Friday, May 30, 2008

Progressing the service tagging of frequency and talkgroup data

As many are aware, back in January of 2008, we released a new set of functions to allow our database administrators to begin tagging frequency entries and talkgroup entries in the database with a number of new fields, mainly location information, service tags, updated alpha tag functions, and other attributes. One of the most important components of those new functions were service tags, which is a predefined set of 30 different tags that can identify how a frequency or trunked system talkgroup is used.

One of the most important reasons why service tagging has been released is to prepare the RadioReference database for the eventual ability to respond to more natural language queries, such as "show me all fire dispatch frequencies in my area." This is an important distinction from how most reference sources are queried today and should speed the rate of innovation and delivery of services from

Tagging all new and existing frequencies and talkgroups in the database is a tedious task, and to facilitate the adoption of tagging, RadioReference is now going to allow any registered user on the Web site the ability to tag any frequency and talkgroup with one of the predefined 30 tags if a tag does not already exist. This does not mean that our admins are not doing their jobs, but it does mean that they need assistance in tagging existing data that is very extensive and very tedious. 170,000 people are better than 80 to get this structured and extensive process completed.

Expect the release of this new functionality to happen the weekend of May 31st 2008. For those registered users who are interested in participating, please see the Services Tags and Guidance for Use article, which outlines how tags should be implemented.

Your help is needed, and we look forward to seeing the results!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Explaining the Data Removal Policy Change on

It is well known to many members of the data removal policy that was put in effect around the 2002 time frame. At that time, the political climate in the United States was at times very worrisome - especially after September 11th. After some drawn out discussions with multiple people within the Federal Government and US military, I decided that it was in the best interest of, and myself, to allow US Federal and Military officials an opportunity to formally request that I remove data from the site, only under certain conditions. Basically, an "out", and the ability to stay off the radar of some folks that were looking to cause trouble. It is important to note that policy did not under any circumstances provide for the removal of data from the site for state and local government, or businesses, even though we had had received many requests to do so.

At the time, many wondered why I "caved" in to the US Military and Federal government, and I was strongly criticized for implementing this policy. I even wrote a lengthy position statement that helped explain the approach we were taking. However, in looking out for the best interest of community and my family, with the political climate as it was at the time, I had decided to implement a removal policy to keep such a large target from becoming "shot at."

Moving forward though, now that the political climate has calmed and it has been very apparent that the 10 or so requests that I had to remove data did nothing to actually remove the information from the public domain - and frankly it is a well known fact in the security industry that security-by-obscurity does not work. Therefore, effective May 19th 2008 I made the conscious decision to rescind the policy and not remove any data from the site unless ordered to by a court that has jurisdiction over the site.

I'm sure that even this "policy change" will result in criticism, and I welcome the discussion. But remember, at the end of the day if something is important enough to be requested for removal, then it is important enough to either be encrypted or not broadcast over the air.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dayton Hamvention 2008

How much more relevant could a first post to this blog be than to talk about Dayton 2008. For those that don't know, the Dayton Hamvention is the worlds largest convention for Amateur Radio Operators and Radio Communications enthusiasts. Each year, I've always "wanted" to attend, but never had the time or patience to sit down and plan a trip. Well, this year was different as I had some time, enough frequent flier miles, and patience to make the trip. At the last second, I decided to make plans to attend.

I arrived on Thursday into Dayton at around Noon, and promptly drove out to Columbus to visit Universal Radio's facility in Reynoldsburg OH. Since I was 12 years old, I used to gawk at their catalog and dream about owning a room full of HF radio equipment - so it was only natural for me to head out there and check out their showroom. Later that evening, I had dinner with Rich Barnett, President of who RadioReference has a well established relationship with, and Gommert Buysen, the author of the popular Butel line of scanner programming software. After a fantastic steak, a Martini, and two bottles of wine, it was time us hit the sack and rest for the next day festivities.

I arrived at about 9:00 AM at the Hara arena and was struck by two things - the sheer amount of people that were participating, and how much of a dump the Hara arena is. It was evident that this event was easily 10 times larger than I had anticipated, and the Hara arena probably bulges at the seams when no one is there, so the place looked like it could come down in a cloud of dust at any minute. I immediately bought a ticket and decided to peruse the outdoor flea market first so I could keep and eye on the building's structural integrity before entering. I didn't buy anything, but it was fun seeing all equipment for sale.

At the flea market, I was shocked at how many people were selling stuff, and how much junk was out in the lot. After two long grueling hours I headed in-doors to the ScannerMaster booth to spend some time there to meet some of our regular members and administrators. I wasn't disappointed. Almost immediately we were non-stop bombarded with RadioReference subscribers and admins. Since I have never had the opportunity to meet any of the subscribers (and our admins) - it was a refreshing and very rewarding experience. Mark Meece, Tom Swisher, Chris Dees, Mike O, and numerous others all spent some time at the booth. I also got to speak with many folks that had never heard of, and those who were purchasing a scanner for the first time. Cool!

After working the booth for a few hours, I headed out to see everything indoors. My first stop was by the GRE booth, where I met the legendary Don Starr of Win96/Win500 Software fame. Don had to be the best dressed buy at Dayton, and was demoing his fantastic software suite for the GRE Scanners. I've spent a lot of time working with Don online, so this was a special treat. Next, I went and twiddled the knobs on an Icom R-9500, saw the line-up at the AOR booth (the new SR-2000A is really cool), and stopped by the RF Space booth to review their SDR (Software Defined Radio) line-up.

All in All, Saturday was the same as Friday, with lots of shaking hands, fighting crowds, and looking at radios. I stopped by the Batlabs table to meet Alex, PJ, and the other Motorola equipment crew. In the end, I dropped some cash for an RF Space SDR-14 panoramic receiver and prepared for my Saturday afternoon flight home.

In summary, the show was far more than I expected, and I most definitely plan on attending next year!