Posts Tagged ‘Reverse Beacon Network’

4 SOTA Activators and a Regular

The bands seemed very dead today at lunch.  I looked at SOTA Goat and saw that there were some guys spotted in New Mexico on some 10 point peaks.  I listened first for WS0TA (club call) and could not immediately here him – he was there, but not strong enough to copy.

So I put out a CQ about 14.059 and checked for reports on the Reverse Beacon Network.  I was spotted on both coasts by about 11 stations with many reporting 15-20+ DB – so I knew I was getting out.  Do you ever wonder if the bands are dead, or just nobody is calling CQ??

Contacts for today:

WS0TA – I was finally able to pull him out of the mud with 339 reports both ways on 20 meters.  This is a club call, so I am not sure who the OP was today.  He was on W5N/SE-001.  (Updated: Fred, KT5X was the Op today, and also the trustee, for WS0TA.  Looking at his QRZ page he is also into trail running, and running on mountains!  Very cool!)

K7SO – I saw him spotted on 10.110 and was able to work him easily thru the little pileup.  He was 599 and he gave me a 579.  He was on W5N/SE-003.

K1JD – He was 559 and he gave me 579, he was also on W5N/SE-003.  Worked him on 10.110 also.

NM5S – also on W5N/SE-003 but on 40 meters about 7.031 – very weak but I called him when he peaked a bit.  He gave me 449 and he was 339.

Fun to work 3 guys on the same peak – I bet they were having fun!  Unfortunately for me, the chaser, I only got 10 points for the 3 contacts since you only get points for a peak once per day.

Right now I am sitting at 88 points.

N7BBH – Right as I was ready to pull the plug and head back to the office I heard Steve calling CQ and he was nice and strong.  We have worked each other twice before.  I had to keep it short since I was almost late, but he got stronger during his second exchange, and he reported I did as well.

Fun day once again!

Playing Around With Reverse Beacon Network

After parking at my usual lunch time portable operating position, and not hearing much on the bands, I decided to do something I had been wanting to do for awhile now.

I have been wanting to play around with the Reverse Beacon Network using my portable QRP antenna.  When not hearing much on the bands, I wanted to see if there was just not many operators, or if the band was actually dead.  The other thing is that many times when I call CQ I call at less than 15 wpm because that is where I am most comfortable.  I have never seen many reports on RBN in the past when calling CQ so I wanted to see if speed made a difference.

So I started off with 20 WPM and called CQ for about 3 minutes on 20 meters.  You can see the spots on the photo, but I was heard mainly to the East coast and West part of the country – and one Canadian station.

Then I went down to 14 WPM and called CQ again – as you can see on the photo.  At 14 WPM, my signal was still decoded and I got spotted by 5 stations.  Where at 20 WPM I was spotted by 6 stations.  So not really much difference.  I did change frequency so that it would show the new spots.

I didn’t call as long at 14 WPM because I heard someone answering!

KO4OP – Rick was answering my CQ and had a nice sounding signal.  He was in King William, VA.  He was 599 and he gave me a 559.  We went on to have a nice 15 minute exchange – really nice QSO Rick!  Thanks for giving me a call!

As you can see in the picture I then went to 17 meters and put out a CQ at 14 WPM and was spotted by 4 stations (3 on the east coast and one out west).  I did hear someone call ..__.. (?) after one of my CQ calls but I never could reach him, and they never gave a call.

After this I did hear NE1SJ very, very weakly calling from a SOTA summit on 20 meters.  I gave him a call and he heard me, but when he came back he got weaker and I just could not pick him out of the noise.  Sorry we couldn’t make it today – I would have liked to pick up some more points!

It seems my SOTA chasing has stalled a bit.  Lately 20 meters seems to be skipping right over me here in Kansas!

So the RBN site was fun to play around with.  It just tells me that even when you don’t hear anything, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t getting out!  Put out some CQ’s and have some fun!

Planning My New QTH (Ham Radio Station) Part II Of III: Modern Contesting Tools

I’ll be writing a lot in future postings about how FlexRadio’s new 6000 series transceiver technology has influenced my new station’s design.  Today’s post will focus on these rigs’  ‘Slice Receiver’ capabilities.

First, however, allow me a digression on 21st Century Radio-Sport a/k/a “Contesting.”  There are hundreds of radio-sport events spread across the calendar each year from state QSO (QSO = radio contact) parties to major global events such as the CQ World Wide DX Contests (CQ WW DX, ‘DX’ = long distance radio contact) held across two weekends – one for CW (Morse code) and one for Phone (Signal Sideband = voice) –  in the northern hemisphere autumn.  The smaller events have a friendly ‘small town’ vibe.  On the other end of the scale, the big DX contests are hard fought struggles that test technology, skill and endurance (you try averaging two international contacts via morse code per minute for 48 hours straight!).

The big contests have a multitude of classes to parse the competitors.  Single operator, multiple operators with one transmitter, multiple operators with multiple transmitters, high power, low power, really low power (also known as ‘QRP’), assisted and unassisted.  You compete against others in your class in your country and in your class on a regional and global scale depending on your ambition.

I mentioned ‘assisted’ and ‘unassisted’ classes in the previous paragraph.  This can mean various things but the major source of assistance during a contest is the so-called ‘cluster’, Internet resources that reports what stations are active and on what frequencies.  These networks started in the ’80s with hams transmitting short reports of the distant stations they were hearing, generally on the HF (short wave) bands, via the amateur VHF digital networks which were generally local, within a city or region.  These were know as ‘DX Packetclusters’ back then and I used to operate a node in Tiffany, Colorado in the ’90s.

These networks later migrated to the Internet, became interconnected and are now global in scope passing literally millions of ‘spots’ (as each report of a station and its frequency is called).  DX Summit, based in Finland but with visitors from around the world, has reported over 23 million such spots since it launched in 1997!

One of the challenges of big data is finding actionable useful information shooting out of the digital firehose.  The cluster networks go bonkers during the big contests with several spots per second streaming by.  This is not always helpful.  An operator can be overwhelmed by choice; which station do I try to contact?  It’s like getting a restaurant menu with a thousand choices.  And with spots being reported from all corners of the planet much of the data is not actionable.  A station being heard in say Mongolia might not be making it to your shack in Peoria at that time of day on that particular frequency.

I will manage this onslaught of data by disconnecting from the Internet clusters and generating my own spots distilled from radio signals actually being detected at my station in real time.  The data will thus become relevant and actionable.  Many stations are already doing this to supplement the Internet spots that every assisted class station sees.  K3LR and W3LPL, two giants of multi-operator contesting, are doing this effectively using CW Skimmer software written by Alex Shovkoplyas, VE3NEA.  CW Skimmer uses ‘sensitive CW decoding algorithm based on the methods of Bayesian statistics’; in other words your computer listens for Morse code on your radio and tells you who is transmitting and on what frequency.  CW Skimmer, of course, is not much use in Phone (voice) contests.

There are several challenges to using CW Skimmer effectively.  The first challenge at most stations is receiver bandwidth.  Most ham radios can only listen to relatively small segments of radio spectrum at any one time limiting the size of the net CW Skimmer can cast.  If a particular contest has its competitors spread out over say 70-kHz and your radio can only monitor 2.8-kHz you are going to miss a lot of the action.  So called SDRs (Software Defined Receivers) overcome this limitation and can look at much larger chunks of spectrum at once.  An operator using one of these radios (older generation FlexRadios for example) can actually look at a visual spectral display showing where signals are and indicate their relative strength; a CW Skimmer software working with one of these radios can decode and report on the activity of dozens of stations with this set up.

That hurdle jumped, another one looms ahead.  If you are monitoring stations on one band how do you know what’s happening on other bands?  Most contests are spread across several of the amateur radio bands.  Some bands are good during the day, some are good during the night and propagation on all the bands is always changing.  Europe might be good in the morning on a particular band , say the 21-MHz (15m) band, Africa in midday and Japan in the afternoon.  The general propagation trends are predictable but there are large daily variations in propagation that are not predictable (in other words, what signals are being refracted back to earth and where).  Some stations (K3LR, for example) have separate SDRs for each amateur contest band.  Other stations (W3LPL for one) uses the QS1R receiver which can listen to several bands at once.

The Flex 6000 series radios listen (via direct sampling, more on that in a future posting) to 77-MHz of spectrum at the same time.  That is truly spectacular!  With my multiple Flex-6700s (I have two on order and plan on ordering a third unit later in 2013) i will be able to assign ‘Slice’ receivers (each Flex-6700 can have up to eight of these, created in software and 384-kHz) to each amateur band from 1.8-MHz (160m) to 144-MHz (2m) and let them run all the time, during contests and in between.  I will have live, actionable intel on what CW (Morse) signals are propagating to Glade Park, Colorado at any given time on all the amateur bands.  I will be feeding this data out to the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and using it for my own contesting and day-to-day DXing operation.  (More on the RBN in a future Blog posting.)

How I plan to keep transmissions on one frequency from overloading and possibly damaging receivers listening – and running CW Skimmer software – on other frequencies on co-located (and sometimes the same) antenna will be covered in a future posting.  The Flex 6000 series radios are full-duplex (in other words, they can transmit and receive at the same time) so the listening on the same band I’m transmitting on becomes a possibility but one with significant challenges.

I should point out here that many hams operate without any kind of assistance in contests whatsoever.  These are some of the world’s most skilled and motivated amateur radio operators and I admire this type of contesting.  However, my personal current motivation is to see where I can go with technology in contesting and amateur radio in general.  Assisted, in so many words, but seeking innovation.

 


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