Tuesday, October 31, 2006

KSM Granted RTTY Frequencies

Forward from MRHS list:

KSM, the coast station of the Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS), has been granted two RTTY frequencies by the FCC.

The frequencies, known officially as narrow band direct printing (NBDP) channels, are:

8.4330 Mc

12.6310 Mc

Authorized power is 5kW.

The MRHS will use these channels for broadcasting weather, press and other information to the maritime community using RTTY (Baudot) and SITOR FEC modes.

It will take a while for the MRHS Transmitter Department to bring transmitters on line for these frequencies. But now that we have FCC approval we can begin work on this new project. An announcement will be made when we are ready to begin transmission on these frequencies.

VY 73,

Richard Dillman
Chief Operator, KSM

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Propagation numbers for Firefox

N0HC Propfire is a slick little Firefox extension that unobtrusively and silently puts the "WWV" propagation numbers for solar flux, A index, and K index in the status line of your browser. It updates periodically, and you get to watch it change. Clicking the numbers gives a menu and a nifty little chart of recent K indices.

You can get it from the Firefox extension page or the direct link above. It's compatible with Firefox 2.

Fall '06 Neptune Warrior Exercise in Progress

Reception reports have noted HF traffic on 4030-4031 kHz from the annual fall Neptune Warrior exercise which started on 24 Oct and will run until 04 Nov.

Exercise Neptune Warrior, formerly known as the Joint Maritime Course is a major UK led maritime training course held three times a year around the coast of Scotland. The US Navy is participating in the current exercise.

Friday, October 27, 2006

New PC-ALE Version Is Out

PC-ALE version 1.062G is now available from the new HF-Link site, in their beta-testing area.

As always, PC-ALE remains a rather amazing program, originally written by Charles Brain, G4GUO, ostensibly to teach himself DSP. I would say he learned fast, because this was an amazing programming breakthrough when it first came out. It rather seamlessly implemented most of a hardware Automatic Link Establishment controller, sticking close to one of the most complicated communication standards ever devised, while using only a PC and sound card. This was at a stage of the game when most other programmers were having enough trouble with sound-card RTTY and FAX.

In the seven or so years since, PC-ALE has lost some of its rough edges, improved greatly "under the hood," and in general made a good thing better. It remains ham software, meaning it is intended for use by technically sophisticated people, with the controls visible and with documentation that does not always tell you much about what to do with them. Like most great ham software, it also remains free.

The "G" version is in the line of evolution that began with the "MARS version" of PC-ALE. "G" has resolved some of the issues with this version, and greatly improved ease of use. It is coming close to the unthinkable - an intuitive ALE interface!

It remains a beta, of course. I've been giving it a good thrashing out on the NRD-545. There are some major differences from the older and better known "K" series of the program, which is still available on Charles' site, and as simple and reliable as ever.

For example, the QRG (frequency list) file is completely different, and incompatible. On the NRD-545, the G series no longer loads the QRG into your bottom 100 memories, meaning that you don't lose the data in these. Most NRD-545 users have become used to leaving 0-99 empty for PC-ALE to do with as it will, but this is apparently no longer necessary.

The grouping of frequencies is also different, far more intuitive, and generally better. The QRG that comes with the program on the HFLINK site is for use in amateur autolinking experiments, which due largely to the effort of this group have become far more common than before. However, it's easy to modify the file by hand and save it back out.

This particular release fixes a couple of little things. The receiver volume control, which was extremely clunky, is now as good as on the K. There's a new sound card setup screen, though the general interface to the sound card seems buggy. Closing the options screen sets the receive volume to 0 until this new setup is opened, at which point it goes back to where you had set it and you can close the dialogue without doing anything. A little thing, but irritating.

Trace mode is also greatly improved, with its own setup menu. One can now choose to trace every ALE word received without activating the more general debugging trace. This allows insight into the workings of the ALE mode, and can also uncover a few little hidden commands buried in some of the signals.

The program comes with transmit sounding enabled. Unless you want your shack to be a rather noisy place, you'll want to turn this off for receive-only.

ALE is a hobby within a hobby, largely due to Charles' efforts, and we thank him for his contributions to utility DXing.