Friday, January 27, 2012

Year's First X-Class Flare Causes N.A. HF Blackout

An X1.7 X-ray flare was observed at 1840Z from Region 1402.  A warning has been issued for a S1 solar radiation storm. This warning is in effect for the next 24 hours.

This is the first X-class flare since November 3, 2011, when an X1.9 occurred.

Region 1402 is close to the limb, and CME (if any) should not be geoeffective.

This flare caused an R3 level radio blackout over North America, with a pretty much complete loss of HF propagation for about 30 minutes.  Right now, the 15 MHz WWV signal has recovered from nothing to about S9 with fading.  Normally, it would be about 20 over.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Auroral Event In Progress

Check out the photos of incredible aurora at high geomagnetic latitudes at this Daily Mail photo story.

The past two Kp indices have been 3, below the storm threshold.  As the news story notes, this was not a severe storm.  While energetic particles are traveling at a high velocity, most are missing the Earth.  HF propagation will not take a major hit from this one, although some signals from transauroral paths do seem much weaker or missing tonight.

Planetary K Index Now = 5

We have crossed the minor storm threshold.  Expect degradation of high-latitude paths, and perhaps a nice auroral show tonight in the northern US.

Geomagnetic Event Commences On Schedule

Space Weather News for Jan. 24, 2012

CME IMPACT: As predicted by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, a CME hit Earth's magnetic field on Jan. 24 at ~1500 UT (10 am EST).  A geomagnetic storm is brewing in the aftermath of the impact, but as this alert is being written it is too soon to say how weak or strong the storm might be.  High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after local nightfall; the hours around local midnight are often best for seeing the Northern Lights.  Chances for a good display favor observers in northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Alaska, and possibly northern tier US states such as Maine, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Check for updates.
Local news media seem awfully excited about this event.  So far, one K index of 4 has been recorded, and HF propagation seems to be holding up.  Keep watching...

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Not You: Sigmira Blows Up Again

Now, I like Sigmira.  It cranks on STANAG 4285, it has a great mode to demonstrate what's really up with the Japanese "slot machine" encrypted data station, and it does HFDL.

It has this one odd issue where every so often the features.dat file becomes obsolete and must be replaced for STANAG 4285 to work again.

This time, though, the problem is not loss of features.  The program starts up very briefly, then shuts down and displays a small window saying something unhelpful along the lines of "it didn't work."  Everyone got the problem at the same time, and it seems as if it might be related to the PC system date.

So far no word on the web site.   I won't be able to duplicate the problem and try for any insight because it never ran on my new 64 bit system anyway.  Too bad, because it IS a great program.

R. Bulgaria To Leave Air 1/31

The continual dropping off of one government short wave broadcast service after another can be explained by general lack of money and new priorities following the end of the Cold War.

It still remains distressing, however. It reinforces the popular idea that "short wave is dead," and makes it easier to gain approval for new products that do not conform to EM compatibility standards. Then we as ute DXers get hurt when the noise floor goes up again.

It's easy to say that Internet can do the same job, except for one pesky little fact, which is that it can't.  Radio is radio, and Internet is Internet.  While they overlap greatly, they most assuredly do not exclude one another.  Nor will they ever, except in the politically useful pronouncements of government budget hacks, and in the childish fantasies of technogeeks.



Save BNR Radio Bulgaria on shortwave and medium wave

Dear listeners and friends of shortwave and Radio Bulgaria, With a huge regret I'd like to inform you very bad news. After more than 75 years in the world broadcasting from January 31, 2012 at 2200UT Radio Bulgaria cease broadcasting on shortwave and medium wave.

The first shortwave broadcasts from Bulgaria began on 16 February 1936.

The reason

No money for broadcasting on shortwave and medium waves. The decision of BNR is: Radio Bulgaria is not necessary now to its shortwave and medium waves listeners. And who listens to short waves today? We have internet.

Maintaining the shortwave transmissions was "Mission Impossible"!

Hope dies last.

Beginning of the end. But we expect your moral support.

What can you do?

Sign the petition [at the link]
Contact BNR

New CME May Cause Aurora Tomorrow


INCOMING CME: Big sunspot 1402 erupted on Jan. 23rd, producing a strong M9-class solar flare and a fast-moving coronal mass ejection (CME).

Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab say the CME should reach Earth on Jan. 24th at 14:18 UT (+/- 7 hr) and Mars a little more than a day later. Strong geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud reaches Earth.

Our magnetic field is still reverberating from a CME impact on Jan. 22nd, so another blow could spark impressive auroras at high latitudes. Sky watchers in northern Europe, Canada, Alaska, and northern-tier US states such as the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin should be alert for Northern Lights.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ham Radio Software Meets Windows 7 #4: The Final Accounting

After much sound, fury, hair pulling, and bad language, the results are in.

Programs that recognize the W7 app data path variable, keep their data outside the program file tree, and work when installed to the default directory (Program Files (x86)):

FLdigi (Note 1)

Programs that should probably be installed in a different folder you create yourself (I called mine "Radio"):

DSCdecoder (Note 2)
MultiPSK (3)
PC-ALE (4)

1) Created files under "Users," not in program folder.
2) ITU lookup won't work installed under Program Files (x86).
3) Some confusion over whether or not to run INSTAL.exe after unzipping.
4) Do not leave "create desktop icon" checked.  Create shortcut manually in program's home directory, and drag to desktop.  In fact, do this for all these programs.
5) Go into ground station file, change "AUCKLAND - NEW ZEALAND" to "AUCKLAND - NZ" due to a bug unrelated to platform.

As always, your results will be different.  That's what worked here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ham Radio Software Meets Windows 7 #3: Debugging PC-ALE

After uninstalling MARS-ALE and removing various droppings still found throughout my computer, I bravely set out to see what PC-ALE would do in a home directory outside the Program Files (x86) or the virtual machine ("XP Mode").  Others had reported success when installed in this manner.

The version I'd been using is in the 1.07x cycle. I had the installers on backups.  The files are not on HFLINK, but can be found elsewhere.  You install the FI version, then drop the unzipped UD .exe file over the original .exe in your installation.  Then you copy in your .qrg files.  You DID back up your .qrg, right?

Scanning will have to wait until a compatible USB-serial adapter is obtained.  Right now I'm only parking on frequencies.

Here are some issues:

#1: Do not check the "Create Desktop Icon" box in the installer. This creates an incorrect path, which causes PC-ALE to write the files it needs for proper operation to the desktop instead of its home folder. It is then unable to find them there.

Instead, go to the home directory and right-click ALE.exe. Drop down and hit "Create Shortcut," then move the resulting new shortcut icon to the desktop. This solves the problem.  The files are created in the right place.

#2. The problem encountered with the input being pure noise seems to have fixed itself with the install to my custom directory. PC-ALE is finding the right input now.  "First light" here was J14, 003, and D08 sounding on 15867.  BER and S/N were well above minimums for high confidence decode.

#3: For some inexplicable reason, PC-ALE likes to set the gain of Line In to zero at startup and shutdown.  This causes the bars/sync to vanish altogether, because there's no signal.  Do W7's silly sound driver and turn it back up.  The bars/sync should appear, and you should be decoding ALE.  This issue fixes itself after running the program a couple of times.  Presumably, the default level finally gets set to the figure in your 141A config screen.

#4: It is said that MARS-ALE is actually better for receive-only than PC-ALE.  This could be the case.  MultiPSK, however, is better than both of them for receive, though equally user-inscrutable.  It will scan after you do the developer's weird payment procedure and get a license.

#5: ALL MILEAGE WILL VARY!!!!! We are dealing with computers, after all.  If you get a total bomb job, try asking the experts on the HFLINK group at Yahoo.

Ham Radio Software Meets Windows 7 #2: DSCdecoder FIXED!

OK.  Thanks to the informative forum at HF-ALE, I have the intelligence that Windows 7 security prevents programs from modifying certain files in their own home folders and subdirectories therein.  Variable data is supposed to be stored in User Data, App Data, or someplace like that.   These old ham programs don't do that.

The advice was given to create a folder OUTSIDE Program Files (x86) for old radio software that won't work any other way, and install these old programs there.  While they were talking about PC-ALE, this worked for DSCdecoder.  The ITU lookup is now working and the program is as far as I'm concerned now operating properly.  The display screen changes, and the data is written to the daily log and shipid.txt.

While I was at it, I moved the logging folder to My Documents, since I look at it a lot.  This is done with Options > Directories > Log File.

I wouldn't recommend this installation procedure for every single new program, since it does defeat a security feature built into W7.  This is for the care and feeding of these old radio sharewares.  Make sure you trust the software.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ham Radio Software Meets Windows 7

Despite knowing the perils of attempting to use ham radio software with anything newer than XP, I continued in my resolve to enter the modern age with an operating system that has some hope of support after next year.   Since SDRs tend to like all the processor and memory you can throw at them, I loaded up on plenty of both, requiring the dreaded 64-bit operating system.

Dreaded because most ham shareware never heard of it.

After two weeks, results have emerged.  Here we go:

Programs that work with 64 bit Windows 7 (your mileage WILL vary):

FLdigi - No problems so far.

JVComm32 - Works fine; it's going right now.  Complains bitterly about my font sizes, but since I'm using a 1950x1200 graphic arts monitor, it'll just have to understand show biz.

MultiPSK - so far no problems except the need to personally communicate with the programmer to give him his well deserved money.  (And that issue is platform-independent :-) . )  It stopped complaining about the font size when I went to Properties > Compatibility and checked the part about "Disable display settings on high DPI."

PC-HFDL - No problems AT ALL.

Posfix - No problems AT ALL.

Spectran: So far, works perfectly, despite Windows declaring it incompatible.  There was some strange issue with its installer, which is really more like an unpacker.  No matter how bitterly Windows complains, it can be unpacked to anywhere, and moved by hand to an appropriate folder you create under Programs (x86).  There are no registry issues.  The program barely even wastes time on MickeySoft's new sound drivers (more on that later).

TrueTTY/SeaTTY - so far no problems.

Programs that do not work (at least here):

PC-ALE & MARS-ALE - the UI functions properly but it can't seem to find the right sound input.  Only noise displays in the box on the upper left.  Using the virtual machine and "XP mode" does not seem to help.  Also, scanning on many rigs requires a USB to serial adapter, and the older ones don't work on 64 bit W7, which has no driver for them.

Spectrum Lab - it's too bad that this state of the art package was never updated to post-Vista operating systems.  It's fine to declare yourself an XP holdout, and even brag about how much better it is, and in the case of ham radio you are undoubtedly right.  Back in the real world, it's important to keep up with technology.

Programs that work with some fiddling:

DSCdecoder - I think I finally have this one as happy as it's ever going to get.  It's running in compatibility mode, and everything works except the ITU lookup.  The issue with that is mysterious, and it may relate to the font sizes.  Clicking the MMSI does indeed go to ITU and grab the information, as can be seen by picking through the file named ituresponse.txt that gets written to the program's directory. However, it never makes it onto the UI, or into the master lookup database file shipid.txt.

More on the W7 sound card issue:

The problem is that, from what I can find online, MickeySoft has made it harder, if not impossible, to record from streams. This is undoubtedly a concession to the music industry, which is concerned about copyright.  Every sound card driver is different, but in my case, both the on-board and external sound had Stereo Mix and/or What U Hear missing.

In addition, the external sound card, a venerable Creative Live! they stopped supporting years ago,  did not work well.  It was prone to pops and crackles, and the sound was poor.  The driver available at Creative Labs was a legacy product, and did nothing to solve the problem.  I'll stay with the on-board sound, which is fine in all specs except signal to noise, until I feel like popping for a decent external card.

There is a hack to get Stereo Mix back on some of the sound drivers, at least for the Realtek driver on the Asus motherboard. This is documented all over the Internet, and it works.  It involves going to a certain place in the config, finding Stereo Mix and unblocking it.  However, my Stereo Mix still wouldn't do the right kind of loopback for legally recording and/or decoding audio from remote SDRs and radios.

(Psssst... Spectran, which ignores the sound board nonsense, will listen to Stereo Mix just fine on my box.  AND it records.  AND it's free.  Don't tell RIAA.)

Happy computing......

Friday, January 06, 2012

Major BPL Company to Shut Down

In the latest of a string of commercial Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) failures, International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc. (IBEC) is dropping its rural Internet service this month.

In a 12/23/11 letter over the signature of Scott E. Lee, the CEO, IBEC states:

It is with a very heavy heart, that we must inform you that IBEC will no longer be in a position to provide Internet service to your area.

We encourage all of you to pursue other options for your internet services as soon as possible. This includes your email service if you have an active @BPL,COOP email account. Please move to another email service as soon as possible.


Our demise, started with the April 27th storms of this year in Alabama, which destroyed over 3.2 Million in assets, which our Insurance Provider (CHUB) has refused to pay. We also lost a critical investment from an Investor commitment, due to these storms, putting IBEC into a negative financial situation. IBEC pursued assistance from RUS (our Federal Creditor at US Department of Agriculture), our vendors and endless potential buyers after these events without success.

It is doubtful that radio fans will be as heavy-hearted.  One might remember IBEC for another reason.  ARRL:

More than a year ago, the ARRL filed a complaint with the FCC, documenting ongoing harmful interference and egregious rules violations by IBEC-installed BPL systems in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Indiana. The ARRL had requested that the FCC “initiate immediately an enforcement proceeding regarding these BPL systems, and cause them to cease operation until such time as they are each in full compliance with the Commission’s Rules.” The ARRL even discovered IBEC BPL systems in operation that are not listed in the online BPL database -- another clear violation of the FCC rules, which require listing 30 days prior to initiation of service. To the ARRL’s knowledge, even as of today, the FCC has taken no enforcement action to correct these violations.

ARRL also notes that IBEC was the last BPL provider in the US that didn't notch amateur bands (a violation of FCC regulations).