About Zero Retries (and N8GNJ)
If you see something interesting mentioned in Zero Retries and would like to search all the Zero Retries “Back Issues”, just click:
All previous issues of Zero Retries are available without restriction (no paywalls).
For some background, Zero Retries 0000 was the Introduction Issue.
Concurrent with every fifteenth (formerly, every tenth) issue of Zero Retries, I publish an Omnibus of “Zero Retries Interesting” projects, etc. The most recent Omnibus was Zero Retries 0090 Omnibus of Zero Retries Interesting Information published on 2023-03-17. (I’m a bit behind on this.)
Accolades for Zero Retries
Eric Guth 4Z1UG — QSO Today Podcast www.qsotoday.com:
I am very interested in the evolution of amateur radio and its future. It has a huge impact on civilization and I am proud to be a part of it.
4Z1UG is a Paid Subscriber of Zero Retries.
Florian Lengyel WM2D:
A challenging read. Lack of commercials. Seems like a balanced presentation. Exposure to new (to me) areas of radio. Zero Retries is easily the best of the amateur radio newsletters I've read since I became a ham in 1988.
WM2D is a Paid Subscriber of Zero Retries.
Jason Milldrum — Applied Etherics:
Excellent source of news about cutting-edge digital amateur radio.
Edward Mitchell KF7VY:
I've known Steve for a long time. He writes well about an important subject for amateur radio. Happy to support his work.
KV7VY is a Paid Subscriber of Zero Retries.
Chris Osburn KD7DVD:
Zero Retries is the content I’m looking for, summarizing new tech and providing pointers to this generation’s innovators.
KD7DVD is a Founding Member of Zero Retries.
Jon Pearce WB2MNF — President, Gloucester County (NJ) ARC:
Great ideas for supporting development of amateur radio amongst an ever-aging group of hams. We need new technologies to attract different groups of technically-minded hams.
WB2MNF is a Paid Subscriber of Zero Retries.
Jason Rausch K4APR — Owner / Lead Engineer / Shipper / Janitor at RPC Electronics, LLC (by Night):
I know Steve and he has supported my company with articles. It's VERY much appreciated!
KE4NYV is a Paid Subscriber of Zero Retries1
Tom Salzer — Random Wire℠:
N8GNJ authors a unique, quirky little highly independent, opinionated, self-published newsletter about technological innovation in Amateur Radio.
Randy Smith WU2S:
Thanks for bringing a strong dose of twenty-first century reality to amateur radio.
WU2S is a Founding Member of Zero Retries.
Josh Walton KK4LGZ:
I get so excited when I see you have posted! Love your work, your style, and the subjects you cover. Keep up the great work and keep me excited every time you post!
KK4LGZ is a Paid Subscriber of Zero Retries.
Zero Retries Interesting Relevant and Interesting Quotes
Ultimately, amateur radio must prove that it is useful for society. - Dr. Karl Meinzer DJ4ZC.
The Universal Purpose of Ham Radio is to have fun messing around with radios. - Bob Witte K0NR
We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities! - Pogo
Nothing great has ever been accomplished without irrational exuberance. - Tom Evslin
Irrational exuberance is pretty much the business model of Zero Retries Newsletter. - Steve Stroh N8GNJ
Amateur Radio is literally a license to experiment with and learn about radio technology! - Steve Stroh N8GNJ
What’s life without whimsy? - Dr. Sheldon Cooper.
Zero Retries Elevator Pitch
The former description of Zero Retries that was included with every issue was:
Zero Retries is a unique, quirky little highly independent, opinionated, self-published newsletter about technological innovation in Amateur Radio, for a self-selecting niche audience, that’s free (as in beer) to subscribe.
It’s now distilled down to:
Zero Retries is an independent newsletter promoting technological innovation in Amateur Radio, and Amateur Radio as (literally) a license to experiment with and learn about radio technology.
Amateur Radio “Meta” (Big Picture) and Zero Retries
One of the dangers facing Amateur Radio in the 2020s and beyond Is perceived irrelevance to general society. As in “what is the actual use of Amateur Radio - why should society care?” And the subtext to that question, applicable only to Amateur Radio, is “Why should valuable radio frequency spectrum be allocated mostly-exclusively to Amateur Radio?”.
The most well-known “use” of Amateur Radio is emergency communications in a disaster. Unfortunately, three technology evolutions have combined to render Amateur Radio nearly moot for emergency communications:
Iridium is medium-speed data and voice via Low Earth Orbit satellite network. Iridium user terminals can be as small as a handheld radio. Think “walkie talkie” that works anywhere on the planet and doesn’t require any ground infrastructure. Thus its an idea voice / low speed data system for use in emergency communications. In 2019, Iridium completed replacement of their satellites with new, much more capable satellites, which allowed much faster data speeds and made Iridium much less easy to saturate in intensive use.
FirstNET is First Responder Network Authority, a program of the US Government with AT&T as the infrastructure / service provider. FirstNET provides dedicated capacity, prioritization, and hardened cellular network capacity specifically for first responders and government agencies on AT&T’s cellular network. Unlike previous voluntary efforts of cellular service providers for emergency communications offered, FirstNET has enforced and monitored metrics for reliability, capacity, and features and thus is much more reliable than “civilian” cellular infrastructure and services.
Starlink is a low earth orbit satellite system that provides Broadband Internet Access (roughly 100 Mbps downlink, 20 Mbps uplink) nearly anywhere on Earth. In 2022, Starlink relies on a bent pipe model relying on regional earth stations to transition Internet data between satellite and fiber, but the next generation of Starlink satellites will work much like Iridium with inter-satellite links that will considerably reduce the requirement for a regional earth station for Internet service in a specific area. Example - there’s little demand in the middle of a desert (or ocean) so instead of an earth station, the traffic for those few users can be “handed off” to another satellite until there is an earth station within range.
All three services have evolved in the late 2010s and are now mature enough to integrate into emergency planning. The combination of the technical capabilities of FirstNET (local voice and data), Iridium (regional / worldwide voice and data), and Starlink (regional / worldwide Broadband Internet) provides a good mix of emergency communications
In addition, a new organization - Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) has evolved to provide emergency communications based on Information Technology services (rather than two way radio), such as providing Wi-Fi at disaster relief sites. ITDRC is centralized and supported by major corporate sponsors. ITDRC seems to appeal to a younger, technical demographic - “just bring your IT skills and you can help” instead of a requirement of an Amateur Radio license and the unique, hyper-local organizations common in Amateur Radio emergency communications.
The primary trend working against Amateur Radio providing emergency communications is that the Amateur Radio population is rapidly aging and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rely on Amateur Radio Operators to turn out in an emergency.
Zero Retries Assumed Audiences
Techies (which encompasses Amateur Radio Operators) interested in data communications via radio,
Students, especially college students interested in data communications via radio, often for engineering and research projects,
Regulators trying to understand Amateur Radio and “hobbyist” radio communications and the technology used there.
For a detailed explanation of these various Audiences, see Zero Retries 0089’s Request To Send.
Zero Retries Background
Zero Retries began publishing in July, 2021 and is published every Friday at 15:30 Pacific. For an overview of the genesis and goals of Zero Retries, see Zero Retries 0000 - The Introduction Issue.
In Zero Retries, I try to highlight some of the incredible technological innovation that is occurring in Amateur Radio in the 2020s. It was created to try to offset the “same old, same old” perspective of “the Amateur Radio Publishing Industrial Complex” that hides most of its content behind paywalls, and on the rare occasion it features an innovation in Amateur Radio, portrays it as a one-off innovation instead of explaining that it’s just one innovation of many in this era.
Buzzwords Used in Zero Retries
In Zero Retries, some “buzzwords” from Amateur Packet Radio are playfully used.
Zero Retries is the ideal state of a packet radio data transmission. In Amateur Radio Packet Radio, a data transmission is divided into “packets” and each packet is tagged with a “checksum” that is unique to that packet. When the packet is received, the receiving station compares the checksum to the data received. If the checksum is correct (for the data received) the packet is assumed to be good. If the checksum is not correct, the receiving station sends a request to the transmitting station to re-transmit the packet (a Retry). The most ideal state of packet radio communications is that “Zero Retries” are required.
Request to Send is the Editorial section of Zero Retries, and is derived from the RS-232 data communications standard where one of the signals in RS-232 is “Request to Send” so that the Data Transmission Equipment (DTE) (modems) and Data Communication Equipment (DCE) (terminals) stay in synch because DTEs typically had small buffers. So, Request to Send is a playful way of saying “May I please have your attention?”. Prior to Universal Serial Bus (USB), RS-232 was the primary serial communications standard, including on Packet Radio Terminal Node Controllers (TNCs).
ZR > BEACON is Zero Retries’ “short news blurbs” section of news items I judge to be “Zero Retries Interesting” but not long enough (or not enough space for) a full article. In Packet Radio, a beacon is a brief “announcement” transmission, not directed to any station in particular.
Feedback Loop is a term from electronics, where a portion of the output signal is fed back into a circuit regulating the input. That seemed an appropriate and techie label rather than a mundane functional title such as “Comments to the Editor”.
Limitations of Zero Retries
There are four significant limitations of Zero Retries:
Trying to keep up with technological advancements in Amateur Radio is a “drinking from a firehose” exercise; there is so much going on that inevitably, some significant developments don’t get mentioned in Zero Retries because new developments occur continuously.
Zero Retries is primarily an email newsletter. The (current) publishing system for Zero Retries is Substack (see below) and Substack, mindful of the restrictions of large email service providers such as Gmail, limits the size of email newsletters to what those email service providers consider acceptable. There’s only so much room in each edition of Zero Retries.
Zero Retries content is primarily generated by one person. I’m gratified that other author’s work now regularly appears in Zero Retries. A lot of the content in Zero Retries originally published elsewhere is republished in Zero Retries with permission or with the intent of fair use.
Zero Retries is written by an Amateur Radio Operator who has lived his entire life in the United States, with little real world exposure to Amateur Radio in other parts of the world. That’s not from lack of desire or interest to cover technological advancement in Amateur Radio in other parts of the world - I’d love to. Want to help with that? Please contact me.
Zero Retries Unabashed Merchandizing Division
The Zero Retries Unabashed Merchandizing Division
was started in March 2022 “Summer 2022” will [hopefully] start in 2023. It was going to be named something else that was popularized by a certain radio show about “cars”, but turns out they were smart enough to copyright that phrase. 🙁 Think of ZRUMD as a friendly garage sale, slowly liquidating Amateur Radio (mostly) ephemera to a friendly crowd.
Update June 2023 - I activated paid options for Zero Retries which will provide some revenue from Zero Retries and help offset some expenses incurred in operating Zero Retries.
Media Inspirations for Zero Retries
There are numerous media inspirations for Zero Retries, thus it’s only fair that I try to cite them given the inspiration they have provided to me.
Some things I’ve learned, collectively, from these media are:
The courage to “dive deep” on a subject,
Try to explain a subject in a conversational manner… even if it takes longer. It’s likely some readers don’t understand the subject well and privately are grateful to you taking the time to explain it.
Have some fun, don’t take yourself too seriously.
These are your words, it’s your publication, do what you think is needed.
The name Zero Retries as a name for a newsletter was created by Budd Churchward WB7FHC for the newsletter of the now-defunct newsletter of the now-defunct Northwest Amateur Packet Radio Association (NAPRA) based in Western Washington, USA. I have many, hopefully most, of those print newsletters. I owe it to the memory of NAPRA and the original Zero Retries to scan them and put them online. More than three decades after my participation in NAPRA, both WB7FHC and I found ourselves in Northwest Washington (near Bellingham, Washington) where we are now occasional collaborators in various projects involving Amateur Radio data communications.
ARRL Gateway Newsletter - You’d never know that this newsletter ever existed (1984 - 1990) by browsing the ARRL website. It’s inexplicable to me that there’s no mention of Gateway there because Gateway was the newsletter that knitted the disparate groups, developers, and networks together and progressing more or less in unison during the early to middle years of the birth and growth of Amateur Packet Radio. Each biweekly issue brought interesting, useful, and often actionable news about Amateur Packet Radio.
TAPR Packet Status Register - It’s not quite the same publication as it was in the glory days of Packet Radio, but the PSR newsletter (1982 - present) was a profound influence on me. I wrote several articles for PSR, and was very briefly an editor. I used one article I wrote for PSR as a writing sample in my application for a columnist position, and that position changed my life.
Packet Radio Magazine and Digital Digest - Until I rediscovered them as part of my ongoing project to donate almost all of my archives of Amateur Radio printed material to Internet Archive’s Digital Library of Amateur Radio & Communications, I had forgotten these very focused publications. I had not realized / remembered how much they shaped my worldview of Amateur Radio Packet Radio until I began rereading them after DLARC digitized them and posted them online.
Ham Radio Online - Ham Radio Online was the first blog about Amateur Radio that I considered informative and on-target about the issues in Amateur Radio that I was interested in, such as data communications in Amateur Radio. HRO was particularly interesting to me because I knew its author, Edward Mitchell KF7VY, who also lived in the Seattle, Washington, USA area and the activities in the Seattle area were reflected in HRO.
SMART Letter - It’s almost two decades since the last issue, but David Isenberg’s The SMART Letter was another profound influence to me on what, and how good, a newsletter with a solo, profoundly competent voice could be. Isenberg was famously the author of a profound essay called The Rise of the Stupid Network which foretold the rise of the Internet and the inevitable decline of the Public Switched Telephone Network - PSTN (as the be-all-and-end-all of telecommunications). The SMART Letter illustrated to me just how much influence one voice can have.
Boardwatch Magazine was a profound inspiration to me, and I unexpectedly became a columnist for Boardwatch. My Wireless Data Developments column launched my professional writing career. In particular, Editor Rotundus Jack Rickard’s editorials and his skewer, don’t suffer the foolish folks that were ill-advised but wrote to Boardwatch anyway were absolutely inspirational on how effective (and fun) an independent publication could be. Rickard’s replies to such folks were practically poetry. Boardwatch was one of the few publications where the ads were as informative and interesting as the editorial content. (Byte was another.)
Micro Cornucopia was the epitome of a publication with narrow niche, but diving very deep into that niche. I discovered Micro C less than two years before Editor David Thompson decided to fold it. Micro C was simultaneously an inspiration for how much one person could accomplish with an independent publication… and the dangers of one person becoming too successful with an independent publication (it takes over your life).
Midnight Engineering Magazine was a highly eclectic magazine that highlighted solo or very small technical ventures. It was notable, in influential to me, because its Editor / Publisher / Printer / Janitor, William E. Gates, literally did it all on that magazine, including physically publishing it on a printing press that he bought used and resurrected. ME was an inspiration about just how much one person can accomplish with very focused effort.
Jerry E. Pournelle (Users Column / Computing at Chaos Manor) and Steve Ciarcia (Circuit Cellar) were both columnists in Byte Magazine. Both wrote in a conversational style that I really enjoyed. Pournelle especially wrote about how he used microcomputers and along the way offered commentary about the microcomputer industry.
About the Editor
I live (very close) to beautiful Bellingham, Washington, USA (the City of Subdued Excitement). Bellingham is nestled in the far Northwest corner of Washington, about ten miles South of the US / Canada border, and about 50 miles South of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
My passion in Amateur Radio has always been data modes and other technology oriented activities in Amateur Radio. In the 2020s, I’m semi-retired and working on passion projects like Zero Retries and dabbling on projects in N8GNJ Labs. Although I’m not yet active in Amateur Radio satellites, I plan to do so. Ditto microwave (mostly networking). In 2023 my major focus will be getting more antennas installed, getting on the Amateur Radio HF (shortwave) bands, and a major secret project.
In 2021 and 2022, I was a volunteer on the Grants Advisory Committee (GAC) at Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC). I no longer have any involvement with ARDC, a condition ARDC required for me to write substantively about recipients of ARDC grants.
From September 2021 through August 2022, I was President of the Mount Baker Amateur Radio Club Digital Group (DG). To my surprise, I was asked to be President again for beginning in September 2023.
In 2022 through mid-September 2023, I was a Board member of the Whatcom Emergency Communications Group (WECG), an Amateur Radio group focused on emergency communications in Whatcom County, Washington.
Previous clubs I’ve been involved with during my time in Washington include NAPRA, MicroHAMS, BEARS, and a few I’ve now forgotten the names of.
My other writing outlets include my personal Amateur Radio Blog N8GNJ.org and Superpacket, a blog about the big picture of Amateur Radio (something of a precursor to Zero Retries). There are other newsletters in development.
About the Assistant Late Night Editor
Jack Stroh, Zero Retries Assistant Late Night Editor (Emeritus), was profiled in Zero Retries 0031. Jack is now a Silent Keyboard (Zero Retries 0042) and prior to his death had retired from his role as Late Night Assistant Editor due to illness (Zero Retries 0038).
About the Zero Retries Pseudostaffers
When I began Zero Retries, these folks encouraged me as I developed Zero Retries. I paid close attention to their respective blogs and other writing that often featured “Zero Retries Interesting” subjects. Thus they were named as a (entirely imaginary title) Zero Retries Pseudostaffer.
KE9V and KB6NU continue to blog, but NM7A, KB9MWR, and W7NWP all seem to have retired from blogging and I only hear from them once in a while via email. W6BI is not a blogger, but very active in promoting AREDN activities, and was named a Pseudostaffer in August, 2023. All of them are trusted advisers, and I’ll always accept their call, email, and input.
Substack is an excellent platform for authors to create and publish email newsletters, including a well-developed subscription fee mechanism. As I’ve gained experience with Substack, I don’t feel it’s entire suited to Amateur Radio projects because it strongly encourages “community involvement” which is something of an odd fit between Amateur Radio with the vast majority of other writers using Substack. But, one stellar quality of Substack is that you can get started at no cost.
For future Amateur Radio newsletters, I will probably use the Ghost platform.
Steve Stroh N8GNJ
Last updated 2023-11-17
To be transparent, I’ve written of RPC Electronics, LLC’s products long before KE4NYV became a paid subscriber of Zero Retries. I write about companies such as RPC Electronics because they are Zero Retries Interesting and their products relate to the subject matter of Zero Retries.