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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Responses to the "better mousetrap"

I received some feedback on my better mousetrap post. One person mentioned three points which might apply:

This is a particularly good set of points. I agree with all of them. They warrant some expansion and elaboration, so here we go.

For the first point: Santa Clara is of particular interest to me, so I built the system with the intention of solving my own problem. I then decided to park it online to see if it might work as a product. I could probably add a bunch of other local cities (and there are quite a few), but so far there's just no interest.

This might be a chicken-and-egg problem in that nobody will care until it's there, but it won't be there until people care. The only data point I can provide to possibly refute that cycle is the existence of the Santa Clara system. It's currently running in free/trial mode for anyone who clicks through and starts playing calls. Even though it's free access, it doesn't attract that much attention.

Basically, it takes a non-trivial amount of resources to add each additional channel to the system. If I'm not going to listen to it and nobody else is, either, there's no reason to burn the CPU time, memory, and disk space on calls which will never be heard.

The idea here is to make it a straight pay-for-play model: you sign up for a period of time and you have access to the service until your paid time expires. The actual service is the call audio and associated metadata provided on the scanner.rachelbythebay.com site.

As for the second point: there is no hardware to buy or special software just for this site. If your existing web browser can play MP3s by way of HTML5 audio or Flash, it should Just Work.

Now, nothing says it couldn't become a hardware product, or a software product, or even both. If someone really wanted me to build them a Linux logging box with a USRP attached and my software running the whole thing, I'm sure we could work something out. Likewise, if someone already had their own USRP or similar receiver and a suitable system attached, perhaps I could turn just the software into the product.

This is where I need to hear from my readers: do you want the ability to snag audio channels from wide swaths of spectrum and turn them into MP3 files on disk? Is capturing activity even if it spans channels and overlaps in time useful or interesting to you? I'm doing all of that right now.

Finally, it's entirely possible that I haven't found the right people yet. It might just be that the set of people who want to use this technology and the set of people who listen to scanner traffic is relatively small -- just me, perhaps?

Maybe the real action is for people who want to monitor and/or log other kinds of traffic. Maybe you want to keep tabs on everything which happens on some local repeaters even when you can't listen in "live". This would let you do that.

December 12, 2011: This post has an update.