A Follow Up (7/26/16)

Today marks the halfway point of ESOC210. As I look back, quite a lot of progress has been made. Reading Hackers by Steven Levy has opened up a whole new world of the hacking culture, one that I had previously not had any prior knowledge about. Watching the documentaries about BBS gave an inside look on how computer networks begun in the 1980s, and the people who were behind the pioneering breakthrough. Discussions with other classmates have helped spark interesting topics to talk about. Most importantly, what I’ve worked on so far with my Micro Pirate Radio Station has given me a taste of what hackers have originally been working on for decades, and it’s been very exciting to work with my first programming related project.

Since I am working with a radio transmitter, it does bring up the issue with possible legal troubles. My transmitter is made to be a low-powered device, with an estimated range of only 100 or so feet. The antenna that is attached to the Raspberry Pi is very small, roughly about 10 or 11 inches. The chances of me getting caught by the Federal Communications Commission are little to none. However, when experimenting on a project like this, you always have to run the risk in case the “what if” actually happens.

This is where the hacker ethic comes in. In basic terms, it a set of beliefs that the original hackers of the early 1980s set up as guidelines for those and future hackers to go by. There are two basic concepts to the hacker ethic. The first one states that “the belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible.”1  The additional one, that is more applicable to my case, states “The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.”2 Many consider this rule to be controversial, especially depending on the situation. For broadcasting a pirate station, that rule definitely comes into play to question if transmitting an unlicensed radio channel is actually considered true piracy.

While broadcasting my micro radio station, I will try not to interfere with any neighboring stations on other channels, so I don’t disrupt other possible listeners with the sound of my audio. To put it into picture, it would be unethical if I decided to broadcast on a the frequency of 99.9 MHz if there’s already a FM radio channel on there. If there are other people relatively close to me listening to that station, they would be interrupted with the sound of my station instead, which would tick off those listeners. When I broadcast from the Raspberry Pi, I will make sure to do so from a lower FM frequency, so I can avoid that issue. In the United States, many low-powered stations such as college radio or even other pirate stations tend to broadcast below 92.0 MHz. I will cooperate with that “rule” so I don’t have any infringement with any other station.

Lastly, my take on the hacker ethic relative to my project is that I don’t believe that I am doing anything seriously unethical. My purpose in creating a micro radio transmitter is to create an alternative to Bluetooth, so I could hear my music from around the house. I’m not breaking or stealing confidential information from anyone. The only very minor thing that could be considered unethical is the fact that the artists won’t get payed from me playing their songs. If I’m transmitting at such a small range, however, will anyone even pay attention to that? My micro pirate radio station is meant to be a harmless project that anybody, regardless of the amount of hacking involvement they have, can do as a learning experience without having to deal with any legal troubles.

Another eye-opening event that came to light when researching for my project is the sense of comradery among the open-source community.  The PiFM hack was originally developed three years ago, and since then, has been modified several times.  In all the subsequent work around the original hack, credit to the original developers was always given.  Moreover, the additional work done to improve the basic PiFM (stereo, RDS, multiple file formats, multiple RPI versions, external audio sources, etc.) was presented to the community with detailed guides and explanations.  In summary, I was very pleased to find a community willing to contribute, and, more importantly, eager to help others.

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