July 2021 Meeting: Propagation and Solar Cycle 25

At our July monthly membership meeting, SPARC welcomed Carl Luetzelschwab K9LA, an expert on the science of radio propagation. Professionally, Carl worked for forty-one years as an RF design engineer, and in his spare time he was a columnist for WorldRadio (and later CQ) beginning in 1997. He continues to write a monthly column on radio topics at his personal website. His presentation to our July meeting is linked below (2 MB PDF). SPARC thanks Carl for speaking with us and for his continued devotion to the hobby!

Click here to view (2 MB PDF)

Take Part in SOTA This Weekend

Dear SPARC members and friends,

Members of the South Pasadena Amateur Radio Club will be activating a few local Summits on the Air (SOTA) peaks on Sunday, July 18, 2021. SOTA is a great opportunity to combine hiking and portable operating (see the Summits on the Air website for more information). Peaks and times will be posted as “alerts” and “spots” on SOTAwatch during the day on Sunday. Bands and modes will vary but the operators will use the “North American Adventure Frequency” 146.580 MHz FM simplex for local contacts at some point during their activations. Please feel free to make contact with those operators, they will certainly appreciate adding you to their logs.

If you are interested in activating a peak, consult the map at SOTLAS and the Bobcat Fire closure map to find peaks in open areas of the Angeles National Forest. As with any voluntary wilderness activity, choose a peak well within your physical ability, consult weather and trail conditions, take appropriate water/food/clothing/equipment, and tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

You can use the Contact Us page of our site to let me know if you plan to participate (activator or chaser), and I’ll make sure we listen for your call sign and maybe even arrange some summit-to-summit contacts.

Be safe and have fun,
Richard Besocke, KI6ZKM
SPARC President

To inspire your own SOTA adventures, below is a report from SPARC member Jose Gonzalez KM6PFM about activating Mt. Langley in the Sierras last weekend. Langley is a 14,000’+ peak neat Mt. Whitney and is quite an accomplishment.

A lot busier area than I had envisioned. For some reason I thought people would be elsewhere. Boy was I wrong. Arrived at sundown. Horseshoe Meadow is in the thin air — 10,000ish feet. [The area] has to offer, yes, horses. I overheard a little boy say, “Boy, these horses are loud!” lol… Camp full, luckily scored a parking spot. My hiking group wanted to get all 22ish miles done in a day and rest back at Horseshoe Meadow. So at 4am the next morning with views of the Milky Way overhead, we headed out. Cottonwood Lakes were awesome with the sunrise. Old Army Pass was a bear in the searing sun (take more water than you think if you come out). Up on the pass at 12,000 feet, found some bighorn sheep roaming. Followed the Jenga-style cairns on the way to the summit. Some clouds rolled in, and it started snowing a bit. The rocks get larger, and the ground gets sandier. Made it to the summit, and after a few pics, it started raining under partially-cloudy skies. Lots of blue sky still and thankfully no thunder or lightning.

Jose KM6PFM at the summit of Mt. Langley

Quickly assembled my Yagi in the rain and got to it. Tried to self spot with SOTA Goat, but I guess the signal bars on my phone were just there for decoration because it wouldn’t establish the link, lol. Made a few local contacts in Bishop area then aimed the Yagi south. Very happy to reach ~280km away to W6/CT-013 Keller Peak where W6MHS, KJ6IJT, KM6WCO [thanks for spotting me!], and KE6PLA had set up to try and catch me. Some raw video is linked below. I don’t normally get to hear myself on the other side of the QSO, so that was cool. I was only active about 10-15min then had to pack it up due to increasing rain/snow and friends clamoring for me to hurry up 😊. Made it back down and enjoyed a nice evening at camp. Grateful for no nausea or altitude sickness Could have benefitted from another day at camp — blood oxygen levels ranged from a low of 82% on arrival day to 85-93% on summit day. All in all, another memorable activation!

June 2021 Meeting: Options for Field Day 2021

At our June monthly membership meeting, John Aboud, KK6ZVQ presented an overview of Field Day rules. This is the second year that the ARRL has modified Field Day rules to accommodate social distancing. You can download the presentation here (445 KB PDF). He also discussed two online tools that could make a socially-distanced Field Day more fun.

  1. Discord
    Discord is a chat and video streaming app much like Zoom. But unlike Zoom, which was designed for business use, Discord was designed by and for video gamers, so it has extra features that are useful for radio contesting. For example, rather than a specific, time-limited Zoom meeting, Discord “servers” are up and running at all times. Members of that server can log in and log out as they please and talk to whomever else is logged in at the time. Also, many people can share their screens simultaneously and stream their activity. You could share a view of your N3FJP screen or GridTracker or just your face. And you can selectively mute any of these streams — it would be overwhelming to hear all of them at once. If you’d like to join the SPARC Discord server, use the Contact Us page to request access.
  1. ContestOnlineScore.com
    ContestOnlineScore.com is what the URL implies, an online scoreboard for monitoring a particular contest. Once you create your account, you can affiliate with a club and/or a contest team. You configure your logging program (N3FJP, N1MM+, etc.) to share your score with the site. To affiliate with SPARC, you can select “South Pasadena Amateur Radio Club” from the pull-down menu of clubs. Click here for information on how to configure your logger to post the scores.

This year Field Day will start at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time (1800 UTC) on Saturday, June 26 and end on Sunday, June 27 at 1:59 p.m. (2059 UTC). SPARC encourages everyone to get out, make some contacts and have fun!

May 2021 Meeting: Using PinPoint APRS

SPARC welcomed Frank Watervoort, AB0WV, to its May 5, 2021 membership meeting. Frank is the developer of PinPoint APRS, a Windows client for the automatic packet reporting system. PinPoint APRS has been adopted by our local ARES LAX Northeast as a useful tool for maintaining situational awareness and sharing location information.

Frank explained the hardware requirements for using APRS with PinPoint or other software clients like APRSDroid. Devices manufactured by Kantronics, Byonics, and MobilinkD can bridge your computer or smartphone and your radio to send and receive APRS data. Certain radios, like the Kenwood D700 series, have APRS decoders built-in.

A shout out to SPARC in the position comment
The user interface of PinPoint APRS

Frank gave a detailed tour of PinPoint’s capabilities and encouraged everyone to explore APRS through such activities as public safety exercises and SOTA activations.

SPARC thanks Frank for his time and effort in maintaining this excellent program.

How APRS works

March 2021 Meeting: All About DARN

Forty-six members and guests attended to hear a presentation on DARN by Dick McKay, K6VGP, and Mike Lee, K6MJU. DARN stands for the Disaster Amateur Radio Network. It’s an impressive system of linked repeaters with coverage all over our region. K6VGP started the system back in 1959, but today it features the latest technologies such as IRLP, EchoLink, and AllStar. The technical aspects of maintaining the system largely fall to K6MJU.

You can listen live to DARN via Broadcastify. When you feel ready to add to the discussion, find the nearest repeater and join a net.

Managing such a capable network is expensive, and DARN depends on memberships to keep everything running. Different membership tiers offer privileges designed for the occasional visitor all the way up to the power user.

SPARC thanks Dick, Mike and all the members of DARN for providing this vital public service to Southern California.

DARN repeater sites

February 2021 Meeting: State of the Hobby and a Digital Net How-To

ARRL Los Angeles Section Manager Diana Feinberg, AI6DF, was the featured speaker at our February 3, 2021 membership meeting. Diana reported on the state of the League and reflected on how the pandemic has affected ham radio more generally.

After Diana’s presentation, Jeff Liter, W2JCL, explained how to participate in a digital Winlink net.

Thirty minutes before the net:

  • Turn on your radio and your TNC or soundcard.
  • FOR PACKET: Start the software modem Soundmodem. Check that your computer’s soundcard is set to “USB audio codec.” Check your settings by tuning to the APRS national frequency of 144.390 MHz.
  • FOR VARA FM: Start VARA. Check that your comptuer’s soundcard is set to “USB Audio codec.” Check your settings by tuning to the SoCal VARA FM Autobahn at 145.030 MHz. Send a ping.
Sending a ping from within VARA FM
  • Tune to the frequency of the digital net exercise.
  • Open Winlink. You don’t have to open and close Winlink session during the exercise, it’s fine to set it up ahead of time.
  • Be sure to open the right kind of session: Peer to Peer or Gateway (use the switch button if necessary).
  • Select your template.
  • Fill it out.
  • Go back to Winlink and make sure the “Send As” is correct for your session.
  • Wait for net control to signal you to send.

Winlink can be an incredibly efficient means of communication. During a recent net, Jeff moved almost 100 Winlink peer-to-peer messages in under 2 hours.

January 2021 Meeting: YouTube and Ham Radio with Pascal Villeneuve VA2PV

SPARC was excited to welcome Pascal Villeneuve VA2PV as a guest speaker at our January 6, 2021 meeting. Pascal is known for his frequent reviews in QST magazine and for his in-depth YouTube videos covering gear, technique, and hamfests. Pascal spoke about how to get started creating ham-related videos for YouTube. Highlights included:

What kind of content on your channel is most popular? Reviews of the latest gear often lead to new subscribers, but those videos have a limited shelf life. Evergreen instructional content gets more views over time.

What is your workflow? Pascal recommends starting with the tools you already have and using free software until your needs expand. For example, DaVinci Resolve is a free, professional-level editing program. Pascal’s editing program of choice is Pinnacle Studio, which charges a one-time fee.

What is the ideal length of a video? YouTubers tend to believe that they cannot monetize anything shorter than ten minutes. But the ideal length depends upon the subject of the video. And it doesn’t matter how short a video is if it’s jittery, so use a gimbal for stabilization.

Do you storyboard? Yes, but the videos rarely turn out as planned. Pascal likes to work off a script. His most carefully scripted piece was a 2017 documentary The DXer and the Technician.

Any mistakes to watch out for? Don’t get into arguments online!

Do you get waivers from people in your videos? Pascal tends to film in public places like hamfests where there are posted notices about recordings. But he also edits thoughtfully to avoid embarrassing anyone.

Do you make any money from your channel? Yes, approximately US$200/month based on an average of 40k views/month. YouTube content is not a great way to make money. His most-viewed video is a review of the Kenwood TS-990 which has (as of January 2021) 98k views, and it has earned CN$380 over five years. He estimates it takes a minimum of 20 hours to create a video.

Any hints for recording video outdoors? Beware of backlighting. The camera on an iPhone is more than sufficient to record outdoors. If you want to invest in a dedicated 4K camera, the Sony ILCE6400 has one of the fastest auto-focus features.

What would you suggest as a question or subject to a get a club started making videos? Have club members share their projects. And don’t feel bad if the first videos aren’t professional. You’ll get better with practice. “If you’re not good at shooting videos, you better be good at editing videos.” He recommends using Open Broadcaster Software’s OBS Studio for screen capturing in 4K. “Don’t aim your camera at your computer screen.” Clubs could also start with a video answering the most commons questions from new members or people looking to join the club.

Show us your set up. Pascal explained much of the equipment in his shack studio and stressed the importance of three-point lighting.

What proportion of your videos are in French vs. in English? Pascal assumed he’d post all his content in English, but MFJ requested a French video. He now produces all his videos in both French and English versions. The videos in French receive about two-thirds of the views of the English ones, likely because there are few other channels posting ham radio content in French.

“All YouTubers are ashamed of their first video. And in five years, we’ll be ashamed of the videos we make today.”

It’s only appropriate that we recorded Pascal’s presentation and posted it on our own YouTube channel. We now have a whopping TWO videos!

December 2020 Meeting: Signal Test from the EOC

For our December 2020 meeting we ran a test of the ham station installed at the South Pasadena Emergency Operations Center. By coordinating the test over Zoom, we were able to troubleshoot in real time and share a live map of participating stations. As you can see in the map below, the coverage area from the station was impressive, reaching all the way to Verdugo Hills Hospital. The red pin is the South Pas EOC, the yellow pin is the water tower, and the green pins are station that particpated in the test.

Our hope is to consistently run nets from the EOC once Covid-19 safety protocols are no longer necessary.

November 2020 Meeting: Station Building Part 2 and Winlink Templates

During our November 2020 meeting, Marty Woll N6VI returned to share part two of his presentation on building a capable home station. The primary topics of the presentation were rig selection and power considerations.

Marty concluded by inviting everyone to participate in the weekly ARRL Southwestern Division Net, Sundays at 8 a.m. on 3.965 MHz. (Note that this net is simulcast on the Papa System.)

For those who were not able to attend, a version of Marty’s presentation, recorded in June 2020, is included at the end of this post.

SPARC member Jeff Liter W2JCL also returned to review how to add custom templates to Winlink. As seen in the below screenshot, you should store custom templates on a Windows computer in the directory C:\RMS Express\Global Folders\Templates

To select a custom template as you compose your message in Winlink Express, you will find it within the Global Templates folder as seen here: