Why Ham Radio?


Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

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  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?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

amateur_radio_could_save_lives_in_times__2205260000_9445423_ver1-0_640_480

Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

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

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

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

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

hamsats

Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

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

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

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

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

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

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

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

dxcc-challenge-award

DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

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

anita-instructor

Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

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

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

A New Project – Digital Fast Scan Amateur Television


Digital ATV CQ Call

Digital ATV CQ Call

Skip, K1NKR a local friend and VHF/UHF expert and I began talking about the idea of building a Fast Scan Amateur Television (ATV) System some time ago. Our early research and the antenna equipment which we had in place at our stations led us to plan our ATV project around the 70 cm band. The 70 cm band plan in the United States has allocations for Fast Scan ATV transmissions with a bandwidth of up to 6 MHz. Our research led us to Jim Andrews, KH6HTV’s excellent website where we discovered that it was possible to build a Digital ATV station using reasonably priced commercially available DVB-T format Modulators and Demodulators. Jim’s site has a wealth of great Applications Notes on Digital ATV and its a great place to start to learn about this technology. A combination of a DVB-T Modulator and Demodulator from Hi-Des was chosen as the heart of our Digital ATV System. We also worked with Jim to secure the needed Wideband Linear Power Amplifiers for the 70 cm band. We began receiving the equipment to build our Digital ATV Stations late last year. We’ve done quite a bit of testing on the air and some custom development work which has resulted in a pair of excellent performing Digital ATV stations. The picture above shows a Digital ATV “CQ” that I sent to initiate one of our early QSOs.

Digital ATV Transceiver

Digital ATV Transceiver

Here’s a picture of Skip receiving my “CQ” at his end. The picture quality produced by the equipment that we’re using and the DVB-T format is phenomenal. The Hi-Des Modulators which we are using have a large number of parameters which can be set to determine the format and bandwidth of the signals we generate. After some experimentation, we have settled on using QPSK modulation and a 6 MHz signal bandwidth. This combination delivers excellent picture quality with more that adequate motion performance. We see very few if any picture artifacts using our current format. We’ve also done some experimentation with QPSK and a 4 MHz signal bandwidth. I plan to share more on signal formats in a future article on our blog.

Digital ATV System User Interface

Digital ATV System User Interface

We are both using HD Digital Camcorders as our primary video signal sources and 1080p monitors to display our received signals. I opted to include an HDMI Video Switch from Gefen in my setup which also allows me to send video and graphics from a variety of different sources including my PC over the air. The monitor in the picture above on the right is a touch screen display which I use to control my ATV Transceiver system.

AB1OC Digital ATV Transceiver

AB1OC Digital ATV Transceiver

Early on, I decided to build a Transceiver like setup. I wanted to create a unit which was simple to use just like the HF Transceivers that are available today. Some of the key capabilities that I wanted to create included:

  • Real-time selection and switching between multiple HD video sources
  • Transmission of PC sourced Video and Graphics over the air
  • Preview and cueing of the next video transmission while receiving
  • Simultaneous display of both receive and pending transmit video
  • Built-in Transmit/Receive (T/R) switching with termination and protection of the Tx power stage
  • Sequencing of T/R stages including my tower mounted pre-amplifier system
  • Power and SWR monitoring with automatic trip on high SWR
  • An internal low-noise RF preamplifier to provide additional receive signal gain if needed
  • Touch screen graphical interface for configuration and operating the system
  • Recording of both sides of on-air video QSOs to an attached PC

To achieve these goals, I decided to build a Raspberry Pi 2 based Linux controller of my ATV Transceiver and to package all of the ATV components and video switching/conversion gear needed in a small rack mount enclosure. Many of the components in the system communicate with each other over an ethernet LAN and the transceiver is networked to computers and other devices via an external ethernet connection. More on the details of the Transceiver design to come in a future article.

Skip and I recently produced a short video to demonstrate how Fast Scan Digital ATV works and to show the quality that these systems are capable of producing. Our project is still a work in progress and I expect that we will continue to learn as we perform more tests and continue development of our systems. I plan to post additional articles here to share the details of our designs and learning from our on-air testing as we proceed.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2015 Field Day Station Test


Field Day QTH

Field Day QTH

It’s almost time for the 2015 Field Day Event and we’ve been in high gear getting ready. Anita, AB1QB and I will be operating with the Nashua Area Radio Club, N1FD this year. The club was very active in WRT2014 and we were able to purchase several of the WRTC station and tower kits from that effort. I will be operating the 20m SSB station for Field Day and Anita and I decided to setup our station kit in our backyard last weekend to verify that all of our equipment was ready and in good working order. The first step was to pitch the wall tent from the WRTC kit. The tent and the associated tables/chairs can comfortably hold 3 – 4 people.

Field Data SSB Station Test

Field Data SSB Station Test

I will be using our Elecraft KX3 Transceiver again this year. We’ve added an outboard KXPA100 100w Amplifier to bring the station up to 100w and Elecraft’s very nice PX3 Panadapter. The combination makes a great 100W Field Day Station.

Elecraft KX3 Field Day Station

Elecraft KX3 Field Day Station

The picture above is a closer view of the setup. The KXPA100 Amplifier and the PX3 Panadapter are fully integrated with the KX3 and the combination creates a 100W transceiver with a useful Panadapter. The Panadapter should be helpful for Search and Pounce operation during Field Day. I’ve also added a Behringer HA400 four channel headphone amplifier (the unit on the right on top of the power supply) to the setup. This enables connection of a total of 4 sets of headphones to the station – one for the operator, one for a logger and two more pairs for folks to listen in on the fun. Our club has been doing a great deal of outreach to encourage new HAMs to join the hobby and I built this setup so that some of the new folks can listen in on our operation more easily. I will be using a Heil Pro 7 headset to operate and we will have 3 sets of Heil Pro Set 3 headphones for others to use. The Heil gear is very comfortable, light weight and sounds great over the air.

N1MM+ Logger

N1MM+ Logger

I will be using the excellent N1MM+ Logger for Field Day this year. It was very easy to setup N1MM+ to work with the KX3. I was also able to use it to trigger the KX3’s voice message memories for calling CQ and for calling in Search and Pounce mode. I am doing an N1MM+ clinic at our final Field Day prep meeting tonight to help others in our club to get going on the N1MM+ logger.

Generator Test

Generator Test

One of the many great aspects of Field Day is that it results in a test of one’s emergency equipment and operating skills each year. Our club has a large generator and power distribution system that we all share for Field Day so I used our station test session as a reason to get my smaller generators out for a test run. We have a pair of Honda EU2000 generators which can be used together to generate quite a bit of power. Here’s one of them in use during our station test.

Our club has quite a bit of antenna equipment and we will be putting up two 40 ft towers and tri-band beams with Triplexes and Filters for our 20m, 15m and 10m SSB and CW stations. I’ve built a 40m Delta Loop for our club to use for 40m SSB and we’ll be putting up 40m and 80m inverted-V and dipole antennas to cover those bands. I plan to do another post after Field Day is done on the setup of our antennas and the N1FD operation. I hope to work some of our readers on the air during Field Day this year.

– Fred (AB1OC)

HF Mobile – Planning A U.S. County Hunter’s Tour


2015 Dayton, OH County Tour

2015 Dayton, OH County Tour

Anita (AB1QB) and I have been having a lot of fun with our Mobile HF station since we completed it several months back. We’ve been working quite a bit of DX and we make some contacts whenever we are out doing errands or taking other trips. We are planning to attend the Hamvention in Dayton, OH again this year and Anita suggested that we use the trip to activate some most wanted United States Counties along the way.

CQ US-CA Award

CQ US-CA Award

U.S. County Hunters are Amateur Radio operators seeking to work and confirm all 3,077 U.S. Counties. CQ Magazine has an awards program for U.S. County Hunters. Quite a few Amateur Radio operators work all U.S. Counties – some do this using multiple modes and several have done it multiple times. To find out more about the US-CA Award, see the excellent County Hunter Dot Com site.

The Mobile Amateur Radio Awards Club (MARAC) is a support group for county hunting and mobile activities with members all over the world. This is a great organization to join if you are interested in County Hunting. MARAC provides additional awards center around County Hunting and mobile operating.

You can also view WY7LL’s video on YouTube for a nice introduction to County Hunting, MARAC and the tools that the group provides to help County Hunters.

Anita did the planning for our County Tour to Dayton, OH and back. She began by looking at looking at the County Hunter’s Web most wanted page to determine which counties lie along potential routes between are home and Dayton, OH were most needed by County Hunters. Based upon this information, she created the route shown at the beginning of this post. As you can see, we are taking different routes going to Dayton, OH and back to allow us to activate as many U.S. Counties as we can. We are also taking a few side trips off our route to activate a few of the most needed Counties near our route.

Date

States Counties
SundayMay 10 MA Middlesex, Worcester
CT Windham, Tolland, Hardford, Litchfield, New Haven, Fairfield
NY Putnam
NJ Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren
PA Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Lebanon, Dauphin
MondayMay 11 PA Northumberland, Montour, Union, Snyder
TuesdayMay 12 PA Cumberland, Fulton, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Indiana, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene
WV Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler
OH Monroe, Washington
WednesdayMay 13 OH Athens, Meiga, Gallia, Lawrence, Scioto, Pike, Ross, Greene, Montgomery
SundayMay 17 OH Clark, Madison, Union, Delaware, Morrow, Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Medina, Summit, Cuyahoga, Lake, Ashtabula
PA Erie
NY Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaiga
MondayMay 18 NY Oswego, Madison, Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery, Fulton, Schenectady, Albany, Columbia
MA Berkshire, Springfield, Hampshire, Worcester, Middlesex

Planned U.S. County Activation Schedule

The table above shows the 86 U.S. Counties that we plan to activate on our trip along with a rough idea of our schedule.

County Finder App

County Finder App

We found a useful iPhone App (County Finder) that will tell us what County we are in at a given time. The County Finder App uses the GPS in our iPhones to provide our current location in real-time.

Ham Clock Grid Square App

HamClock Grid Square App

We will also be tracking and logging the current grid square that we are operating from. We will be using the HamClock App on our iPhones to determine our grid square of operation in real-time.

Mobile Logging

Mobile Logging

Anita and I will be taking turns operating and logging. We are planning to use a laptop computer running the DXLab Suite and we will connect it directly to the IC-7000 Radio in our truck. This combination plus the County Finder and HamClock Apps above should allow us to accurately log all of our contacts. We will also be uploading contracts that we make to eQSL, LoTW and ClubLog in real-time as we operate.

OpenAPRS App

OpenAPRS App

We will also be running an APRS station so that folks can see where we are located in real-time and follow our progress. We are using the OpenAPRS iPhone App for this purpose. Our APRS callsign with be AB1QB-15 and you can see our position and progress on aprs.fi at any time by clicking here.

N1FD Special Event QSL Card

N1FD – Nashua Area Radio Club QSL

Anita and I are members of the Nashua Area Radio Club and we will be operating using the Club’s call sign, N1FD/M, during the trip. In addition to the electronic QSL’ing methods mentioned above, we will also be able to provide paper QSL’s using the Club’s QSL card shown above. All paper QSLs that we send will note the correct County and Grid Square from which the QSL’ed contact was made. See N1FD on QRZ.com for QSL information.

Band County Hunters Net Frequency (SSB)
20m 14.336 & 14.271 MHz
40m 7.188 MHz
80m 3.901 MHz
17m 18.136 MHz
15m 21.336 MHz
12m 24.936 MHz
10m 28.336 MHz

County Hunters Net Frequencies

We plan to operate on or near the County Hunters Net Frequencies listed above. We will be QRV SSB on all of these bands and we may also do a limited amount of operating on 160m SSB as well.

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station

We hope that you will take some time to work us during our trip. If you do and you read our Blog, please let us know. If we do not have other stations calling, we’d like to take a little time to say “hello” and get to know some of our readers better. We will also be attending the County Hunter’s Forum on Friday, May 15th at this year’s Dayton Hamvention. If you are there, please introduce yourself and we’ll have an “eyeball QSO”.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2015 DX’ing – One Of The Best Years Ever So Far


March 2015 DXpeditions

March 2015 Featured DXpeditions

2015 has been quite a year for working new DXCC’s for us so far. This month is the most productive that I have experienced with more than 20 interesting DXpeditions on. We’ve been fortunate to have the chance to work the DXpedition on Navassa Island (#2 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) which took place in February of this year. In addition those show above, there are also quite a few small operations including E51UFF on North Cook Island and VP8DOZ on South Georgia Island (#9 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) being on. Also, Eritrea, E30FB which is operating right now is #20 on ClubLog’s most wanted list. All of this makes for a great opportunity to work all-time new ones as well as to add new DXCC Band-Points.

Anita, AB1QB has worked 13 all-time new DXCC’s and I’ve worked 5 all time new DXCC’s since the beginning of 2015. Anita has broken the 250 DXCC barrier and I’m just 2 away from breaking 300. There have also been quite a few new IOTA’s for us. Anita has added 11 IOTA’s this year and I’ve added 14. We also added more than 85 DXCC Band-Points each towards our DXCC Challenge Award totals. I have set a goal to work at least one new DXCC Challenge Band-Point each day in 2015 in hopes of getting to the 2,000 DXCC Band-Point level before the end of the year (I am currently at 1,785 worked).

Shack Board

Shack Board – Upcoming Operations and Contests

We use a number of different sources to find out about these operations. Our favorite ones are The Weekly DX, the DX-World.net (the source of the graphic above) and DX Publishing’s QRZ DX. These are all excellent sources for finding out about upcoming DXpeditions, small DX operations and IOTA activations. Working DX contests such as CQ WW DX, the ARRL DX Contests and CQ WW WPX are also excellent ways to work new DXCC’s and new Band-Points. We have a whiteboard in our shack where we record upcoming operations that we need as well as contests that we want to participate in. This helps us keep track of what is coming up that we need.

DXLab SpotCollector

DXLab SpotCollector

We also use the SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite to help us identify new DXCC’s, Band-Points, IOTA’s and WAZ Band-Zones that we need in real-time when they come on. We have also used SpotCollector to alert us when stations that we need for the Yearly CQ DX Marathon are on the air.

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

We have configured SpotCollector (the spotting component of DXLab) to aggregate spots from a variety of sources. Our logs are kept in DXLab and we program the SpotCollector to filter all of the incoming cluster spots and CW/RTTY Skimmer data to tell us about high-priority stations that we want to work when they are on the air. The key to this approach is careful filtering of incoming cluster and skimmer spots to only display and forward the most important opportunities.

Award Setup in DXKeeper

Award Setup in DXKeeper

The first step in the filtering is to configure DXLab’s DXKeeper component for the types of contacts that we are interested in. This is done in the Award configuration section of DXKeeper.

SpotCollector SQL Filter

SpotCollector SQL Filter

We then use the powerful SQL script capability of SpotCollector to only tell us about stations that we are willing to “head for the shack to work”. SpotCollector is configured to send the appropriate spots as text messages via email to our mobile phones so that we know immediately when something that we need comes on. The filter above selects all-time new DXCCs, new DXCC Band-Points, new IOTA’s and new WAZ Band-Zones which are spotted in the Eastern or Central United States. The filter also picks up new Band-States for the ARRL Worked All States Award.

We hope our readers who are interested in working DX and IOTA’s will be able to find some time to work so of the operations that are on the air right now. This time period is certainly one that has a lot of potential to put “new ones” in the log. If you use the DXLab Suite, you might try some to use some of the more advanced features of SpotCollector to help you to better find stations that you want to work when they are on.

– Fred (AB1OC)

An Introduction To The DXLab Suite


Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

I recently had the opportunity to put together a presentation introducing the DXLab Software Suite for several local radio clubs. The idea was to provide a fairly comprehensive introduction to DXLab and to show how it can be used to make Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and Award Management easier and more enjoyable. There are several good DXLab introductory presentations and web pages on the internet so we decided to do ours with some “live” demos of DXLab in use within our station.

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Not all hams have made the conversion to computer-based operation and logging, so we began by covering the motivation for and some of the advantages of Computer-based operation and logging.

DXLab Suite Components Overview

DXLab Suite Components Overview

The next part of the presentation provided an overview of each of the components of the DXLab Suite as well as some of the basics of how they work together. This was covered via a set of “live” demonstrations using our station. You can view these demonstrations as videos via the following links:

Our station is a fairly complex one. It includes multi-operator capabilities from two operating positions with a total of four active radios and a microHAM station automation system. We also operate under a number of different callsigns from different computers. Finally, we do a fair amount of operating portable and from our mobile HF station. The DXLab Suite’s Launcher program with its multiple workspace capabilities easily handle the multiple configurations and equipment interfaces that are required for our station and operating style.

DXLab Use Scenarios

DXLab Use Scenarios

The next part of the presentation covered some common DXLab “use cases” that one would likely encounter when making contacts, QSL’ing and managing progress towards operating awards.

Casual Contacts With DXLab

Casual Contacts With DXLab

The first demonstration showed the use of DXLab to make casual or “rag chew” contacts. The emphasis here is on using the Suite to automate station configuration and logging tasks and to provide information to enhance the quality of your contacts. This demonstration covers the basics of how the components of the DXLab Suite work together to help you make and log a contact. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

The next demonstration showed the use of DXLab to find and work DX contacts. This demonstration uses more components of the DXLab Suite including the spotting cluster and propagation prediction features. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

The next demo shows how DXLab is used to find and make a DX QSO using Digital Modes. A RTTY QSO is shown including the use of the WinWarbler component and multiple RTTY decoders (MMTTY and 2Tone). You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

QSL'ing With DXLab

QSL’ing With DXLab

The next demo show how to use DXLab to QSL and confirm contacts. The demo covers QSL’ing via the Logbook of the World (LoTW) and the eQSL online QSL services as well as the generation of paper QSLs along with the assistance that DXLab provides to determine QSL route information. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab can generate labels apply to your pre-printed QSL cards or it can be used to print QSL information directly on blank cards.

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

DXLab can print QSL card and address labels on many types of standard label stock. An example of QSL card labels are shown above.

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

DXLab also generates outgoing and return envelopes for your paper QSLs. An example is shown above.

Operating Award Management With DXLab

Operating Award Management With DXLab

The final demonstration shows how to use DXLab to track your progress towards and apply for operating awards. Some of the basics of QSL “aging” are discussed as well. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

The SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite is very useful as a cluster monitor. It can be configured to alter you via email or text to you mobile when something is on that you need. More information on how to use SpotCollector this way can be found here. The set of operating awards that DXLab knows about and the features that it provides to manage your progress towards earning and applying for awards are some of the strongest features of the suite. We haves used DXLab to help us to earn many different operating awards.

Getting Started With DXLab

Getting Started With DXLab

The final part of the presentation covers the configuration of the DXLab suite to get it to work with your station. Since every station is different, its best to consult the excellent DXLab online help for more information on how to configure the suite.

Useful Information And Links

Useful Information And Links

Lastly, the presentation includes links to useful tools and information to help you get the most from the DXLab suite. Dropbox is a useful file sharing tool and it can help you keep your logs and DXLab configurations in sync across multiple computers. This allows you to use DXLab to access your current logs or to operate your station from difference computers.

I hope that this overview of the DXLab suite will encourage our readers to give it a try. Anita (AB1QB) and I have successfully used  the DXLab suite with our station for several years now. It does a great job automating many aspects of our Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and award management. It easily handles the complexities of our multi-operator station and it also handles logging and QSL’ing for multiple call signs that Anita and I operate under. We also use DXLab for our portable, Field Day and mobile operations and it handles all of these scenarios very well.

DXLab was created, enhanced and maintained by David Bernstein, AA6YQ. He makes this excellent suite of software available as freeware for the benefit of the Amateur Radio community. The DXLab suite is available for download here. You can download a copy of our DXLab presentation (without the videos) here. The DXLab Yahoo! Group provides is a good place to seek support and answers to questions about DXLab. I hope that our reader will give the DXLab suite a closer look. For those who already use DXLab, we hope that you pick up some new ideas from how Anita and I use the suite as part of your Amateur Radio operations.

– Fred (AB1OC)

AB1QB Enters The 2014 JARTS RTTY Contest – Our First Use Of N1MM+


AB1QB In 2014 JARTS Contest

AB1QB In 2014 JARTS Contest

One of Anita’s (AB1QB) favorite contests in the JARTS RTTY Contest. We decided to use the new N1MM+ Logger for the first time in this contest. There are many new features and improvements in N1MM+. A summary of N1MM+’s enhancements can be found here. We opted to do a completely clean installation of N1MM+ (rather than upgrading our existing N1MM Classic installation) to avoid any issues related to an upgrade scenario and to clean up any lingering issues with the software that we use with N1MM. We did save our N1MM Classic databases from previous contests and we imported those into N1MM+ after the upgrade. This process went very smoothly and we are finding N1MM+ much less difficult to configure and use. We also did clean installations of the MMTTY and 2Tone RTTY programs that we use along with N1MM+.

N1MM+ Setup On Dual Monitors

N1MM+ Setup On Dual Monitors (click to enlarge)

Having plenty of screen space really helps with our computer assisted style of operating. Each of our two operating positions has a PC with dual monitors and we made good use of the display space to organize all of the information that N1MM+ provides. The picture above shows the N1MM+ screen layout that Anita used for the contest (the following screen shots were taken after the contest so as not to interfere with Anita’s operations in 2014 JARTS RTTY).

N1MM+ Setup - Left Monitor

N1MM+ Setup – Left Monitor (click to enlarge)

Anita’s left monitor contains the N1MM+ and related windows that Anita used most during contest operations. You can see the MMTTY and 2Tone RTTY decoder windows in the right middle of the screen in operation on a RTTY signal that we are receiving. The windows to the left of the decoders are the N1MM+ Digital Interface windows which show the received text as it is decoded. It is common to use multiple decoders in a RTTY contest to maximize the chances of a good decode in marginal or noisy band conditions. MMTTY and 2Tone are set to use different decoding algorithms and each will work better in certain conditions than the other. The windows in the upper left and lower left of the screen provide a summary of available QSOs and multipliers based upon spotting cluster data and real-time contest information and performance statistics vs. goals that Anita programmed based upon her experience with this contest from last year. The small window at the bottom/center of the screen is the Rotator Control Window which provides an interface between the rest of the N1MM+ software and our rotatable antennas which are controlled via our microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controllers. We had no problems at all getting N1MM+ to work well with our microHAM system including the SO2R and WinKey capabilities of our microHAM MK2R+ and the antenna controller capabilities of our Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controllers.

N1MM+ Main Window

N1MM+ Main Entry Window

The picture above shows N1MM+’s Main Entry Window in detail. If you are familiar with N1MM Classic, you will immediately notice that most of the capabilities that are most commonly used to operate in a contest have been consolidated in this window. You can now change bands and see overall status of available contacts from this window. The fonts (including size), colors and skins are all customizable in all N1MM+ windows including this one.

Digital Interface Window (MMTTY)

Digital Interface Window (MMTTY)

The Digital Interface Window provides a new mode (wrap-round) which does not scroll the text up when the window is full. This is a big help to avoid “moving target” issues when one is trying to click on a decoded callsign or exchange information to get it into the logger. You can also hover over a callsign in this window with the mouse and it will be automatically entered in the N1MM+ Main Entry Window and checked.

Callsign Check Window

Callsign Check Window

The Callsign Check Window provides multiple options for determining if a callsign is valid or making corrections. The decoding algorithms have been improved and possible alternative characters for unmatched letters are highlighted in color. You can also now select multiple sources for information to base callsign lookups upon – your current log, the SuperCheck Partial file, Telnet spots received over the last 48 hours, and your current Call History database.

N1MM+ Setup - Right Monitor

N1MM+ Setup – Right Monitor (click to enlarge)

The picture above shows the N1MM+ Windows on Anita’s Right Monitor. On the left is the Bandmap Window which shows callsigns that have been spotted or worked on the current band. Clicking on a callsign or your CQ frequency indicator in this window will tune your radio to that place on the band and load the appropriate callsign into N1MM+’s Main Entry Window. In the upper right is the Telnet Cluster Window which shows and filters spots as they are received from your favorite Spotting Cluster server.

Log Window

Log Window

The picture above shows a closeup of the Log Window. This window’s layout is much cleaner and easier to read in N1MM+. it’s also possible to make corrections in log entries by just clicking on the desired field in a log entry and typing in a correct value. This is a real time saver when trying to make real-time corrections during a contest.

Multipliers Worked Window

Multipliers Window

There are a number of different Multiplier Window formats and each is useful depending up the multiplier structure of a given contest. The example above shows DXCC entities by band which is the most useful format for the JARTS RTTY Contest. N1MM+ allows one to include a color coded mix of multipliers that have been worked, spotted but not yet worked, or those that you expect to be on the air based upon your logs from the same contest during previous years (or perhaps an “announced operations” list that you have received prior to the contest). This new format provides a much more useful view of the operator’s progress on multipliers during a contest.

Grey Line Map

Grey Line Map

N1MM+ also provides a useful Grey Line Map Window which shows the current Grey Line location as well as recent spots. You can determine the callsign for a given spot “dot” by hovering over it with your mouse. A nice enhancement here would be to support click on this map to turn your rotatable antennas to that direction to enable working a group of spotted stations. It would also be nice if a line showing the current antenna direction could be displayed on this map.

Contest Statics

Contest Statics

There are also some nice enhancements in the Contest Statics reporting capabilities including a color coded graphical format. The format of the graph can be customized using a set of drop down boxes.

Score Summary Window

Score Summary Window

All of the enhancements in N1MM+ add up to a big improvement in usability of this popular contest logger. Shown above is Anita’s final claimed score for the 2014 JARTS RTTY Contest. Her score this year was about 200% higher than last year and no doubt the improved N1MM+ logger (along with Anita’s increasing experience as a contest operator) get some of the credit. Anita is using N1MM+ as part of the 2014 CQ WW SSB DX Contest this weekend. Look for an article here in the near future on Anita’s experiences with N1MM+ in that contest.

What’s your favorite Contest Logging Software? To help us understand our readers interests better, please complete the poll above.

– Fred (AB1OC)