Archive for the ‘ham radio’ Category
Over time, I have written several electrical engineering books (see electronic-measurement.com). These books were written in the dead-trees print model, focused on creating a book that you can hold in your hand. I recently published VHF, Summits and More in both print and ebook editions. This was a learning process for me and I’ve come to understand a bit more about the differences between these formats.
I definitely have a soft spot in my heard for a good-quality printed book. It is just plain satisfying to hold a printed book in your hand and flip through the pages. Moving quickly between pages and chapters is easy; very tactile with immediate feedback. I often look at our bookshelf at home filled with various engineering, ham radio, hiking and travel books. It just feels good knowing I can reach out to any one of them and access useful information.
Last year, we went on a long cruise and I wanted to have plenty of reading material while still traveling light. I did not want to drag along a big pile of books, so I purchased a monochrome (“paperwhite”) Kindle with the promise of long battery life and the ability to read it in bright sunlight. It delivered on both items. And it holds a ton of books (most of them I didn’t have time to read).
It didn’t take long to realize that the monochrome e-readers are optimized for plain text. They do pretty well with text-heavy books such as novels but aren’t very good for technical books that have photos or graphics. I mean, the display is only monochrome (and many of the readers are small.)
While creating my new book, I wasn’t really happy with how my book looked on the monochrome Kindles. It seems that there are some legacy formatting behaviors that cause them to present the text in some interesting ways. Also, the photos and other graphics really didn’t look that great. I was not encouraged and almost tossed the idea of publishing an ebook version.
Then I decided to purchase a Kindle with a color display, the Kindle Fire HD 8 tablet. This device has an 8-inch display and 16 GB of storage, costing $79. I downloaded the mobi file of my book to the Kindle and was immediately impressed with the presentation of the material. The photos and graphics show up in color and look great. Another added feature compared to print, is that the embedded hyperlinks allow easy to access to web-based information.
One thing I had to adjust to was losing some control over how the Kindle displays the book. With a print book, you have absolute control…put each comma, period, character right where you want them and they stay there. On the Kindle, the reader gets to make a lot of decisions: font type, font size, color, line spacing. While the author gets to choose the words and graphics, the final presentation is in the hands of the reader.
Read Kindle on non-Kindle Devices
Amazon has done a fantasic job of supporting the reading of Kindle books on a variety of hardware platforms. You can get a free Kindle reader for both Windows and Mac. Mobile devices are supported, too, with their own readers (iOS and Android). The mobi (Kindle) file format is dominating the ebook market so I don’t have any plans to add other ebook versions.
This book is about having fun with ham radio, primarily on the VHF/UHF bands. It covers the basics of VHF, with practical tips for getting on the air and “messing around with radios.” Topics include FM, SSB, repeaters, equipment, band plans, phonetics, portable operating, Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations and more. This book is a compilation of the best articles from the k0nr.com website plus some brand-new material.
The first section explains VHF/UHF concepts via tutorial articles such as “VHF FM Operating Guide,” “Getting Started on 2m SSB” and “How to Work a VHF Contest.” The second section includes blog posts from the k0nr.com website, such as “Choose Your 2m Frequency Wisely,” “VHF Grid Locators,” “Phonetic Alphabets” and “VHF FM: The Utility Mode.” The final section helps the reader understand mountaintop operating, especially Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, including operating tips and trip reports.
The book is available from Amazon, in paperback and Kindle formats. The normal price for the print version is $22.95, but there is an introductory price of $15.95 through November 18th. The Kindle version is $9.95.
VHF, Summits and More
by Bob Witte, KØNR
The Olivia digital mode on HF radio is a mode capable of two-way chat (QSO) communication (keyboard to keyboard, like RTTY) over long-distance shortwave (HF) ionospheric propagation paths, especially over polar regions.
If you are interested in more than a logbook QSO (such as is typical with FT8 and other propagation-checking modes) but want to chat with other hams around the world using digital modes, consider Olivia as one option.
This video captures a few moments of two-way conversation on the Twenty-Meter band, up in the sub-band where 1000-Hz digital modes are commonplace. More narrow-bandwidth settings are used in a lower subband in the digital slice of Twenty Meters. More details about the mode are in the files section of this website: http://OliviaDigitalMode.org.
In 2005, SP9VRC, Pawel Jalocha, released to the world a mode that he developed starting in 2003 to overcome difficult radio signal propagation conditions on the shortwave (high-frequency, or HF) bands. By difficult, we are talking significant phase distortions and low signal-to-noise ratios (SNR) plus multipath propagation effects. The Olivia-modulated radio signals are decoded even when it is ten to fourteen dB below the noise floor. That means that Olivia is decoded when the amplitude of the noise is slightly over three times that of the digital signal!
Olivia decodes well under other conditions that are a complex mix of atmospheric noise, signal fading (QSB), interference (QRM), polar flutter caused by a radio signal traversing a polar path. Olivia is even capable when the signal is affected by auroral conditions (including the Sporadic-E Auroral Mode, where signals are refracted off of the highly-energized E-region in which the Aurora is active).
Currently, the only other digital modes that match or exceed Olivia in their sensitivity are some of the modes designed by Joe Taylor as implemented in the WSJT programs, including FT8, JT65A, and JT65-HF–each of which are certainly limited in usage and definitely not able to provide true conversation capabilities. Olivia is useful for emergency communications, unlike JT65A or the popular FT8. One other mode is better than Olivia for keyboard-to-keyboard comms under difficult conditions: MT63. Yet, Olivia is a good compromise that delivers a lot. One reason for this is that there are configurations that use much less bandwidth than 1000 Hz. 16 tones in 250 Hz is our common calling-frequency configuration, which we use lower down in the Twenty-Meter band, with a center frequency of 14.0729 MHz.
Q: What’s a ‘CENTER’ Frequency? Is That Where I Set My Radio’s Dial?
For those new to waterfalls: the CENTER frequency is the CENTER of the cursor shown by common software. The cursor is what you use to set the transceiver’s frequency on the waterfall. If your software’s waterfall shows the frequency, then you simply place the cursor so that its center is right on the center frequency listed, above. If your software is set to show OFFSET, then you might, for example, set your radio’s dial frequency to 14.0714, and place the center of your waterfall cursor to 1500 (1500 Hz). That would translate to the 14.0729 CENTER frequency.
The standard Olivia formats (shown as the number of tones/bandwidth in Hz) are 8/250, 8/500, 16/500, 8/1000, 16/1000, and 32/1000. Some even use 16/2000 for series emergency communication. The most commonly-used formats are 16/500, 8/500, and 8/250. However, the 32/1000 and 16/1000 configurations are popular in some areas of the world (Europe) and on certain bands.
These different choices in bandwidth and tone settings can cause some confusion and problems–so many formats and so many other digital modes can make it difficult to figure out which mode you are seeing and hearing. After getting used to the sound and look of Olivia in the waterfall, though, it becomes easier to identify the format when you encounter it. To aid in your detection of what mode is being used, there is a feature of many digital-mode software implementation suites: the RSID. The next video, below, is a demonstration on how to set the Reed-Solomon Identification (RSID) feature in Ham Radio Deluxe’s Digital Master 780 module (HRD DM780).
I encourage ALL operators, using any digital mode such as Olivia, to TURN ON the RSID feature as shown in this example. In Fldigi, the RSID is the TXID and RXID; make sure to check (turn on) each, the TXID and RXID.
Please, make sure you are using the RSID (Reed Solomon Identification – RSID or TXID, RXID) option in your software. RSID transmits a short burst at the start of your transmission which identifies the mode you are using. When it does that, those amateur radio operators also using RSID while listening will be alerted by their software that you are transmitting in the specific mode (Olivia, hopefully), the settings (like 8/250), and where on the waterfall your transmission is located. This might be a popup window and/or text on the receive text panel. When the operator clicks on that, the software moves the waterfall cursor right on top of the signal and changes the mode in the software. This will help you make more contacts!
+ NOTE: The MixW software doesn’t have RSID features. Request it!
Voluntary Olivia Channelization
Since Olivia signals can be decoded even when received signals are extremely weak, (signal to noise ratio of -14db), signals strong enough to be decoded are sometimes below the noise floor and therefore impossible to search for manually. As a result, amateur radio operators have voluntarily decided upon channelization for this mode. This channelization allows even imperceptibly weak signals to be properly tuned for reception and decoding. By common convention amateur stations initiate contacts utilizing 8/250, 16/500, or 32/1000 configuration of the Olivia mode. After negotiating the initial exchange, sometimes one of the operators will suggest switching to other configurations to continue the conversation at more reliable settings, or faster when conditions allow. The following table lists the common center frequencies used in the amateur radio bands.
Olivia (CENTER) Frequencies (kHz) for Calling, Initiating QSOs
It is often best to get on standard calling frequencies with this mode because you can miss a lot of weak signals if you don’t. However, with Olivia activity on the rise AND all the other modes vying for space, a good deal of the time you can operate wherever you can find a clear spot–as close as you can to a standard calling frequency.
Note: some websites publish frequencies in this band, that are right on top of weak-signal JT65, JT9, and FT8 segments. DO NOT QRM weak-signal QSOs!
We (active Olivia community members) suggest 8/250 as the starting settings when calling CQ on the USB frequencies designated as ‘Calling Frequencies.’ A Calling Frequency is a center frequency on which you initially call, ‘CQ CQ CQ. . .’ and then, with the agreement of the answering operator, move to a new nearby frequency, changing the number of tones and bandwidth at your discretion. Even though 8/250 is slow, the CQ call is short. But, it is narrow, to allow room for other QSOs nearby. It is also one of the best possible Olivia configurations for weak-signal decoding.
Mt Herman is the Most Radio Active (SOTA) Mountain in Colorado. I noticed there wasn’t a good writeup with how to hike and activate it, so I wrote this one up: Hiking Mt Herman for SOTA.
I keep an alert on my smartphone for whenever I get spotted on the ham bands. Mostly, this is a way to confirm that I get spotted when activating a SOTA summit. The other day, I was spotted on 20m CW, when I haven’t worked that band/mode in over a decade.
These spots came from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), so I pulled the spot data from RBN for that day (483,362 spots). A little bit of searching revealed there were spots for K0NF on almost the same frequency a few minutes off in time going 37 to 40 wpm. Miss one dit and you get K0NR. Mystery solved.
Last week, I visited the site of the Marconi station on Cape Cod that made the first transatlantic two-way wireless contact. There is not much there…just a stone marker. Yes, I understand Marconi was not real active on VHF.
Legos and Ham Radio
I came across this video of a clever Lego project with a ham radio theme:
ICQ Podcast Interviews the ARRL CEO
This ICQ podcast includes Frank Howell (K4FMH) interveiwing the ARRL CEO and Secretary Howard Michel (WB2ITX), who provides an update from the recent ARRL committee meeting. I like Howard’s style and appreciate his willingness to engage with radio hams.
Regulation By Bandwidth
Dan/KB6NU writes that the ARRL renewed its request to the FCC to replace the symbol rate rule on digital transmissions and move to regulating by bandwidth. On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer thing to do: regulating by symbol rate is archaic and limits the use of new, more efficient modulation techniques. But drill in deeper and you’ll find there are legitimate concerns about protecting narrowband emissions (e.g., CW) and not allowing automated stations to dominate the ham bands. Still, it seems like a reasonable approach can be found. Stay tuned on this one.
73 Bob K0NR
Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) is a popular Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak near Monument, CO. It is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and recently popped onto the worldwide 50 Most Popular Summits. The summit elevation is 9063 feet (2762m) and the grid locator is DM79mb.
Access to the summit is not difficult and most of the locals know how to find it without a problem. However, there are a few things that can trip up a first-time activator.
Most people will get to Monument via I-25, taking the main Monument exit (Exit 161). Go west on 2nd street through the old downtown area, over the railroad tracks to a stop sign at Mitchell Road. Go left (south) on Mitchell Road and then right (west) onto Mount Herman Road (FS 320). Shortly after entering the national forest, you will probably see a sign that says Mt Herman Trailhead. THIS IS NOT THE TRAILHEAD YOU WANT. Keep going on Mt Herman Road.
Mt Herman Road angles left (going south) at the intersection with Red Rocks Drive. At this point, reset or check your odometer as it will help you find the actual Mt Herman Trailhead (see map below). Continue on Mt Herman Road for 2.6 miles, where the trailhead is off to the right as the road curves left.
The condition of Mt Herman Road varies considerably from year to year. Most of the time the road is OK for high-clearance 2WD vehicles. Sometimes it deteriates to easy 4WD. The road and trail are often usable in the winter months but it depends greatly on recent temperatures and snowfall. The road is not maintained in the winter so definitely 4WD required.
The actual trailhead is not that well marked, hence the need to watch the odometer. However, on most summer days, there will be cars parked at the trailhead. Parking is informal, just a gravel area off on the right side of the road.
The trail to the summit is 1.2 miles one-way and 800 feet vertical. Make sure you make the first turn, about 500 feet from the trailhead, that takes you up the mountain. There is another trail that continues straight at this point, which may throw you off. There are a few steep sections where the loose granite marbles can make the trail slippery. Hiking boots with some tread on them are recommended and trekking poles can be helpful, too.
At the summit, there is a fire ring where people sometimes camp out overnight. The hike is popular, so you’ll probably have other people stopping by. There is plenty of room in the activation area, so I set up my radio gear some distance from the actual summit.
Mt Herman is a wonderful hike with great views (even if you don’t want to do a SOTA activation). With a superb radio horizon, it is also first-rate place to make radio contacts.
73 Bob K0NR
As noted in that trip report, we never did find much of a trail so we had to do some serious offtrail bushwacking. Being on the summit was great but bushwacking up was not. Later Walt/W0CP found a much better route using the Davis Meadow Trail. We definitely wanted to try this route and get back on top of that summit.
We approached the Davis Meadow Trailhead from the east via Highways 285 / 24. We took FS 311 from Trout Creek Pass to FS 373, then FS 373A. FS 311 starts out in good condition, passable by high clearance 2WD vehicles. Later it turns into “easy 4WD” but it gets very steep in spots which may be a problem during wet weather. You can also approach from the west side coming up from Buena Vista. Check the San Isabel National Forest map for the complete picture.
Just to the east of the unnamed summit is a natural arch, marked on some maps as Aspen Arch. We’ve hiked up the arch on numerous occasions, often with visitors from out of state. So we’ve started referring to this unnamed SOTA as Aspen Arch, to differentiate it from the other unnamed summits in the area.
The Davis Meadow Trailhead is marked by a sign. Trail 1413 heads north and loops around the north side of SP-089. The trail is well laid out with plenty of switchbacks, much more than indicated on the Trails Illustrated map.
We followed the trail until it looped around the north side of SP-089. Marmot Peak, another SOTA summit (W0C/SP-063), sticks out prominently to the north and is a good landmark to use for navigating. As shown on the map above, we left the trail and bushwacked south up to the summit. I don’t claim that our route was optimal. It was classic offtrail hiking with some areas quite open and others clogged with plenty of downed trees and rocks. (Next time, I think we’ll try to stay a little further east of our recorded track. It looked a little better over there.)
The GPS app on my phone recorded the one-way hike as 2.7 miles and 1100 vertical feet.
We arrrived at the summit around noon and thunderstorms were moving into the area. We both made four quick radio contacts on 2m FM to get the activation points, then headed back down the trail. The summit is exposed and very rocky but once we got off the top, we were hiking in trees with limited lightning danger. Thanks to Bob/W0BV, Jim/KD0MRC, Larry/KL7GLK and Kevin/KD0VHD for working us.
After our first bushwack adventure on this summit, we were not motived to activate this one again. However, using the Davis Meadow Trail has changed our opinion. (Thanks Walt/W0CP!) This route still has some offtrail bushwacking but it is not bad. We will be back!
When planning for the next Summits On The Air (SOTA) hike, I want to understand the difficulty of the climb. The main things to evaluate are the length of the hike (horizontal distance), the vertical (elevation) gain and other contributing factors.
Most of the SOTA summits in Colorado have a simple profile: pretty much uphill on the way to the summit and then mostly downhill on the way back to the trailhead. Yes, there may be flat sections and sometimes there will be a downhill section or two on the ascent, which means you give back some elevation gain only to regain it later. Usually, we think of going downhill as “easy” but if you have sensitive knees or other joints, you may disagree.
The first question is how far do I need to hike? Clearly, hiking 10 miles is a lot harder than hiking 1 mile, all other things being equal. However, I usually find the vertical gain to be more important. (Typically, the horizontal distance of a SOTA hike is within my capabilities and the vertical gain is my real concern.) I also do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on slope. My benchmark for slope is 1000 vertical feet in one mile, which is an uphill slope that will get my heart pumping but is not too difficult (corresponds to ~20% slope). Anything steeper than that starts to feel more challenging. A slope less than that is easier. Be careful with average calculations. You might find that a particular trail is flat for 3 miles and then gains all of the vertical in the last mile. Having a good topographical map is a must for understanding the route. I generally use GAIA GPS, an online mapping website and smartphone app.
Certainly the condition of the trail and its inherent terrain are an important factor to consider. The SOTA hikes I do are typically Class 1, 2 or 3. I don’t do summits that require ropes or technical climbing.
Difficulty ratings from 14ers.com
Class 1. Easy hiking – usually on a good trail.
Let’s take a look at some specific summits as examples.
Note: there are often multiple routes to the same summit, so don’t use this information for trip planning. Do your homework.
Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063): a bit steep in spots but typical of many SOTA hikes: 1000 feet vertical gain in about one mile, right at my benchmark of 1000 feet vertical per mile. I consider that an easy hike.
Genesee Mountain (W0C/FR-194): is one of the easiest and enjoyable SOTA summits in Colorado, only 0.7 miles and 300 vertical feet. The average slope is 430 feet per mile, so not very steep at all.
Mt Sherman (W0C/SR-061): is considered to be one of the easiest fourteeners, but it is still a fourteener: 2100 feet vertical gain in 2.6 miles (807 feet per mile).
Mount Elbert (W0C/SR-001): A more challenging (middle of the road?) fourteener with 4700 feet vertical gain over 4.75 miles). The average slope is 1000 feet per mile so it’s not that steep but 4700 vertical feet will definitely wear me out.
Not to be overlooked, the condition of the route can make a big difference. Often, there is no established trail to a SOTA summit, which means you’ll need to hike offtrail or “bushwack”. If the ground is uncluttered and the trees well-spaced, bushwacking can be easy. On the other hand, if there is a lot of downed timber, you have to climb over and around obstacles to get to the summit. Some summits have willows or other scrub brush that gets in the way. Intense bushwacking can make a huge difference, making the hike more difficult by a factor of two (or more). Many times, I’ve looked at the route to a summit on a topographical map, judged it to be not so bad and later discovered that it requires serious bushwacking. Hikes like that really help me to appreciate a well-designed and maintained trail.
High altitude and the resulting lack of oxygen contribute to the difficulty of the climb. This is going to vary considerably between individuals. Almost everyone feels the effects at 14,000 feet but at lower elevations individual performance will vary dramatically. Normally, I don’t have an issue at 10,000 feet, notice some effect at 12,000 feet and I’m definitely huffing and puffing above 13k.
Finally, weather can play a big role in increasing the difficulty of a hike. In the winter, it is common to use snowshoes when deep snow is present on the route. The snowshoes tend to sink into the snow with each step, causing more effort to be expended hiking the route. Ice can also be present requiring microspikes or other traction devices.
So that’s a quick look at how I judge the difficulty of a SOTA hike. The SOTA database often has trip reports from other SOTA activators, which can be extremely helpful. It is always great to learn from the experiences of other folks.
73 Bob K0NR