Get to Know the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network

One of the fastest-growing areas of ham radio is mesh networking. You can think of it as homebrew WiFi — using the amateur radio spectrum to create a WiFi network without relying on the normal Internet infrastructure of phone and cable companies. Several SPARC members are active in a regional effort to build a robust mesh network that can transmit data when the Internet isn’t available during an emergency. (It also comes in handy out in the Nevada desert.)

If you’d like to know more about mesh and what it can do, two of our resident experts recommend this episode of Ham Radio Now. It features an interview with members of the AREDN group (Amateur Radio Emergency Network), the organization that maintains the mesh software of the same name. Take a look, then stop by one of our monthly meetings to talk about building your own mesh go kit.

Fun with CW

At our past two monthly meetings, lucky SPARC members have gone home with a speical door prize: the Pixie 40m CW transceiver. The Pixie is a low-cost way to send and receive CW on the 40-meter band. “CW” and “Morse code” are often used interchangeably, but technically CW refers to the method of transmitting a radio signal (“continuous wave”), and Morse code is the series of audio tones being sent over that signal (the famous “dits” and “dahs” or dots and dashes).

CW is an effective way to communicate over long distances with low power, but today’s hams can spend years in the hobby and never use it. Since 1991 it’s been possible to earn an amateur radio license without passing a Morse code proficiency test. The FCC dropped Morse code requirements from all license classes in 2006. Having those Pixie transceivers around has spurred some club discussions about CW both in person and during our on-air nets.

On a recent net, Tim WA0PTC explained the procedure known as “zero beating.” Essentially, it is the process of making sure the sender and receiver of CW signals are both on the same frequency. The ARRL’s Doctor Is In podcast has an entire  episode on zero beating.

If you’d like to learn Morse code and give CW a try, Mike Dinelli sells a book called The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy, which some refer to as “the bible of Morse code.” There is both a free version and an updated edition available for purchse.

Communicating via Morse code may seem like a relic in the age of smartphones, but certain engineers at Google disagree. The company’s Gboard keyboard for mobile devices (available for both Android and iOS) has recently added a Morse code option. And in order to make learning Morse easier, they’ve released a game called Morse Typing Trainer. Google claims the game can teach you Morse code in under an hour. The addition of Morse to Gboard is an attempt to improve the accessibility of devices like phones and tablets.

To supplement the Typing Trainer game, Google released a poster with the game’s mnemonic images. Click on the version at the bottom of this post to download a printable PDF.

Updated 09/20/18: In the September edition of the Pasadena Radio Club Bulletin, Paul Gordon N6LL lists a few other CW resources.

HelloMorse-Poster

Sites for Checking Signal Propagation and Band Activity

How well your radio can transmit and receive depends on many factors. You can control some factors like antenna location and transmit power. But factors like band conditions and activity are up to chance and Mother Nature. Thankfully, the following web sites can help you monitor the bands and indicate what you may find on the air. If you know of a site we should include here, email us at website@southpasradio.org.

WSPRnet — The Weak Signal Propagation Reporter Network is a group of amateur radio operators who use open-source software to test propagation conditions using very low-power transmissions.

BandConditions.com — Displays band info in colorful dashboards. This site also powers an Amazon Alexa skill.

PSK Reporter by Philip Gladstone — Similar to WSPRnet but data is gathered by receiving the PSK, JT65 and FT-8 protocols. You don’t need a license to contribute data because the system is receive only.

Reverse Beacon Network — A network of volunteers listening to the bands and reporting what stations they hear, when and how well.

N6SJV’s Cali VHF UHF Page —  Spotting network with a focus on Northern California and the Greater San Joaquin Valley. Sponsored by the Lodi ARC.

VHF/UHF Conditions Map — Maintained by the Mountain Lake, MN public school district.

Kurt Harnish’s Maps — Covers 2, 6 and 10 meters.

DXMAPS — QSO/SWL real-time information.

William Hepburn’s DX Information Centre — Lots of information on DX and more.

DXWatch — Hosts the Reverse Beacon Network. Rather than a map format, this site lets you configure filters and display DX spots in a scrolling list.

Space Weather — Your source for “What’s up in space.”

VOACAP — Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program. Free professional high-frequency (HF) propagation prediction software from NTIA/ITS.

How to Take an Online FEMA Class

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers self-paced independent study courses for those who have emergency management responsibilities, but the content can be useful to the general public. All are offered free of charge to those who qualify for enrollment.

Two introductory courses have recently been revised. The FEMA website claims they only take between two and four hours to complete. Several members of SPARC have taken these classes and recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about handling major incidents.

IS-100.c, An Introduction to the Incident Command System, ICS 100
This course introduces the Incident Command System (ICS) and provides the foundation for higher level ICS training. The course describes the history, features and principles, and organizational structure of the Incident Command System. It also explains the relationship between ICS and the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

IS-700.b, An Introduction to the National Incident Management System
This course provides an overview of NIMS. NIMS defines the comprehensive approach guiding the whole community — all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations (NGO), and the private sector — to work together seamlessly to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the effects of incidents. The course provides learners with a basic understanding of NIMS concepts, principles, and components.

Together, these two online courses form the foundation of NIMS training for all incident personnel.

HF on a Budget Guide by KE6MT

California-based ham Rex Vokey KE6MT runs a blog chronicling his SOTA activities. A recent post outlines the low-cost solutions he’s currently using:

I believe that we are indeed in the midst of a golden age for amateur radio. Never before have we had such easy access to information, parts and kits needed to get on the air and to experiment.  From microcontrollers to easily available parts and information, never have there been more possibilities for experimentation.  With ingeniously-designed inexpensive kits, it’s easier than ever to get on the air.

Rex describes low-power (QRP) kits and antennas ideally suited for carrying up summits and making contacts. He is a big advocate of CW (Morse code) and the 40-meter band. If you’ve been thinking about exploring HF work and Summits on the Air, Rex’s post provides a great introduction. (Thanks to Al Williams at Hackaday.com for linking to the post.)

Climb into Summits on the Air

SOTA is an award scheme for radio amateurs that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas. It’s not just for mountaineers. There are awards for activators (those who ascend to the summits) and chasers (who operate from home, a local hilltop or are even Activators on other summits). You can monitor past and upcoming SOTA activity at SOTAwatch.org.

PRC’s Los Angeles Area Repeater Map

Thanks to the Pasadena Radio Club’s Bruce Nolte N1BN for permission to share his updated map of area repeaters. 

Below is information on PRC’s monthly meetings. Full details about PRC activities are available on their site.