Experimenting with HTML and Javascript development in Adobe AIR

This is a rather long post detailing some of the things I learned this weekend while creating my first “real” Adobe AIR application that joins my love of programming with another hobby that I have enjoyed for several years.

Those of you that know me very well might remember that one of my hobbies is amateur radio. There are many facets to the ham radio hobby and one of them that I’ve been involved with over the last few years combines radios and GPS data into a real-time position reporting system called Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS). To make a long story short, people equipped to use this system have specialized radios in their vehicles that read positional data from GPS units and transmit it out over certain frequencies periodically. Usually, these information packets eventually find their way to a series of servers that forward the data to connected clients for display on whatever mapping system the client has available locally.

This weekend, I spent some time creating an Adobe AIR application written in HTML and Javascript that connects to one of these servers and plots the position reports on a Google map. I haven’t had a chance to do much development with AIR up to now so I thought this would be a good exercise to see if I could create a usable solution.

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ARRL creates and AIR app for generating amateur radio exams

As some of you know, one of my other interests besides programming is amateur radio. I am the “liaison” or team lead between our local group of volunteer examiners (VEs) and the American Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) group responsible for overseeing license testing for the FCC. Part of the responsibility of being team lead is ensuring that we have an adequate supply of written exams for the three different license classes.

In the past, the ARRL has provided us with a Windows-based program to generate exams from the question pool. The program worked well, but each time there were any changes to the question pools (which happens on the 1st of July in 3 out of 5 years), they had to create a new Windows installer package to disseminate to all the VE team leaders. That in of itself was a pain enough, but for those of us who are Mac and/or Linux folks it became a real hassle.

In today’s newsletter to VEs, I noticed that the ARRL had announced a new version of the exam generations software. When I went to download it, I was pleasantly surprised to find an AIR badge to install the program. It’s an HTML-based AIR application but a lot of thought was put into how it functions. It takes advantage of AIR’s built-in database to synchronize its question pools and answer templates with the latest approved versions as well as periodically checks to see if there are any updates to the program itself–all the things that we love about AIR. Oh, and since it’s an AIR app, it obviously runs natively on my Mac!

I’ve been kind of critical of the ARRL in the past in regard to the applications that they offer for use (some are pretty bad). This one however, really fits the bill for what those of us responsible for printing exams need to do on a regular basis. Hopefully, this will be the first of many applications that they develop on the AIR platform.

It’s a Ham Radio Contest Weekend

For the last couple of years, my travel and work schedule have really taken a toll on one of my favorite hobbies. I got my amateur (ham) radio license in 1994 while stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ. Ham radio is kind of like the original geek hobby. Before computers, before cell phones, before video games the techno-geeky crowd congregated around the ham radio hobby.

There’s something pretty special about building a radio from a pile of parts and stringing a couple hundred feet of wire out through some trees and being able to carry on a conversation with people half way across the country or half way around the world. Even though today the vast majority of radios are commercially built and there are as many antenna designs as stars in the sky it seems, the magic of being able to fire up that radio, tune through the frequencies and have the possibility of talking to another ham in a country you’ve never heard before is pretty special.

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