Propagation Prediction Websites

Is 20 meters open to the location of the latest DXPedition on the bands?   When is 6 meters open for Sporadic E?  Looking for a weak signal 2 meter contact with a specific grid square?  There are websites you can visit that give you a prediction of whether the band you are on is open to a given destination.

HF Propagation

N0NBH Propagation Widget

N0NBH Propagation Widget

The simplest HF propagation prediction is the widget that is seen on many Amateur Radio Websites – QRZ.com, DXSummit.fi, and more.   This gives you a rough idea of what bands are open day and night. Data is based on the Sunspot Number, A and K indices and other indices.  But this doesn’t take into account many factors like your location, the DX location, the characteristics of your station and the DX station.  Just because 15m says Poor doesn’t mean you won’t hear anything on the band.

VOACAP – HF Propagation Prediction

VOACAP Point to Point Prediction

VOACAP Point to Point Prediction

VOACAP, is the Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program, and provides detailed information about the HF propagation.  You can choose transmitter and receiver locations from many cities around the world.  It also provides choices of Antennas, Power, Mode, and more for each end of the contact. You can look at several different views of propagation.  If you spend some time delving into the details of propagation visit this site.

VOACAP Prediction from DXSummit.fi

VOACAP Prediction from DXSummit.fi

For a faster view of whether you will be able to contact a specific DX Station that is currently on the air,  the DXSummit.fi spotting website has incorporated propagation predictions on their website.  If you find a DX station spotted there that you contact, just right click on the DX callsign and select VOACAP from the drop-down.   You just need to choose whether you are a Basic (100 watts and a Wire) or a Super station (Amplifier and Directional Antenna).  You can also look at views of Short Path or Long Path.  It will give you a good view of when you need to be on which band to contact the DX station.

6 Meters – The Magic Band

DXMaps - 6 meter openings

DXMaps – 6 meter openings

The best website that I have found for 6 meters is DXMaps.com .  It provides a map view of the world or you can select a continent. Based on spotting network data, it shows 6 meter contacts and color codes them by Sporadic-E, Multihop ES, Meteor Scatter, etc…  even Aurora.  You can also get a view of 10 meters, 2 meters or 70 cm.  If you sign up for a free account, you can subscribe to real time notifications when there is an opening near you.

2 Meter Propagation

VHF Propagation Map

VHF Propagation Map

Looking for a tropo opening for a weak signal 2 meter contact?   Visit the website http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/ to see a VHF Propagation map.  This shows tropo openings as color coded clouds – with brighter colors for the longer openings.    This is based on APRS data.

These are the websites that I like to visit to understand the propagation forecast for the day.  If your favorite site is not on the list, add a comment so that we and the rest of our readers can check it out.

DX Alarm Clock Part 2 – Hardware

The DX Alarm Clock

The DX Alarm Clock

I recently wrote a blog article about the DX Alarm Clock software – here is Part 2 of the Series on the how I built the hardware for the DX Alarm Clock.

DX Alarm Clock Hardware Components

The DX Alarm Clock is based on a Raspberry Pi 3 computer and an Adafruit Pi-TFT Touch Screen Display.  The list of components, along with links is below.  Since I built the Raspberry Pi almost a year ago and technology is always advancing, some of the parts are no longer available or have better replacements available.  I’ll provide information on what I used and a recommended replacement.  Approximate prices are included.

 

Rapberry Pi 3

Rapberry Pi 3

 

Motherboard: Raspberry Pi 3 ($35) – includes a 1.2 GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM CPU, Build in WiFi, Ethernet, 4 USB Ports, an HDMI port and audio port (3.5″) and Bluetooth.

Also you will need a power adapter  ($10) and Class 10 Micro SD card ($15) for the Raspberry Pi.  Ours is a SanDisk Ultra 64GB Micro SD Card.

Pi-TFT Touch Screen Display

Pi-TFT Touch Screen Display

Display: Adafruit Pi-TFT 2.8″ Display with Capacitive Touch Screen ($45).  A slightly larger, 3.5″ display is now available.

PiBow Case

PiBow Case for Raspberry Pi and Touch Screen Display

Case: Pimoroni PiBow Case for Raspberry Pi and Pi-TFT Display($20)

Kinivo Speaker

Kinivo Portable Speaker

Portable Speaker:  Any small portable/rechargeable speaker will do.  Mine is a Kinivo, but it is no longer available.  Any small speaker will do as long as it is Bluetooth or has a 3.5″ stereo connector.

 

Raspberry Pi Development Environment

Raspberry Pi Development Environment

Raspberry Pi Development Environment

After constructing the Raspberry Pi, case and TFT Display, the next step was to connect it to a monitor via the HDMI port, a mouse via one of the USB ports and to a Bluetooth keyboard.   Then I loaded the Raspbian Operating System onto the Raspberry Pi via the micro SD card.  I first copied the OS to the Micro SD card using a PC or Mac and then inserted the card into the Raspberry Pi and booted from it.  You can find a good tutorial on how to do this at https://www.raspberrypi.org/learning/software-guide/quickstart/

Once Raspbian is installed, you will have a windows like GUI (Graphical User Interface) environment with a web browser, and a number of additional applications included.

This gave me a development environment that I could use to build and test the DX Alarm Clock software.  I used the Python language to develop the software.  I used the Python IDLE development environment, which is included in the Raspbian OS.

Interested in Raspberry Pi Amateur Radio Projects?  See the article on a Raspberry Pi Satellite Rotator Interface.

Why Ham Radio?

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio.  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?  We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for?  So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.

amateur_radio_could_save_lives_in_times__2205260000_9445423_ver1-0_640_480

Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service.  When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.

Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.

Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.

Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.

hamsats

Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age.  As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby.   We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!

As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio.   Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack.  Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating.  We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.

Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component.  In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio.    The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award.  I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can.  There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact.  I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.

dxcc-challenge-award

DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine.  Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills.  Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.

anita-instructor

Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses.  Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio.  It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

The DX Alarm Clock – Part 1 Software

dx-alarm-clock-standalone

The DX Alarm Clock

I have been a Ham for 5 years and my favorite thing to do is chase DX. As a new Ham it was always a thrill to work a new DXCC, but now that I have over 280 DXCCs and over 1000 band points, it is a little more difficult to find a new one. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get a DXCC in 80m and 160m., which are usually open when I am asleep. I created the DX Alarm Clock as a way to get notified that there is something new on the air when I am not down in the shack.  This article will talk about how I developed the software for the DX Alarm Clock.  Part 2 will talk about the building the Raspberry Pi based Hardware and loading the OS.

The DX Alarm Clock is a Python software program running on a Raspberry Pi that gathers data online about my log and what is on the spotting network and uses that data to alert me when there is a “new one” on the air.

architecture

DX Alarm Clock Architecture

The ClubLog website provides a light DX Cluster website called DXLite, which has an XML Interface. The DX Alarm Clock uses this interface to get the current spots. The software uses the Developer API from ClubLog to get a JSON matrix of all DXCC entities by band indicating whether I have worked, confirmed or verified each band-entity. The software loops through all of the spots returned by DXLite and looks each DXCC up in the JSON ClubLog matrix. I also use the QRZ.com XML Interface to get additional information for each callsign that is spotted, like the state.

dxcc-config-screen

DXCC Configuration Screen

The DX Alarm Clock uses tkinter/ttk for the GUI.  I used the Notebook widget to create a multi-tab GUI.  There is a tab for configuring filters for DX Entity. The user can choose all New DXCCs, as well as specific bands and nodes to provide alerts for.

was-config-screen

WAS Configuration Screen

There is another tab for configuring filters for WAS. ClubLog has no log look up capability based on US State so the WAS filter lets you create a list of States and associated bands to provide alerts for.

notification-config-screen-with-blur

Notification Configuration Screen

The Notification tab allows configuration of what notifications the user would like to receive. The user can specify a separate email address for New DXCCs, New Band Points, and New US States. This allows alerts to be sent to email accounts or as SMS texts. You can also configure the sounds the the DX Alarm Clock itself makes to “wake you up” when that ATNO or new Band Point is spotted.

The DXAlarm clock wakes up every 5 minutes and gets the latest spots from the DXLite Cluster. It checks each spot against the ClubLog log and if there is a match based on the configure filters, it sounds the alert, and then speaks the alarm, giving you the Callsign, DXCC Entity, Band and Mode.   A simple text to speech package called flite (festival-lite) was used to implement the speech on the Raspberry Pi.

 

alert-screen

Alert Screen

It also puts a message with these details and the Frequency, UTC Date/Time, Spotter and Comment on the display.

iphone-notification

Text Notification to iPhone

Additionally it sends this information as an email to the configured email address, which results in a text or email.

 

iwatch

Apple Watch Alert

I can even get the alert on my Apple Watch.

spots-screen

Filtered Spots Display

Once all spots are processed, it keeps a running list of all spots that resulted in alerts on the main screen. Spots are aged out if they do not recur over time.

dx-alarm-clock

DX Alarm Clock Hardware

The DX Alarm Clock just alerted me that ZC4SB is on 20m – that’s an ATNO!  Got to go down to the shack and work him!    Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post on the DXAlarm Clock Raspberry Pi based hardware and on setting up the Raspberry Pi OS.

Anita, AB1QB

Thanksgiving Weekend NPOTA Fun

operating-from-truck

Fred, AB1OC, Operating Mobile in Minuteman National Historical Park, HP27

With only 1 month to go in the ARRL NPOTA event and some free time this Thanksgiving weekend, Fred and I decided to hit the road with our Mobile HF Station to activate some new parks.    We activated two nearby parks, each less than 1 hour away from our home,  Lamprey Wild and Scenic River,  WR23, near Epping, NH, and Minuteman National Historical Park, HP27, near Concord, MA.    There were close to 900K QSOs made overall in the NPOTA program as of Thanksgiving day and we also wanted to help the cause to get to 1 Million NPOTA QSOs by year’s end.

lamprey-river-wsr-map

Map of Lamprey Wild and Scenic River

On Saturday, we drove to Epping, NH, where we activated Lamprey Wild and Scenic River. It was a rainy day, but we still enjoyed the scenic drive along the river. We drove along the river until we found a place by the river to park and operate. The bands were not great, with a K-index of 4 and a high A-index. Despite the conditions, our activation was a success. We operated on both 20m and 40m SSB and made a total of 307 QSOs over 3 hours.

minute-man-area

View of Countryside in Minute Man National Historical Park

I work in Burlington, MA and often travel between Burlington and Waltham, MA for meetings.  Each time I passed by Lexington on I-95 I saw the sign for Minute Man NHP and thought it would be fun to do a NPOTA activation from there.  We activated the park on Saturday. We entered the park from the Concord, MA end and were pleasantly surprised to see some nice countryside in the middle of a suburban area of Massachusetts, not far from Boston.

mobile-logging

AB1QB logging for AB1OC/M during the NPOTA activation.

We operated from a parking lot in the park from mid afternoon until dark.  The bands were a little better on Saturday and we were able to get 239 contacts into the log, mostly US but also worked stations from Spain, Jamaica, Aruba and Puerto Rico.

We have enjoyed activating 8 National Parks so far in the NPOTA event.  We are planning another activation between Christmas and New Years of multiple parks before the end of the event on December 31.

NPOTA Fun – Activating a New Park

River 2

Eastern Branch of the Penobscot River in Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

Ever since we built our Mobile HF Station, we’ve talked about taking it to Acadia National Park in Maine and operating from the top of Cadillac Mountain.  The 2016 ARRL NPOTA event gave us the motivation to plan the trip for the week before Labor Day.    The week before our trip, we saw an article in the ARRL Letter encouraging operation from the newly declared National Monument, Katadhin Woods and Waters in Maine, which had just be designated as NPOTA MN84.  Visiting the NPS website, we learned that the park is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Bar Harbor, where we are staying.  We decided to accept the challenge to be the first to activate the new park.

Mobile HF In Park 1

Our F150 Mobile Station at the entrance to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Tuesday August 30 was our first full day of vacation, we left our hotel room and parked by the Acadia visitor center and called “CQ National Parks”.   We ended up with 76 contacts in the log from NP01.

After that we got on the road and headed toward Katadhin Woods and Waters, activating counties along the way including the county line between Penobscot and Aroostook Counties.

MN84 Map

NPS Map of the Park

As a newly designated National Monument, Katadhin Woods and Waters does not yet have a visitors center or any signs showing you when you enter and exit the park.  We just had the map (above) to determine where the park boundaries were.    All of the roads in black on the map are gravel roads that are also used for logging trucks.

Katahdin Woods Sign 1

Entrance to Kadahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

We entered the park from Swift Brook Road off Rt 11 in the lower right corner of the map.  We drove through the lower section by the entrance and then headed north along the Eastern Branch of the Penobscot River and operated near the Loos camping area.   The sign above confirmed that we were within the park boundaries.

River 3

Scenic View of Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

The scenery along the river was beautiful with views of the mountains in the distance.

Mobile HF In Park 3

Operating at MN84

We started operating on 20m and the pileups were huge!  Everyone was excited to get this new NPOTA into the log.  Fred, AB1OC/M ended up going split on 20m due to the size of the pileups.  After a while, he moved to 40m to give the close in folks a chance at MN84.  We went back and further between 20m and 40m until the pileups thinned out.   We also made 18 QSOs with the club callsign N1FD to also give the club credit for the activation.  We really enjoyed activating the park and the people we talked to were great!  We made a total of 350 QSOs from MN84.

National Park Yes!

Friendly Sign at Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

We also plan to activate Acadia National Park NP01 again from Cadillac Mountain this week. We will also activate Saint Croix Island, HS01 and Roosevelt Campbello International Park, AA21 in Canada (as AB1OC/VE9 and AB1QB/VE9).

Activating MN84 for the first time was truly a memorable experience.  We enjoyed it so much we will be back on Saturday to give more NPOTA chasers a chance at MN84!  Hope to talk to you on the air!

You can read more about our Mobile HF station and Mobile HF operations here on our Blog.

73,

Anita, AB1QB

Dayton Hamvention 2016

Anita Preseting in Contest ForumFred, AB1OC and I just returned from the 2016 Hamvention in Dayton, OH.

Our first day in Dayton was spent at Contest University – this was our 5th year in attendance but each year we learn more from the contesting experts. This year, we attended two presentations from Frank Donovan, W3LPL on operating techniques for the declining solar cycle and on 80m and 160m antennas.   We also heard a talk from Val NV9L from Ham Nation on Log Analysis tools and another session on SO2R (Single Operator 2 Radio) Operating.

W3LPL Solar Cycle 5

Slide from W3LPL Contest University Presentation

Friday was the first day of the Hamvention and we spent most of the day visiting all of the vendor exhibits.   We visited the Icom booth, where we looked at the new Icom 7851. It has an incredible display as well as one of the best receivers on the market.

7851

Icom IC-7851 Display on a Large Screen TV

We also saw the new KX2 Transceiver at the Elecraft booth. It is even smaller than the KX3 and is perfect for SOTA and other portable operations. I would expect to hear some NPOTA activations using this radio.

KX2

Elecraft Kx2 on Right, next to a KX3

Friday evening was the Top Band dinner where we learned all about “Top Band Disease” from Larry “Tree” Tyree N6TR.   Hams with this disease are nocturnal, love the bottom of the sunspot cycle. They are constantly improving their 160m antennas – when you upgrade your receive antenna, then there are people who can’t hear you, so then you need to improve your transmit antenna – and the cycle continues…

Top Band

Top Band Dinner Presentation by N6TR

After the dinner, we were treated to a concert from the Spurious Emissions Band (N0AXKX9XK4ROW4PA), with hits like “On The Cover of the NCJ” and “Sittin on the Edge of the Band”. They were so funny! You can watch their performances on YouTube http://bit.ly/DaytonSpurs2016.

Spurious Emissions

The Spurious Emissions Band Performs at Dayton 2016

On Saturday, Fred, AB1OC and I presented our Station Building talk to around 250 people as part of the Dayton Contest Forum. It was a great honor to be selected to speak there by Doug Grant K1DG, who has been organizing the Contest Forum for many years.

Fred in Antenna Forum

Fred, AB1OC Speaks at the Contest Forum

We also continued to tour the vendor booths, visiting our fellow Nashua Area Radio Club Member Bill Barber, NE1B, at the DMR-MARC booth.

Bill Barber NE1B

Bill Barber, NE1B at the DMR-MARC Booth

After that, we stopped by Gordon West’s Ham Instructor booth where we spoke to him about the success of our Club’s License classes.  Here is a picture of Gordon, WB6NOA and Fred sharing the secrets of how the Hilbert Transform and the Flux Capacitor make Single Sideband and Time Travel Possible.

AB1OC with Gordo

Gordon West, WB6NOA with Fred, AB1OC

We also visited the AMSAT booth, where we met Burns Fisher,  W2BFJ,   who currently lives in Brookline, NH and is moving to Hollis.    They had a cube sat on display – you can see how small it is below.  It’s amazing that AMSAT builds and arranges to launch them into orbit so that we can make QSOs through them!

Cube Sat

Anita, AB1QB Holds a Cube Sat

Fred could not resist a visit to Begali Keys where we purchased a neat travel key. It should be great for operating mobile and for Field Day.

Begali Travel Key

Begali Travel Key

On Sunday, we headed back to New Hampshire, sad that the weekend had come to an end but full of great memories from the trip.