Our Station On QRZ.com

Our Shack On QRZ.com

Our Shack On QRZ.com

A few months ago, Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, President and Founder of QRZ.com visited our station to gather information and pictures for an article on QRZ.com. Fred’s article recently appeared and he did a wonderful job describing and photographing our shack and our station.

Our Tower and Antennas

Our Tower and Antennas

Fred is a great photographer and he has a real knack for using interesting angles to make his photographs interesting. We particularly like this one of our Tower and Antennas.

A special thanks to Fred Lloyd and everyone on QRZ.com who commented on our station. We’re happy to have some new followers of our Blog as a result of the article on QRZ.com and I am planning to write a number of new posts here over the next several weeks. Stay tuned…

– Fred (AB1OC)

Cool Amateur Radio Site – DXHeat.com

DXHeat Website

DXHeat Website

Occasionally, something new and useful comes along on the internet for HAMs. I believe that DXHeat.com is a recent example of this. DXHeat.com has been put together by Tobias Wellnitz, DH1TW. DXHeat.com takes an innovative, analytics-based approach to DX Cluster search and data display. Big Data Analytics is certainly a key future technology for internet and other applications and Tobias has created an interesting application of this technology for HAM Spotting Cluster data access.

Cluster Spot Analytics

Cluster Spot Analytics

To give you an idea of how this works, I entered by callsign (AB1OC) into DXHeat.com’s cluster search engine. The graphic above is a snapshot of the result. As you can see, the site not only produces a list of the spots of my callsign but it also created graphical views showing the bands, dates and times where I was spotted as well as the source (continents) where the spots were originated. This information gives me a better picture of where I am being heard on various bands for example.

Online SDR

Online SDR

DXHeat.com also includes a link to an online WebSDR which can be used to listen to stations from inside Europe on the HAM bands. It looks like Tobias plans to link his site to the WebSDR so that one can listen to a spotted station as well as tune the bands and create new spots.

Tobias’ site is relatively new and there is a great deal of potential for enhancements to his concept. For example, one can imagine that automated phone spotting might be possible using  voice recognition technology sometime in the future. It will be interesting to watch how DXHeat.com evolves. Thanks to John, W1MBG to pointing out DXHeat.com to us.

– Fred (AB1OC)

A Visit From Fred Lloyd, President And Founder of QRZ.com

Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, Founder Of QRZ.com

Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, President And Founder Of QRZ.com

We recently had the pleasure of a visit from Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred is doing a series articles titled “QRZ Featured Shacks” and he visited us to take photographs and gather background information on our station for a future Featured Shack article on QRZ.com.

Fred is very well-connected in the International Amateur Radio community and he shared a great deal of very interesting information about QRZ.com and Amateur Radio in general. The story around how QRZ.com came to be and the scope of its user community is a very interesting one! QRZ.com has approximately 500,000 registered users of which about 300,000 are active on the site a regular basis. The QRZ.com user community averages approximately 60,000 visits to the site a day. The QRZ.com website is currently hosted on Amazon Web Services S3 and serves approximately 600,000 pages a day or 18 million pages per month – quite a high-scale website! Fred has a number of interesting projects going to enhance the QRZ.com services including some pretty major enhancements to the QRZ.com logbook and related services.

George W9EVT's Shack

George W9EVT’s Shack

One of the interesting stories that Fred shared with us was his experiences visiting George’s (W9EVT) station on Washington Island, WI. George has a collection of just about every Ham Radio ever made in his shack! You can read more about George’s station in Fred’s article titled “Washington Island’s HAM Radio Treasure” on QRZ.com.

Fred took many photographs and spent quite a bit of time learning about Anita’s (AB1QB) and my background, our Amateur Radio projects and experiences, and the design and construction of our station. He also took quite a few pictures as background for his upcoming article. Some of my favorites include a nice panoramic view of our shack:

Our Shack

Our Shack

and a great shot of our tower and antennas.

Our Tower And Antennas

Our Tower And Antennas

He also took quite a few pictures of some of the details of our station including this one of me (AB1OC) standing at the base of our tower next to the hard-line coax cables used to feed our antennas.

AB1OC By The Tower

AB1OC By The Tower

Anita and I really appreciate all of the time that Fred spent with us and the opportunity to have our shack be included in one of his upcoming articles on QRZ.com. I believe that the internet and websites like QRZ.com will continue to play an increasing important role in the evolution and growth of the Amateur Radio hobby.

– Fred (AB1OC)

One Year Anniversary Of Our Blog

Our Readers Around The World After 1 Year

Our Readers Around The World After 1 Year

This month marks the one year anniversary of our Blog. We have been very pleased with the worldwide interest in the information and articles that we have posted during our first year. To date, we have enjoyed readers from 145 countries around the world with  over 38,000 views of the 90+ articles that he have written during our first year.

Our top three most widely read posts are:

Some of our most popular videos include (these videos take a few seconds to load and begin to play):

Our busiest day every was on Saturday, June 1st 2013 when he had over 1,000 views of our Blog in a single day. This occurred shortly after Anita (AB1QB) published her article on the 2013 Contest University At The Dayton Hamvention.

We’d like to thank everyone for your interest in our Blog and we plan to continue publishing articles that we hope will interest our readers and help the Amateur Radio Community in general.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Our Blog Reaches Another Milestone

March 2013 Reader Countries

March 2013 Reader Countries

Our Blog reached another milestone today – we have had over 20,000 visits from readers in 125 countries around the world. We’d like to thank all of our readers for your interest in our Blog. It is your interest and participation in this project that motivates Anita and I to continue to post new articles and information.

We are considering a number of new articles for this Blog and I’d like to again ask for our reader’s input as to what articles that you might find most interesting. Please take a minute and participate in the following poll to give us some input (vote for your top two choices).

Thanks again to all of our readers for participating in our Blog. I hope that each of you is able to find something interesting here.

Fred (AB1OC)

APRS Station Part 2 – Dedicated Antenna and Always-On PC

APRS Station Setup

APRS Station

We have had our APRS Station operating for a while now and it has been performing well. We decided to install a dedicated antenna on our tower that is a bit better matched to supporting our APRS Station. We choose a Diamond X50NA antenna and installed it on our tower at the 70 ft level using a vertical antenna bracket. The Diamond X50NA antenna has a broader vertical pattern than out existing repeater access antenna (a Diamond X300NA). The Diamond X50NA antenna is installed 19″ from the tower leg to minimize any interactions with the tower structure on the 2m band.

APRS Antenna On Tower

APRS Antenna On Tower

I also decided to move our APRSISCE/32 Software which controls our APRS Station to our home server which is always on.

Home Server

Home Server

The APRSISCE/32 software implements an iGate function (sending APRS packets to internet-based APRS servers) so it performs a critical role as part of our APRS Station’s operation. The following is a time-lapse video which shows about 6 minutes of the APRSISCE/32 software’s operation. The yellow lines show the paths taken by packets through various APRS Digipeaters on their way to the internet via our iGate. The circle on the map in the video is about 180 mi (290 km) in diameter. As you can see in the video, we are handing packets from New Hampshire, USA as well as from several surrounding states in New England. It is interesting to see the paths that some APRS packets follow as they find their way to the internet via our iGate node. It is quite apparent when there is an improvement in 2m propagation as we begin to see packets arriving from much greater distances.

The connection between our APRS transceiver (a Kenwood D-710A) and our home server is implemented via an RS-232 over TCP/IP device from StarTech. This device allows us to run the RS-232 control connection from the APRS transceiver to our home server over the wired Ethernet LAN installed in our home.

RS2323 Over TCP/IP Device

RS232 Over TCP/IP Device

With these steps, our APRS Station is complete. We are currently iGate’ing about 7,500 packets per month to the internet. You can see some real-time information on the performance of our station by clicking here.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Thank You For Helping Us Reach A Milestone!

Our Blog Readers Around The World

Our Blog Readers Around The World

As I write this, our Blog has crossed a milestone – we have readers in 100 countries around the world and our Blog has been viewed a little over 10,250 times. I just want to take a moment and thank all of our readers for your interest and tremendous response to our Blog. I also very much appreciate the encouragement and expressions of interest from many of our readers. Again, thanks very much to everyone.

We are planning to continue to provide new content here that we hope will interest and help our readers. Some of the posts in the works include more on setting up a station for the digital modes including JT65, WSPR and more, a second post on the completion of our APRS repeater, and posts covering a major expansion of our station as we automate much of  its operation via a system from microHAM.

– Fred (AB1OC)

APRS Station Part 1 – Station Radio And Software

APRS Station Setup

APRS Station Setup

We recently became interested in the Automatic Packet Reporting System that is used over Amateur Radio. This system is primarily used on the 2m band to report position, weather, emergency information, telemetry and other data over a shared RF channel. The traffic on the Amateur Radio APRS network originates from a variety of sources including mobile VHF radios (FM and DSTAR), HTs, Weather Stations, Personal Computers and more recently, smart phones. APRS uses a combination of the Internet and the 2m (and 70cm) radio bands to transport position and other information over RF to gateway ports to the Internet. The data is consolidated and displayed on sites like aprs.fi.

We decided to set up an APRS station in our shack so that we could learn about APRS and its applications. We selected a Kenwood TM-D710A Transceiver for our APRS base radio. Kenwood is a leader in APRS technology and they incorporate the necessary AX.25 Terminal Network Control (TNC) in several of their radios including the TM-D710A. We added an AvMap G6 GPS to the base radio to provide a local display of the APRS station information that is received over the air. We also made use of our Diamond X300NA antenna to test our APRS station. This antenna is up about 50 ft and provides a decent level of gain (6.5 dB) for APRS work. While this antenna has a fairly low pattern designed for repeater access work, it turned out to perform well during the initial testing of our APRS station.

Diamond XA300NA Antenna

Diamond X300NA Antenna

The first step in getting the station on the air was to program the TM-D710A as an APRS Digipeater. A Digipeater listens to the shared APRS radio channel (the 2m APRS channel in the United States is on 144.390 MHz FM). When an AX.25 APRS packet is heard, the Digipeater’s TNC decodes the packet, displays it on the local radio (and an attached display or PC if available) and then decides whether to retransmit the pack so that other stations further away from the source can also receive it. APRS has used a number of protocols for Digipeating since its inception. The current protocol is called WIDEn-N. The WIDEn-N protocol uses a Time To Live mechanism to ensure that APRS packets are only propagated a limited number of hops before they are discarded. It also provides tracing so that the source of an APRS packet and route that it has taken can be determined. Kenwood has a good document which explains APRS Digipeating and how to set up the TM-D710A to operate as a Digipeater. The following picture shows our APRS station operating in Digipeater mode and provides an example of APRS packets as they are received and displayed. The AvMap G6 GPS is a nice accessory for an APRS station as it displays the received APRS packet information on a map display. In a mobile APRS setup, the AvMap can also provide “dead reckoning” navigation based to an APRS station that is also mobile. The AvMap will calculate an intercept path been its location and a target APRS station accounting for the speed and direction that both stations are moving in.

APRS Station List Display

APRS Station List Display

APRS packets contain a good bit of information about the station originating the packet. In addition to the GPS coordinates where the packet was originated, APRS packets may contain telemetry or other information from the originator. The picture below shows a packet from a weather station connected to an APRS transceiver. As you can see, the current weather conditions at the source are contained in the packet and can be displayed on the Kenwood TM-D710A.

APRS Weather Station

APRS Weather Station

The APRS system also provides for the transmission of short messages and eMail to and from APRS radios and client devices such as PCs or smartphones. The following picture shows an example of a short message sent to our APRS base station from one of our iPhones. APRS provides for Secondary Station Identifiers (SSIDs) which allows multiple devices owned or operated by a single call sign to be separately identified. In our case, we  have the following APRS devices setup so far:

  • AB1OC-10 – our APRS base station
  • AB1OC-7 – an APRS HT
  • AB1OC-9 – Fred’s iPhone running an OpenAPRS client (search for “OpenAPRS” in the iTunes Store)
  • AB1QB-9 – Anita’s iPhone running the OpenAPRS client
APRS Message Reception

APRS Message Reception

To complete our APRS system, we also purchased a Kenwood TM-D72A HT. This unit also has a built-in AX.25 TNC and a GPS making it an ideal tactical APRS station for emergency and other public service work.

APRS HT

APRS HT

The second step in setting up our APRS station was to create an APRS Internet Gateway or IGate. An IGate is an APRS radio node that is attached to an Internet connected computer for the purpose of getting APRS packets on an off the Internet. In most APRS networks, an IGate node is the last step in the radio path between and APRS client device like a mobile radio and the Internet. Once the APRS packets find their way to an IGate, the IGate is responsible for routing the APRS packets using the Automatic Packet Reporting System-Internet Service protocols to an APRS-IS tier 2 server. The Tier 2 Servers are typically deployed regionally and handle the process of distributing the world-wide load of APRS packets to the IGates. The packet processing and routing of the Tier 2 Servers is coordinated by a set of Tier 1 APRS-IS Servers. This two-level structure is required to efficiently and reliably handle the massive load of APRS packets that are routed world-wide. Other non-radio oriented services which use APRS protocols such as Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP) and OpenAPRS can also interface to the APRS-IS Servers.

There are several APRS clients that provide IGate functionality. We selected the APRSISCE/32 software provided by KJ4ERJ to implement our IGate. We chose APRSISCE/32 because it has an active developer and support community, is feature rich, provides a good user interface including nice map displays, and is compatible with the Windows 7 platforms that we use. Other popular choices include UIViewWinAPRS and several other programs. APRSISCE/32 has a good Wiki that explains the program and how to set it up. The Wiki plus the APRSISCE Yahoo Group were all we needed to get our IGate up and running. There is also a user manual for the software that is available here.

APRS Path - Northern New Hampshire

APRS Path Shown in APRSISCE/32 – Northern New Hampshire

The APRSISCE/32 Software combines APRS packet information received by the APRS base radio with packets routed over the internet from the APRS-IS servers and combines this information on a map display. APRSISCE/32 can also interface with the CWOP servers to obtain and display weather station information as well. The software includes IGate functionality which will intercept packets on the RF side of the network and route them to the Internet. It can also selectively route packets on the Internet side of the APRS network over the air. Obviously, one must be careful to be selective about routing APRS-IS Internet packets over the air as a single poorly configured IGate can completely overload a regional APRS network! In our case, we choose to route position information from our two iPhones (AB1OC-9, and AB1QB-9) to the RF side of our IGate. In the future, we plan to route packets from our Weather Station on CWOP once the necessary filtering is available in APRSISCE/32. One of the cool things about APRSISCE/32 is that it can show the RF paths to our IGate in real-time as packets are routed from RF clients to the Internet. The picture above shows the RF path taken from a station in Northern New Hampshire to our APRS Station and it’s associated IGate. The picture below shows the path from a station on Cape Code, MA to our IGate.

APRS Path - Cape Cod, MA

APRS Path Shown in APRSISCE/32 – Cape Cod, MA

As you can see from these screen shots, the APRS system is quite adaptable and can find a path to the Internet-based upon the availability of Digipeaters, IGates and the current RF propagation conditions. This behavior makes APRS a perfect tool for coordinating emergency operations and it is used as part of RACES and ARES activities.

There are a number of interesting applications that are built on the APRS platform. One of these measures VHF propagation in real-time based upon the paths that the APRS stations and Digipeaters use to propagate APRS packets. This information is available in map form here.

2m Propagation in the Northeastern USA

2m Propagation in the Northeastern USA

Another useful site is the aprs.fi site. This site provides maps and route displays for APRS mobiles, weather stations, Digipeaters, etc. The picture below shows an example of a APRS Mobile Unit’s route display as it moves through our area.

APRS fi Route Display

APRS fi Route Display

APRS fi can also provide detailed information about the APRS packet traffic associated with a given station. An example of this information is shown for our APRS IGate/Digipeater below.

APRS fi Snapshot for AB1OC-10

APRS fi Details for AB1OC-10

At this point, we have completed the first phase of our APRS station and its is fully operational. Next we will be installing a dedicated antenna for our APRS station on our tower and we will move our IGate software to an always on PC. We plan to provide a future post on these upgrades.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Jerry Taylor’s Practical Amateur Radio Podcast And Other Resources For HAM’s

Practical Amateur Radio Podcast, Jerry Taylor KD0BIK

As I have previously mentioned, Anita and I are relatively new HAMs and we are always looking for good sources of information to learn more about the hobby. One such source that we particularly enjoy is the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast and other HAM resources provided by Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK. Jerry authors a series of podcasts where he talks about his experiences as a new HAM and we have found the information in his podcasts useful and entertaining. Jerry has assembled a wealth of HAM radio information and resources which can be found here. Jerry authors several other HAM radio related blogs including one related to his Summits On The Air (SOTA) activities and another related to his HAM Radio interests and activities in general.

– Fred (AB1OC).

Site Of The Day – 100 Pound DXpedition

100 Pound DXpedition

100 Pound DXpedition

I want to share a Blog that we have relied heavily upon to plan our portable operations in Bora Bora, French Polynesia as well as many aspects of our portable station and antennas. This Blog, the 100 Pound DXpedition, is authored by B. Scott Andersen (NE1RD) and contains a wealth of information on HF portable operating based upon Scott’s extensive experience in this area. If you have an interest in portable HF, I am sure that you will enjoy the 100 Pound DXpedition.

– Fred (AB1OC)