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2000 ARRL and TAPR Digital Communications Conference

20th.jpeg Reprinted with permission from the December 2000 issue of CQ Amateur Radio Magazine - Steve Stroh
September 22-24, 2000
Orlando, FL

The good news is that the 2000 version of the ARRL and TAPR Digital Communications Conference (DCC) is over... the bad news is that the 2000 DCC is over.

See pictures from the conference.

Proceedings are available.

As conference organizers, my wife Tina and I, aided by a number of volunteers- most notably Geoffrey Dick WA4IKQ, were intimately involved in most aspects of planning the DCC. As anyone who is involved in such events can tell you, there are always the last-minute mini-crises that threaten (or at least seem to) the success of the event, and yet it (almost always) comes together, the attendees have a great time and learn a lot. By that standard, the 19th Annual DCC was a roaring success. I'll try to describe some of what happened at the 19th Annual DCC, along with some "insider" commentary.

The 19th DCC was held September 22 - 24, 2000 at the Orlando Airport Mariott Hotel in Orlando, Florida. It helps to understand the "flow" of the DCC to realize that there are a number of sub-events occurring under the umbrella of the DCC:

  • TAPR Annual Board Meeting on Friday morning
  • National APRS Seminar on Friday afternoon
  • Packet Radio User's Group of Japan Reception and Presentation on Friday evening
  • Main Paper Presentations on Saturday morning and afternoon
  • Packet Radio (and associated topics) Introductory Sessions on Saturday morning and afternoon
  • TAPR Annual Meeting on Saturday afternoon
  • DCC Banquet, dinner speaker, and prize drawing on Saturday evening
  • Technical Seminar on Sunday morning

One of the main points that I make whenever explaining about the DCC is that it's not just "dry", formal paper presentations. Mostly, the DCC is about meeting interesting people that are actively involved in digital wireless communications and Amateur Radio. I'm on record as stating that the most important "product" of the DCC is fun and learning - in that order.

One of the primary goals of the DCC is to "move it around". Roughly, the DCC follows a three-year cycle in the following "regions" of North America - East, Central, West. Each of these "regions" is very roughly defined, and the final location for each year's DCC is largely dependent on which group offers to host the DCC. For example, DCC in 2001 will be held in Cincinatti, Ohio, and DCC in 2002 will be "West" - where, exactly, is yet to be determined.

One of TAPR's goals when it undertook the prime management role for the DCC some years ago was to try to keep the cost of the DCC at a minimum for the attendees. That necessitated a bit more advance planning (and some considerable experience at such negotiations) to comparison-shop for hotels near airports (free shuttle service is a prime criterion) with decent room rates. Cost of attendee registration closely tracks the fixed expenses incurred for the DCC - room and equipment rentals, meals, DCC proceedings, etc. Any profits from the DCC are, for the most part, incidental - the financial goal of the DCC, such as it is, is to break even.

The attention to minimizing costs to the attendees as much as possible, and the great reputation that the DCC has developed over the years results in somewhere between one-third and one-half of the attendees consistently traveling to the DCC wherever it is held. "Moving it around" brings in a lot of new attendees, and always adds a few more to "The Traveling Road Show" contingent as I've heard them refer to themselves.

TAPR Board Meeting
The main news from the TAPR Board Meeting, which was open to all TAPR members, is that John Ackermann N8UR has been elected TAPR President. N8UR had been acting-President since Greg Jones WD5IVD stepped down from that role earlier in the year. Steve Bible N7HPR was elected Vice-President. Retaining their previous roles were Bob Hanson N2GDE as Secretary and Jim Neely WA5LHS as Treasurer. TAPR has decided to proceed with the production of the innovative PIC-based EasyTrak rotor controller.

DCC Audio
Greg Jones WD5IVD is one of the unsung heroes of the DCC (I'll set aside, for the moment, Greg's very formative role in the life of the DCC in getting TAPR formally involved in its management and hands-on involvement). Greg's least-recognized role at the DCC is that of audio archivist for the DCC presentations. Greg has diligently recorded and converted, pretty much single-handedly, the audio from all recent DCC presentations, and making it available via TAPR's web page. In 2000, the audio presentations will be made available on CD-ROM. Previous experiments at the DCC have included live and recorded streaming audio formats. So, much of the "flavor" of the DCC can be recreated by listening to the hours of audio.

A Note About DCC Papers
The vast majority of hams, upon hearing that the main activity at the DCC is a "Presentation of Papers" instantly and incorrectly assume that "I could certainly never write a paper", and compound that mistake by assuming that they're not "technical" enough to understand the content of the DCC papers. Nothing could be further from the truth - the majority of DCC papers are informal and informational, not at all "scholarly". Most of the DCC papers are written something like an article for CQ or QST - the author uses a conversational style to try to explain something they've done or something they're considering doing, or to illuminate a particularly obscure technical aspect of wireless digital communications. As far as I'm aware, no paper has ever been rejected for publication in the DCC Proceedings for anything other than missing the submission deadline (and you have to miss the submission deadline by a considerable margin to not be included - Maty Weinberg at ARRL HQ works wonders in assembling the DCC Proceedings into a coherent and logical book).

Papers on nearly any topic in wireless digital communications are welcomed. It's preferred, but very definitely not required, that the topic have some relationship to Amateur Radio, or illustrate a concept that Amateur Radio should be aware of. I've been assured that the DCC Proceedings can grow to any reasonable size to include any number of papers submitted. I'm as guilty of this as anyone - a paper I wrote on the Puget Sound Amateur Radio TCP/IP Network was published in a DCC Proceeding several years ago and that was a proud moment, but I haven't written anything for the DCC since. I hope to correct that in 2001 and submit at least a couple of papers. I should also note that students benefit tremendously from publication of a paper in the proceedings - such an achievement looks really good on an academic resume.

The Fun
I'm not sure if I've reflected the fun that happens at the DCC, mostly as a result of like-minded people getting together to discuss topics that are near and dear to them. Lack of sleep due to long conversations into the wee hours is a definite hazard of attending the DCC. One of the most striking aspects of the DCC is that the authors very much want to help folks understand their topics - folks are just incredibly helpful and understanding.


APRS Symposium
    For the last several years, the APRS Symposium has been one of the more dynamic aspects of the DCC, and this year's was no exception. So successful, in fact, that next year's DCC will almost certainly feature an all-day Friday APRS Symposium instead of the only Friday afternoon. Crammed into this year's APRS Symposium were fifteen presentations (in 15 minute slots). Unfortunately, only a few of the APRS Symposium presentations were reflected in formal papers in the DCC Proceedings. Hopefully the authors will post their presentations on the Web.

PRUG Seminar

    For the last several years, Packet Radio User's Group of Japan (PRUG) has graciously sponsored a reception on Friday evening. PRUG then offers a presentation of what they have been working on in the previous year. The PRUG presentation is always well attended, and there's always a lot of followup questions and conversations. PRUG was well represented this year with seven or more PRUG members attending. PRUG gave an update on their PRUG-96 system which they had presented at the 17th DCC in 1998. PRUG-96 was a system designed for research on routing protocols, and was based on three subsystems - a 2.4 GHz spread spectrum wireless modem, a Z-80-based controller and NE-2000 compatible Ethernet card, and a UNIX-based PC which housed the development tools and experimental builds of software which were then downloaded into the controller. PRUG-96 was so successful that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), Japan's equivalent of the FCC, has provided a grant to further develop the PRUG-96 system for use in rural areas to provide low-cost wireless Internet access. In addition, Root, Inc. was able to develop the Spread Spectrum radio into a commercial product and now offers it for sale commercially. The PRUG-96 system has evolved into the PRUG-99 system, which attempts to bring more stability and robustness, as well as new hardware into the PRUG-96 system.

    There was a lot of interest at the DCC in a project PRUG calls TINI-AMEDES, which is a one-board (the size of a memory SIMM for personal computers) computer based on JAVA. PRUG uses the computer to interface between Ethernet and the Dallas Semiconductor 1-wire bus for experimenting with weather instrumentation, including measurement of such unusual parameters as sunlight intensity and atmospheric pollutants.

    There were numerous other presentations that were part of PRUG's presentation, including some really interesting "firsts" at range and unusual conditions using 2.4 GHz Spread Spectrum communications (imagine carrying a 5-foot microwave dish on a commuter train) that I can't do justice to in a column.

    One of the most impressive aspects of PRUG's activities, for me, was that they are very focused on making use of Spread Spectrum, IP-based technologies, and UNIX; exactly the directions that I think that Amateur Radio ought to be pursuing. I hope to learn more, in depth, about PRUG's activities and report on them in future columns. To summarize, spending time with the folks from PRUG is one of the better parts of the DCC.


Introduction Sessions

Main Session

    Twenty three papers were submitted in time for publications in the 19th ARRL and TAPR Digital Communications Conference Proceedings. The papers, and presentations touch on a wide variety of digital wireless communications topics (abstracts are available online). Steve Bible N7HPR presented his paper on Easy Trak, a PIC Based Rotor/Radio Controller Interface. Easy Trak is a next-generation automatic rotor controller designed to interface with a wide range of rotor systems. John Hansen W2FS presented his PIC-et Radio II: How to Receive AX.25 UI Frames Using Inexpensive PIC Microcontrollers, which was a followon to John's presentation a year ago on how (relatively simple) it was to transmit AX.25 UI frames using a PIC. Rick Muething KN6KB presented Winlink 2000... A Global Ham Message Transfer and Delivery Network, which fascinated me, and I hope to write an entire column on Winlink 2000.. There were many presenters and many excellent papers - even for those who attended, listening to the audio of the presentation is well worth the time. And many, many others - see the table of the papers.

TAPR Annual Meeting

    TAPR held its first-ever "prime time" Annual Meeting at DCC 2000 since combining the previously separate TAPR Annual Meeting and the DCC. By most accounts, the change in format appeared to be a success at allowing the membership to question and comment on TAPR's activities face to face with the TAPR Board of Directors. At Previous DCC's, the Annual Meeting was held after the dinner, at a time when most of the attendees badly craved sleep, resulting in sparse attendance and not-very-lively discussions. A number of suggestions were well-received by the Board. One sad note was that former TAPR President Greg Jones WD5IVD announced to the membership his intention to resign from the Board to be able to devote more time to completion of his doctoral thesis and spending more time with his new wife Bridget. Greg plans to remain involved with TAPR.


    After a great dinner attended by most of those who attended the DCC, we settled down for a very informative presentation by Doug Campbell, Vice President of Product Management, Marketing, and International Business of Triton Network Systems (www.triton-network.com). Triton makes broadband microwave communications systems, and is a relatively young company located in Orlando. Doug's presentation was informative, and very well received by the audience. Doug related how he knew he should have made his presentation "more technical" when he was going through the dinner line overhearing a conversation on Fast Fourier Transforms - a welcome change from the audiences he's used to presenting to. Mark was asked if he felt that Amateur Radio experience was relevant to Triton Network System, and he replied with a very emphatic Yes, stating that one of his key challenges is finding personnel with RF experience, and that several key members of Triton's technical staff with hams. More information about Triton Network Systems can be found at www.triton-network.com.

    In 2000, there were a number of prizes donated for DCC attendees. The Grand Prize was a Kenwood D-700A mobile radio, which was won in a random drawing by Geoffrey Dick WA4IKQ. Kenwood was also gracious enough to send a quantity of nice coffee mugs with TAPR's logo on one side, and Kenwood's logo on the other, sufficient for each attendee to receive one. Other notable prizes were a number of high-end PIC development kits, a Palm VII. The ARRL and TAPR donated a number of prizes, and CQ offered two subscriptions to CQ Magazine and two 2001 CQ calendars.

Sunday Technical Seminar

DCC 2000's Technical Seminar was a PIC Design Seminar organized by Steve Bible N7HPR, with several others offering additional presentations. Attendees received design materials including booklets and CD-ROMs.

Session conducted by: Steve Bible, N7HPR, Byon Garrabrant, N6BG, and Dan Welch

Conference Photos

Dave Armbrust, AE4MR and Frank Butler, W4RH at the ARRL Table.

Various presentors from the Saturday Session answering questions at the end of the day.

TAPR Board of Directors Meeting.

John Ackermann, N8UR, elected President of TAPR at this board meeting.

Steve Bible, N7HPR, discusses the Software Defined Radio (SDR) Project.

Close up of the SDR.

Another picture of the SDR.

Another picture of the SDR.

Greg Jones, WD5IVD at the TAPR Board Meeting. Greg stepped down as President earlier in the year and later during this conference stepped down from the Board in order to focus on completing his PhD.

Examples of APRS Car-top Trackers shown in the demo room.

Byon in the Demo room.

Bob in the demo room showing off his APRS stuff.

Dinner Saturday night.

Steve Bible, N7HPR hand Geoff Dick his grand prize after Dinner -- a Kenwood APRS Rig.

John Ackermann, N8UR, during his Introduction talk.

Guy Story, KC5GOI, during his Introduction talk.

Mel Whitten, K0PFX, during his Introduction talk.

Keith Kotch. Keith was a huge help during the conference helping with the AV issues and demands.

John A. Hansen, W2FS.

Matthew Ettus, N2MJI.

Panagiotis Gavalas.

Mohamed K. Nezami.

Rick Muething, KN6KB.

Keith Sproul, WU2Z.

Barry Baines.

The Conference Management Team meeting the day before the conference.

PRUG Presented on Friday night.

PRUG Presented on Friday night.

Sheila Bible and Dorothy Jones sitting at the TAPR table.

Sunday PIC Seminar

Sunday PIC Seminar

TAPR Annual Meeting on Satudary

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