25 April 2005

Whadja say Donald??

This post is in response to several emails we've received from listeners monitoring the live scanner feed (who are lucky enough to get an open port...), who have written in to inform us that from time to time, the feed's audio gets 'garbled' and is unintelligible. First, we appreciate your concern, and second, we also appreciate you writing to us for any reason about the feed, as responses are still few and far between.

Now, with regard to the audio "problem"....
(Seasoned scanner listeners can fade here if desired)
Folks, what you're hearing when the scanner feed's crisp, clear audio suddenly sounds like Donald Duck as a deep sea diver trying to talk under water at 200 fathoms (without a mask...), is what's known as 'DIGITAL ENCRYPTION'. This is a feature of the new radio system which allows the users to encode or scramble their conversations by either pushing a button on their radios or switching to an 'always encrypted' talkgroup. The radio units, being micro computers in addition to 2-way radios, break down the users voice into digital 1's and 0's even when not operating in scrambled mode. The 1's and 0's that represent the voice are transmitted from one end of the conversation to the other, and are then reassembled to form the audio that comes out of the speaker. (By the way, this is the primary reason your old 'analog' trunking scanner will not allow you to listen to the new system). When in encrypted mode, the "sender's" radio 'scrambles' the order of the 1's and 0's before transmitting them. It also adds additional information to the signal which further complicates the encryption code, and that helps the receiving radio at the far end to unscramble the signal (a sort of virtual key to unlock the code). Private conversations over the airwaves using digital encryption are not brand new, and also have an analog cousin ('speech inversion') that has been around and in use for quite a while. There are no scanners on the market that have the ability to unscramble this type of code, and there probably will never be, as this method is virtually impossible to 'break into' from outside the system.

That is probably the most simplified explanation of digital encryption that you will ever find, but for the purpose of answering this question posed by those needing something less than a 15 page NASA-like dissertation, it should suffice.

In order to satisfy the seasoned scannists mentioned above who I know are going to write in to "correct" some this....
Yes, there are times when a bad signal between the "sender's" radio & the radio tower will cause a very similar sounding 'scrambled' audio. Basically, the signal in this case IS being scrambled, but is due to unintended signal weakness/interference and not by the intentional encryption method just described. This phenomenon can be easily distinguished from actual encryption as it usually only affects bits and pieces of a single transmission, allowing some of the words to come through normally.

Anyone that would like to add their 2 cents worth, please do so by clicking the 'Comments' link below.

Hope that clears the mud some....


24 April 2005

10-9 that....

County, Badge 1 will be 10-8 in Zone 2 until 2300 and out on a traffic stop with a possible 3802. Run a 10-28 on PA Alpha-Bravo-Charlie-1-2-3-4 and a 10-27 on OLN 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Send for certified and fax it down to the station. Also check NCIC and Sheriff's list for 30's. I'll be 10-6 with this 10-12 who looks like a Code 42 that needs 302'd so I'll be 10-19 with a 10-15, last three on the mileage 3-2-1. When I get 10-90, I'll give you a 10-21 on that last Code 51, and then go 10-7 on portable at Line 1 for 10-35. If 01 needs me on that Code 3 for an open door, call me on TAC-2. Copy? ....don't make me 10-9 all that. What..? My turn for Security 52 again..? 10-4.....

23 April 2005

Live Scanner Update 003

Taking a moment here to say 'Thank You' to those listeners who took the time to send in their questions, comments, and suggestions. Although these responses are but a thin slice of the total user population (over 100 to date), the concensus seems to indicate that the feed is a good thing, and should continue. Some of you even offered donations toward keeping the stream alive, and are to be commended for your generosity. However, as was previously stated elsewhere, the NKNOC Labs wishes to have the scanner feed remain a free service, with no strings attached. Our primary regret is that we are presently unable to stretch the ability of the current hardware in order to serve additional listeners while a more permanent solution is considered.

Putting the live streaming scanner audio system together and linking it out to the Internet actually began as an experiment, which was only meant to provide listening capabilities for a few of the Lab affiliates that were aware of it and interested in listening periodically. Those that were accustomed to listening to their local West. Co. Public Safety groups on the old VHF frequencies felt lost when the county switched away to 800Mhz. As most of you likely know, the cost of the few digital-capable scanners that are available is almost prohibited at this time, and that for most average budgets, the price of several hundred dollars is hard to commit to. Many listeners in this area already own scanners that allow them to listen to all but the newer digital systems which are not that common in this region, and so for those folks, that $300-$500 basically only buys them one new "channel" so to speak. However, looking ahead, more & more of these types of systems will be appearing over time as Public Service entities continue to move their radio communications toward 21st Century technology.

It seems that once word got out, the number of visitors wanting to listen increased far beyond what the system was originally intended to support, and at one point nearly brought the server to its 'digital knees'. Thus the decision was made to throttle back the number of simultaneous connections permitted to a safer level in terms of what the hardware can actually handle. Unfortunately at this time, the only recourse when receiving a 'busy signal' is to keep trying.

Allow me to repeat here our original diplomatic request that listeners not 'HOG' the feed ports for days on end. We haven't yet taken the extreme action of locking out any of the obvious squatters, but will do so if we feel this begins approaching abuse levels. There are a few options for methods to improve the service that will be put on the table at the next NKNOC Labs board meeting, so stay tuned. Updates will be posted here as they develop.


19 April 2005

Live Scanner Update 002

I was hoping to log in here tonight and post word that since renewing the request for responses regarding the live scanner feed, the NKNOC Labs received so many emails that our mail server began to choke.... but, alas, not even enough to gag a flea. The old sying is, "Actions speak louder than words." There is another one, slightly newer since I just made it up, "Inaction speaks the loudest." Here's a related question: "How do you tell Ingnorance from Indifference? Answer: "I don't know, and I don't care."

Seems the American Way is becoming ever more defined by the "I, Me, Mine."... "The Me First Generation"... "Instant Gratification"... "I feel the need for greed."... and even "Hurray for me, and screw you!" credos. A shame really. Doesn't bode well for the very young who someday will inherit whatever scraps will be left by then.

So, back to the streaming scanner audio. Allow me to inject a little moral viewpoint here, based on a conversation I had with a friend recently, who offered the opinion that putting the live feed up on the 'Net "may not be in the best interest of some". "Define 'some'", I taunted. "The PD's on the feed for one", he replied. "How so", I asked. His reply was that the live feed compromised PD operations by giving the 'Bad Guys' an upper hand, since all they have to do to know exactly(?) what the PD is doing is log on to the live feed (if they can get a port...). Excuse me? I think that's a stretch. So what I decided to do was make a list of Pro & Con arguments on the subject and let the masses decide. Read on, engage the thought process, (stick tongue slightly in cheek) and decide for yourself.

CON: Bad Guys can listen & will know what the Good Guys are doing.

PRO: 1st, Good Guys have high tech Flash Gordon encryption feature to keep secret talk secret, when needed.

PRO: Average Bad Guy headed for next alcohol binge, crack high, or Code 42 induced crime spree can not even spell 'computer', let alone operate one. Bad Guy in question is slightly higher up food chain and can usually spell 'computer' correctly 6 times out of 10.

PRO: Anyway, most Bad Guys intent on listening these days have enough pocket cash to buy a dozen digi-scanners which would be much easier (& much more portable) to use for same reason (if they actually had the brain cells required to use one, I suppose they could pay someone smarter to do it for them).

PRO: Joe Good Citizen can also listen. This allows Joe to become additional Crime Watch eyes & ears for the Glock Rockin' Good Guys, calling in to County and helping to pinch Bad Guys, put them away, and put their dozen digi-scanners on Federal Forfeiture Disbursement lists for Good Guys to then use, along with their Caddy, Lexus, Mercedes, & Hummer.

PRO: Lastly, the live feed onto the Internet allows the entire world to listen to Westmoreland County's finest men & women behind the badge, who choose to face the risk of making the ultimate sacrifice every single day, in order to make this a safe place for us to live, work & play, and to help preserve the freedom that permits the NKNOC Labs to put that live feed on the 'Net in the first place.

My personal thanks to all of you.


14 April 2005

Live Scanner Update 001

Well folks, at the rate the emails are coming in so far (about 3 per year...!) the live feed will be off the air by this weekend. Sad to report that only a half dozen or so listeners have taken the two minutes required to send a quick email (thanks to those folks, & you know who you are). To date, over 100 users have been logged listening to the live feed on almost a daily basis. Where are the rest of you? How about it my friends.... your email busted or something? You obviously like the free live feed of your favorite county's new 800Mhz radio system traffic as much as we like bringing it to you. Don't like it enough to drop us a quick line or two? Our opinion is that it beats shelling out the $500.00 for one of the new digi-scanners needed to listen to this system on your own.

Only time will tell now.


11 April 2005

Live Scanner Audio Feed Notice

This message will be an elaboration of the updated notice posted on the Scanner Page. This is going out mostly to those of you who have been using the live streaming scanner audio link to listen to the new Westmoreland County DPS 800Mhz Digital Trunked radio system.... and there are quite a few of you! If you haven't been listening to the action for whatever reason, then this is just an FYI.

As stated in the notice on the Scanner Page under the link to the Live Scanner, the computer hardware being utilized to bring you this public service from the NKNOC Labs is on loan, and not (yet anyway...) dedicated to streaming the scanner audio out onto the 'Net for your enjoyment free of charge. In order to make a case for keeping the audio server online instead of having it banished to the back room to crunch Lab formulas, we are hoping that interested users will send a short email to the NKNOC Labs to briefly describe the following:

1. How the feed sounds where you are (remember, this is a new 'Digital' radio system, and will sound a little different).

2. Who listens (just you?, your family? friends? etc.).

3. Where you listen the most (home? work? etc., you can include the area where you are located if you'd like).

4. What hours you tend to listen the most, and for how long.

5. Why you listen (give as many reasons as you can think of).

6. Any other comments, suggestions, or questions are always welcomed.

We want to keep the live feed going, so hit those keyboards and start typing! As always, any information you provide will be treated confidentially, and is never shared with, traded or sold to any other parties.

A couple of final notes regarding this service:
The server presently does have a limit of how many simultaneous connections are permitted at any one time. With the popularity of the feed growing as it is, we can not guarantee that you will always get a connection. The audio server ports are allotted on a first-come-first-served basis. If your audio player doesn't quickly sync up & begin playing the audio stream, it is possible that the server may be out of available ports. Please be patient and wait a few minutes to try again. Also, please DO NOT leave an unnecessary connection running. If no one is listening, please disconnect to allow your port to be used by someone else. The server logs all connections and users that appear to be abusing the free feed will be blocked.

That's about it for now. Again, the NKNOC hopes you are enjoying this service, and looks forward to hearing from all of you!

Scan on...

Scanners hear it first!

08 April 2005

West. Co. DPS 800Mhz TRS Update

Time for an update on the new Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety 800Mhz Trunked Radio System. The County fathers seem to be well pleased with the performance of the system so far, and from what I've monitored from here in the Labs, I would have to concur. One sign of this is the lack of complaints from those in the field using it, in fact, to the contrary, I've heard quite a few compliments offered. The old VHF system definitely had some problems, at least here in the NKNOC Labs neck of the county.

The Labs is still running the Pro96Com software 24 x 7, which is being fed the control channel data from the IF port of our RS Pro-96 digi-scanner. This program takes the control channel's 9600 baud data stream and separates out & decodes all of the many individual fields of information for intelligent display on the computer screen. This produces a plethora of information about the system activity, towers, frequencies, affiliations, talkgroups, radios, patches, channel grants, & much more. So far, Pro96Com has logged 127 talkgroups and 1,570 radio ID's. This weekend, the Labs will be updating the Pro96Com data files and uploading them onto the web server, where they will continue to be downloadable as a zip file. In addition, we'll be revising the Win96 programming files and they will also be available for download. If you already use either of these software packages and monitor the WCDPS 800Mhz system, give these files a look. We think you'll like them. If you're not using these programs, and you own a Pro-96 or Pro-2096, you need to try this software! Don't forget the data cable you'll also need to connect your digi-scanner to your PC.

There are still two tower sites yet to come on line, North Huntington and Scottdale. Once these fire up, the final acceptance testing will be done for that part of the county. In the mean time, there are also quite a few departments & units needing to finish their training, get their radios and join the 800Mhz airwaves. We've noticed activity on several new talkgroups in the past week or so. These are presumed to be TG ID's being tested, soon to be used by those not yet on the air. TG's heard were 236, 242, 245, 300, 301, 304, 310, 318, 330, 342, 344, 354, 421.

The Labs would like to hear from anyone who has been using the site's live streaming scanner audio link to listen to West. County's radio traffic. You're listening to our RS Pro-2096 digi-scanner picking up all of the action. Let us know what you think of it, where you use it, how it sounds, and if we should keep it up. The feed uses Lab hardware that will only continue to be available if you folks let us know that it's worth while. Use any of the available links to drop us a line or two, or post a comment here by clicking the "comments" link at the end of this post.

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon.
Catch up with you at the next post.

Scanners hear it first!

02 April 2005

Eight Days a Week or just DST?

Finally getting a chance to post an update in here. This past week was a whirlwind coming out of the Easter weekend. Never seems to be enough time to get it all accomplished. My weekly "things to do list" works like the lottery jackpot..... if all the items don't get done, they 'roll over' into the next week. Looking at the length of this week's list, we need a winner real soon. As Queen Wanda would say, "Git 'er done!"

Solid sog predicted for this weekend. Weather radar just a massive green blob. (Check the NKNOC Weather Center for an update). Kinda puts a quash on anyone's plan for pulling a 'George Hamilton' out on the back deck. Been raining slow & steady since last night. Reminds me of one of my favorite blues standards.... " The Sky is Cryin' " by Elmore James. Maybe crying for Pope John Paul II? 1000's in St. Peter's Square are.

This is the weekend for adusting the clocks ahead to DST (Daylight Saving Time), for those who live in places that do such a thing. Here are a few facts about DST:

Daylight Saving Time begins for most of the United States at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April. Time reverts to standard time at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. In the U.S., each time zone switches at a different time. During DST, clocks are turned forward an hour, effectively moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening.

The official spelling is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight SavingS Time.
Saving is used here as a verbal adjective (a participle). It modifies time and tells us more about its nature; namely, that it is characterized by the activity of saving daylight. It is a saving daylight kind of time. Similar examples would be dog walking time or book reading time. Since saving is a verb describing a single type of activity, the form is singular.

Nevertheless, many people feel the word savings (with an 's') flows more mellifluously off the tongue, and Daylight Savings Time is also in common usage, and can be found in dictionaries.
Part of the confusion is because the phrase Daylight Saving Time is inaccurate, since no daylight is actually saved. Daylight Shifting Time would be better, but it is not as politically desirable. the British Time (Extra Daylight) Bill was introduced by John Butterfill, attempting the impossible -- to legislate extra daylight. Not surprisingly, the bill did not pass.

In the U.S., clocks change at 2 am local time. In Spring, clocks spring forward from 1:59 am to 3 am; in Fall, clocks fall back from 1:59 am to 1 am. In the EU, clocks change at 1 am Universal Time. In Spring, clocks spring forward from 12:59 am to 2 am; in Fall, clocks fall back from 1:59 am to 1 am. Nationwide, U.S. restaurants and bars have varied closing policies. In many states, liquor cannot be served after 2 a.m. But at 2 a.m. in the Fall, the time switches back one hour. So, can they serve for that additional hour in October? The official answer is that the bars do not close at 2 a.m. but actually at 1:59 a.m. So, they are already closed when the time changes from Daylight Saving Time into Standard Time. In practice however, many establishments stay open an extra hour in the Fall. In the U.S., the changeover time was chosen to be 2 am, when most people are at home and, originally, the time when the fewest trains were running. This is practical and minimizes disruption. It is late enough to minimally affect bars and restaurants, and prevent the day from switching to yesterday (which would be confusing). It is early enough that the entire continental U.S. has switched by daybreak, and the changeover occurs before most early shift workers and early churchgoers (particularly on Easter).

Daylight Saving Time, for the U.S. and its territories, is NOT observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, most of the Eastern Time Zone portion of the State of Indiana, and the state of Arizona (not the Navajo Indian Reservation, which does observe). Navajo Nation participates in the Daylight Saving Time policy, due to its large size and location in three states.

Many fire departments encourage people to change the battery in the smoke detector when they change their clocks, because it can be so easy to forget otherwise. A working smoke detector more than doubles a person's chances of surviving a home fire. More than 90 percent of homes in the United States have smoke detectors, but one-third are estimated to have worn-out or missing batteries!?!

Thanks to www.webexhibits.org for the above info.

Now don't you feel smarter already? Check out the Web Exhibits website for more on DST and many other topics. Trouble here is that the NKNOC Labs has too many clocks to adjust. We always manage to miss one somewhere, and then finally notice that it's off an hour a few weeks later. Our favorite timepiece here is the 'Atomic Clock' powered one up on the wall that sets its own time (every night for that matter, not just twice a year). Thanks to AMSO2 for that. As for presently occurring time... we are currently out of it for this post.

Until next time....