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December 8, 2017  I Have Another Dream

And no, it’s not the dream about the beautiful maiden falling in love with the crabby old man again. That’s a good dream but it doesn’t belong on this website! No, this is another radio dream. As Gary Numan said: “I dream of wires”.

The dream goes like this: What if the next generation of amateur radios was built with WiFi connectivity? If they were, imagine what we could then do. My initial use for such connectivity would be to pull up a repeater database, such as <www.repeaterbook.com>. Since the radio already has GPS, I could use the location services feature to download repeaters in my current area. If a WiFi hotspot were not nearby, I could certainly use my cellphone to fill that bill.

Now you may be asking, if I have a cellphone handy that could access the Internet, why do I need it in the radio? Here’s where the need becomes obvious. With the database wirelessly available to my radio, perhaps I could then, with the click of a button, download those nearby repeaters into my radio’s memories.

The thought here is mainly for mobile radios but it could apply to stationary radios as well. If you are traveling and want to stay in touch with your amateur radio, what better method could there be? Well, the only better method is the subject of another dream and that involves an amateur cellular system. You would automatically get handed from one machine to another as you travel. Since I do not foresee that happening, I am back to the WiFi-enabled ham radio.

Imagine that you are on a long distance trip, or even just a trip beyond the reach of the repeaters you already have programmed into your radio. You could use a handy method of entering new repeaters along the way. Given the necessary steps to program today’s radios, there is no safe way for you to drive and program. Even stopping and programming is not very desirable since the process might need to be repeated every 20-30 minutes.

Forgoing the idea of ‘handoffs’ and automatic programming, I’m focusing on something that could really happen today. You pull over, bring up your repeater database on radio/hotspot, and click ‘accept’ or ‘enter’ or something like that. Perhaps you have already set aside Channels AAA-CCC for this purpose. They get overwritten each time you load a new batch. Maybe alphanumeric tags with city names gets added. This would not be hard to do. This is also a task that a passenger could likely do while you continue to drive, eliminating the need for stopping. A license would not be required to program the radio.

The end result? A near-seamless list of available repeaters along your route, programmed into memory so you can actually use them. Some commercial radios I have seen have several lines of information available on their screens. So could yours. It might should the frequency, offset and tone, the city, the callsign and perhaps a note to the traveling amateur….YOU! Heck, what if the repeaters were WiFi-enabled and could store and forward SMS texts? You can send SMS messages via APRS already. How about a little synergy between repeaters and digipeaters? There’s getting to be a lot of digital repeaters out there. Even I have a couple.

The fact is: You can actually carry on worldwide conversations over digital repeaters now, but you have to be in range. My dream of ‘updating’ memories makes it a little easier to know when you are in range. We need to do better.

December 6, 2017 Near the ‘Witching Hour’

What’s the latest foray into the unknown? The answer is: MultiMode Cocoa. The short take is: So far I like it. Now I am using a trial version so there may be more that it will do, but I have tried CW and PSK31 so far and they both worked great. The user interface is pleasing too. I gave my thoughts on Easypal in the last review and thought I would look for something different. I want to go back and try analog SSTV again. I think it could hold promise for EMCOMM. No, it’s not digital, but it doesn’t have to be. We are not ‘digital snobs’ are we?

Some argue that Slow Scan is the wrong name for what SSTV is in reality. A very good argument could made for that statement. Facsimile is perhaps a better description. Regardless, our mission is to get the message through, no matter what. Slow Scan offers many, many modes, and I am eager to try them…..again. Yes, there was a time in the past when I did SSTV and I suspect there have been advances.

My first SSTV experience was with a Robot 400 (if I remember correctly). It only had black and white modes, but it was cool! Just to be able to receive pictures from my friends over the airwaves was a blast. Later on, I moved up to a Pasokon TV card for my computer with a ComputerEyes digitizer board. That was a huge step. Now we have all sorts of neat software that largely replaces the hardware of the past. Very neat!

Okay, it’s well past the witching hour and I’m getting sleepy. I’ll fool with Cocoa later.

 

December 6, 2017  Update

Updated Winlink Express Standard Forms version number.

December 3, 2017  Easy? Pal

After trying out Easypal with different stations on the other end, and even within my own station, I make the following observations: Easypal delivers a perfect picture, if you get a picture. I found the settings to very finicky and in many cases, was never able to receive a picture. Almost always the other station got my picture. I tried using different receivers and I varied my settings in order to get them adjusted properly. Personally I thought it to be a lot of trouble.

I am sure it is a good program and more time with it would likely improve my opinion, but for now, I want to try analog SSTV again for transmitting image files. In Easypal, the fastest you can send an image is 75 seconds I believe. I want something faster. Some analog modes allow you to send something simple in as little as 8 seconds. That would be useful. Of course, the analog modes do not include FEC to my knowledge. Just as a reminder, Easypal is DRM…Digital Radio Mondiale.

 

November 18, 2017  Don’t Get Twongue-Twied

It might be useful to point out that when I say DRM, I am not meaning to say DMR. They are two different animals altogether and hams are quite familiar with DMR. It might be natural for many to think that is what I meant to say. D-R-M stands for Digital Radio Mondiale which more or less translates into ‘Digital Radio Worldwide’. It is a broadcast standard which has been in use in Europe for some time and many HF broadcasts are done this way. We have been using the Easypal (easypal.org) program to send some files back and forth. We are not trying to connect to any talkgroups.

November 15, 2017 Not So Easy, Pal

Alright, I am overstating that a bit. Easy Pal doesn’t seem that difficult. I was referring to the fact that we were not 100% successful in our first attempt. We did this over a repeater because we do not have a reliable VHF simplex path. That would be desirable, but it is not possible at the moment. Our workaround was to send smaller pictures with less data contained within, so as not to time out the repeater. Station A copied my DRM file (a color TV test pattern) with no problem. I copied absolutely zero from him. Well, I copied no picture from him.

I did see activity on the panadapter and the waterfall and the S-meter. What I later learned was that I simply was not decoding all of his transmission. The next step is to figure out why. I did however, copy his callsign. That showed up with no problem, but apparently that is easier to decode than the Main Service Channel. After some research we have a few more things to try. For instance: the QAM, RS and Mode settings. Hey, figuring this out is the fun part, right?

Assuming our next effort will result in success, I will buy myself a slice of chocolate cake. Heck, I’m going to do that anyway! I’ll send him a picture of the empty plate.

November15, 2017 Corrected Winlink Express Standard Forms version number.

November 10, 2017  Easypal  Since Easypal uses the DRM digital protocol and we are thinking of doing some transferring of images via RF, Easypal was suggested. Has anyone got experience using this program?

November 9, 2017 Added info to ‘Software Updates’

Nov. 8, 2017 Leonard Done It/ Proof of Concept/Three Steps Ahead

Thanks to Leonard – WC4FM for bringing to light that which I did not know, or believe, was possible. One day recently Leonard told me that it was possible to hook up an analog radio to a WiRES-X modem and use it. Well By God, he was right! He even showed me in the WiRES-X manual where it was documented and I still didn’t believe it. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating (that’s the correct saying by the way). So, we ate the WiRES-X box.

Actually, I put it out on a forum and got a quick response from a nice fellow down in Texas who explained to me that he had done this. That was enough for us to try it out, but we started by trying it out with our friend in Texas. Both of my WiRES-X rooms were set up for digital and he was analog, so instead of him connecting to me, I had to connect to him. No problem. This we did and since the WiRES-X room we used was connected to my VHF repeater, Leonard was able to get in on the conversation by accessing my repeater vis RF. I was amazed!

Our friend from Texas agreed that any analog radio with the correct inputs and outputs could be used. Leonard was already three steps ahead of me and had postulated that he could use his Yaesu FT-450D as that analog radio, especially since it had the 6-pin port on the back. I had the 10-pin to 6-pin cable that came with the HRI-200 and that was what we needed. Now, I did turn out to be useful to some extent since I thought about the situation enough to realize that we would need to use the 450D in some sort of squelched FM mode. If the squelch would have been open, the system would have thought it was receiving something and thus would have lit up WiRES-X and caused it to ‘transmit’ rather than receive. So Leonard came up with a plan.

Leonard’s plan was to bring his 450D over and connect it to one of my HRI-200’s. We chose to disable my node radio (an FTM-400DR) and connect his 450D to that modem. We set up on a 10-meter FM frequency in simplex. I adjusted the transceiver settings in the HRI-200 settings dialogue box. Now, the 450D was in the position of being a node radio, meaning we could not use the 450D microphone to transmit over WiRES-X. We needed separate radios. Also, the WiRES-X room we connected to was my VHF repeater’s WiRES-X room. This gave us the capability of monitoring the ‘output’ of that particular WiRES-X room. The next thing to do was to monitor the output of the new node radio….the 450D. That was accomplished by turning on a nearby HF radio and tuning to the node radio’s frequency.

Setting the output of the node radio to ‘Low’, we proceeded. We used one of my HT’s to access the repeater and thus WiRES-X from one direction, and the second HF radio to access WiRES-X from the other direction. Lo and behold (whatever that means), it worked! Leonard said it would work all along, but I had to see it for myself. Of course, Leonard was anxious to eat the pudding too, so we did. Yeah, we didn’t really eat the WiRES-X box. And there it was: Proof of Concept.

So where do we go from here? I can tell you this: Leonard’s mind is clicking away, thinking of possibilities. He ha already imagined several scenarios which involve the setup we tested. He is a very social guy and he is ready to talk to the world, via RF of Internet/RF. Hey, I am happy for him. From my point of view, it is more practical to operate a VHF or UHF node and access the system that way, but guess what? Yep, you got it….Leonard has already thought of that too. He’s always three steps ahead of me.

 

Wuz happening?

This page will cover miscellaneous items that are perhaps, or interest to the group. So, what is happening at the moment? You can rest assured that the digital world is not resting. Someone is always moving ahead; thinking out of the box. Someone is always failing to deliver as promised. I won’t name any names here. You know who they are!

Noteworthy was the shutdown of one of the FCS reflectors. Being that it was in Florida and really bad weather came through, it was no surprise the reflector shut down for a time. It’s not something that I personally would normally use, but I thought it was an interesting situation. It is true that I might use that reflector if I connected to a WiRES-X room that also had a connection to that FCS reflector, but I do not own the equipment that would connect directly to it. So we now have evidence that amateur digital communications can be disrupted, although it was not the loss of an RF channel.

During Tropical Storm Irma, there was an HF digital net established here in the East metro Atlanta area by request of local amateur officials. However, it did not attract the attention that was hoped for. Maybe the storm wasn’t bad enough, or maybe we were all watching out for our own butts!  To tell the truth, although all my radio systems stayed up the whole time, I did not spend much time on the radio. There was a guy wire failure at 120′ on one of the towers, but fortunately it was not catastrophic. That was largely by luck though.

I Have A Dream:

As I mentioned, technology never rests. Recently I learned of ‘Pi-Star’, a digital voice medium that runs on a Raspberry Pi (imagine that!). Developed in England, it connects to Brandmeister of DMR+ networks. This is awesome that so much thought is going into the development of all these neat techniques and modes, but we are getting so scattered. Fortunately there are those who are bridging the gaps. But like the gaps of the old frontier, there are bridges only where someone finds it useful to build one. Silly me, I am looking for bridges that can be built on an ad hoc basis.

Huh? Ad hoc? Well, what if I need to talk to WXXX4KJIE and I don’t have the same equipment as him? What if I don’t even KNOW what equipment he/she has? How in the world would I contact that station? Would I just have to fugeddaboutit? Wow, given the sophistication of today’s technology, that would seem to be sacrilegious! No, there’s got to be a better way. I am pretty good at coming up with problems, but not so good at coming up with solutions. However, I am always willing to pay the person who DOES come up with the solution, so there!

What solution am I dreaming or? I am dreaming of a digital clearinghouse of callsigns. Just to be clear, this sort of thing does already exist, in some forms, but it surely is not universal. Not sure it ever will be either. But what an awesome network that would be! Imagine for a moment that every amateur who has their radio turned on, and who doesn’t mind that fact being known, gets registered temporarily in this database. If you desire to contact this person, you enter your desired entry method (C4FM, FCS, DMR, analog, etc) and a routing solution is computed for you. Better yet, the routing is completed for you! Yep, if I eat enough chocolate before I go to bed, I dream of stuff like this.

Obviously each station would have to enter at least one initial portal for the routing solutions to be determined, and those could be as dynamic as you wish them to be. Also, a numbering system a la CCS7 would be required for all participants. Maybe in the future radios could carry ESN’s (Electronic Serial Numbers), but this could lead to problems if a radio should change hands and not be updated in the tables. In the beginning, you’d likely have to make a manual input to the system to let it know you were there. Your other information could be pre-registered, such as your portal. However, it seems it would be rather easy for you to send a brief digital message that you are listening. Some of the required info would be contained in that message. In any case, callsigns would still be the main form of identification.

So here we go: I turn on the radio and register myself as being active in the system. I enter a request to contact WXXX4KJIE. The system at first searches for that callsign, then determines what routing would put me in contact with WXXX4KJIE, assuming that station is active at that moment. The receiving station could chose how they wish to be notified of an incoming call request. It could be a ringtone or simply a voice in the speaker saying his/her callsign. It could be data on a screen. It could even be stored and forwarded upon request. Yes, yes, we have some systems like that already in place, but no universal systems and no systems that link disparate digital platforms, especially in real time.

On the nights I eat a LOT of chocolate before bed, the dream expands to cover a ‘ham cellular’ system. In other words, you can do all this while mobile! Okay, if we involve the existing cellular system and the Internet, we can do many of these things. Honestly, I have been quite amazed by the resourceful hams driving down the road, talking to nodes in some distant place with very good quality. The main drawback is the one I first pointed out: Contacting ANY participating ham at will.

Sure, my dreaming was the easy part, but I am not completely worthless. I have done something to further the dream although not much. I have two separate networks here that bridge some very small gaps. One is  part of an Allstar Link Network that bridges three repeaters on three bands. No, they do not bridge platforms. They are all analog but this network makes use of microwave links as well as the Internet (the microwave link is amateur but not owned by me). Being Allstar Link though, you can reach those three analog repeaters (2m, 440 and 900) from darn near anywhere. That’s a start but nothing new and nowhere close to the dream.

The second network is, on my end, RF to Internet. It connects to the WiRES-X servers and to whatever in the world is connected to them. Fine individuals and clubs all over have expanded that program with cross-connections to any and every type of platform imaginable. Thank you guys and gals! I run two WiRES-X rooms and one is active 24/7. I monitor it most of the day. But what if YOU want to talk to ME and you don’t have WiRES-X or can’t reach one of my repeaters or don’t have Allstar Link? Unless you can get a message to me to go to a certain common place, that idea is pretty much shot in the rear end! This shows this need for the clearinghouse.

Now, I am planning on adding Allstar Link to the 24/7 WiRES-X room, but that only builds another tiny bridge. It doesn’t solve the overall problem of: Where is so-and-so and how can I contact them?

The Truth Comes Out:

Alright, I am not going to be the one who solves this problem, but we have to have dreamers, don’t we? No, not illegal immigrant dreamers. Dreamers who dream of wires, just like Gary Numan did. So I have dreamed the dream, and spread it out on this page to be laughed at or taken seriously…whatever. Who is up to the challenge? I’ll pay for my share.

K1KC