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Weather Receivers and Amateur Repeaters...
Information and Legalities
Compiled by Mike Morris WA6ILQ
The contents of this page, like almost every page
here at www.repeater-builder.com, are totally dependent on donations of information.
If anyone has files, scans, PDFs or even just a useful technical trick please consider writing it up and sending it in.
Weather receivers, at least in the USA, monitor one of the seven specific channels for
any emergency notifications. The original frequency was 162.550, then 162.500 and 162.475
were added in the second phase, and four more were added in the third phase.
You will find both of the above tables in use in various documentation but without the headings that say where they came from. The two tables are totally different yet they are both right... so state the frequency instead of the channel number in any communications - especially if you are going to help someone set up a new weather receiver.
March 2010 Update...
A neighbor bought a pair of FRS radios (Motorola MR355s) that have a weather receiver feature, with 11 channels! The radio has the seven listed above, and the additional channels in that radio are:
WX8 161.650 (marine channel 21)
WX9 161.775 (marine channel 83)
WX10 161.750 (marine channel 23)
WX11 162.000 (marine channel 28)
However the NOAA web site, the FCC web site and the Coast Guard web site does not have any mention of additional marine frequencies, either by channel number or by frequency, so those additional "weather channels" may exist only in the mind of some marketing department.
As of mid-2006 there are more than 900 transmitters covering 95% of the population of the USA. Depending on your geographical location you may receive NOAA broadcasts on more than one channel. The one with the best signal at your house or repeater site might not be the one broadcasting information for your local geographical area. You can either monitor both channels for a while and figure out what area each one covers, or you can contact the NWS (a toll-free phone number is listed below) to find out which frequency NOAA is using to broadcast information for your geographical location.
No matter who makes them, the receivers come in three generic types:
Most of the SAME codes (also known as FIPS codes) begin with a zero, which means the code represents an entire county or other geographical area. The NWS has plans to subdivide some large counties. When this happens, each subdivision will be assigned a digit from 1-9, resulting in codes such as 1nnnnn, 2nnnnn, and so on. If you are close to a county or parish line, you might want to obtain the codes for the nearby counties or parishes and include them in your receiver programming. To obtain FIPS codes visit the geographic FIPS code page listed below or call the NWS toll free at 1-888-NWR-SAME (1-888-697-7263).
Web pages with information on SAME:
In the United States, the NWS broadcasts a test alert every week on Wednesday. To find out the specific test schedule in your area, contact your local NOAA or NWS office. These offices are usually listed in the telephone book under "US Government, Department of Commerce". The weather radio transmitter system is operated by the National Weather Service which is a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; both are branches of the US Commerce Department.
There is a Wikipedia page on NOAA Weather Radio that describes the services that are offered, has a lot of other good info, plus links to other pages.
Over 100 of the NOAA transmitters are listenable via the internet. All are provided by private individuals streaming a recever. At the time of this writing a listing of them is at the Weather Underground web site at http://www.wunderground.com/wxradio/index.html.
The actual SAME coded broadcast message includes a digital burst at the front of the message that includes the FIPS codes for the affected area, plus a message type (weather warning, weather alert, 911 outage, AMBER alert, etc). The voice message follows, and the message ends with a second digital burst that included an End Of Message (EOM) signal. The Midland WR-series SAME receivers and some of the Reecoms all seem to have one design flaw: They ignore the EOM code and instead use a timer. A watch or warning code comes in, they unmute, they talk for a while then a timer times out and they re-mute. The timeout period is not user-adjustable and the unit could re-mute during a long message, or during a second message if two messages arrived back-to-back. These units are sold despite the fact that the auto-shutoff timer is not and never was part of the specification - SAME receivers are supposed to talk until they receive an EOM code (End Of Message) or the user presses a button (usually labeled "Mute" or "Reset"). Most of the Radio Shack brand receivers have a functioning EOM circuit - why can't the Midlands?
I have no information on the First Alert, Oregon Scientific units so I cannot say if they use the EOM code or a timer.
Note that three of the Oregon Scientific units have been recalled. They are the "All Hazards Portable Weather Alert Radio WR103NX", the "Portable Public Alert Radio WR108", and the "Public Alert Weather Station WRB308". The unit they built for John Deere has also been recalled - the "John Deere Public Alert Weather Station WRB308J". All were sold at some electronics and sporting goods stores, online retailers and in catalogs from December 2005 through June 2007. See this recall notice at the CPSC web site.
If you are going to buy a brand new weather receiver for a repeater project look
for one with a "Public Alert" or "NOAA All Hazard Weather Radio" logo. The Public Alert
Standard (CEA-2009) was developed by the Consumer Electronics Association in conjunction
with the National Weather Service. Devices carrying the "Public Alert" or "All Hazard"
logo meet certain technical standards and come with hardware to decode additional
Some Notes on Repeater Controller Connections and Programming
If you decide to connect a SAME receiver or a 1050 Hz alert tone recever to your amateur radio repeater system you will have to make some decisions on the interfacing and on the programming of the repeater controller. No matter what brand of receiver you end up using, when you program your controller you will want to implement three basic "modes" for the weather recever function - Off, Active but muted, and Listen.
The 1050 Hz decoder-based receivers:
2) Automatic mode
3) Listen (force the audio on)
Note that the 1050hz decoder receivers do not have an "end of message" signal. You will need to set up a "Reset" pulse function on your controller that drives a reed relay so that you can wire the contacts of the relay acoss the the reset button on the weather receiver. It might be good to have a timer function as a backup to this to automatically put the repeater back in normal mode.
The SAME decoder-based receivers:
2) Automatic mode
3) Listen (force the audio on)
Plus two on/off fuctions: A) Enable/Disable Weather Watch
B) Enable/Disable Weather Warning
Depending on your local situation you may chose to:
a) Ignore the Warning signal
b) Interface the Warning and Watch signals separately to the repeater controller (so you can distinguish between them), or
c) Parallel the Watch and Warning signals and have one signal going to your repeater controller.
It does not matter if you use a 1050hz or a SAME receiver, in either case the
first command shuts it off and locks it out - the weather receiver just isn't there.
The second command it your normal mode. The third command forces the audio on, maybe for a maximum of N minutes (your choice, mine is 20 minutes... I do not have a "forever" mode... if I drive out of range, or my handheld battery dies or otherwise lose control, the system eventually puts itself back to normal).
The on/off commands affect the automatic mode, and I use two, since I interfaced the Watch and Warning signals separately. In my case when either one trips the system is actively repeating the weather receiver info until the EOM signal comes in or a backup timer times out and re-mutes the receiver audio. I really suggest that you have a backup timer - some folks use a 3 minute timer (figuring that is the maximum any message will be, others use something like 20 minutes or so.
As mentioned below the major legal key is that the control operator has to specifically
and deliberately enable the weather receiver and at that point he takes responsibility.
To cover your leagal posterior you should:
(a) Have the power-up defaults on the controller's program switch the Weather receiver manually off, thereby requiring the control op to manually and consciously re-enable it after every controller reset or power-cycling, and
(b) Have the controller programming force an ID after the alert or warning message ends.
Note also that if you have control ability on a frequency below 220 Mhz then per the FCC rules you need to have a supervsory control mechanism on a frequency above 220mhz, or via telephone, or in person.
Weather Receiver Rebroadcasts and the Legal Questions
Note that the material below is valid only in the USA and in those territories or on those military bases where the FCC rules are in force.
As I created this page I decided to settle once and for all the question about automatic retransmission of NOAA weather alerts, a topic that shows up on mailing lists now and then (see the historical note below).
I knew what I remembered.... In 1999 I was at an ARRL convention where Mr. Riley Hollingsworth W4ZDH, Special Counsel of the FCCs Enforcement Bureau spoke in a tech session, and in the Q&A session afterwards the following was asked (this is my paraphrasing from my memory of the event... I didn't have a notebook or a tape recorder with me):
Q: "Let's say that we connect a NOAA SAME receiver to the repeater controller in such a way that if a Weather Warning or Weather Alert comes in the controller keys up the repeater transmitter and the Alert or Warning audio is rebroadcast as it comes in, not recorded and rebroadcast. Is that legal? And if the NOAA Transmitter Identification comes along during the rebroadcast with its call letters... could that be considered a false ID on our part?"
Mr Hollingsworth replied that rebroadcasting NOAA was legal as long as:
Another question was what services can be rebroadcast? The answer was only NOAA Weather, WWV (or WWVH) time and propagation and NASA shuttle communications.
Well, verbally related memories do not have as much believeability as a writeup with facts that can be verified.... I wanted something citable here other than my own memory. From previous emailed and telephone call discussions I knew that Riley Hollingsworth at the FCC works with Dan Henderson N1ND, "ARRL Regulatory Information Specialist" and forwards all frequently asked regulatory emailed questions to him. I emailed Dan and he confirmed everything that I remembered from Riley's talk plus he added (my paraphrasing):
Dan closed that paragraph of his email with the following point:
"Your system can be configured to automatically rebroadcast the alert when it is sounded and be within the rules, again, provided that there is a control operator on frequency monitoring and able to terminate it if needed."
As to what can be rebroadcast, Dan directed me to Part 97.113(e) which reads:
"No station shall retransmit programs or signals emanating from any type of radio station other than an amateur station, except propagation and weather forecast information intended for use by the general public and originated from United States Government stations and communications, including incidental music, originating on United States Government frequencies between a space shuttle and its associated Earth stations."It should be obvious that the first part of that section should be read as "No licensed amateur radio station shall retransmit"...
That section is why you cannot use an alert from the local TV station, radio station or your Davis (or other brand) personal weather station. It is also the section that describes the one situation where an amateur station can transmit music - when it's a shuttle rebroadcast.
Now please note the next section of Part 97.113(e):
"Prior approval for shuttle retransmissions must be obtained from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Such retransmissions must be for the exclusive use of amateur operators."
There are too many amateur systems that want to carry the shuttle audio, and NASA does not have the personnel to give individual approval to each and every amateur repeater on each and every shuttle flight, so they use the League to dissemminate the notification of approval. I've seen such notifications in either the ARRL Letter or the ARRL Bulletins and occasionally in QST. The Letter and Bulletin are only two of several free email newsletters that the league makes available to its members on all sorts of topics. I get both and I forget which one I've seen the approvals in. If you are a League member you can sign up for the newsletters on the members side of http://www.arrl.org.
Note that there are shuttle missions where the permission is specifically NOT granted (usually something having to do with a military mission, usually satelite servicing). So DO NOT assume that you can rebroadcast every shuttle mission. If you have a question, have a member of your club that is also an ARRL member email the League for clarification before you rebroadcast the audio from that particular shuttle mission. And with Chris Huber N6ICW feeding broadcast quality audio to IRLP reflector 9877 on every legal-to-rebroadcast shuttle flight anyone that has an IRLP node on their repeater and wants to rebroadcast the shuttle can do so easily. Just connect to 9877 and sit back...
Part 97.113(e) ends with:
"Propagation, weather forecasts, and shuttle retransmissions may not be conducted on a regular basis, but only occasionally, as an incident of normal amateur radio communications."
So barring an answer directly from Riley, above are the rules that the automated NOAA Weather radio setup has to live by....
Note that all of the above is relevant to WWV retransmissions as well as weather. Yes, there are repeaters that have WWV receivers, and DTMF functions that cause them to retransmit 90 seconds (or so) of WWV audio. Back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that was the only way that you could get a time check...
A historical note, and a caution on communications
with the FCC:
In July 2007 I was cleaning house and stumbled across an old backup tape that had been pushed to the back of a shelf and forgotten (at one point I was using 2gb SCSI streamer tape cartridges as my primary backup media). I still had one of the drives, so I hooked it up and looked at the contents of the tape; it was about three years of my old email archives. I had just upgraded my main computer system with a new, huge hard drive (500gb for US$100) so I had the space available... I loaded the tape into my archives directory. One of the emails was applicable to this topic (I've deleted all the names in the comment thread except mine):
> You wrote: > > > From: (name and callsign #1 deleted) > > > > Can anyone tell Me if They use or Know which If any of the > > > > NOAA/SAME radios will automatically Trip the repeater and Give > > > > out the Set Warning for Your area ? Basically I know that Most will > > > > But will anyone of them Automatically Reset ? or just keep going > > > > giving the info over and over, Will be used with an S-Com controller. > > > > From: (name and callsign #2 deleted) > > > I do not believe the rules allow for you to broadcast the weather > > > directly over the Ham bands. > > > > From: (name and callsign #3 deleted) > > Yes and no. > > > > The last time I saw anything where the FCC addressed this sort of > > question, their issue was over the absence of a control operator, > > rather than the actual source of the audio. The answer that the FCC > > gave to the ARRL several years ago was that a repeater could be > > configured where a ham could do something (such as key in a DTMF > > sequence) to cause the repeater to play the NOAA audio but that it > > was illegal to have the repeater trigger itself to do so based on a > > warning having been issued. > > > > One technique that apparently has been accepted is to use the alert > > status (obtainable from some weather radios) to control the IDer so > > the repeater ID's differently depending on whether or not there is a > > weather warning in effect. This works pretty well with a repeater > > controller with a synthesized voice IDer, but it still doesn't tell > > you what the weather warning is about -- and it doesn't provide an > > immediate indication of the warning but only whenever the IDer sends > > out its next ID. > > > > The primary legal problem with an automatic weather warning > > announcement is apparently the same as the problem with reverse > > autopatch -- the FCC does not want an amateur station that will > > transmit without a licensed ham doing something to make that happen. > > > > 73 de (deleted) > > de WA6ILQ: I may have a solution. This posting is long, but I ask > that you read it all. > > At the ARRL South-Western Division convention in 1999 the dinner > speaker was FCC's Riley Hollingsworth. After the dinner several folks > walked up to ask questions. The person in front of me asked > basically the question this comment thread is leading to, and > that is "How can we have an automatic announcement on our > open 2m repeater of SAME encoded weather alerts?", and if I > remember the answer correctly, the discussion ended with the > understanding that there needs to be a on/off command that a > control operator can enable that allows it to happen, and that > the repeating of a SAME message can be disabled if need be. > The FCC doesn't regulate receivers, it regulates emitters. What > the FCC is afraid of is a spurious emitter that can't be turned > off. > Note: I AM NOT QUOTING RILEY above. I am repeating what I > understood his response to be. > > Couple the above with the story I related a while back about a 220 MHz > repeater receiver preamp that was oscillating and trashing an 800mhz > commercial land mobile trunked system (while still behaving perfectly > at 220 MHz) and you see the need for the ability to remotely > disable all sources of emission. I have built several systems and > after the preamp incident I implemented "suicide" commands on all my > systems - if that command is triggered, you have to go to the site to > re-enable the system, because in essence a little hand comes out of > the rack and pulls the power plug out of the wall outlet, killing the > AC power to everything including the control receiver and the controller. > I guarantee that if you trigger one of my "suicide" commands any > electrically powered emitter that I am responsible for will be killed. > And that I will have to make a hill trip to re-enable the power to > put that system back on the air. And that includes the site that is only > accessible by helicopter between first snowfall and mid-April (sometimes > as late as mid-May). > > So I would venture that you could satisfy the FCC and get the > automatic announcement you want by having three modes of > control: > 1) weather receiver off (the power-up default) > 2) weather receiver on (i.e. play the weather audio until switched off) > 3) weather receiver automatic (i.e. muted until the SAME trigger code > is received, then it plays until muted again, either automatically, > or manually) > > When it's off it isn't there, when it's on it's actively repeating > the weather receiver info (which is specifically legal, as is WWV, > in the FCC rules) on a mix basis (i.e. the weather receiver audio > is mixed with the repeater receiver). The key is that the control > operator has to specifically enable the weather receiver. You would > have the power-up defaults on the controller's program switch the > Weather receiver manually off, and the control op has to manually > and consciously re-enable it after every controller power-cycling. > > So a weather alert comes in, you hear it, and when the end-of-message > (EOM) code comes in the weather receiver audio goes away (with a timer > backup of N minutes to auto-shutoff). And all this happens because the > control operator specifically and deliberately allowed it to happen and > thereby takes responsibility. > > Physically you can connect the audio mute line of the weather receiver to > a digital input of the controller. A second connection ties a digital output > of the controller to a reed relay and the relay contacts are wired across > the reset button on the weather receiver. > Then program your controller so that when the digital input is activated > the system repeats the weather receiver audio for as long as the audio > mute line in the weather receiver is active, with a backup timer that > pulses that digital output line after N number of minutes to force the > receiver to shut up (occasionally the EOM code doesn't make it > through...). > > Having a weather receiver on your repeater is no different than having a > 440 repeater and a 2m repeater hooked to separate ports of a 2-port > controller. You can run the repeaters separately, or tied together. If > they are tied together, and the 2m repeater is idle, the 440 transmitter > isn't affected. But if the 440 repeater is monitoring the 2m repeater, > and the 2m receiver squelch opens up, you hear them on 440. A control op > has actively allowed the 2m audio to be heard on the 440 repeater. In > both cases - in the weather receiver and in the dual repeater - the > second receiver is muted but being monitored. > > Two side notes... > > First, the amateur radio rules are different in other countries. > Some things you can do in the USA will get you jailed elsewhere. > Before you implement an automatic weather receiver on your repeater > make sure it's legal in the political jurisdiction where you live. > > Second, please note that the USA FCC rules for ham radio are written > very, very differently than any other portion of the FCC's rules. In > fact, amateur radio, part 97, could have been written by a different > person (or team). > > In broadcast, land mobile (i.e. commercial / business 2-way), GMRS, > marine radio, forestry, aircraft, paging, public safety (police, > fire, etc) and all the other services their rules are written in > the format of "you can do X, you can do Y, you can do Z", and that's it. > The FCC has to be petitioned for permission to do anything else. > > As an example, a number of years ago when police mobile data > terminals were being developed it took a Special Temporary > Authorization (STA) and then a deliberate Rules change to > allow mobile digital data over the public safety airwaves. > At that point in time the amateur radio operators (and later > the military) had been running radio-teletype (i.e. digital > data) over the air for over 25 years. > > On the other hand the amateur rules are written in the reverse > format of "you can't do A, you can't do B, you can't do C". And > the amateur rules - part 97 - is the ONLY section of the FCC > rules that is written that way. > NO PETITION IS REQUIRED for permission to do anything else. > > In other words the hams can do D, E, F, G, H, etc. without asking > and we can't afford to lose this privilege. This is how innovation > happens - like RTTY, FSTV (ATV), SSTV, packet, PSK, AX.25, APRS, IRLP, etc. > Rule change petitions are required only if the hams want changes > to A, B or C. > > Now couple this with the advice that I was given in many, many years ago > whenI talked about building an in-band 2m remote base at the radio club > after-meeting pizza party. My plans were to request the lowest frequency > pair in the then-new 144-145 MHz repeater band and set up an in-band > frequency agile remote base that would talk into any of the local 146-147 MHz > repeaters. After I got several different contradictory responses I > commented that I'd just write a letter and ask the FCC. I won't name his > name because I don't have his permission to do so, but a local old-time > ham radio FM guru who was there and had LOTS of professional interaction > with the FCC just said one sentence, then graciously explained why. > > The words were "Don't even (expletive deleted) THINK about it". > As in don't make that (expletive deleted) phone call, don't write > that (expletive deleted) letter. Just build your wondertoy and use > it - but do it carefully, and cleanly (as in spectrally clean), and > make sure that you have your technical and legal arguments worked > out well in advance. Make sure that you aren't doing the A, B, or C > that the FCC forbids amateurs to do. If the FCC does't like your > brand new wondertoy or it's effects or emmissions they will send a > certified and return-receipt-requested cease-and-desist letter telling > you to stop doing it. At that point you stop doing it and send a > registered and certified and return-receipt-requested letter back > the next day (call in sick to work if you have to). In that letter > you say "I received your letter on date (X) and at time (Y) > and at time (Y+5 minutes) I shut off the offending transmitter and I am sorry, > I didn't realize it was illegal and my thinking was (yadda yadda yadda) > and (yadda yadda yadda) and (yadda yadda yadda) and how can we resolve this?". > (and you thought that those creative writing classes in college and > university were a waste of time...) > > The FCC will be receptive to that attitude, and you can write back and > forth and it will be resolved. If you have your arguments well prepared, > if they are technically reasonable, cogently explained without rancor > and you can prove that you had clean equipment and didn't do A, B > or C then you have a good chance on winning your case, thereby allowing > a new use of the spectrum for all licensed amateur radio operators. > > On the other hand, if you ask in advance some low level FCC flunkie > will be told to send you a letter that covers everybody's ass by saying > DON'T - because every other part of the FCC rules that they deal with > every day is full of Thou Shalt Nots, and their day-to-day mindset is > such that they can't comprehend anything else. > > I repeat - the amateur radio service is the only one where the > rules say "You can't do A, B or C and you CAN do anything else". The > average FCC flunkie that spends their whole career handling broadcast, > land mobile, public safety, aircraft, forestry, business, public safety, > pagers or cellphones totally forgets that. > > But from then on that "DON'T" letter becomes official policy and can be > referred to in future cases - something that anybody else at the FCC can > point to from the time that said flunkie wrote that letter onwards. And > only because you just had to ask all hams lose one more privilege. > > Bill Pasternak WA6ITF runs Westlink, the Amateur Radio News organization. > Due to that, he has interaction with the FCC and other agenices on a regular > basis. For his take on this situation, I suggest you go to the archives of > the "repeater" mailing list, and look at his posting of 14-Feb-2002 at > 12:50pm titled "Re: [REPEATER] ILINK 2M Phonepatch & FCC". > The discussion thread there was about the legality of iLink (a predecessor > to IRLP), and Bill used all caps deliberately when he said: > "DON'T ASK THE FCC WHAT IT THINKS ABOUT INTERNET > REPEATER LINKING BECAUSE THEY WILL GIVE YOU 10,000+ > REASONS THAT YOU SHOULD NOT DO IT AND THEN BAN IT. > JUST DO IT AND HAVE FUN!!!!!!" > > Mike WA6ILQ
The topic of the legality of weather alert receivers tied into ham
radio repeaters is not new.
In another mailing list posting on 04-Sept-2004 Bill said:
> I am of the Art Gentry W6MEP, school of repeaters. Until I receive the
> citation in the mail it is not illegal. Thats the only reason that any
> amateur radio repeaters exist today. If Art had waited for FCC permission
> we would all still be on 6 meter AM with Polycomms and Saturn 6 Halo antennas
> fighting spark plug noise!
The phrase "If Art had waited for FCC permission" above refers to when Art was building the K6MYK repeater in 1956. See the QST profile of Art K6MYK from the March 2004 issue. It's worth reading to learn how we got to where we are today. Art passed away on May 10, 1996. If you are out and about on a May tenth, stop into your favorite watering hole and hoist a pint in memory of Art.
After reading this page a ham emailed repeater-builder with a
"Be careful what you ask for" observation concerning FCC communications...
Back in the days of every amateur license requiring demonstrated proficiency with Morse code and CW the FCC had a waiver process. He wrote: "It's things like this that make me shudder every time hams want to run to the FCC to solve problems in the ham bands. Think of all the hams that kept complaining to the FCC about perceived abuses of the old 13- and 20-wpm morse code waivers for applicants with disabilities. The FCC response was to drop all code testing to 5 wpm, and ultimately, dropping it altogether."
USN Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (09-Dec-1906 to 01-Jan-1992) is one
of the most important people in the history of computers. In 1952 she
invented the compiler, a process of converting an english-like language
with a specific syntax into computer binary code, which makes her the
Mother of all computer languages higher than assembly code.
She was profiled twice on the TV show "60 Minutes", once in March of 1983, and the second on 24 August 1986 (the first person to be profiled more than once), and those segments are VERY much worth watching (I'd love to get a DVD of either or both of them). A few sayings that are credited to her:
"Humans are allergic to change. "We've always done it that way" is not a good reason to continue to do so." I try to fight that. That's why I have a clock on my wall that runs backwards. It forces visitors to think. They hate me for that."
"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for. Sail out to sea and do new things."
"I believe in having an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out."
"You manage things, you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership. It might help if we ran the MBAs out of Washington."
"If you do something once, people will call it an accident. If you do it twice, they call it a coincidence. But do it a third time and you've just proven a natural law !"
And the most well known one: "It is frequently easier to get forgiveness than permission".
See the Wikipedia profile of "Amazing Grace". Again, it's worth reading to learn how we got to where we are today.
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This page initially created 14-Oct-2004.
This web page, this web site, the information presented in and on its pages and in these modifications and conversions is © Copyrighted 1995 and (date of last update) by Kevin Custer W3KKC and multiple originating authors. All Rights Reserved, including that of paper and web publication elsewhere.