Well no, not at all. Even out here in the boondocks — the Highland Lakes of Central Texas — we have guys AND gals and young-uns as well as old farts. Granted, there are more old guys than of the other combinations but that’s changing.
There are many reasons like the technical challenges, support for your community in emergencies, talking to people all around the world, but I’m here to talk about digital communications. It has a lot in common with computers, texting and such but you can use more than just your thumbs.
Ham radio has come a long way from Morse code and talking into a microphone with static crashes coming from a speaker. We now connect radios to computers and we type rather than speak. There are many ways that we use digital communications for emergency messaging purposes but let’s look at one fun aspect: just “talking” to someone for the joy of human interaction.
One digital method can be compared to instant messaging. Purely over the airwaves with your computer connected to a radio, contact can be made anywhere in the world and a “conversation” conducted by typing back and forth. Here’s an excerpt where I answered a fella in California:
CQ CQ CQ CCQ CQ CQ de W9UVZ W9UVZ pse K
W9UVZ W9UVZ de KA5GIL KA5GIL kn
KA5GIL de W9UVZ W9UVZ thank you for answering my call. Name is Richard QTH Vista CA How copy?
W9UVZ de KA5GIL Hi Richard, name hre is Gil. You are stronger than raw onions here in Central Texas, just NW of Austin. K
CQ means hello anyone please call me back. In answered and we had a brief initial exchange. After another brief exchange about our stations and I told him a bit about me, he said:
KA5GIL de W9UVZ Your signal is pouring in up here also. A court judge… how abt that! I was a parochial school teacher in Wisconsin for 43 years. I moved to
CA about 2 years ago. The xyl died about 4 years ago and I had a couple of kids living in this area, so I decided to move out here.. It’s worked out very well. I
like to golf and here I can golf every day. (unless it’s raining!) KA5GIL de W9UVZ
An “xyl” is ham-ease for a spouse. Suddenly we know a good bit about one another. We continued to visit for 24 minutes whereby I made a new friend. When is the last time you sat down for 24 minutes with a complete stranger and talked? Richard talked more about his career:
KA5GIL de W9UVZ When I first started teaching, I had 35 kids and all eight grades in a coutry school. As I look back on it now, I can’t imagine how I did it, butat the time, I just said it was my job and I went ahead and did it the best I could…. Later, I taught in the city of Appleton Wi and just had 5th grade…although at that time kids were so plentiful that some years i had 40 or more kids in my room…. I have no regrets… it was a good life and fortunately I still have good enough health to enjoy golfing ext… KA5GIL de W9UVZ k
And so it went for the 24 minutes. In a matter of just a few hours a ham with modest equipment can meet many such new folks from around the world. You see “hi hi” in a couple of places — that’s ham-speak for laughter. It originated in Morse code because an “h” is 4 dits and an “i” is two dits and done twice, it (sort of) sounds like a chuckle. Play this in your head: four rapids “dits” with a teeny pause and two more, then do two back to back. **** ** **** **
You will see some other strange things in the transcript:
QSO with W9UVZ – Richard (click to open text file)
Antennas for Autotuners]]>
However, I’ll toss out two programs of note. For basic QSO, DX chasing and contesting, I use the DXlabs suite of programs. The logging program there is tremendous and the digital mode component (Winwarbler) is excellent in psk and rtty modes.
To work almost any digital mode out there and also have the capability for simple QSOs and DX, and really quite decent contesting, use FLdigi. If you use DXlabs or the N1MM logger there is a gateway program to link the FLdigi log to those logs.]]>
A busy flea market in the park on the edge of Bertram was full of canopies, trailers, vehicles, and, hundreds of people. The tornado caught them all out in the open, tossing vehicles, people, equipment and tables in all directions. Dozens of people were injured or trapped. The first help to the scene was from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Initial search and rescue was undertaken by CERT and triage of the casualties began. The “hams” of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) for the Highland Lakes had already been activated to assist with communications regarding the evacuee traffic, and was able to divert a unit to Bertram to provide communications. All telephone, cell phone, and commercial power was disrupted and the hams provided the only means of communication. Numerous casualties were found ranging from the walking wounded to fatalities.
click to enlarge
South of Marble Falls on U.S. Hwy 281 the ARES unit had the Highland Lakes Amateur Radio Club’s well-equipped communications trailer deployed as a communications and check-in point to relay special evacuee needs to “Shelter Command” — the Marble Falls police department’s mobile command bus that was stationed at the shelter in the Marble Falls High School.
Communications flowed steadily from Bertram and Highway 281 into the Burnet County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) where another contingent of ARES hams handed off both voice and written messages to EOC officials. Even from the disaster field in Bertram written reports came in from a mobile unit equipped with a computer and the ability to send messages digitally which were printed out by the recipient at the EOC. Detailed triage reports were accurately relayed through the EOC to Seton Highland Lakes where yet another ARES station received the vital information and printed it out. Even before ambulances began to arrive at the hospital personnel there knew what to expect. As local needs were realized by the County Emergency Coordinator, communications were relayed to the State Operations Center for resources to be sent to the area. Ham communications to Williamson and Travis Counties were effected with a liasion there.
Seton realized, even before all patients were inbound from the tornado scene, that their bed capacity was overrun. All commercial communications were still out so the ham operator at Seton communicated by amateur radio to other hospitals in the Cen-Tex area and additional beds were located.
Fortunately, this was a drill conducted by the ARES and CERT teams as part of a statewide Simulated Emergency Test (SET). ARES® works with the county EOC within the framework of the National Incident Management System which is fundamental in all emergency operations, such as Hurricane Sandy which has just hit as this article is being written. The local effort was coordinated by Gil Jones, ARES® Emergency Coordinator (EC) for Burnet and Llano Counties, along with Riley Carruthers who is the Digital CommunicationsEC for those counties. Robyn Richter who is not only a ham but is part of the Marble Falls Area EMS wrote the “patient” descriptions for the triage effort by CERT. The District 8 EC, Richard Chapman who is a member of the local ARES unit, was deployed to the State Operations Center.
De-briefing at the Burnet County EOC
This was the first time that the local CERT unit had exercised with ARES® in the annual exercise performed each fall. The first people you are likely to see in a disaster situation will be CERT and ham radio operators.
This exercise is done because when all other communications fail, amateur radio can get through because of its widely dispersed resources, including fixed, portable and mobile stations, and a large cadre of trained operators. By training in exercises with realistic emergency scenarios, skills are honed and waiting for the time that disaster hits. ARES® also undertakes support of many community activities such as triathlons as a means of additional training.
ARES® is part of ARRL, the national association for amateur radio™.
Hams are “home grown” through classes such as that which will be given November 9-10-11 this year at the library in Burnet. See the Highland Lakes Amateur Radio Club website for details. (post-script: of 15 students, 13 got their license)
© 2012 Gil Jones and Highland Lakes ARES
This entry is a good place to let me know if you can participate or have questions.]]>
As severe thunderstorms gathered in Concho County to the Northwest of the Highland Lakes, the National Weather Service issued warnings for McCulloch County. Hams in McCulloch County were activated at the McCulloch County EOC and their weather spotters were dispatched. Thunderstorm watches soon ensued for Llano and Burnet counties which resulted in activation of the Burnet County Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
The rapidly developing storm soon resulted in members of the Highland Lakes Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES®) — which serves principally Burnet and Llano Counties — being activated to man pre-prepared facilities at the Burnet County Sheriff’s Department, Seton Hospital in Burnet, the Marble Falls Volunteer Fire Department, in the Marble Falls Area EMS Command vehicle and the Llano Memorial Hospital in Llano, Texas. SKYWARN® weather spotters, in both fixed locations and mobile in all three counties, kept their eyes peeled to the sky for what seemed to be inevitable from this massive storm: a tornado in the Highland Lakes area.
Weather warnings came from McCulloch County ARES as the storm gathered strength. Skywarn and radar monitors there transmitted numerous condition reports and advance warnings into Llano and Burnet counties. Preparedness levels in the Highland Lakes were elevated in plenty of time, due to the advance information, to allow the hams to be ready to assist their served agencies if needed.
Crackling voice messages over high frequency radio circuits, warnings transmitted over the smoother sounds of VHF repeater systems, and emails gliding in bits and bytes over radio waves without need for the internet carried the news of high winds, flooded streets in Brady from torrential downpours and finally a tornado on the ground in Llano resulting in injuries. Another tornado in Burnet County destroyed the ham repeater on Park Road 4 causing the ARES operation to shift to a pre-determined backup repeater located East of Marble Falls and communications continued to flow. As commercial and public agency communications succumbed to the weather or were overloaded, Burnet EOC asked Marble Falls VFD to active all volunteers, using hams on their redundant repeater system to relay the message. Llano Memorial obtained assistance for their patient overload from Seton, communicating via the hams due to outages in commercial communications. The Marble Falls EMS repeater was damaged and the EMS Incident Command utilized ARES to advise Seton of incoming casualties.
Fortunately this was merely a communications exercise, but it could easily have been real.
“This is a drill, this is a drill” preceded and closed each message as the equipment, personnel and procedures of Highland Lakes ARES were exercised on Saturday, October 9, 2010. Many things were learned that will aid in further improving the ability of local amateur radio “hams” to backup or supplement public service agencies when normal communications systems are disrupted or overloaded. The Burnet County EOC where Jim Barho is the County’s Emergency Coordinator (and a ham himself) has recently been upgraded with new radios including the ham radios used in this exercise, and was the hub of the activity that encompassed the three counties.
The Simulated Emergency Test is an annual event of the ARES portion of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio™). The Highland Lakes ARES unit is comprised principally of members of the Highland Lakes Amateur Radio Club. It and the McCulloch County ARES are both in District 8 within the South Texas section of the ARRL’s ARES organization.
Participating this year in the local drill were Rik Chapman who is the ARES District 8 Emergency Coordinator (DEC), Gil Jones (EC for Highland Lakes ARES, at the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office), Riley Carruthers (Digital Operations EC for Highland Lakes ARES), Jim Barho (Burnet County EC, at the EOC along with City of Burnet Fire Chief Mark Ingram), Angie Sierra (Assistant EC — AEC for short — Seton Hospital), Chuck Dear (AEC — Marble Falls VFD), Robyn Richter (AEC — Marble Falls EMS), Rick Miller (AEC — Llano Memorial Hospital), Malcolm Robertson (AEC — Horseshoe Bay) as a mobile Skywarn observer with Lee Thying as a fixed location Skywarn, Sanford Musgrove (AEC — Kingsland, at Llano Memorial), Brooks Blake (at the VFD), Jim McCrocklin (at Burnet County SO) and Claudia Tuckness (at Llano Memorial). In McCulloch County their ARES and Heart Of Texas Ham Operators Group included Rick Melcer (EC — at their EOC), Frank Gendusa (at EOC), Marilyn Gendusa (at EOC), Danny Hinman (AEC — simulated mobile), Clayton Moore (AEC — simulated radar monitor), Ed Williams (HF Liaison), Robert Duus (simulated mobile), and David Huie (simulated mobile).
Hams have access to a large portion of the frequency spectrum and in addition to the well-known voice and morse code communication methods, they utilize state of the art digital methods to send email and instant messages purely by radios without use of the internet. From the EOC hams can communicate around surrounding counties, around the state (and the entire world), and directly into the State EOC even if the public agency facilities are compromised such as by a tornado strike.
The drill demonstrated once again that hams can indeed communicate in behalf of the served agencies when all other systems fail.]]>
Click on the thumbnail for bigger image. This is APRSIS32 which is undergoing rapid development. For all the details or to download the program go to the Yahoo Groups page.
Right now I’m running it only on the internet … sees same stuff that aprs.fi does. I have also connected two different GPSs to it and that worked, putting my position out via the internet. It can ALSO be connected to a radio in iGate mode. Have not done that yet.
The author, Lynn, KJ4ER, has the goal of replacing all of the best functions in UI-view which is good since it is no longer fully configurable. I suggest giving it a try and keeping in touch with the progress.]]>
My primary objective in getting the netbook (HP Mini 210 HD)was to move all of my ham radio programs to it for (a) the (mostly) ham dedicated computer and (b) the portability. It has the DXlabs suite with rig control, logging, psk31 and all that DXlabs has. It also has EchoLink (www.echolink.org) and the programs related to the TinyTrak4 TNC ).
Next was to make the psk31 work through the SignaLink USB device (SL) ), and then Winlink using the AGW Packet Engine and Paclink from Winlink.org . Psk31 was easy. In DXlabs WinWarbler I just picked the SL soundcard and it immediately worked.
Next for AGWPE. I had used it on the other computer so was quite familiar with setting it up and creating a “port” for the soundcard. I referenced the additional instructions from Ralph Milnes relative to the SL. Then I set up Paclink that I had used often and voila! Nothing. I could receive and decode packets, but could not transmit. The PTT on the SL was never triggered.
Then I installed the (free) AGW Terminal program (tcp version at which generates a packet directly to AGWPE.
Diagnosis was done by using the AGW Terminal program. Clicking on the “Ask QRA” icon (it’s the little tower ?) generates a packet to AGWPE each time you click it.
Using it, I could see the packet generated on the AGWPE monitor screen, and the little AGWPE modem icon in the system tray transmit indicator would light up. So I knew a signal was going somewhere.
So (this is a Windows 7 computer) I opened the audio playback devices page where I could see all of the audio devices.
When I clicked “Ask QRA” I saw where the packet was going — to TotalRecorder! As I clicked “Ask QRA” in AGW Terminal I could see full bars on the TotalRecorder device.
TotalRecorder is a fantastic audio program that has its own drivers that apparently can intercept playback audio for processing. It was catching the Packet and not letting it get to the SignaLink. I merely disabled those drivers, deleted and redid the AGWPE port and, it works!
An oddity is that my psk31 program did not have that problem (WinWarbler from DXlabs). My guess is that it addresses the SL directly and AGWPE addresses it in some fashion that allowed this interception.
Interesting, frustrating, and mildly educational problem. The solution probably would never apply to anyone else, but maybe the diagnostic steps will.
Bottom line is that the SignaLink USB works great. For about $100 you can do everything digital and need only one USB connection to your computer. It has it’s own soundcard so you offload that processing from your computer.
From all of my research, it appears that having TX at 9 o’clock and RX at 12 o’clock with delay (DLY) full counterclockwise works well as a starter.
In psk31 you have full, gradual control on power output with the TX adjustment right on the front of the device — no more messing with Windows sliders.
Great overall soundcard page: http://kc2rlm.info/soundcardpacket/1signalinkusb.htm
Msg 7875 in SV2AGW group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SV2AGW/message/7875
Msg 7879 in that same group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SV2AGW/message/7879?threaded=1
Both of those threads discuss the problem at length.
Good Yahoo Group for AGWPE Pro: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/agwpe_pro/
Another AGWPE group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SV2AGW/
AGW Packet Engine Pro: http://www.sv2agw.com/ham/pepro.htm
AGW Terminal program: http://www.sv2agw.com/downloads/agwtermTcp.zip
SignaLink USB: http://tigertronics.com/slusbmain.htm
Soundcard packet tips: http://www.kc2rlm.info/soundcardpacket/
Paclink software: http://www.winlink.org/ClientSoftware
Paclink setup instructions: http://22.214.171.124:81/nren/winlink/paclink.pdf]]>