All posts by Jeffrey Kopcak

Digital Communications in Amateur Radio: Winlink

This article appeared in the The Wood County Amateur Radio Club newsletter CQ Chatter February 2018 edition.

Read the rest of the series in the Digital Communications in Amateur Radio articles category.


Hurricane season wasn’t particularly fun in 2017. We had both extremes. Houston got hit with Hurricane Harvey which required little response from the ham community. Infrastructure stayed online. Disruption to communication systems and Internet was minimal. This left many hams wondering, ‘are we at the point where our infrastructure is stable enough to survive a category 4 hurricane?’ ‘Are hams still relevant since we were not needed for this type of event?’ We got the answer to those questions over the next month with two category 5 hurricanes. Irma impacted the state of Florida and Maria devastated the relatively poor U.S. possession of Puerto Rico. We went from wondering if ham radio was still relevant in emergency situations to rethinking training for extended deployment scenarios, all within a matter of weeks.

Ham radio news sources pointed out many communication techniques were utilized getting traffic in and out of affected areas. An ARRL press release indicated “Maxim Memorial Station W1AW at ARRL Headquarters is monitoring the HWN, 60-meter interoperability channel 2, and Winlink for any traffic.” Winlink gained prevalence in ham news media due to these disasters, gained popularity in emergency communications circles, and became an operating requirement for hams that assisted in Puerto Rico. Winlink is a very powerful and flexible system for exchanging all types of messages.

“Winlink (also known as Winlink 2000) is a worldwide radio messaging system that uses amateur-band radio frequencies to provide radio interconnection services that include email with attachments, position reporting, weather bulletins, emergency relief communications, and message relay” (Wikipedia). In other words, Winlink is a global email system via radio. The backbone uses the Internet for communication but users do not need an Internet connection. This makes the system popular in Emcomm when the Internet is not available. Winlink was first used recreationally by mariners, RV campers, and missionaries. The entire system is run by volunteers and a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Though similar in name, the “WIN System” is a popular IRLP repeater system based in California and entirely different.

https://www.winlink.org/content/getting_started_winlink_and_winmor

The Winlink system consists of multiple Common Message Servers (CMS) on multiple continents thought the world. The CMS servers form a “star” network configuration to coordinate traffic and provide services like email, webmail, telnet, bulletins, and reporting. Each CMS is a mirror image of the others for redundancy, failover, and outage situations. The Internet, by design, can work around outages. To date, there has been no global outage of the Internet – only regional. Having multiple servers, with redundant copies of the same data, means one or more could be affected by an outage and the system still functions. As of November 1, 2017, the CMS servers have been moved into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud for greater redundancy.

Remote Message Servers (RMS) are scattered throughout the world and are the RF connection into the Winlink system. RMS gateways access the resources of the CMS servers via the Internet. These nodes are provided by hams familiar with the system and are setup on many ham bands (HF, VHF, UHF). On VHF/UHF, connectivity is limited to local clients. HF gateways serve a wider area but depend heavily on band conditions.

Finally, your computer runs the client software which interacts with services provided by the CMS, most often through an RMS gateway. The client software sends and receives messages. Size is limited to 120KB maximum, including attachments. Winlink uses a “store and forward” approach to messaging meaning clients are not constantly connected to an RMS or CMS gateway.

There are currently 6 client software applications available for Winlink. A feature comparison is available at: https://www.winlink.org/ClientSoftware. Winlink Express (formally RMS Express) is the preferred client because it’s developed by the system administrators and supports all features of the system. The software is well supported and frequently updated. The application looks and operates much like a stripped-down email client. Using a familiar email interface makes the application easy-to-use. Though free to download and use, Winlink Express is nagware. It will frequently prompt to purchase a key supporting development of the system. Registration of $24 is encouraged but not a requirement to use Winlink.

Winlink Express interacts with a wide selection of transceivers, provides different operating modes (PACTOR, Packet, Telnet, WINMOR Virtual TNC), and offers different connection methods (relay over mesh and D-STAR networks). It can be operated in any of four general methods:

  • Winlink: access messages on the CMS via an RF connection to an RMS gateway using the Internet.
  • Peer-to-Peer (P2P): messages exchanged directly with other users over RF, Internet, or mesh without the use of a RMS or CMS.
  • Radio-only: messages transferred between HF RMS gateways – without use of the Internet.
  • Telnet Post Office: connects to the CMS directly over the Internet.

A growing library of forms is available for ARES, RACES, SHARES, or MARS organizations including ICS, ARRL, and form types used in Ohio. The advantage of Winlink versus NBEMS is the ability to exchange messages over the public Internet. A form could be emailed directly to a government official instead of relayed via another ham. Winlink Express makes it easy to fill out or reply to forms by utilizing the local web browser. When composing a message, these forms are found under “Select Template.”

A “Query Catalog” accesses services provided by the CMS such as weather and marine forecasts, news, and propagation reports. Location coordinates can be reported through Winlink as well.

Winlink Express will work on a modern computer or Windows tablet running Windows Vista or later. The WINMOR Virtual TNC requires a 700 MHz or greater processor and 512 MB RAM or more due to the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) needed. An Apple or Linux version of Winlink Express is not available but it can be run using a virtual machine or dual-boot configuration. A Linux client is available but does not support all features.

This series primarily focuses on soundcard modes over HF and I will be discussing the WINMOR Virtual TNC. WINMOR is a low-cost interface utilizing the SignaLink USB for $120 as opposed to a PACTOR 3 dedicated hardware modem which can run $1,100 – $1,600. Low-cost hardware means tradeoffs. WINMOR is not anywhere near as fast or reliable as a PACTOR 3 modem, but it does a very good job.

To get started, first go to: ftp://autoupdate.winlink.org/User%20Programs/. Download two programs from the list of files: latest itshfbc program and Winlink_Express_install. ITS HF Propagation is prediction software to provide a rough estimate of the signal path quality between your QTH and remote RMS. Install both applications, order doesn’t matter. Click “next” through both installs, accepting defaults.

An Internet connection is required on the computer for initial setup. After starting Winlink Express, a “Winlink Express Properties” configuration will be seen. If not, click Settings, Winlink Express Setup. At a minimum the following fields must be completed: callsign, choose a password, enter a non-Winlink password recovery email, and grid square. Under Service Code, if you plan on using EMCOMM channels, make the code read: PUBLIC EMCOMM

I recommend checking Display list of pending incoming messages prior to download. This will display incoming message details prior to download allowing the user to select or reject messages based on size or sender. Click Update. An account will be setup on the Winlink system. The Winlink email address won’t become active until a message is sent through the CMS gateway. Click Remind Me Later on any Winlink Express Registration screens.

To create a message activating the Winlink email address, click the New message icon or click Message, New Message.

In the To field, enter your real email address. In the Subject field, enter something like “My first Winlink message.” In the message body, enter something like “This is my first Winlink message, whoo hoo!”

The message is ready to send, but wait! There is no “send” option. What gives?!? Since this system is store-and-forward, messages are Post to Outbox and appear in the “Outbox” System Folder. Messages in outbox can still be edited but will be sent when connected to a CMS.

Next to “Open Session,” in the drop-down select Winmor Winlink. Click Open Session.

Two more boxes will appear: “WINMOR WL2K Session” and “WINMOR Setup.” The WINMOR WL2K Session box is where an RMS gateway is selected and it displays the connection status.

You will be prompted to select the Capture and Playback soundcard devices in the WINMOR Setup box. For the SignaLink, select USB Audio CODEC. Leave all other settings at their defaults. Click Update. A third “WINMOR Sound Card TNC” box will appear. This window shows a waterfall along with transmit and receive state of the virtual TNC. Ignore this box for now.

On the SignaLink, begin with the TX and RX volume knobs set to the 12 o’clock position. Set delay (DLY) to the 2nd tick-mark (8 o’clock position).

If you have a way to control your radio through CI-V commands or equivalent, click Settings, Radio Setup, and configure the settings for the radio. Radio control makes it much easier when selecting different RMS gateway stations. Selecting a different station will automatically change the radio’s frequency and mode. With a VOX device like the SignaLink, for “PTT Port” select External. Click Update.

Back in the WINMOR Winlink Session box, click Channel Selection. An “HF Channel Selector” window will open. A message will ask to ‘update the channel list and recompute the propagation estimates now?’ Click Yes. If not asked, click Update Table Via Internet. This table will update with the current list of Winlink RMS gateway channels on HF. The list can be updated over radio in the future if desired.

Once updated, the presence of color in the “Path Reliability Estimate” and “Path Quality Estimate” columns mean the ITS HF Propagation predictor program is installed and working. Calculations are based on your grid square and solar flux index. Update the current grid square in Winlink Express setup and this table often when traveling. “Mode” is the bandwidth of the RMS node. A higher number means faster transfers are possible. “Hours” means the hours each day the node is online. “00-23” is all day, “02-13” is 02:00 – 13:00. The rest is self-explanatory.

To select a particular RMS gateway, double-click that row in the table. Gateways in green are good choices but ones at the top of the list may not always provide the best connection. Reliable gateways are found by trial and error and can be added to the “Favorites” list. If Rig Control is enabled, the radio should tune to the dial frequency of the RMS gateway and enter USB mode. If not, tune the radio’s display frequency to the “Dial Freq” (VERY important!) shown in WINMOR. Warm up the Tuner if it needs it. Remember to use no more than 30% power. Click Start.

If WINMOR thinks the channel is busy, it will prompt to verify you still want to connect because your transmissions maybe interfering with another station. Your radio will start pinging the remote RMS gateway station. In the WINMOR Sound Card TNC, above the receive indicator will be the “Measured T>R Latency” value. This measures the transmit/receive turnaround time. This should be less than 250ms and adjustable in part by the SignaLink DLY knob. Higher values will cause problems receiving from the RMS gateway. While receiving transmissions from the gateway, adjust the RX knob to a level that falls within the green portion of “Rcv Level.”

With any luck, your client will connect and your first Winlink message will be sent! There will be A LOT of back-and-forth (TX/RX switching) between your radio and remote RMS gateway. These are handshaking and acknowledgments or sending/receiving messages. When all messages are exchanged, the client will automatically disconnect from the RMS gateway. Clicking “Stop” will gracefully disconnect and ID at any time during a session. “Abort” should only be used when something is very wrong because communication is terminated immediately (without ID). Attempts will be made by the RMS to reestablish communication with the client before eventually timing-out.

Once the test message is received in your actual email, your new callsign@winlink.org email address is now active! Send a reply to the test message through your real email. To call a different RMS gateway, click Channel Selection and select a different station. Wait 5 minutes or so for the reply email to reach the Winlink CMS. Click Start in the WINMOR Winlink session box. You will see your reply downloaded to the inbox! When replying to lengthy messages, I will keep a few sentences (paragraph at most) of the original message. This keeps the transmission time down. The original sender can look at the full message in their client sent folder.

Before going crazy telling people to send messages, there is one crucial piece to this system. Winlink uses a “whitelist” (approved senders list) approach for external email addresses. This keeps abuse and spam to a minimum. As a Winlink user, you are free to send messages using your Winlink address to other Winlink users. Other Winlink users can do the same, freely contacting you.

External email addresses are handled very different. An external email is any mail system other than Winlink (Gmail, Outlook, DACOR, Buckeye Cable, BGSU, etc.). If you first send a Winlink message to someone@someprovider.com, that email address is automatically added to your Winlink whitelist. That means email from someone@someprovider.com will be delivered to your Winlink inbox.

For an external email address to send you a message unsolicited to Winlink, there are two options: add that email to your whitelist ahead of time or the sender must put “//WL2K” in the subject line. Example: “//WL2K Holiday Meeting.” Anything with //WL2K in the subject is considered a deliverable message and will not be flagged as unauthorized. By default, all outgoing messages have this inserted automatically by Winlink Express. When some individual replies to your message, which would have //WL2K in the subject, it will be accepted. Any non-whitelisted (blacklisted) addresses or messages without //WL2K in the subject, the sender will receive a bounced error message saying “Sender not authorized for any recipient.”

Whitelists can be managed by logging on to the Winlink My Account page and click My Whitelist. That page will provide details how to update the whitelist using client commands, if desired.

Another important detail to remember, there is no expectation of privacy with the Winlink system. RMS gateway owners and Winlink administrators can read messages exchanged through the system. They are looking for Part 97 violations and inappropriate usage of the system. Violators will be blocked. I’m sure they would find details of your camping trip fascinating, but they really don’t care.

Email messages through this system are considered 3rd party traffic under Part 97. The email message resides on the CMS until you (a ham) make a connection to another ham’s station (RMS) to retrieve your messages. This is similar in nature to passing messages over the National Traffic System (NTS).

The list of services available through the Winlink system is extensive. Winlink is quite flexible allowing many different ways to access the system over RF, APRS, or Internet. Feel free to send a message to my Winlink email address, K8JTK—at—winlink.org. Replace “—at—” with the appropriate email symbol. Don’t forget to include //WL2K in the subject!

Find out more information:

Winlink website: https://winlink.org/

Introduction presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTx9pY1Akl8

Resource for beginners: https://www.winlink.org/content/getting_started_winlink_and_winmor

System tutorials, documents, and FAQs: https://www.winlink.org/content/winlink_book_knowledge

Terminology of the system: https://www.winlink.org/glossary

Winlink over APRS: https://www.winlink.org/APRSLink

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – Janurary 2018 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/2018/OSJ-Jan-18.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

So nothing really tech news related happened this month. Eh, not so much. The New Year brought two major flaws in nearly every modern microprocessor: Meltdown and Spectre.

In the past, major security issues were able to be corrected through software or firmware updates. This is because almost everything is now run by small amounts of software and can be easily updated. Design issues are harder to fix because the problem is fundamental to the design of a device.

Description from Meltdownattack.com:

Meltdown and Spectre exploit critical vulnerabilities in modern processors. These hardware vulnerabilities allow programs to steal data which is currently processed on the computer. While programs are typically not permitted to read data from other programs, a malicious program can exploit Meltdown and Spectre to get hold of secrets stored in the memory of other running programs. This might include your passwords stored in a password manager or browser, your personal photos, emails, instant messages and even business-critical documents.

Meltdown and Spectre work on personal computers, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Depending on the cloud provider’s infrastructure, it might be possible to steal data from other customers.

Meltdown affects nearly all Intel microprocessors manufactured since 1995. In modern computing, an operating system “kernel” handles all interactions between applications (web browser, word processing, spreadsheets) and hardware (CPU, memory, network, USB devices). By its nature, the kernel must know everything about system interactions.

CPUs have different operating modes. Two modes apply to Meltdown: unprotected (called kernel mode) and user mode. Kernel mode has access to everything while instructions executed in user mode should not have access to the same memory as the kernel.

Meltdown is the demonstration of an unauthorized user mode process accessing kernel mode memory. This means a user process can access information to which it doesn’t have permission. Think of systems that share data among many users like an online cloud service. Isolation techniques are one of the major selling points of the cloud. Multiple users can be using the same physical hardware and not impact or know anything about other users also using the same hardware. A malicious process could use meltdown to access the data of other people’s applications running on the same device.

Spectre affects nearly all microprocessor implementations of speculations and predictions. In an effort to make systems run faster, a huge amount of speculative processing is engineered into processors. Speculation is the processors answer to the question: what is most likely to happen with this instruction set? Being able to “guess” the right answer provides a massive performance boost and we all want fast systems. To explain one part of this vulnerability, consider two math equations are given to a microprocessor:

a + b = c
d + e = f

The processor will recognize calculation of the second equation does not depend on anything from the first equation. This means the processor will execute these equations simultaneously until it reaches a common dependency. That dependency would be something like:

a + b = c
(d + e) * c = g

The answer c is used as an input into the computation of the second equation. Running this set through the processor would be slower because they couldn’t be calculated simultaneously. An input into the second equation is dependent on the answer to the first.

Using the same equations, let’s assume for everyone in the Ohio section, the answer to c = 5. A programmer could write an instruction set following that calculation to say: if c = 5 then take fork #1, otherwise take fork #2. How do humans know which fork to take? Calculate the value of c. However, processors try to use “speculative execution” to perform the work of both forks before it knows the answer to c.

Let’s add super-secret data to fork #1: “the Ohio Section IS the best section.” We don’t want fork #2 to know anything about that data because it might be someone from another section trying to break-in. A processor would execute both fork instruction sets speculating on the outcome. This speculation could allow someone from another section to see our secret in fork #1 when they should only see something else in fork #2. Consider a malicious smartphone application taking advantage of this to access text messages, instant messages, mobile baking data, or critical documents.

The lengthy process of dealing with these issues has begun. The only way to truly “fix” these problems is to design new CPUs architectures and replace existing ones. Yeah, sure. Remember, these issues are fundamental to processor design. If these flaws are ever corrected, it will be over a period of time – not tomorrow, next week, or even next year. In the meantime, operating systems are implementing methods to prevent attacks.

In the rush to get these fixes out, as one might expect, more problems are being caused. Microsoft has reported issues with anti-virus applications not playing nice and claiming AMD’s documentation was incomplete. Ubuntu 16.04 users had issues forcing them to roll back the kernel. In addition to all this, processor performance is impacted. Testing done on operating system patches shows slowdowns of 2% – 30%.A forum post on Epic Games included the above graph showing CPU usage of 3 cloud servers. After their cloud provider patched one server at about 23:00, CPU utilization of that server increased nearly 2.5x over the other two. Though the CPU wasn’t maxed out, it was enough to cause service disruption. Gamers really don’t like it when their services don’t work.

For most users, stay current with system patches and updates. In particular, Microsoft is requiring anti-virus programs to set a registry key before Windows will apply system updates. As of this writing, if you do not run, have an out-of-date, or have a non-compliant anti-virus application, your system will NOT receive any future Windows updates including the patches for Meltdown and Spectre. Current versions of Windows can run the free Windows Security Essentials available for Windows 7 or Windows Defender is included in Windows 8, 8,1, and 10.

Bruce Schneier, a well-known cryptographer and security researcher states: “… more are coming, and they’ll be worse. 2018 will be the year of microprocessor vulnerabilities, and it’s going to be a wild ride.” Link to his blog post.

More information:

https://meltdownattack.com/ – research papers, technical information, FAQ, videos in action, and info from companies affected.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meltdown_(security_vulnerability)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectre_(security_vulnerability)

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – December 2017 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/OSJ-December-17.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

I’m touching on a third-rail topic of ham radio this month, licensing and education. I’ve heard any number of hams state something like this about new hams: ‘ham’s today only study the answers to pass the test.’ ‘I don’t like so-and-so’s teaching method because their students don’t know anything.’ They don’t approve of the “boot-camp” style training sessions for many of the same reasons. Certainly their thinking is one school of thought: learn the question pools, know the reasons, learn the theories and be able to provide reasonable explanations before taking the test.

I saw a presentation by Dan Romanchik – KB6NU on the Ham Radio 2.0 podcast (http://www.livefromthehamshack.tv/2017/05/25/episode-97-teach-1-day-technician-class-kb6nu-dayton-hamvention/). His presentation caught my attention because he publishes the “No Nonsense Study Guides” (http://www.kb6nu.com/study-guides/) which is a text-book approach to learning the question pools. Dan is sold on and teaches one-day Technician training classes (also called “Ham Crams” or boot-camps). He teaches the answers to the questions and teaches to the test. At the end of the class, follows up with the Technician exam. Why? To get people into the hobby. As a Volunteer Examiner, I can appreciate that. Getting people into the ranks is always important. Dan claims students will learn something from his class and retain at least enough information to pass the exam. This means students don’t have to make multi-week commitments to attend class. How often does something come up in real life during a 6-week training class? More often than you’d think. Our school systems have been teaching to standardized tests and college entrance exams for decades. Iowa Tests, SATs, and ACTs anyone? The reason for Dan’s teaching methodology is because the real learning happens on the radio.

After watching his presentation, I realized this is exactly how I learned things in ham radio. When I was studying, my dad mentored me with electronic theory because that is his area of education and he worked in the industry. Electronic theory wasn’t necessarily something I cared a whole lot about as a freshman in high school. I knew the Part 97 FCC rules from seeing him operate or explaining them to me and from generally being around the hobby. His interests didn’t cover the HF bands. Even by the time I took my General and Extra, I probably couldn’t hit 40 meters with a shotgun. When the opportunity came and I found myself interested in HF, that changed. Being around mentors and absorbing everything I could, I think, made learning the material on the General exam easier. That learning happened over the better part of a decade after taking my Novice & Technician exams and when I decided to upgrade to General & Extra.

Ham Radio isn’t the only hobby where you receive a license to learn. A roommate in college had his pilot’s license. He was always taking aviation classes and getting flight hours in between his other classes. You have to get a pilot’s license even before you can begin learning to fly an aircraft. The State of Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles requires an applicant for learners permit to pass a knowledge test about regulations and traffic signs. Then the real learning begins – hours of driving and education. Ham radio isn’t necessarily different. Sure, many students will get their license and may not ever become a pilot or ever get on the air, but that’s up to them. I believe the ARRL was trying to accomplish something similar by exploring an introductory license: http://www.arrl.org/news/arrl-board-explores-entry-level-license-options-ways-to-face-future-challenges

Hams will argue about skills. Skills needed to build a radio or operate CW are the usual examples. These are seen as relevant to ‘separate men from the boys.’ Yeah, OK. At this point, neither of those ‘skills’ are my interests. Can those same operators write a program from scratch or write an article on take-your-pick of an HF digital mode? Maybe yes, maybe no, but I can. Does that make anyone less of a ham because of different skill sets or interests? I don’t think so. The hobby is incredibly diverse with people from different backgrounds, levels of experience, and interests not even necessary related to being on the air. Such examples would be scholarships, enforcement, advocacy, public relations, regulations, laws, education, spectrum defense, and publications.

On the other hand, the ham community needs to help those hams who want to learn. I think many new hams give up because they don’t get the mentoring they are seeking. They may contact a club or two asking for help and get no response. It’s not fun when you have to constantly beg for help or get talked down to. We are all volunteers, have families, and other commitments too.

Club meetings may spark some interest on a topic but aren’t typically good places for extensive hands-on training. Many clubs focus on similar (related) topics for their meetings. Holding regularly scheduled classes and training is usually an issue due to time commitments, availability, or lack of regular interest. Other places for training might be evening classes at a local university or look at offerings of a local makerspace. Partnering with makerspaces could facilitate a place for demonstrations and training as well as bringing those with radio building skills into the hobby. Work ham radio into topics such as WiFi and Bluetooth transmitters. Don’t focus exclusively on operating demonstrations. Working with other clubs to form special interest groups, utilize subject matter “experts” to share their experiences for an extended hands-on session, or a “program your HT” evening are some other ideas. I would like to hear ideas that have been met with success welcoming newcomers into the hobby.

Retired ARRL CEO Dave Sumner – K1ZZ was on the QSO Today podcast. Dave talked about his 44 years with the League. He started as an intern in the 1970’s. The podcast starts out talking about how he got into ham radio, his antenna farm, and operating interests. Dave covered experiences with the IARU and other radio conferences during his tenure at the ARRL. He talked about programs and history of the ARRL including the Spectrum Defense fund and IARU intruder watch program. Check out QSO Today episode 172: https://www.qsotoday.com/podcasts/k1zz

In some unfortunate news, one of the largest electronics distributors headquartered in Ohio for 40 years and frequent vendor at Hamvention, MCM Electronics, is partnering with Newark element 14. Two plants will close and more than 90 workers will be laid off before end-of-year. MCM sold all kinds of tools, 3D printers, parts, wires, speakers, Arduino and Raspberry Pi computers. As of September 1, their website redirects to the Newark website. I knew the name element 14 from the Raspberry Pi computers I’ve purchased over the years. I had the opportunity to visit the MCM facility during a recent trip to Hamvention. The store was quite small compared to the massive warehouse. I couldn’t believe the size. Hopefully they’ll keep the warehouse open for parts distribution. ARRL News story: http://www.arrl.org/news/mcm-electronics-shutters-two-plants-announces-merger-with-newark-element-14

Finally, don’t forget the HF Santa Net running through Christmas Eve. Starts daily at 8:30 pm Eastern and can be found on 3916 kHz for the little ones to have a chance to talk with Santa! http://www.3916nets.com/santa-net.html. The Santa Watch Net will kick off at 6:00 pm Eastern on Christmas Eve as Santa delivers his presents. The Watch Net can be found on the *DoDropIn* Echolink conference node #355800.

Thanks for reading. Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – November 2017 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/OSJ-November-17.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,
I’ve been playing around with a couple new radios. With the holidays approaching, these will make great gift ideas.

Cheap radios for new or young hams are hard to come by. Many opted for the under $30 Baeofung (or Pofung) UV-5R and for good reason. They’re cheap. Perfect options for new hams, young hams, or public service events were radios are prone to damage and misuse. Destroy it and its $30 vs a couple hundred, or 7, to replace. Cheap radios could replace older radios that maybe didn’t have PL, were lower power, or single band. You got what you paid for though. Inconsistencies in firmware versions lead to differing sets of features, programming software wasn’t easy to use, neither was installing the programming cable, complaints about the lack of support, and lack of a usable manual. I stopped using these radios because of the many tests proving they were good about transmitting everywhere at once (across the entire band). As hams we are given plenty of leeway in how we use our frequencies. It’s up to each of us to make sure our radios comply with Part 97 and do not interfere with other licensed radio services. The ARRL published their findings in a November 2015 QST article. Ohio Section Technical Specialist Dave – KD8TWG demonstrated this with a couple of radios he had purchased: https://kd8twg.net/2015/10/17/a-quick-and-unscientific-spectral-analysis-of-two-baofeng-radios/.

Ok, so don’t use these radios. What radio, that meets Part 97 requirements, is available for the price? This was a problem. There was no real option. About the cheapest dual-band radio was $150. DMR radios competed on price and features but, until recently, were only single band. I finally found a better option. Unfortunately, the company has “Baofeng” in the name which makes things even more confusing. A company called “Baofeng Tech” or BTech, is a US based company offering a similar radio called the UV-5X3 for under $60.

The radio looks and acts like a UV-5R. Baofeng Tech updates the firmware, modifies the radio installing better filtering on the transmitter, and includes an easy-to-read nicely printed 85 page manual. The UV-5X3 comes with all the same accessories including belt clip, antennas, charger, and ear piece. All original Baofeng accessories work too. To my surprise, they even squeezed in the 220 MHz (1.25m) band! Baofeng Tech assured me their radios meet spectral requirements for Part 97. I had mine tested at the Cleveland Hamfest by KD8TWG. On VHF the 3rd harmonic was a little higher than 40db down, UHF was spot-on. The CHRIP free programming software is the only programmer that currently works with this radio. RT Systems UV-5R programmer for the original Baofeng radios does not work with the UV-5X3.

Now there’s no excuse to get a very reasonably priced radio compliant with Part 97 spectral requirements. It even comes with free shipping if bought through Amazon. For someone looking to play around with 220, this is a great tri-bander radio. Check out this radio as an option, from a US company, for new or young hams: https://baofengtech.com/uv-5×3. Product images from Baofeng Tech.

I’ve wanted to install a dual-band DMR mobile radio in the shack. Yeah, all the DMR repeaters in the area are UHF. I like to have the flexibility of a dual-band. Connect Systems was one for the first, if not the first, to release a dual-band DMR mobile radio earlier this year. Talking with Jerry at Dayton (President of Connect Systems), they had just shipped the first batch of CS800D radios and were expecting to get another batch ‘in a couple months.’ I heard very good things from hams that have purchased from Jerry’s company previously. Connect Systems is accessible via email and social media for support, they worked to fully resolve product issues, fixed issues with firmware quickly, and let customers try out their new equipment while seeking feedback. I didn’t hesitate to get on the waiting list.

I finally got the radio at the beginning of August and I like it a lot. The radio itself looks like a Motorola CM300D or nearly identical in layout, including microphone, to the Kenwood TM-281A. Radio covers VHF: 136-174 @ 50W, UHF: 400-470 @ 45W. The head and microphone are removable and extendable with a cat5 Ethernet cable. It will hold 4,000 channels and 130,000 contacts with firmware updates – more contacts than the ENTIRE DMR-MARC user database! It’s got a couple quarks which I’m told are to be fixed in future firmware releases. Biggest annoyance being the display doesn’t always update after a button is pressed. The programming software is straight forward if you’ve ever programmed a DMR radio before. The Ohio Section website has a pre-built codeplug: http://arrl-ohio.org/digital/digital.html. N0GSG makes a great codeplug editor and codeplug converter that I found useful: http://n0gsg.com/contact-manager/. His editor now supports the CS800D, TYT MD2017 & MD9600.

The Connect Systems CS800D was a little pricey when I bought it ($399 + $15 for the programming cable) but has since dropped in price to $299. I feel this radio could have been more popular if the radio was not released in batches. Jerry was great about communicating and explaining the situation. Like any distributor, they were beholden to the timetables from their manufacturer. Nothing they could do about it. I think that allowed other options to enter the market sooner and resulted in lost potential sales. It’s a great radio and recommended for someone looking for a dual-band DMR mobile radio from a US based company. CS800D product page: http://www.connectsystems.com/products/top/radios%20CS800D.htm.

If you’ve picked up a CS800D, check the Software page for recent firmware updates: http://www.connectsystems.com/software/software%20CS800D.htm. Product image from Connect Systems.

Technical Specialist reports

Dave – KD8TWG has been busy as usual. In addition to testing radios at the Cleveland Hamfest, he tackled the issue of “operational security.” This has been a topic of discussion in the area as of late and on social media. He was seeing arguments that operational frequencies needed to be obscured for the purposes of “securing” an operation. Without encryption, there is no such thing. As Dave points out, any modern scanner can scan VHF and UHF bands within seconds. It’s even easier with SDR receivers that allow you to look at the entire band scope at once. Check out his post about Hiding Frequencies for “Operational Security”: https://kd8twg.net/2017/08/14/opsec/.

In October, another Section Technical Specialist, Jason – WG8B, gave a presentation to the Dayton Amateur Radio Association about his area of expertise: bike mobile operations. Jason provided feedback on his program:

The briefing focused on using bike mobile capabilities to support public service events and covered topics such as

  • Suitable antennas. Bikes are not good ground planes, and dual band antennas are important when supporting public service events from a bike since carrying extra antennas and swapping them out is not easy.
  • Speakers and microphones that work while bicycling while allowing you to safely operate a bike.
  • Properly mounting equipment to not only protect the equipment but also protect the bicycle and rider.
  • APRS operations from a bicycle

Most of the questions revolved around antennas. I won’t repeat specific questions to protect the innocent so to speak, so I’ll just clarify what I think good antenna requirements are for VHF/UHF bicycle mobile operations. First and especially when supporting public service events, omnidrectional antennas are absolutely required. On a bike, there is no practical way to steer antennas with directional patterns whether they be gain antennas or magnetic loops. You will be changing direction quite frequently, and you need to hit repeaters from any aspect. Second, high-Q antennas such as magnetic loops require precise tuning, something that’s not possible while on a bicycle. Stick to an antenna that does not require tuning. Your radio should be working for you while on a bike during public service events not the other way around. There’s already enough going on, and safety is first. Third, any antenna bigger or longer than a bicycle flag is not likely safe. There are balance issues with weight above the bike’s center-of-gravity, and just about the worst shape aerodynamically is an antenna. So how hard do you want to pedal? Also, I’ve had problems with low hanging branches with just a bicycle flag. Anything taller is going to be problematic. My recommendation is still to use a dual band J pole like Ed Fong’s DBJ-2 taped to a bike flag or a single band half wave dipole like Larson’s NMO 150B HW. While not the absolutely best antennas performance-wise, they will still hit every repeater in my local area and then some with a 5W HT. And these are very simple and small form factor antennas that just work and won’t get in the way when on a bike.

Finally, if you would like to see the briefing, I’ve made it accessible here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2Yn-_hki2v0blFnNVVRbW9kc3c

Jason’s presentation has lots of tips and pictures for making a bicycle mobile installation a success. If you would like to have Jason at your meeting, drop him a note!

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – October 2017 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/OSJ-October-17.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. I either made your eyes roll because security can be complicated or piqued your interest because of the TWO Equifax breaches. I can certainly get into the weeds with data and cybersecurity because it’s an interest of mine – as a user and programmer. Realizing that most readers won’t have a background in programming or system administration, I’ll set aside the technical details. I’ll briefly cover some cybersecurity issues and give tips anyone reading this article can use.

The whole concept of computing is built on trust. The list of things we trust is infinitely long: trust programmers of the operating system and program developers are following good practices. Trust the company stands behind their product, fixing problems and issues. Trust “Information Security Officers” of a company actually have a background in information security. Trust audits are taking place to uncover problems. Trust customer data is being stored in accordance with good security practices. Trust the website you’re browsing to is really CompanyWebsite.com. Trust “[insert name of company here] Free Wi-Fi” is really that company’s free Wi-Fi. Trust that devices in your home aren’t spying on you. You start to get the idea.

Security is a tradeoff between safety and convenience. Computing could be made very secure but those systems would be completely unusable due to the layers of security. There is no such thing as a “completely secure” system or device – it just means the mistakes, problems, and bugs haven’t been found yet. “Shellshock” is considered to be a very severe security bug. Disclosure came in September of 2014. This bug affected millions of servers connected to the internet. It was determined the bug, in some form, had existed in the UNIX (and Linux) command-line interface since 1989.
Humans program computers. Humans use computers. Humans make mistakes.

Hackers leverage these mistakes and use them to their advantage, often to gain unauthorized access. The word “hacker” has two meanings. “White-hat hackers” are the ones who experiment with and modify devices and software to make it work better. Hams are examples of these because we take commercial gear and make repeaters or use off-the-shelf routers for things like Mesh networking. “Black-hat hackers” are the bad guys and the ones we hear about on the news stealing credit card data from Target and personal data from Equifax. These are the ones I will be referring to.

Hollywood gives us the perception that hackers are in some 3rd-world country or in a dark basement, no lights, and only the glow of their computer screens. Hackers come from all parts of the world and sometimes are acting on a government’s behalf. In fact, legitimate companies exist solely to sell their black-hat hacking tools. They have buildings, employees, call centers, and help desks – as does any legitimate company.

What’s the motivation behind hacking?

Money. It’s hard not to tie everything back to money. The first reference to malicious hacking was “phreaking” (pronounced freaking. AKA: phone hacking) where one of the goals was to manipulate the public phone system and use it to make long-distance calls when it was very expensive to call around the world. More recent financial examples include everything from disrupting nation-states (economic), blackmail, and ransom payments for access to data. Ransomware encrypts all documents and pictures. It demands payment before it will (hopefully) decrypt your files allowing you to use those files again. Ransomware utilizes the same technology, strong encryption, which you use to securely transact with your bank online.

My social media, computer, or online account has no value [to me] / I only check email / I don’t store anything on my computer / why would anyone want access to my email or computer?

I hear these alot. Many of us don’t realize all the things a bad guy can do with computer access or an email account. Brian Krebs is a blogger who covers computing security and cybercrime on his website Krebs on Security. He is known for infiltrating underground cybercrime rings and writes about his experiences. His site is highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in cybersecurity.

Brian posted two articles titled “The Value of a Hacked Email Account” and “The Scrap Value of a Hacked PC…” When signing up for any online service, an email address is almost always required. In 2013, according to Brian’s article, hackers who have access to email accounts can subsequently gain access to other services such as iTunes and sell that access for $8 each. FedEx, Continental, United accounts go for $6. Groupon, $5. Hosting and service accounts like GoDaddy, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile, $4 apiece. Facebook and Twitter accounts were $2.50/ea.

Aside from the monetary value, bad guys have access to family pictures, work documents, chat history, can change billing and deposit addresses on banking accounts, drain financials like 401K, bank or stock accounts, and target other individuals like family members. In 2012, a hacker went after Wired journalist Mat Honan locking him out of his digital life. The attacker used flaws in Amazon and Apple’s services, which helped them gain access to Mat’s Gmail and ultimately his Twitter account.

Access to a personal computer can be gained through a number of schemes including: fake ‘you have an out-of-date plugin/flash version’ on a webpage, receive an email about a past due invoice, notification of a problem with some shipment, or by innocently installing a program thought to be legitimate. A recent example of a compromised program was the widely popular PC maintenance program, CCleaner. Untold millions of people unknowingly downloaded a malicious version of the program from the vendor’s site.

A hacked PC can be used for: generating email spam, harvesting other accounts (see above), gain access to a work network, steal online game keys and characters, be part of a Denial of Service attack, infect other devices on the network (like DVRs), create fake eBay auctions, host child porn, capture images from web-cams or network cameras and use them for extortion purposes.

What can I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately in situations of compromise like Target and Equifax, there was nothing you could do – other than not use a credit card at Target or not apply for any kind of credit reported to Equifax. Unlikely for many. You can only react after-the-fact by closing accounts with fraudulent charges and place credit warnings or freezes on your credit.

The SANS Institute, which specializes in information security and cybersecurity training, offers a “monthly security awareness newsletter for everyone” called “Ouch!” Their October 2017 newsletter outlines five steps to help anyone overcome fears and securely use today’s technology. Check the newsletter for more information on these points.

  1. Social Engineering: is an old technique which creates a sense of urgency to tick people into giving up information they shouldn’t: someone needs money quickly, boss needs a password, the IRS is filing suit against you, Microsoft Tech Support calls you about a “virus” on your computer, etc. Never give a password, any personal information, or remote access to any solicitor.
  2. Passwords: Create unique, strong passwords for all online devices and online accounts. Use a password manager which will assist in creating strong passwords. LastPass utilizes a web interface and cloud storage, KeePass is an application and stores the database locally on your computer. Both are excellent solutions for a password manager.
    If you’re uncomfortable with a password manager, use pass-phrases which are passwords made up of multiple words. Passphrases can be written down, but store these in a secure location. Use two-step verification, often called two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a combination of something you know (your password) and something you have (a smartphone). A list of services offering 2FA with instructions can be found at: twofactorauth.org. Note: text messages are NOT a secure two-factor method because the cellphone network is not secure and attackers have been able to re-route text messages.
  3. Patches: Put all devices connected to the Internet behind a firewall (router) and keep all systems connected to the internet up-to-date. This includes home routers, computers, smartphones, tablets, streaming media devices, thermometers, Raspberry PIs, lights, automation systems, speakers, and video cameras. If devices are not being updated by the vendor, potentially dangerous mistakes are not being fixed. It’s time to consider better devices.
  4. Anti-virus: can protect you when you accidentally click on the thing you shouldn’t have and infected your system. It won’t protect against every form of infection. Windows Defender, available for all current Windows operating systems, is sufficient.
  5. Backups: I cannot stress this enough, backup, backup, backup! Many times I’m asked something similar to: ‘how can I recover my daughter’s wedding pictures from my computer’s crashed drive?’ Maybe you can, but often not. ‘I lost my phone, didn’t have cloud backup enabled, and had vacation pictures on there.’ Yea, they’re really gone. Backups serve as a way to recover from your own mistakes like accidentally deleted files and ransomware cyberattacks. A “3-2-1 backup strategy” includes 3 copies of your data, 2 on different media, 1 off-site. For most of us, this means: the original data is the 1st copy, an external hard drive (disconnected when not copying data) or network storage drive houses the 2nd copy, and a copy on a USB flash drive stored at work or backed up using a cloud backup solution – is the off-site 3rd copy.

A layered approach to security is considered best practice. As an example, creating strong passwords AND using two-factor authentication. The more layers the better, but more layers means less convenience. Brian Krebs also offers his “Tools for a Safer PC” which includes switching to OpenDNS in your home router. DNS is the service that turns human-readable URLs into IP address. OpenDNS blocks communication with known malware sites.

Hopefully this information has grabbed your attention and guided you to take steps to become safer online. Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Imgs: Krebs on Security, Ars Technica.

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – September 2017 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/OSJ-September-17.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

Last couple articles have been features so this month is a lot of odds-and-ends…

System Fusion

Last month’s article covering many System Fusion issues sparked some feedback as one might imagine. It was split.

One group in the section was using an external controller and was having a DR-1X repeater lock-up problem. They troubleshot the issue and with “additional circuity” resolved their issue. One disputed my assertion the repeater is two FTM-400 radios, but didn’t provide any details to the contrary. Having opened up LEARA’s DR-1X and upgraded the firmware, one radio looks exactly like the 400 (minus the speaker). Additionally, the firmware upgrade process was identical to my 400. Arguably, the transmit radio could be different but it’s hard to really tell with the heatsink mounted on top.

On the opposite end, a club in the section is completely frustrated with how Yaesu treated them as customers. They’ve attempted to call and email no less than 6 Yaesu representatives asking for details on promotions, hardware specifications, or answer to questions but never heard a word. They believe ‘Yaesu has lost any competitive edge they had by flooding the market with Fusion gear.’ Though I agree, I have not experienced this particular problem with my inquiries to support. My emails have been answered within a day or so – usually confirming suspicions I heard elsewhere. Seemingly ignoring customers is bad for business. Though customers feel they are being ignored, it may be a management attempt to better coordinate internal communication before going public. You’re doing it wrong, but it is a possibility. As pointed out previously, statements of fact made countless times are suddenly reversed and changed at release.

To clarify a point, the FTM-400 radio does operate both A & B sides of the radio simultaneously. My issue is, for their high-end offering of a mobile radio, it should be able to operate Fusion from both A & B sides of the radio at the same time. It does not. The A side can operate Fusion digital or FM. B only operates FM. Operating Fusion digital from both sides is one nice feature of the FT2D.

It didn’t take long before I started hearing the DMR arguments. DMR does have issues too but I see them as growing pains. It’s not: ‘this crashes, this locks up in transmit, this doesn’t work until you get a factory upgrade, need to spend $$$ to work around a shortcoming, upgrade to get the full power output, something can’t be fixed because there is no published specification…’ the list goes on. I’ve covered DMR issues here before and have noted most of them in my DMR Terminology and Programming a Code Plug learning series: http://www.k8jtk.org/category/amateur-radio/dmr-in-amateur-radio/.

Background checks, public service, & saving lives

The era of submitting to a background and credit check before helping out with fund-raising public service events is upon us. The local Multiple Sclerosis Society in Cleveland hosts a 150 mile (or so) bike ride every year. This used to be called “Pedal to the [Cedar] Point” but was renamed “Buckeye Breakaway” when the ride changed destinations to Ashland University. Last year, the MS society pushed for all volunteers to run a full background check. This included all ham, SAG (Support and Gear), and medical units – whether they were mobile or stationary at rest stops. Failing to complete the required check or failing the check would mean that person couldn’t volunteer or participate. This request was sprung on the ham and medical coordinators a few weeks out form the event. Citing time constraints and the amount of push back from volunteers, eventually the required check was no longer required but not after some had already completed the investigation.

This year, the MS society required a background investigation and proof of liability insurance for SAG drivers. Though I was not transporting riders, I too had to submit because I was the shadow of an MS staff person for the event. The investigation service stated a ‘credit check’ would be part of the reporting, though the society said it would not be a factor for eligibility.

Like many organizations, the MS Society is going through its share of layoffs, reorganizations, and centralization. The Cleveland chapter had little recourse since the background check was mandated from HQ. I suspect this will become the norm rather than the exception in the legal, CYA, society we live in. It sure takes the fun out of doing a public service event and not sure I want to give up that much personally identifiable information again for a fundraiser event. Then again, Equafax hands out PII data to anyone who can gain access to their systems.

That issue aside, a real life threatening event happened. Ham and medical volunteers dealt with a roll-over accident involving one of the cyclists in the event, a utility pole, and a parked car – all because of an impatient driver. This happened in Medina County near Valley City. The accident was radioed in by a ham volunteer. Other hams were on scene along with the Northeast Ohio Medical Response Corps to triage the situation. NEOMRC is a group of volunteers who provide medial support services for events and nearly all are licensed hams. The injured cyclist was life-flighted to a nearby hospital. The driver, who caused the accident, left the scene. By late afternoon, the story was all over the local news: http://fox8.com/2017/08/05/cyclist-struck-by-car-during-race-in-medina-county/. Fortunately, no one was killed. Img: Brunswick Hills Firefighters.

ISS SSTV

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), a slow scan TV event was held July 20th and ran for 3 days. During these events, SSTV transmissions originate from the International Space Station as it orbits in space. No special setup is required to copy the images. To receive the best images, Yagi antennas on a tracking tripod is best. I just use my external VHF antenna and let the radio listen for transmissions. Images sent featured different ARISS activities over the past 20 years. Check out the images 34 images I received: http://www.k8jtk.org/2017/08/03/sstv-transmissions-from-the-international-space-station-july-2017-edition/. If you want to get started in SSTV, check out the links to my getting started tutorial of MMSSTV in that post. I will also be giving my SSTV presentation at the Geauga Amateur Radio Association meeting on September 25, 2017 at 7:30 in the Geauga County Emergency Operations Center. More on the meeting: https://geaugaara.org/.

2017 Eclipse & WSPR

I contributed to the radio sciences taking place around the solar eclipse. I didn’t get to travel to an area of totality or even take off work. Instead I worked a number of the special event stations in the surrounding days. Still have to send away for my certificate. Since I didn’t take off work or do anything unusual, my contribution to the “eclipse QSO party” was to leave WSPR decoding signals and upload the spots. Scientists are hoping to learn more about eclipses and effects they have on the atmosphere and radio propagation from those spots.

WSPR stands for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting Network. If you have WSJT-X installed, WSPR is included in that package. WSPR is intended to be a QRP mode because each receive and transmit window is 2 minutes. It works like a beacon network based on timed transmissions like JT65, JT9, and FT8. Each band has 200 Hz of bandwidth designated for WSPR. A transmitting station will digitally transmit their call sign, grid square, and dBm (power output). Similar to the JT’s, the signal report (DB), time difference between the two clocks, and drift are calculated by the receiving station. Decoded signals are uploaded as spots to the WSPR Net website. The data is crunched and used to draw real-time maps of propagation. More: http://wsprnet.org/

Technical Specialist Reports

In Technical Specialist news, Dave – KD8TWG held a “Test and Tune” night for LEARA. Communications and spectrum analyzers were brought in to tune radios that might be off frequency or show how much those Baofeng radios do transmit everywhere at once. Contact Dave or a section Specialist to bring this educational and eye-opening experience to your club meeting.

In addition, KD8TWG would like to thank everyone who came out and worked the 195th Great Geauga County Fair. Dave was in charge of the communications and networking for golf cart drivers who transported fair goers to and from their cars. Golf carts were equipped with APRS for location tracking. A WiFi network based on the Mikrotik NV2 protocol was built for two weeks. NV2 is a proprietary WiFi protocol based on TDMA in the 5.1-5.8 GHz range. The advantage of TDMA wireless is better throughput and lower latency in point-to-point or point-to-multipoint networks. Traditional WiFi is built on a Carrier sensed collision avoidance system where nodes transmit only when they sense the channel is idle. Dave points out, this is NOT mesh. Over the wireless network, they ran a phone system and IP cameras. The Sherriff’s Office was impressed with the video coverage and wants to run more cameras next year. By the numbers: 60 volunteers worked 1,284 hours, with just under 700 golf cart transports. Dave ate approximately 47,000 calories in fried food. Imgs: KD8TWG.

Technical Regulation Reform

An ARNewsline report (#2080) points out the FCC Technical Advisory Council is looking for opinions and suggestions to update existing technical regulations or to adopt new ones. “The FCC wants the council to single out any rules that are obsolete or in need of being brought up-to-date. The Council also wants comments on how the agency’s regulatory process on specific technical rules could become more efficient. The agency stresses that the issues being considered are those of a technical nature.” Thoughts or opinions can be filed in ET Docket 17-215 or with the ARRL. October 30th is the deadline. More: http://www.arrl.org/news/fcc-technological-advisory-council-investigating-technical-regulations

Foxhunts

I’ve only participated in two Fox Hunts. The first time, I came in dead last. Second time, came in second. No idea how that happened because no skills were honed at all. The Ham Radio 360 podcast had an episode with Larry Jacobs – WA7ZBO talking all about Fox Hunts. Surprising to me was the Tape measure antenna is very popular even among serious hunters. As for gear, an antenna, attenuator, and radio are needed. In the absence of an attenuator, your body could be used to attenuate signals. Larry talked about some dos and don’ts. He encouraged hamfests to hold hunts to ‘whet the appetite.’ The most popular hunts are races with mileage and time restrictions to keep things safe. Don’t make the hunt too hard where participants get discouraged and don’t want to ever participate again. Always use public property. Use common sense and don’t be a wise guy. For example, a convention had the fox located near the hotel pool. When someone asked what everyone was doing with antennas around the hotel, someone responded with ‘a Soviet Satellite with a radioactive payload went down near here.’ Guests couldn’t check out of the hotel fast enough. The hotel asked this group not to return. While funny, don’t be that guy. Instead have ARRL handouts and pamphlets about ham radio when someone asks. The episode can be found at: http://hamradio360.com/index.php/2017/07/25/ham-radio-360-fox-hunting-transmitter-bunnies-too/

Last Man Standing & Frequency TV shows

Many have heard by now the Tim Allen show “Last Man Standing” was canceled by ABC and possibly looking for a new home. Tim Allen plays a fictional ham radio operator using the call sign KA0XTT. The show was popular among politically conservative individuals and ham radio operators. According to ARNewsline (#2069), talks fell through for the show and it will not be returning with new episodes. The show will soon be removed from Netflix as 20th Century Fox struck a deal with Hulu for exclusive rights to their catalog, which includes Last Man Standing. Hulu is a premium service for streaming TV and moves. Channels carrying reruns include: CMT, Hallmark, Freeform, and The CW. Also on CW was the TV spinoff of the move Frequency, it too was canceled.

TYT MD-2017 Broken Antenna Connectors

If you purchased an early Tytera MD-2017 DMR dual-band radio and the antenna connector broke, contact your dealer. This appears to be a first-run issue and TYT has shipped replacement connector parts to their dealers. Replacing the connector requires opening the radio and soldering. If you’re not comfortable, ask if the dealer will do the work or swap the radio.

Thanks for reading, 73, and Go Tribe!… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – August 2017 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/OSJ-August-17.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

Yaesu and System Fusion. I’ve talked about it before and mentioned the DR-1X repeater promotion some time ago. My recent dealings are leaving me more disappointed in the quality of the offering. With the announcement of System Fusion II, I hope they take time to finally fix problems with their implementation.

Around the beginning of 2015, Yaesu, in an effort to get their digital mode into the ham radio market, offered a promotional deal for their Fusion repeater at a cost of $500 (~$1,700 retail). The logic behind this is the shaver and blade principal: sell the repeater for cheap and make up the cost in selling radios. The repeater is dual-mode capable (C4FM digital and analog) featuring high power (50W) transmitter, switched commercial power and battery backup, integration with an existing repeater controller, all in a standard 2U rack unit. Not only could a club or individual purchase a digital repeater for cheap, it wasn’t a requirement of the promotion to enable any of the digital Fusion features. This meant it could replace aging analog repeaters. I’ve even heard old tube repeaters were being replaced as a result. Now, I’m sure they hoped owners utilized the Fusion features but either way, the program ended up being a huge success. In the Cleveland area, there are about 10 in operation that I’m aware of. Yaesu brought affordable and a somewhat-hackable (AllStar, MMDVM) repeater package to the market.

Then came the complaints. First being the DR-1X is two FTM-400 mobile radios linked with a basic controller. For some reason, many are surprised by this setup and thought better radios should be used. This is a common design that D-STAR and DMR commercial repeaters also rely on. However, this setup had a problem; the radios used were not designed to operate high power. Either through component design or improper cooling, the radios are not capable of operating 100% duty cycle at 50W. I have not heard of this being a wide-spread problem with D-STAR and DMR repeaters running high power. Yaesu updated their promotional form and website to say “Duty cycle is 50% at 50 Watts, 100% at 20 Watts in a climate controlled environment.” To get 50 watts or more, external amplifiers are needed.

Automatic Mode Select was one of the great selling points – a single repeater could switch between digital and analog depending on the signal. But reports of repeaters in AMS where locking up in a transmit state. It was discovered when the repeater had a signal on the input (digital or analog), if another signal was detected of the opposite type, the repeater would lockup in transmit. To reset, the power had to be cycled. A work around was to set the repeater in either analog or digital only mode or install a remote power switch. To my knowledge, this was never acknowledged and was deemed to be “environmental site issues.” That might be true or related to reports of poor selectivity on the front-end of the repeater. Filters and firmware upgrades helped solve some of these issues.

Other known problems include: external controller support is complicated – at best, receive PL decode problems, repeater identifications being cut-off, and the firmware. The firmware is absurd. There are three firmware “channels” (or tracks) for the DR-1X repeater. Each completely separate and not compatible with the other – that is you cannot upgrade the repeater firmware from one channel to another. For reference, these are the 1.00b, 1.00f, and 1.10D channels. Upgrading to a newer version (on the same channel) requires taking the machine out of the cabinet, unscrew about 18 screws to access the data port inside, upgrade the firmware, and put it all back. It is nearly a two person job as the thing weights 22 lbs.

My club in Cleveland, LEARA, purchased a DR-1X. I got it on the air with some help from Bill K8SGX (a section TS). It was on the air at 20 watts in digital only mode. We didn’t have any issues. One of the club members suggested “let’s connect this to the internet.” This is where my perception of Fusion got much worse. As confirmed by Yaesu support, to directly connect an HRI-200 Wires-X node, the DR-1X must have firmware 1.10J or later. Owners with 1.00-anything firmware MUST ship the DR-1X back to Yaesu for an upgrade at owner’s expense. 22 lbs shipping plus box and insurance, it was not cheap. Specific situations may vary and return shipping is covered. They will not let you swap anything yourself because they felt upgrades where beyond most owners’ ability. Owners on the 1.10D channel just need to apply firmware upgrades.

To be fair, an RF link to the repeater can be established with any firmware version. This entails setting up a HRI-200 on a Windows PC with an additional FTM-100 or FTM-400 radio at a location with a strong signal into the repeater. This setup acts like a local user of the repeater. Transmissions from the Internet are transmitted on the repeater’s input. Local repeater transmissions are relayed to the Internet by listening to the repeater’s output frequency. LEARA decided to directly link the HRI-200 Wires-X device to the repeater. Other devices like an OpenSpot or MMDVM could be used but would not provide Wires-X access as it is a closed network.

I haven’t followed the radio issues too closely. There have been 2nd generations of two Fusion radios this far. The FT1-DR was replaced by the FT1-XDR and FTM-400 by the FTM-400XDR because the GPS chip used had problems locking on to signals. I have the FTM-400XDR and picked up a FT2DR at Dayton. Both radios work and get the job done but I’m not blown away by either radio. To put the 400 over the top, it would need to operate Fusion from both A & B sides of the radio, at the same time. I’m underwhelmed by the FT2 screen as it’s not very sharp. I’ve always found Yaesu menu groupings and labeling confusing. The much-loved bank link feature of their analog radios, such as the VX-8, is missing.

Word of warning to anyone using Yaesu Fusion radios and is especially important for repeater owners and Wires-X node operators, keep up-to-date with firmware and program updates! It has been confirmed in the Yahoo Group, every time an FT-70 radio is keyed on a Wires-X node with software version v1.2 or earlier, the Wires-X node will crash.

In addition to all these issues, no full specification has been released for Fusion or Wires-X. Meaning if Wires-X gets shutdown, all nodes are offline. With an open source specification, a new network could be developed or rolled into the FCS reflector or YSFReflector networks. In true hacker fashion, much of Fusion has been reverse engineered so it’s probably more of a reality than I know.

A Reddit posting appeared proclaiming “System Fusion II” is coming with an accompanying info graphic and FAQ posted on the Yaesu System Fusion Yahoo Group. The info graphic states ‘firmware upgrades will enable System Fusion II compatibility with all existing C4FM products.’ I gather this doesn’t mean the radio needs to be sent back to Yaesu. The FT1-(X)DR is discontinued but the FAQ reiterates all existing radios will receive a Fusion II firmware upgrade.

At the center is the new DR-2X repeater – which supposedly resolves most problems of the 1X – and includes many new features. Originally, Wires-X was not supported at all on the DR-2X. This was stated many times by Yaesu. The FAQ indicates the 2X will support the HRI-200 (direct connect) OR IMRS (Internet Multi-site Repeater link) option. It will not support both. The IMRS option sounds a lot like DMR IP Site Connect where repeaters are linked over the Internet using Talk group-like functionality. There is another promotional program offering a trade-in path from a DR-1X to a DR-2X for $300 without the site linking option and $500 with site linking. See the Yahoo Group as I don’t see this promotion information anywhere else.

DSQ (Digital Squelch, squelch code) is replaced by DG-ID (digital group ID). DSQ has caused controversy even locally because it is a global setting in the radio, not per channel. This is a real pain if two repeaters in the area choose different DSQ codes. I left it disabled on LEARA’s allowing any Fusion user to use the repeater. A DG-ID use-case example on a repeater: use the repeater locally might be DG-ID 71. To use two IMRS sites might be DG-ID 90, and all sites DG-ID 99. A DP-ID is a priority override or used for remote control of the system on the 2X only.

Fusion up to this point seems rushed, untested, and like most companies today, driven by marketing. The mentality being: ‘get it out now, fix it later.’ I really hope Yaesu gets their act together soon if they want Fusion to survive. This will likely require drastic business and management changes within the company. As I see it, Fusion survival requires fixing its perception, fixing the software issues, producing better quality devices/radios including extensive testing, and showing commitment to the community and developers by releasing protocol specifications or open-sourcing the technology.

Reddit post: https://www.reddit.com/r/amateurradio/comments/6t8t5z/yaesu_system_fusion_ii/

Yahoo Group (membership requires approval): https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/YaesuSystemFusion/info

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

SSTV Transmissions from the International Space Station – July 2017 edition

ARISS to Celebrate 20th Anniversary with SSTV Event recently concluded. The event was supposed to run two days but ran close to four days.  ARISS Posts Descriptions of SSTV Images Transmitted from ISS.  Check the ISS tag for my other ISS SSTV posts.

Station setup: MP Antennas Classic Mobile NMO Antenna – This is a local company in Cleveland and were reviewed in QST. Been using their antennas for a long time with great success. Since the antenna is multi-polarized (the MP in the company name), it is supposed to be a good substitution for receiving satellite transmissions without a directional antenna and not worrying about Doppler Shift (which needs to be accounted for in some cases). The height is about 15 feet.

The antenna was connected to my ICOM IC-7000 with DSP settings turned off on 145.800 MHz FM. Used this radio only because my SignaLink USB is connected to it and the one I use for digital operation on all bands. MMSSTV is the Slow-Scan TV program I use.

I have tutorials available to help get your station setup and getting started with MMSSTV to receive images from the ISS.

I received 34 images total from my location near Cleveland (EN91bl).

2017-07-21 0259 UTC
2017-07-21 0435 UTC
2017-07-21 0612 UTC
2017-07-21 0749 UTC
2017-07-21 0753 UTC
2017-07-21 0929 UTC
2017-07-21 1105 UTC
2017-07-22 0341 UTC
2017-07-22 0345 UTC
2017-07-22 0520 UTC
2017-07-22 0656 UTC
2017-07-22 0700 UTC
2017-07-22 0833 UTC
2017-07-22 0836 UTC
2017-07-22 1011 UTC
2017-07-23 0113 UTC
2017-07-23 0117 UTC
2017-07-23 0249 UTC
2017-07-23 0254 UTC
2017-07-23 0426 UTC
2017-07-23 0430 UTC
2017-07-23 0605 UTC
2017-07-23 0741 UTC
2017-07-23 0918 UTC
2017-07-23 0922 UTC
2017-07-23 1055 UTC
2017-07-24 0158 UTC
2017-07-24 0334 UTC
2017-07-24 0338 UTC
2017-07-24 0511 UTC
2017-07-24 0515 UTC
2017-07-24 0650 UTC
2017-07-24 0826 UTC
2017-07-24 0831 UTC

Digital Communications in Amateur Radio: Narrow Band Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS)

This article appeared in the The Wood County Amateur Radio Club newsletter CQ Chatter August 2017 edition.

Read the rest of the series in the Digital Communications in Amateur Radio articles category.


Have you ever been involved with an EmComm/ARES drill and heard digital tones as forms were being passed over a repeater? You may have wondered what application are they using, what mode, or how do they know what form is being sent? Chances are they utilized an established standard called NBEMS. The Narrow-Band Emergency Messaging System was created to pass text based messages and forms used by hams and other served agencies over Amateur Radio. Technicians, listen up! NBEMS includes standard modes for HF SSB and is very popular on VHF/UHF FM.

NBEMS was established in collaboration between David Freese, Jr. – W1HKJ who created and maintains the Fldigi suite of applications and Skip Teller – KH6TY who created DigiPan, a popular PSK application. The philosophy specifies utilizing radios, software, and hardware readily available and widely used in ham radio. Older equipment and older computers can be used meaning it would be relatively inexpensive. There would be no steep learning curve but flexible in an emergency situation. Finally, must be independent of infrastructure. No need for Internet, nodes, or existing communications systems. Power the computer, radio, interface, and you’re off-and-running.

Interfaces between the computer and radio used for other digital modes work best. In accordance with the flexible and inexpensive philosophy, another option is available: no interface at all. That’s right, you don’t need any interface between a computer and radio in order to communicate. To receive data, the radio speaker is held to the computer microphone. To transmit, the radio microphone is held to the computer speaker. This method is called an “acoustic interface.” It’s a game saver in a pinch, doesn’t require any additional hardware, and allows anyone with a radio and PC to participate. The digital protocols used are robust enough to deal with ambient noise, casual conversations, too much audio, too little audio, and still be able to decode 100%.

Though operating without an interface sounds like the best of all possible options, there are serious drawbacks. Transmitting (PTT) is done manually. Longer messages mean the operator has to hold PTT in longer. If their finger accidentally slips off the button, the message needs to be retransmitted. The operator needs to be more attentive to the station where it’s possible they may become distracted and miss messages. In a conference or war room, transmitting and receiving messages acoustically adds a layer of disruption to the setting. A connected interface would handle the keying, always provide audio to the computer for decoding messages – even while away from the station, and would not generate any additional noise effectively allowing the station to be completely quiet. As a whole, digital modes are not designed to work through an acoustic interface because most are sensitive to noise. Noise introduces errors making all or part of the transmission unrecoverable. An acoustic interface is a good way to practice or start, though the efficiency of a connected interface will soon be realized.

NBEMS utilizes two different modes: VHF/UHF uses MT63-2000L, HF uses Olivia 8/500. Both were developed by Pawel – SP9VRC.

It is surmised that 25% of the characters in an MT63 transmission can be lost and the receiving station will still have a perfect copy. This is achieved by encoding characters over the time and frequency domains for robustness. In addition, the “L” versions have additional (long) interleaves providing even more error correction. MT63 is very forgiving of audio levels and tuning errors making it a great choice for EmComm. The suffix indicates bandwidth used, 2000/2K means 2 KHz. Transfer rate is about 1 KB/minute.

Olivia 8/500 is used on HF because signals can be decoded below the noise. Low power and QRP stations can communicate nearly as effectively as a higher power station. A channelized approach is used because signals below the noise can be decoded but not heard or seen on the waterfall. The 8/500 indicates 8 tones utilizing 500 Hz of bandwidth. Fldigi suite reverses these in places, 500-8. Transfer rate is about 170 bytes/minute.

A common question brings up the issue of popularity. PSK31 and JT65 are two popular modes on HF. Both are not used in NBEMS because there is no error correction for weak or fading signals in PSK. A faster, multicarrier PSK-R (for Robust) mode is occasionally used in NBEMS but I have not seen many groups use it as an established standard. JT65 is limited to 48 second timed transmissions of 13 characters which is not efficient for data transfer.

Two applications are synonymous with NBEMS: Fldigi and Flmsg. In the last article, I talked about Fldigi being one of the more popular multimode applications. Flmsg is another application in the Fldigi suite that manages forms. It can be used to send standardized agency forms like ICS, Red Cross, or MARS. Forms developed by local agencies can be coded as a “custom form.” Plain text (.txt) and comma-separated (.csv) files can be transferred. Sticking to the inexpensive and flexible philosophy, the entire Fldigi suite of applications are free, open source, and cross platform available on Windows, Mac, and Linux including Raspberry Pi. Custom forms are a popular use of Flmsg however, these forms need to be disseminated or available online ahead of time.

Other applications like DM780 and MultiPSK can send and receive both MT63 and Olivia. These don’t have provisions for managing forms or validating transmissions. Fldigi and Flmsg are integrated seamlessly to pass data between the form manager and modem application.

A very important behind the scenes, but not often discussed feature in NBEMS is the checksum. In computing, a checksum is used to detect errors in transmission or in storage. Flmsg automatically generates and includes a checksum as part of the message with each transmission. Receiving stations calculate a checksum value based on the data received and compare it against the value included in the message. This is an ease-of-use feature letting receiving stations know if they received a prefect copy of the message. If the checksum matches, Flmsg will open displaying the form or message. If the checksum fails, this means an error was introduced in transmission. As a result, the message will not open or a “Checksum failed” prompt will be seen.

Example message:

... start
[WRAP:beg][WRAP:lf][WRAP:fn K8JTK_Digital_Communications_in_Amateur_Radio-_NBEMS.p2s]<flmsg>4.0.2
:hdr_fm:21
K8JTK 20171807024326
:hdr_ed:21
K8JTK 20171807024320
<plaintext>
:tt:46 Digital Communications in Amateur Radio: NBEMS
:to:6 Reader
:fm:5 K8JTK
:dt:10 2017-07-17
:tm:5 2233L
:sb:12 Demo message
:mg:44 This is an example message in an NBEMS form.
[WRAP:chksum 2CBF][WRAP:end]
... end

A checksum value is included in the “WRAP” tags and is 2CBF for this message. Upon receipt of this message, Fldigi automatically calculates a checksum for verification. If it arrives at the value of 2CBF, the message was received perfectly.

There are limitations of NBEMS that users and served agencies need to be aware. To meet FCC requirements, all data must be transmitted within 3 minutes on a repeater with a standard time-out-timer or 10 minutes on simplex. This means a maximum file size for MT63-2KL on a repeater is 3,000 bytes and 1,700 bytes for Olivia 8/500 on simplex. These properties severely limit the content that can be transferred to text. Word documents need to be converted to TXT and Excel spreadsheets to CSV files in order to save bandwidth. There are not many useful images, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and executable programs under 3K. This makes high-resolution images and large data transfers impractical using NBEMS. Remember, it is a Narrow-Band Emergency Messaging System.

Reminder: review the first two articles in the series for information that will be omitted here including some modes operate your transceiver at 100% duty cycle, use upper sideband (USB), and don’t drive the transmitter with too much audio as the signal will be wider than intended. Operating data over FM is the same as operating voice and does not change the duty cycle of the radio. However, operating FM at high power for prolonged periods of time is considered extreme for most radios and will likely shorten the life of the transceiver. In addition, review the fourth article on “Conversational Modes” as Fldigi was covered.

With Fldigi setup and working, download and install Flmsg from http://www.w1hkj.com/. To prepare Fldigi for VHF/UHF NBEMS, click Op Mode, select MT63, and click MT63-2000L. MT63-2000L is also abbreviated as MT63-2KL in other places within the Fldigi suite. These are the same, 2K = 2000. With MT63-2KL selected as the active mode, now center the receive window on the waterfall at 1500. 1500 Hz is the standardized center frequency. For HF NBEMS, replace MT63-2000L references with Olivia 8-500.

Fldigi passes data to Flmsg for decoding and displaying. Fldigi needs to know where to find the Flmsg installation. In Fldigi, click Configure, select Miscellaneous, then click Misc to enter the Miscellaneous program options. Finally, click the NBEMS tab. In newer versions of Fldigi (later than 3.23.0), uncheck the Transfer direct to executing flmsg. Open with flmsg and Open in browser should be checked if they are not already. Now click Locate flmsg. Depending on the version of Windows, the default installation location for Flmsg will be C:\Program Files (x86)\flmsg-x.x.x or C:\Program Files\flmsg-x.x.x. In that directory, select the flmsg application, click Open. Click Save, then Close.

“x86” is a Windows designation to differentiate 32 bit from 64 bit applications on a Windows 64 bit installation. “x.x.x” is the version of Flmsg. Each time a new version of Fldigi, Flmsg, or any other Fldigi application is installed, it is kept in a separate directory with the version appended. Alot of versions can accumulate on a system if frequently updated. Anytime uninstalling or using a new version of Flmsg, the steps above for “locating flmsg” need to be repeated.

Start Flmsg. A dialog prompting for the selection of a “Default User Interface” will be seen on a new installation, click Communicator/Expert. Station information will be requested. These are used as inputs for some forms. Call sign should be filled in as a minimum. Click the red “X” when done filling in station information. At the bottom of the main Flmsg window is the mode selector. Click the down arrow and select MT63-2KL.

Configuration is done!

To use Flmsg, a blank Radiogram will open initially. To select a different form, click Form. Different types of available forms are categorized: ICS, MARS, Radiogram, Red Cross, weather, and custom forms loaded will be available from this menu. Choose any form for practice. Standard practice is to note somewhere in the form that this is a “test,” “practice,” or “drill.” As with voice, someone may mistake the transmission for a real message.

Once the form is filled out, set your radio to the appropriate frequency and open Fldigi if it is not already. Set it to MT63-2KL centered at 1500. Verify the mode selected in Flmsg is MT63-2KL. Click AutoSend. The file must be saved before it will transmit. Once the file is saved, transmission will begin automatically. Get into this habit of checking transmit frequency, Fldigi configuration and Flmsg configuration before clicking AutoSend. Otherwise you will inadvertently transmit on a different frequency or in a different mode. It happens to everyone eventually.

Receiving stations only need to open Fldigi. They will first see the message appear in the Fldigi receive pane. The form type is transmitted as part of the message. In the example message, <plaintext>. The lines begin with the form field name and check of the number of characters in that field. “:fm:5 K8JTK” is the “from” field with a check of 5 characters, “K8JTK“. When completed, an Flmsg window will open. The form will also be rendered in the default web browser. Receiving stations don’t have to do a thing except wait for the transmission to complete. If the next message received is a Radiogram, Flmsg will automatically open a window and browser page displaying the Radiogram format.

That’s it for using NBEMS! I have a more detailed setup and walk through of installing and configuring Fldigi and Flmsg. My instructions include another Fldigi suite application called Flwrap. Flwrap allows files of any type to be transferred. It sounded, at one point, like it was going to be part of the standard set of NBEMS applications but never made it due to the file size constraints. Additionally, Flmsg performs similar functionality to Flwrap in its ability to send TXT & CSV files. The Flwrap parts can be skipped unless they are found useful.

Typically, you’ll need to setup a sked or hold a net to pass messages around. Operators don’t sit around watering holes sending Flmsg messages, though I have seen it! Use news on QRZ.com or ARRL Ohio Section updates as text to fill out the forms as practice. Participating in a couple different nets, there seems to be less problems when everyone is using the same versions of the applications.

An Android smart phone app is available at the same site as Fldigi called AndFlmsg. There is a INSTALL.txt file with install instructions. The app is not available through any of the Android app stores and must be installed by temporarily enabling the option to allow applications from “Unknown sources.” A user guide is available in the same directory as the download. This will be helpful as the interface is not entirely intuitive.

The Ohio Digital Emergency Net (OHDEN) is a weekly HF practice net that uses the Olivia standard. Checkins and coordination is accomplished using the text input box in Fldigi. There is no voice coordination. Formal messages don’t happen every week but are passed using Flmsg. OHDEN meets Tuesdays at 7:45 PM eastern on 3.585 USB using Olivia 8-500 centered on 1000 Hz.

Find out more information:
NBEMS mission statement, considerations, and features: http://uspacket.org/network/index.php?topic=44.0

ARRL NBEMS: http://www.arrl.org/nbems

K8JTK Getting started with Fldigi – including Flmsg and Flwrap: http://www.k8jtk.org/2015/04/16/getting-started-with-fldigi-including-flmsg-and-flwrap/

K8JTK VHF/UHF NBEMS – An Introduction using Fldigi and Flwrap: http://www.k8jtk.org/2015/11/10/vhfuhf-nbems-an-introduction-using-fldigi-and-flmsg-presentations/

Ohio Digital Emergency Net: http://www.ohden.org/

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – July 2017 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Scott has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the section will need to use the mailing list link above.
Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).
Go to www.arrl.org and logon.
Click Edit your Profile.
You will be taken to the Edit Your Profile page. On the first tab Edit Info, verify your Email address is correct.
Click the Edit Email Subscriptions tab.
Check the News and information from your Division Director and Section Manager box.
Click Save.

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/OSJ-July-17.pdf

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

Have you recently built something? Came up with a solution to a problem in the shack? Achieved a milestone? Now, ask your club newsletter editor if they are looking for content from club members. I’ll bet they say “yes!” Hams are interested in good articles written by club members sharing their experiences with projects and adventures. You’ll be surprised to find out how many other people are interested in the same thing or how it will motivate others to experiment with something similar. Believe me, it happens. One of the reasons you see me here in the OSJ is because of articles Ken – KG8DN asked me to write for the LEARA newsletter a few years ago. If you don’t write articles as part of a job or for fun, the last time many of us wrote anything was probably in school. Those writing technique brain cells were fried long ago. I will cover techniques, ideas, and some lessons learned to assist you in putting together a fantastic article for the club’s newsletter.

First and most important, meet with the newsletter editor or shoot them an email letting them know the topic you want to write about and get an idea of their requirements. Requirements such as: how much space will I have, will there be room for pictures and diagrams, when is the deadline to have everything turned in. Page requirements will help you focus the article emphasizing certain topics and provide detail versus insignificant points that don’t fit with the rest of the story. The editor may have some general questions to help jump-start the process. This works too as stories wrote themselves with a question or three. Note these questions and refer back to them if you have writer’s block. If the topic isn’t exactly ham related or different than the usual type of articles found in the newsletter (ie: more public service than technical), ask about that too or write it with a technical focus.

With the editors’ requirements in mind, make an outline (bullet point list) of general topics to cover. What do you see as the major milestones of the project? Maybe something like: design considerations, building, and operating. Once the main points are established, include a few detail points. For a build project, this might look something like:

  • Design
    • Power source (AC, DC, USB, car, battery)
    • Inputs (radio audio, computer audio)
    • Outputs (radio audio, computer audio, line monitor)
    • Connections (speakers, headphones, USB)
    • Indicators (LED: power, audio level, PTT)
  • Build
    • Placement of components (circuit board, level adjustments mounted on the side)
    • Connectors (USB, serial, audio)
    • Sizes (hidden switch, large lighted switch, large LEDs)
    • Housing (Altoids tin, wooden box, oil pan, baking tray, hobby store find)
    • Mounting (wall, portable, back of radio)
  • Operation
    • Testing (digital net, friend over the radio)
    • Tweaking (changed component values)
    • Adjustments (audio level knobs in front, manual pot inside)
    • Anticipated results (clean audio on PSK)
    • Actual results (splattered across the entire band – only kidding)

After the general outline is assembled, it’s time to start thinking about the details. People have different writing styles. Some plan the entire article top to bottom and write as such. Others start with the detail points and form a story around it. Some just write their stream-of-consciousness then add or delete details in revisions. Whatever your style, introductory paragraph should have generalizations about the topic giving the reader something they can relate to: “have you ever heard…,” “did you ever wonder about…,” “I first learned about…,” “while I was doing X, I heard about Y,” “when I first got my license I was thinking what about doing Z.” The first paragraph or two should illustrate the topic in “broad brush strokes.” No specific details about the topic, yet. Quaky antidotes are always good. The last sentence should setup the specific topics covered in the article. This is referred to as the thesis. The thesis can outline specific topics: “I’m going to talk about experiences designing, building, and operating my new widget.” Or general: “here’s how I got this project off-the-ground” with specific topics detailed in the article. Either way, the main bullet points created earlier should form the thesis and drive the main topics covered in the article.

After topics are established for the reader, start by first talking about the problem you were trying to solve. Talk about things like: “I wanted to add JT65 capability to my QRP rig,” “I’ve used available interfaces before and wanted mine to do A and B because C,” “I wanted to learn Linux so I used a Raspberry Pi to make a portable NBEMS station,” “I wanted to learn Python and now the club’s station can be operated remotely.” Fill in the details about how you went from a problem to a working solution using the detail bullet points outlined earlier as a guide. Was the solution similar to another design found online or did you create one from scratch? Why did this solution work for you? What value did it add for you? What lessons did you learn about your chosen path? What problems did you incur and how did you solve them? Describe to the reader the functions of different pieces or purposes of the different stages. Example: “this stage takes the audio from the radio and amplifies the level for the computer,” “this takes the computer audio and drops the level for the radio.” When in doubt, answer the 5Ws: who, what, when, where, why.

It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up or focused on the details. Remember your reader probably doesn’t have the same level of experience and is only mildly interested in your project. Bombard them with minute details and their head will explode. Give them some table scraps, they’ll find something interesting and keep reading. Don’t rattle off specifications like: ‘I choose the ARM v5 blah blah processor because flux capacitor blahs blahs +1,000,000,000V than the equivalent direct-conversion Arduino ATmega2560 16 MHz blah blah PWM at 4097 bit encryption…’ No one cares. Concise descriptions in (mostly) plan English are always better: “I wanted an audio path between the radio and computer that keyed the transmitter from the software. It must be isolated to prevent buzzing and hum noises from potential ground loops.” Most hams know what those terms mean. If some technical detail is paramount to the story, relate it to something most non-technical hams would understand: “the Raspberry Pi hard drive is an SD card, which is the same type of storage used in nearly all cell phones and digital cameras.”

If space allows, note any other solutions researched and discuss reasons those alternative methods where abandoned. Take a position then argue with yourself: here’s my idea, here were other possible solutions and why I didn’t accept them or why they didn’t work. An absence of supporting facts shows a lack of critical thinking and understanding of the subject. The closer the audience is to a subject, more convincing and disproving other theories will be required. Use of snarky comments shows arrogance, so leave them out.

Finally, wrap it up. Include anecdotes, accomplishments, funny stores, or final comments about the project. Were you happy with the results? What do you use the device for? Did you find other or different uses for the project than you envisioned?

Pheew! Now I’m done right? Well, far from it. The article is written, now revise, revise, and revise. Re-read your work to make spelling, grammar, and context corrections all while making sure it flows well together – does anything I wrote make sense? The free LibreOffice Writer is great but Microsoft Word has a phenomenally better grammar checker. For me, it works best to print the entire article, read it, make revisions on paper as I go along, enter them into the computer, print it out again, make more revisions, put it down for a few days – repeating this process about 5 or 6 times. Printing takes me away from the computer allowing me to focus on the article. I picked up this habit in grad school when I got a C on a paper. I knew if I spent more time revising, my grade could have been better. Whether I’m not in the right mindset, got a lot going on, stressed, or not committed, my revision regiment eventually produces something I’m proud of. If you’re not good with revising, ask a buddy or spouse to help you out.

The newsletter editor is there to give you some direction. Don’t expect them to do all the work. They have enough to do. Unlike news or publishing organizations that have paid staff to scrutinize the article, the editor probably has little experience or standing with your topic. If they offer to proof read and make suggestions or comments, utilize it. Don’t expect them to validate every detail, statement, correct every spelling mistake or grammar error. Don’t take offense to their feedback either. They’re trying to help by providing constructive criticism while making the newsletter appealing to readers. Don’t send them a bunch of pictures without relating them to the work. It will be embarrassing when they put the wrong picture in the wrong section because ya didn’t make it clear!

For images, designs, or facts found elsewhere, give credit to the source of that information. You wouldn’t like it if someone stole your design and claimed it as theirs. In school, they made this big deal about using specific style guides for a bibliography. I haven’t used any of that stuff. I’ll make a note, usually with a website or URL, in line with the text or put a section at the end giving credit for their hard work.

Personally, I love to see pictures of the device in operation, installed, or the person working on it. Leave out anything more than basic diagrams and schematics. Details in those images will be lost when sized for the copy. Detailed images, documents, diagrams, and videos can be uploaded to a website, if available, or use a free online storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox. Both have provisions to create a shared directory that others can only view (that is important!). Link to that folder or specific file at the end of the article: “for more pictures, a more detailed write-up, or schematics, go to this URL.” Videos are good if they’re kept to about 2-4 minutes in length showing the person using their project and talking a little about it. These can be uploaded to YouTube for exposure or to the online storage folder. Longer detailed videos or build videos should be separate. If the viewer wants to learn more, they can check-out the longer versions.

While the examples provided here were geared toward a build project, this outline can be used for sharing knowledge on a software defined radio dongle you picked up, a new digital mode you learned, operating adventure, or new toy many have yet to see. If you’re still looking for more methodology ideas, grab any issue of QST and follow the format of a similar article to yours. With a little work, you can become a published author and help your club out in the process!

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK