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AllStarLink: Still Learning
Some successes and plenty of opportunities to learn
My foray into the world of AllStarLink remains rather superficial, but I’m finding it very interesting. Like so many things in our hobby of hobbies called Amateur Radio, there is as much depth available as one might wish. A metaphor might be using a spreadsheet program where you can add two plus two or do much more sophisticated things, all with the same tool. It can be as complex as you wish to make it.
What I’m beginning to explore is the idea of a hub on a cloud-based server as a no-radio communication medium for a county-wide amateur radio association. Why no radio? Because some of our local hams are out of the range of our two repeaters. Also, we do not have internet access to the repeater site.
This work has not been blessed by my local ham club. I’m exploring this on my own. If it works, I’m hoping that we’ll discover a contingent of ham radio operators who have not been able to participate in repeater nets. Giving them a way to network might result in more participation in the club, and it might also help those folks feel a bit less isolated.
As I listen to various nets on AllStarLink, I’m struck by how many people depend on this tool to socialize and feel less isolated. There is good sharing of information that can easily cross cultures. Last night, for example, I heard a ham in North Carolina talking with a ham in Sydney, Australia, and then the North Carolina ham’s daughter got on the radio to visit with the gentleman in Australia.
The technology involved with AllStarLink might be out of reach for some of our less technical hams. Connecting an ASL hub to Echolink, thought, would make the onramp to this technology much less onerous. For one, the cost to download and run Echolink is far different than the cost of purchasing or building a Raspberry Pi-based ASL node. Second, Echolink can be very simple to use, especially if you use a laptop that has a built-in microphone and speakers.
Where am I at? I have an ASL node running. I have two Yaesu handheld radios that work with the node. I’m still lurking (i.e., listening in on the conversations) rather than joining them, but this will change as I become more comfortable.
I’ve installed DVSwitch Mobile on my Android smartphone. Once I got it properly configured, I found that I could listen to conversations on ASL with more clarity than through my handheld radios. In fact, using Bluetooth earbuds connected to the phone gave me excellent audio quality. That is an important consideration as we consider use of this system by people who might be experiencing diminished hearing acuity.
Next up: configure my home router to pass ASL traffic to and from my ClearNode device. Once I get that working, I’ll be able to connect to nodes and listen in via my smartphone, even when I’m traveling.
What’s the difference between a cloud-based node instance and having a physical device I can connect to remotely? Very little! If it works with my physical device, there is no reason is shouldn’t work with a cloud-based virtualization of a device.
This post is an update, not an complete explanation. I’m optimistic that once I dive into a virtual node, this will work well enough that we can convince more of our local hams to give it a try. And if that works, we might find enough interest to support connecting something like this to one of our club’s repeaters!
73 de KJ7T