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POTA Enthusiasts: POTAXXIA May Be Right For You

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The post POTA Enthusiasts: POTAXXIA May Be Right For You appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Ham Radio Gamification

Setting operating goals has been useful for me in ham radio. They often provided a reason or incentive for me to get on the air and make some contacts. I followed the typical award sequence of Worked All States (WAS), Worked All Continents (WAC), DX Century Club (DXCC), and so forth. I wrote about it here: Pursue Radio Operating Goals.

Gamification

Over time, I’ve come to realize that some amateur radio activities include the elements of gamification. Gamification is a hot topic in user interface design, online learning, and other computer-based systems. The basic idea is to incorporate gaming techniques into activities to increase user engagement. From Wikipedia:

Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play.

Gamification commonly uses these elements (also from Wikipedia):

Game design elements are the basic building blocks of gamification applications. Among these typical game design elements, are points, badges, leader-boards, performance graphs, meaningful stories, avatars, and teammates.

This article discusses some of the principles involved and Dennis/AD6DM wrote this piece on the topic: The Gamification of Ham Radio.

Summits On The Air

I first became aware of this topic after I became involved in Summits On The Air (SOTA). Before SOTA was a thing, I was often found on the top of some summit making radio contacts. So when SOTA was established in Colorado (W0C), I thought “this is interesting but I am already doing it.” It did strike my fancy enough that I started submitting logs into the SOTA database. Oh, guess what, many of my mountaintop operations were the first activation for SOTA. How about that? I am the first. I win. I have bragging rights, or something.

Soon I was accumulating SOTA activator and chaser points. My first objective was to qualify for the 100-point activator certificate. (SOTA has many certificates and awards.) Achieving 100 points took me about 15 activations, so it is not too difficult but does represent an accomplishment. It did not take very long to do this and soon I was focused on 1000 points for the coveted Mountain Goat award. That goal took several years to complete, but I got it done. I decided to only use the VHF/UHF bands for the Mountain Goat award, so that was my little personal twist on that accomplishment.

We can clearly see that the SOTA program has these elements of gamification: points, badges (certificates/awards), and leaderboards. For me, the leaderboard is the Activator Role of Honour, with the Colorado (W0C) Association selected:

At the moment, I am #12 on the list. I do not aspire to be at the top of the list but I do want to be on the list, somewhere above the 1000 mark. I also like to see how my fellow W0C SOTA activators have been doing. For example, it has been fun to watch Szymon/WV0X go from zero activator points to over 1800 in a short period of time. Also, Gary/W0MNA and Martha/W0ERI are a couple from Kansas (no SOTA summits in the state) that have both made it to Mountain Goat. Not an easy accomplishment. It is cool to see that we have 19 Mountain Goats in the association and more on their way. Pretty good!

SOTA does not specifically have any teams formed as part of the program but the camaraderie of W0C is essentially a team. We share information about various summits and encourage each other when new goals are achieved. Sometimes groups of activators get together for a joint activation. (Most areas that have significant SOTA activity also have this community/team effect.)

Parks On The Air

Recently, I have become involved with Parks On The Air (POTA), which also has gamification built into it. POTA has the advantage of parks being virtually everywhere. (Unlike SOTA summits, Kansas has parks to activate.) As Joyce/K0JJW and I have traveled around the country, POTA has been a satisfying activity to include in our plans.

POTA has many different award schemes, too many to mention here. I pulled up my awards page to see what I have qualified for:

The objective I have set for POTA is to activate all the parks in Colorado. I want to visit them anyway, so this is a good opportunity to blend ham radio with our travel plans. There are 187 POTA parks in Colorado, so this is going to take a while to complete.

Implications

Gamification can be used to make ham radio activity more fun and to more fully engage the participants. Traditional radio contesting is clearly a competition and has the elements of keeping score, having leaderboards (after the contest) and having teammates. However, most contests provide painfully slow feedback. The official results may not be posted until 6 months later. (The 3830 Scores website was created to bypass this delay by sharing scores immediately.) Contesting is obviously a game, so where’s the gamification?

Perhaps your radio club (or just your group of ham friends) can use gamification to have fun. You could leverage programs like SOTA and POTA to create a club activity. Pursue a club goal (activate 50 parks or summits this year), a friendly competition, whatever. POTA lets you activate with a club call while still providing credit for the operator, so that opens up some possibilities.

If you are getting stale in your ham radio operating, perhaps one of these gamified programs would be good motivation for you. It could be SOTA or POTA (both include chasing, so you can do it from home), or maybe some other program out there.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73 Bob K0NR

 

The post Ham Radio Gamification appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

What Do VHF and UHF Mean?

Recently, I engaged in a discussion about a UHF (Ultra High Frequency) radio. It seems a ham was complaining that someone had advertised an 800 MHz radio, describing it as “UHF”. His issue was that in land mobile radio, UHF is commonly used to refer to radios in the 380 to 500-ish MHz range. I disagreed with him, saying that 800 MHz is in the UHF range I was using the ITU definition of UHF, which is any frequency between 300 MHz to 3 GHz. The disagreement was not a big deal but it did cause some confusion. (Of course, I was right and he was wrong, most definitely.)

This got me thinking about how we toss around these terms quite loosely, even though they have precise definitions. Let’s start with the basics, the ITU definitions of radio spectrum.

LFLow Frequency30 to 300 kHz
MFMedium Frequency300 kHz to 3 MHz
HFHigh Frequency3 MHz to 30 MHz
VHFVery High Frequency30 MHz to 300 MHz
UHFUltra High Frequency300 MHz to 3 GHz
SHFSuper High Frequency3 GHz to 30 GHz

You can see that the basic scheme divides up the spectrum into decades (factors of ten), aligned with frequencies that start with 3 (e.g., 3 MHz, 30 MHz, 300 MHz). If we map the amateur bands onto this system, we see that the bands from 80m (3.5 to 4.0 MHz) through 10m (28-29.7 MHz) fall into the HF range, as expected. Note that 10m almost qualifies as a VHF band, coming in just shy of the 30 MHz limit. That band does have some VHF tendencies. The 160m band (1.8 to 2.0 MHz) actually falls into the MF range even though many of us just think of it as HF.

Let’s take a look at how the US amateur bands line up with this scheme.

Amateur bands within HF, VHF, and UHF ranges. (Some omissions for legibility: 60m, 17m, 12m HF bands.) Graphic: HamRadioSchool.com

There are three VHF bands: 6m (50 to 54 MHz), 2m (144 to 148 MHz) and 1.25m (222 to 225 MHz). The UHF range includes the 70 cm (420 to 450 MHz), 33 cm (902 to 928 MHz), 23 cm (1240 to 1300 MHz), and 13 cm (2300 to 2450 MHz) bands.

The two most commonly used bands in the VHF/UHF region are 2m and 70cm. These bands are home for many FM repeaters, FM simplex, SSB simplex, and plenty of other modes. Common dualband transceivers, both mobile and handheld, operate on the 2m and 70cm bands. These radios are so common that we often refer to them as VHF/UHF dualband radios. Accordingly, you will often hear hams refer to the 2m band as simply VHF and the 70cm band as UHF, as if VHF means 2 meters and UHF means 70 cm. I know I’ve been guilty of saying “let’s switch over to VHF” when I really mean “let’s go to the 2m band.” The 2m band is certainly VHF but VHF does not always mean 2 meters. Similarly, we might say “I’ll call you on the UHF repeater” when it would be more precise to say “I’ll call you on 440 MHz.”

Many times being loose with terminology doesn’t matter but there are times when using the right words can make a difference. Think about this the next time you are referring to a particular frequency band.

73 Bob K0NR

The post What Do VHF and UHF Mean? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3

Last year, Joyce/K0JJW and I tried to activate Red Mountain Number 3 (W0C/UR-016) for SOTA in the San Juan mountains. The map showed there was a road to the top, so we were expecting easy access. However, the road is gated off about 2 miles from the summit, requiring a hike. So we hiked almost to the summit but turned back when the thunderstorms rolled in. We retreated to safety and vowed to return another day.

Red Mountain Number 3 as viewed from Red Mountain Pass.

This week, we went back and activated the summit, along with Stu/W0STU and Liz/KT0LIZ. Red Mountain No. 3 sits just southwest of its sister summits: Red Mountain No.1 and Red Mountain No. 2. (Red Mtn 1 is also a SOTA summit, so we’ll need to activate that one sometime.)

We accessed Red Mountain 3 (RM3) by taking Highway 550 to Red Mountain Pass. The road for RM3 is County Road 14 but is not well marked. The turnoff (shown on the map above) is just south of Red Mtn Pass, going to the east (37.89587, -107.71369). County Road 14 is a narrow but easy road, barely 4WD, that leads to the gate (37.89476, -107.70774). We parked there and hiked up the road.

Sign on the gate that welcomes hikers, skiers, and cyclists.

I don’t usually like to hike on roads but this one turned out to be just fine. It was a nice, easy grade and was flat without a lot of rocks poking up. My GPS app shows that we hiked 2 miles one-way with 1400 vertical feet. We met about a dozen people on the hike, so this seems like a popular summit. We noted other trails and roads in the area and wondered if some of them might provide a better route but everyone we saw just used the road.

 

As you can see from the photos, we had excellent weather that day. This time, no thunderstorms to chase us off the peak!

Stu/W0STU examines his VHF/UHF handheld, positioning it for optimum signal level.The San Juan mountains are remote, with not a lot of people within VHF range. We were all using just VHF/UHF for SOTA, so I was concerned we could get skunked on making our four SOTA contacts. There are a few smaller towns within range and we might be able to work Grand Junction from there. I knew that Lloyd/W7SAO in Delta usually monitors 146.52 MHz and we worked him right away. After that, we called our fellow campers, James/KD0MFO and Vic/KD0OGE, working them mobile near Ridgway. We kept calling for a fourth contact and sure enough, Mike/KE5YF showed up on 2m FM. Mike is from Sweetwater, TX and was driving his Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) over Engineer Pass. So we made our four contacts to qualify for SOTA points.

Traditional summit photo: Stu/W0STU, Liz/KT0LIZ, Joyce/K0JJW, Bob/K0NR

 

Liz and Joyce are hiking on a typical stretch of the road.
Bob/K0NR operating 2m FM for SOTA. (Photo: W0STU)

The four of us had a great day on the summit. We took our time and enjoyed the hike and the radio operating. The easy access and excellent views from the top make this an attractive SOTA summit if you are traveling in this area.

73 Bob K0NR

The post SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3 appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3

Last year, Joyce/K0JJW and I tried to activate Red Mountain Number 3 (W0C/UR-016) for SOTA in the San Juan mountains. The map showed there was a road to the top, so we were expecting easy access. However, the road is gated off about 2 miles from the summit, requiring a hike. So we hiked almost to the summit but turned back when the thunderstorms rolled in. We retreated to safety and vowed to return another day.

Red Mountain Number 3 as viewed from Red Mountain Pass.

This week, we went back and activated the summit, along with Stu/W0STU and Liz/KT0LIZ. Red Mountain No. 3 sits just southwest of its sister summits: Red Mountain No.1 and Red Mountain No. 2. (Red Mtn 1 is also a SOTA summit, so we’ll need to activate that one sometime.)

We accessed Red Mountain 3 (RM3) by taking Highway 550 to Red Mountain Pass. The road for RM3 is County Road 14 but is not well marked. The turnoff (shown on the map above) is just south of Red Mtn Pass, going to the east (37.89587, -107.71369). County Road 14 is a narrow but easy road, barely 4WD, that leads to the gate (37.89476, -107.70774). We parked there and hiked up the road.

Sign on the gate that welcomes hikers, skiers, and cyclists.

I don’t usually like to hike on roads but this one turned out to be just fine. It was a nice, easy grade and was flat without a lot of rocks poking up. My GPS app shows that we hiked 2 miles one-way with 1400 vertical feet. We met about a dozen people on the hike, so this seems like a popular summit. We noted other trails and roads in the area and wondered if some of them might provide a better route but everyone we saw just used the road.

 

As you can see from the photos, we had excellent weather that day. This time, no thunderstorms to chase us off the peak!

Stu/W0STU examines his VHF/UHF handheld, positioning it for optimum signal level.The San Juan mountains are remote, with not a lot of people within VHF range. We were all using just VHF/UHF for SOTA, so I was concerned we could get skunked on making our four SOTA contacts. There are a few smaller towns within range and we might be able to work Grand Junction from there. I knew that Lloyd/W7SAO in Delta usually monitors 146.52 MHz and we worked him right away. After that, we called our fellow campers, James/KD0MFO and Vic/KD0OGE, working them mobile near Ridgway. We kept calling for a fourth contact and sure enough, Mike/KE5YF showed up on 2m FM. Mike is from Sweetwater, TX and was driving his Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) over Engineer Pass. So we made our four contacts to qualify for SOTA points.

Traditional summit photo: Stu/W0STU, Liz/KT0LIZ, Joyce/K0JJW, Bob/K0NR

 

Liz and Joyce are hiking on a typical stretch of the road.
Bob/K0NR operating 2m FM for SOTA. (Photo: W0STU)

The four of us had a great day on the summit. We took our time and enjoyed the hike and the radio operating. The easy access and excellent views from the top make this an attractive SOTA summit if you are traveling in this area.

73 Bob K0NR

The post SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3 appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Ham Radio School Does Video!

I’ve been teaching ham radio license classes with our local radio club for many years now using the Ham Radio School books, written by my friend Stu Turner (W0STU). We use a fast-paced two-day format that strives for efficient learning…go fast but have the students actually learn something. Towards that end, we were frustrated with the existing license books and online material available: they either just “taught the exam” or overwhelmed the student with too much detail. Stu ended up writing the Technician license book that solves this problem. Is easy to read and covers just enough of the material so that the student actually learns about ham radio.

Now Ham Radio School has moved to the next level, offering an online Technician class based on high-quality video training. Stu is an excellent instructor and very competent at explaining the key concepts, so the videos are easy to watch and digest. Different people have different learning styles, so the Ham Radio School learning system includes the highly successful Technician book, online videos, and an extensive set of support materials on the hamradioschool.com website. Of course, these different elements are integrated together and present the ham radio concepts in a consistent manner.

This is a snapshot from the Ham Radio School website showing the recommended study flow for getting your Technician license.

Stu has developed a video production system that really works, using professional computer graphics tools. The videos are easy to watch, proceeding at a decent pace. If you miss something, you can always back up the presentation and look at it again.

The Ham Radio School videos are professional produced and easy to watch and understand.

You can try out the first four Technician lessons at no charge and then decide if this approach works for you. The entire video course is available for an introductory price of $15.95. (The Ham Radio School book is available for $19.95). Depending on your learning style, you might just want to read the book, view the video class, or do both. Your choice.

73 Bob K0NR

Disclosure: I have contributed content to the Ham Radio School website, provided technical consulting on the General License class book, and have received compensation for this work.

 

The post Ham Radio School Does Video! appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Why is a 14,000 Foot Summit Not Valid for SOTA?

There are over 50 summits in Colorado with an elevation of 14,000 feet or higher. These are commonly called fourteeners (or 14ers) and get a lot of attention from outdoor enthusiasts. Some folks have climbed all of them, which quickly leads to the question of What Is A Fourteener? This question is really about what is a distinct fourteener versus when is a summit just a subpeak of another fourteener. The Colorado Mountain Club list of 14ers shows 54 peaks, while other lists include a few more summits. Doing a search on Lists Of John reveals there are 74 locations in the state that exceed 14,000 feet. What constitutes “the correct list of 14ers” is often debated in the climbing community but I won’t try to sort that out here. I’ll use the Colorado Mountain Club list of 54 summits for this posting.

Summits On The Air (SOTA)

Obviously, if these are the 54 highest summits in Colorado, they are all going to be SOTA summits, right? Not so fast, Sir Edmund. The SOTA program generally requires summits to have 150 meters (492 feet) of prominence, a measure of the elevation of a summit relative to the surrounding terrain. From peaklist.org:

Prominence is the elevation of a summit relative to the highest point to which one must descend before reascending to a higher summit. 

A simple graphical representation of prominence.

There are exceptions in the SOTA program that allow for summits of 100-meter prominence, but this does not apply to Colorado. Paul/VK5PAS has a webpage that explains prominence as applied to SOTA.

In recent history, the folks that set up the SOTA Associations have done a great job of sorting through what is a valid summit. In the US, there are excellent databases of geographic information that make this possible. Which is to say that in a particular SOTA Association, a consistent method is applied for determining “what is a summit”? This is all documented for Colorado in the W0C SOTA ARM here: https://sotastore.blob.core.windows.net/arms/ARM-W0C-3_3.pdf

Lincoln, Bross, Democrat, and Cameron

Now, back to the Colorado 14ers. There is a popular trek that allows a climber to summit four 14ers in one day, without extreme effort. The trail starts at Kite Lake, heads up to Mount Democrat (14155 ft), then over to Mount Cameron (14222 feet), and on to Mount Lincoln (14293 feet). The return trip passes over Mount Bross (14178 feet) and back down to Kite Lake. (There have been access issues in recent years concerning private property on this loop, so be sure to check that out and respect any closures).

Map showing the area around Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross.

If we check out the official list of SOTA summits, we will find Mount Democrat (W0C/SR-059) and Mount Lincoln (W0C/FR-001) listed but not Mount Cameron and Mount Bross. Per Lists of John, Cameron and Bross have prominences of 152 and 315 feet. The col between Lincoln and Cameron, does not drop down enough to provide Cameron with sufficient prominence. Same with the col between Cameron and Bross. Mount Lincoln has the highest elevation of those three summits and wins the honor of being listed as a SOTA summit. Note that Democrat, with the lowest elevation of the four summits, does qualify for the SOTA list due to its 770 feet of prominence. (There is a big enough dip between Democrat and Cameron.)

Now back to the list of 54 Colorado Fourteeners: Mount Cameron is not on the list but it often shows up on other 14er lists. Mount Bross is shown on the list of 54 but is not a SOTA summit. There are seven other Colorado 14ers that don’t qualify for SOTA: Crestone Needle, El Diente Peak, Tabeguache Peak, Sunlight Peak, Ellingwood Point, Little Bear Peak, and North Maroon Peak.

You don’t need to become an expert on calculating prominence to do SOTA activations. Really, the key thing is to check the SOTA list and make sure your intended summit is on the list before you hit the trail.

73 Bob K0NR

The post Why is a 14,000 Foot Summit Not Valid for SOTA? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.


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