Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Check Out February Milcom Column in MT

I don't usually use this blog to plug stuff in the magazine, since technically the whole thing is supposed to get you interested in MT. In my own (somewhat biased) opinion, MT is the best radio magazine out there, and if you aren't getting it, you are missing a lot.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I have to report that Larry Van Horn's Milcom column in the February 2009 MT is a real winner. It contains information that's been going back and forth in e-mail for months concerning possible major changes to US Coast Guard radio communication. There's also some good data on the meanings of new military callsigns being heard on the bands.

Check it out!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

80 Meter Waterfall Pictures

Users of a web radio receiver in Europe have been reporting an unknown net or nets with waterfall pictures and seldom if ever a callsign ID. This uses frequencies around 3585 to 3595 in the 80 meter amateur band. The players are unknown, though a couple of e-mail addresses displayed are on Ukranian and German servers. Some players are almost certainly from the former Soviet Union.

Waterfall pictures are images that appear right on the spectrum tuning display given by most digital radio decoding programs. They've been around a while. They are created by scanning a graphic file into pulsed or amplitude-modulated audio tones corresponding to lines of pixels in the file. Some ham programs do this, as does a fun little shareware program called Audiopaint.

First I heard of the 80-meter activity was from a posting to the UDXF mailing list by Robert, KB7AQD. This particular station was creating large numbers right on the waterfall spectrum display. These corresponded to dB below full power, and as the power was lowered the numbers became fainter.

Today, the 25th of January, I ran across one station on approximately 3588 kHz USB. It was sending a graphic "CQ test" call, like this:

The e-mail address is actually for gmail.com. The bottom got cut off due to tuning.

Here's another one, sent at 1940 UTC today. It's a cute lil' doggie:

And here's an elephant, sent at 1945:

The blob on the spectrogram after the picture is a burst of BPSK125. It is an identifier, but probably not one for the same station. It decodes to:

DK4XI-8:72 Pskmail v.0.7.24 - 19:45:19

DK4XI is a German ham active on packet and APRS modes. It strongly appears that this identifier is for an automatic transmitter associated with a European PSK e-mail network not related to the 80 meter waterfall pictures.

Another picture, that I didn't get a spectrum of, contains the web address www.funkbasis.de. This goes to a CB/ham forum in Germany.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Google Earth Pt. Reyes Tour Ends

What you want to do now is zoom Google Earth out to a high altitude. 50 miles should do it. This puts you in space, and you qualify for astronaut wings, but that's not relevant here.

Get Point Reyes in the middle of the screen so you can see it all. Notice the large line etched in the ground in such a manner as to separate the point from the land to its east. This line starts down south around Bolinas and Stinson Beach at 37 degrees 54 minutes 23 seconds North Latitude by 122 40 33 West Longitude. It heads out to sea on the north end of Tomales Bay, at about 38 degrees 14 minutes 46 seconds North by 122 59 01 West.

This is California's notorious San Andreas Fault. Point Reyes National Seashore is on a plate tectonic boundary, and the motion on this long strike-slip fault will eventually break it away from the rest of California, creating an island. Tomales Bay is where this has already happened.

While of course this is a geologic process requiring millions of years, about 20 feet of this motion happened all at once on a stretch from here clear to Cape Mendocino. This event is better known as the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Now go part way up Tomales Bay to a spot on its east shore:

38° 8'39.22"N 122°52'40.99"W

This puts you in a rather picturesque shoreside complex with one big old building and several smaller cottages. This is the Marshall receiving station originally built by Marconi after the earthquake destroyed the original KPH in the Palace Hotel down in San Francisco.

As with other Marconi Hotels in the world, the Marconi company created a very attractive and comfortable, not to mention highly self-sufficient complex where the staff lived. This was necessary, given the remote locations of the stations. To the left of the main hotel with its veranda, were cottages for the station manager and chief engineer.

Various white objects in the large clearings to the north and east suggest possible former antenna locations. Some equipment remains on exhibit at the site, and I believe there may still be landlines in existence enabling remote operation of KPH from there.

When Marconi Wireless left the United States not altogether voluntarily after World War I, the subsequent Radio Corporation of America (RCA) owned the property. KPH did not move until after World War II. RCA eventually sold to a series of other owners, including the Synanon program. It was ultimately confiscated by the IRS, and then abandoned. Now it is park service property. It is being restored, and made available as a conference center.

The transmitters were in the old "power house" at the Bolinas facility, which we've already looked at.

Marshall is the VERY small town to the north, on the little inlet and former marina type thing called Marconi Cove. I believe it's all ranch land now. There's really not much in the way of habitation at all.

The Maritime Radio Historical Society has sought to do remote KPH operations from Marshall.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Point Reyes Google Earth Coordinates

As promised, here's part two of our Google Earth tour of Point Reyes, CA:

38° 6'6.95"N 122°56'12.98"W

These will put you just north of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and south of the bunkerlike headquarters and receiving facility for NMC. This is the US Coast Guard Communications Master Station, Pacific. Pictures of CAMSPAC can be found on the Internet. It's a relatively new and very impressive facility. Note the large tower and rotary antenna just to the building's north.

The large treeline north from that shows one edge of the fenced off antenna farm. Two right angle bends in the fence take you south and then east until you're back near where you started. The lighting isn't very good, but close examination of the area thus bounded will show a number of shadows that are obviously structures holding up wire antennas.

"But wait," you ask, "It sure looks like there are antennas south of the fence."

You are right. These are for:

38° 5'44.22"N 122°56'51.28"W

These put you bang on top of KPH's historic old receiver building. This is a neat old structure put up by RCA to serve originally as the point-to-point receive site for much of the Pacific Rim. This was a prestige operation (and a very lucrative one), and the building has a lot of details visible in ground photos that are again all over the Internet. Note the tree-lined access road going northwest from Sir Francis Drake.

KPH moved here after World War II. Between the two stations, RCA put up a LOT of antennas here, some of which are sort of visible on Google Earth. This farm goes clear northeast to the NMC fence line mentioned before. There's another access road, some undistinguishable structures, and an interesting trail leading almost due west to what sure looks like a tower base with a large ground radial system.

There are other buildings and antennas in this area. These were formerly used by KMI, San Francisco (Inverness) Radio. This was the big AT&T High Seas station that could be heard 24/7 running commercial ship-to-shore phone calls from cruise ships to the landline phone network. Along with WOO, New York (Ocean Gate) Radio, and WOM, Miami Radio, these fed into High Seas Operator positions in Pennsylvania where the calls were completed. All gone.

This entire area is also part of Point Reyes National Seashore. Here too, the Maritime Radio Historical Society seeks to preserve the radio heritage of skilled operators at sea, and the consummate professionals who served them ashore as operators, technicians, and workers.

Use of BPL Declines in US


According to the FCC figures, the category "Power Line and Other" dropped from 5420 lines in June 2007 to just 5274 six months later [out of 121.2 million Internet connections -Hugh]. It is not known how many of these are "Power Line" and how many are "Other."

"Despite the enormous and unwarranted hype given to BPL by the FCC under Chairmen Powell and Martin, the message from the marketplace is clear: BPL is going nowhere as a means of delivering broadband connectivity to consumers," observed ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. "Still, the FCC has unfinished business with respect to BPL. It has been nine months since the federal Court of Appeals ordered the Commission to correct the errors it committed in adopting rules that inadequately protect licensed radio services from BPL interference, yet the FCC has made no effort to comply.

BPL (Broadband Over Power Lines) refers to the use of HF frequencies for broadband transmission of Internet packets over power company lines. The system has not been successful in the US market for a number of reasons, but the FCC for political reasons continues to push its use. IBM recently announced that it will work with power companies to implement BPL in rural areas beyond the reach of DSL and cable.

BPL is not the same as the home powerline networking system that is causing such a severe problem in Europe and South America. The use of these latter devices, more typically known as PLC (Power Line Communications) or PLT (Power Line Telecommunication), continues to increase rapidly.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

PLT Buzz Reaches Geek Sites

Thanks to the efforts of the UKQRM group, the disastrous effect of powerline communication devices on HF radio is becoming publicized where it matters. This is in the computer professional press, which reaches the people who make the purchase decisions.

An informative story, which is about as technically correct as writing about the radio hobby ever gets, appears on The Register site:

'Interfering' BT Vision attracts campaigner glares
Ham radio enthusiasts call up trading standards

By Bill Ray
Posted in Telecoms, 15th January 2009 11:33 GMT

Campaigners complaining about interference generated by BT's Vision product have financed independent tests to show that the kit BT is pushing fails to conform to the appropriate EU standards, prompting a complaint to trading standards officers.

Shortwave radio users have been complaining for a while about interference generated by networking over mains wiring, with BT taking the majority of the flak, but until now the protestors have been complaining to Ofcom on the basis of illegal broadcasting. By demonstrating that retailers are selling kit that fails to meet EU standards the protestors could prevent its sale, not to mention the possibility of fines for those manufacturing or importing the kit.


This was also excerpted on ISPReview, another UK IT site.

Both embed this latest YouTube video, ominously (and accurately) entitled, Power Line Signalling: The Death of H.F. Radio.

Other links:

UK citizens' petition to save shortwave
UK interference report database
UKQRM web site

Also check out the UKQRM video page for a comprehensive look at what is going on in the UK (and starting to happen in the USA!).


Added 1/25/08

The discussions on geek sites have led to hostile comments to the effect that short wave radio is obsolete, and should be abolished anyway. Apparently, we have done a poor job of informing the public of the consequences of eliminating the only long-distance communications system that does not depend on wires and/or links controlled and maintained by third parties.

Some people have even made remarks to the effect that they will stop using their PLC adapters when their cold dead hands are pried from them.

It would appear that we have something of a fight on our hands.

Bring 'em on.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Will There Be A Cycle 24?

Your guess is as good as mine. Both of our guesses are as good as those of the most high powered astrophysicists, solar-terrestrial experts, and everyone else out there.

In short... we're in new territory here.

One good thing is that I found a low-noise discussion forum where they discuss space weather and radio propagation instead of "global warming" and government policy.

Right here:

Is Solar-Terrestrial Activity the Lowest Ever?

Well, maybe not. However, one important index is showing the lowest long term averages since that data series began in the 20th century.

Ap, the planetary "A" index derived from measurements of geomagnetic activity, continues to show historically low smoothed averages. Examination of data shows that this phenomenon began in 2005, and continues up to the most recent measurements permitted by the design of the average.

Ap, of course, does not directly measure solar activity. However, it is a reliable indicator of magnetic activity caused solely by energetic events on the sun.

Scientists are divided on the prospect of a low or nonexistent Cycle 24. There is also an ongoing debate as to whether such a misfire would mark the start of a major extended solar lull (a "Dalton Minimum"), causing an extended spell of cold climate (a "Little Ice Age").

Just about everything readily available online is more about politics than science. This is because the solar lull has become a major reason for contention between advocates of different government policies with regard to "global warming." The result is that it's hard to find anything addressing prospects for radio propagation.

And so we wait and see, while band conditions remain dreadful. Maybe there will be a Cycle 24 strong enough to create the improved HF propagation that we've become used to, and maybe there won't. Meanwhile, the weak signals are further disrupted by a huge increase in noise from popular consumer electronics.

Not all of the depressions this year are economic. It does appear as if HF DXing has fallen on hard times.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

New Google Earth Coordinates for Pt. Reyes, CA

Google Earth appears to have greatly improved its images of the Bolinas area. This is on Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, and is home to some truly historic old antenna farms. Visibility of antenna hardware used to be practically nonexistent, but now you can make out quite a bit.

We begin our tour at 37°54'52.32"N by 122°43'30.26"W. These coordinates put you right alongside the venerable RCA transmitting facility used by proud old KPH for commercial maritime communications. Much of this building was shared by RCA's real money making operation. This was KET, the West Coast hub for many point-to-point fixed-station links that connected up the entire Pacific Rim in the days before satellites. In the past few years, the facility has also been used by KSM, a new Maritime Radio Historical Society station with a commercial license on traditional coast station frequencies.

This building was added onto, and both halves are clearly visible. At least on my monitor, if you look real hard you can make out the many open-feed wires coming out of this building to the two long wooden structures to the northwest and southeast that show as white lines. From there you can easily trace the H structures that still carry largely intact balanced feeders to the two major parts of one of the world's great antenna farms.

At either end, right angle marks on the ground suggest the presence of large rhombics, once used by the point-to-point station. Closer in, a small service road leads southwest to a square building right on the cliffside by the ocean. This is the original "Power House," that held the Marconi company spark transmitters and subsequent RF alternators.

The massive antenna structure for these is mostly gone, but several of the concrete bases for the 300 foot support towers remain. One of these is just northeast of the building, looking like a white donut. Shadows make it possible to spot many poles that hold up wire antennas of various types. Several of these are still in use by the Maritime Radio Historical Society.

The land is now part of the Point Reyes National Seashore, and some of the main transmitting building is now used for offices of "Commonwealth." They at least used to operate a small 12-MHz sea surface research radar near the old Marconi building. It does not interfere with maritime frequencies.

Now go almost due north a bit, to coordinates 37°55'32.46"N by 122°43'52.57"W. These put you dead on top of the transmitter building used by NMC, the US Coast Guard Communications Area Master Station Pacific (CAMSPAC Point Reyes).

It's hard to miss the fairly new log periodic just due south, and various other circles, masts, and square fences make it easy to see the positions of various HF antennas. This farm is actually right next to KPH, separated by a low fence which shows up as a line running southwest to northeast all the way back up to the street (Mesa Road).

More on Point Reyes later.