Welcome to the summer

With Memorial Day behind us, it is time to turn our attention to the summer. And we have seen a number of seasons where every other day was a sever storm. We have seen summer seasons where we barely got enough rain to tamp down the dust.

Today is the “second day” of summer and our friends at the National Weather Service predicts:


So the weather is already heating up.  Which leads me to the next date on the calendar – the start of hurricane season, which is June 1.

Depending on who you listen too, this season is expected to be quiet, sort of. Estimates are for 8-13 named storms, with only a pair of major hurricanes predicted. Compare this too 2013 where we had 14 reported storms and only two hurricanes (Sandy was in 2012, in case your memory is a sketchy as mine is).

So take advantage of the Virginia Tax free week this week (May 25 – May 31) to stock up on your hurricane and other disaster supplies.  You might also want to take a moment to review your antennas and tower supports and check your batteries.


PWCARES Digital Exercise AAR

The inital three stations before setup
The inital three stations before setup

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, Prince William ARES took to the field in the green common in front of the McCoart building at the County Government Centre for a small digital exercise. The key goal was to set up one or more FlDigi stations and pass communications between them. A second goal was to set up a broadband hamnet mesh network. And finally, it was a great opportunity for the members of PWCARES to exercise their go-kits, digital gear, and work out in the field without commercial power.

Welcome to Amateur Radio!
Welcome to Amateur Radio!

Three “station” set-ups were provided. At the height of the exercise, as many as nine stations were in operation around the perimeter of the common and two different types of mesh networks were in operation. Most operators had a standard set up of a laptop, radio, and some type of external sound card device, such as SignaLink. A couple of stations tried the “headset to mic” interface method. At the end, four stations were able to successfully pass traffic, both ad hoc messages and more formal ICS-213 messages. These stations were all using SigaLinks.

Clarence provided a traditional broadband-hamnet network, with an access point connecting the field to the Internet.

Clarence, K4CNM's go kit in a box.
Clarence, K4CNM’s go kit in a box.

Derek set up a mesh network that was a custom set up that was not BBHN or HSMM. The equipment he brought for the mesh was three WNDR3700v2 routers [1]. On these devices, I had loaded the OpenWRT firmware. One device ran DHCP and an XMPP server[2], while the other two acted simply as relays. The network was configured so the 5 GHz radio connected ad-hoc while the 2.4 GHz radio provided an AP, different name and channel from each node.

Station 3, operational
Station 3, operational

Significantly different from BBHN, the adhoc 5 GHz connections were connected with the B.A.T.M.A.N. protocol (BBHN uses OLSR). The bat0 interface thus provided was bridged with the 2.4 GHz APs. This has the effect of making the entire network link-local. Thus, wireless clients could pull addresses from the node running DHCP.

One of the generators providing power
One of the generators providing power

At the exercise, David KG4GIY and Keith KM4AA connected their laptops and used Pidgin to connect their XMPP accounts, while Mark Redlinger connected with his iPhone and the ChatSecure app. No downtime was noted, though use was not heavy. The ability to connect Android and iPhone devices through the second AP is a big advantage to having a dual-band radio. The clear weather and flat terrain meant all of the APs were visible from the entire area of the exercise.

Derek welcomes any questions on this topic.

No gas? How about the sun?
No gas? How about the sun?

We learned there were a great number of power options available to everyone. Deep cycle batteries, generators, even solar panels, which meant there was no need for commercial power during the exercise. We also discovered that a physical device between the computer and the radio worked better than other lash-ups for sending and receiving data via fldigi. Several observers were present and learned how to use the system and what value it brings. It was also a good learning experience and we need to have more opportunities. A suggestion was made to have little workshops to review settings and set ups and then have another exercise. The digital list will be used to coordinate. The mesh nodes demonstrated the ability to utilize traditional TCP/IP based technologies successfully. More research and work needs to go into establishing the best way to implement it.

Bill and Louis with the signal testing gear
Bill and Louis with the signal testing gear

Bill did a signal study during the exercise, the results of which will be provided as soon as he has completed his analysis.

Thanks to everyone for their participation!

1 – http://wiki.openwrt.org/toh/netgear/wndr3700
2 – XMPP is an instant message protocol, perhaps likened to a computerized form of the National Traffic System

The “Food Fight” over MT-63

A number of people have brought me information about MT-63, both pro and con.

Officially, PWCARES will use the mode that works best for us and we are currently evaluating the various modes that are available to us.  MT-63 is just a starting point, because you have to start somewhere.

MT-63 2KL was chosen because it is the NBEMS standard adopted by the ARRL. And it was a good place to start.

Here is only one of the arguments against:

  • nice for file transfer but not so good at keyboard typing (errors creep in).

And for:

  • The Army uses both MT-63 1KL and 2KL as their go to backup mode when MS-110A doesn’t work due to atmospheric conditions.

There are as many opinions and positions as there are amateurs.  If someone has a definitive or quantitative analysis, please feel free to post it in the comments or send it directly and I will add it. At this point, we will all keep an open mind.


Digital Exercise, 17 May 2014, FAQ

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, PWCARES will take to the field for a digital exercise during our normal training interval. The slide deck is here: http://www.haikudeck.com/p/ZIDuv4Rd9l

We will set up on the grassy area between the parking lots for McCoart and Owens.  This is a surface only setup – no spikes, stakes, or burrowing animals please.

The plan is this:

  • Set up (8:30 – 9:30)
  • Briefing (9:30 – 10:00)
  • Exercise (10:00 – 11:30)
  • Hotwash and cleanup (11:30 – 12:30)

I will provide 3 pavilions, three tables and three operation position chairs.  If we want more sites/operating locations, someone will need to help with the gear.  We set up, do some digital work with voice sync and see what we can do.  Digital will be on 2m and voice coordination will be on 440.  There is no power, so bring batteries and anything else you think you will need to operate.

We will operate under the assumptions laid out in the digital meeting outbrief.  This is an active deployment and all Amateur operators are encouraged to attend.

Q. Who is setting up a station?

A. We will divide up into three or so teams and each team will set up a station (or two) as a group.

Q. Where will be getting the gear?

A. This is a good chance for everyone to exercise their field kits. If you have a digital station, please bring it and the necessary gear to operate in the field. If you don’t, that’s OK too. Everyone will get a chance to operate. Please bring an HT (if you have one) with 440 as well to coordinate.

Q. What about power?

A. Again, this an opportunity to exercise your equipment, so bring your own power. That being said, David, KG4GIY will bring a couple of batteries and Spenc has indicated he will bring a generator and an extension cord or two.

Q. What sort of digital will we be testing?

A. Primarily we will be testing fldigi, with flmsg. Derek has indicated he would like to do some broadband-hamnet (ex HSSM) as well. If you are interested, bring that gear along as well. BBHN please coordinate over the digital list so you have what you need.

Q. Do stations have to have the required software/hardware?

A. It will be the responsibility of those bringing digital stations to have them preconfigured with the FLdigi software and appropriate hardware to operate on at least 2m.

Q. Who is going to man EOC?

A. No one. We will not use the EOC for this exercise.

Q. Is there a message packet for the stations?

A. The primary goal for this exercise is to at least get the stations to talk to each other (and while that may seem like a trivial goal, I think it will take the bulk of our time to get to that point). If we can send messages after that, so much the better. I have a group of messages that we can use.

Q. I really like the parking lot idea.

A. Before we go long, we need to make sure we can work. It is frustrating enough to get connectivity working, much less when you cannot ask a more knowledgeable person to come look and see what you did wrong.

Q. FLAMP works great on any of the digital modes/bands but with solid signals may not be required. FLAMP works great for file transfer and beacon/ multiple general broadcast of message forms.

A. Again, one step at a time. If we can get connectivity, then we will move on to the more complicated stuff.

Q. FLNET it may assist us in running the net.

A. It might. I will see how much work there is in setting it up.

Tax Free Holiday May 25 – 31, now with chainsaws!

Virginia's Tax Free Holiday!
Virginia’s Tax Free Holiday!

It is hurrican season preparation time again, and to help you out, Virginia is picking up the tax on those items that will help you get prepared. What sort of itmes you ask? Let me tell you!

  • Ice packs
  • Bottled water
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Rope
  • Buckets (to carry your rope and water in, right?)
  • Chainsaws (under $350 – sadly the safety gear is not exempt, but I would encourage you to get it anyway if you do not have it)
  • Generators (under $1000)
  • …and so much more

In all seriousness, this is a great opportunity to get ready for hurricane season, which starts June 1st.