boat ownership of any city in the world.

And now, the Shipping Forecast…

shipping-forecast-locations

When I lived in the UK, I would often fall asleep and/or wake up to the Shipping Forecast: a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles.

Though I had, of course, no real need of the Forecast, on many occasions it lured me like the voice of a hypnotic siren (especially, I must admit, when read by a woman). When I moved back to the US in 2003, I missed hearing the Forecast on the radio, but thankfully one can listen to it at Radio 4 online. Although the online stream lacks the delectable sonic texture of long wave radio, the Forecast still has the power can still reel in its listeners.

Last December, I followed a brilliant series on NPR which highlighted the BBC Shipping Forecast.  I intended to publish it here on the SWLing Post at the time, but somehow lost it in the shuffle of a busy travel season. Fortunately, NPR has archived audio from the series online. I love their introduction:

“It is a bizarre nightly ritual that is deeply embedded in the British way of life.

You switch off the TV, lock up the house, slip into bed, turn on your radio, and begin to listen to a mantra, delivered by a soothing, soporific voice.

“Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger ….” says the voice.

You are aware — vaguely — that these delicious words are names, and that those names refer to big blocks of sea around your island nation, stretching all the way up to Iceland and down to North Africa.

The BBC’s beloved Shipping Forecast bulletin covers 31 sea areas, the names of which have inspired poets, artists and singers and become embedded into the national psyche.

Your mind begins to swoop across the landscape, sleepily checking the shorelines, from the gray waters of the English Channel to the steely turbulence of the Atlantic.

Somewhere, deep in your memory, stir echoes of British history — of invasions from across the sea by Vikings, Romans and Normans; of battles with Napoleon’s galleons and Hitler’s U-boats.

Finally, as the BBC’s Shipping Forecast bulletin draws to a close, you nod off, complacent in the knowledge that whatever storms are blasting away on the oceans out there, you’re in your pajamas, sensibly tucked up at home”

You can listen to the series on NPR, or via the embedded player below:

Click here to listen to the Shipping Forecast on the BBC Radio 4 website. Also, check out the history of the Shipping Forecast on Wikipedia and from this excellent article by Peter Jefferson in Prospero (PDF, page 10).