October 2020 Meeting: Winlink EmComm Tools

Our October meeting featured not only a presentation on antenna analyzing tools by Allen Wolff KC7O, but also Jeff Liter W2JCL discussing how to use Winlink during emergencies.

Jeff illustrated six Winlink templates that could be useful in an emergency:

  • South Pasadena Disaster Information Report
  • USGS Did You Feel It? Report
  • ARRL Radiogram
  • GPS/APRS Position Report
  • SMS Text Message
  • Severe Weather Report

Jeff created the South Pasadena-specific form himself and has made it available to all SPARC members.

Click here to download a zip file containing the templates for the SouthPas Disaster Information Report, the ARES LAX Quick Check-In form, and the SMS Text Message template.

Once downloaded and unzipped, install the templates in the following Windows directory:
C:\RMS Express\Global Folders\Templates

Click here to download Jeff’s full presentation (1.5 Mb PDF).

August 2020 Meeting: The Case for Winlink

SPARC’s monthly meeting was held on August 5 via Zoom and featured a presentation by Jeff Liter, W2JCL entitled “The Case for Winlink.” Everyone in attendance was familiar with the basics of Winlink, so Jeff took time to cover some lesser-known features. One such feature is a catalog request, which can return information like a propagation report or weather forecast. The below video from San Diego ARES illustrates how to perform a catalog request.

Jeff also discussed how to send an SMS text message via Winlink. You can send a short email that will appear as a text message if you know your contact’s phone number and their carrier’s email-to-text address. This article from Lifehacker lists the email-to-text addresses of most major phone carriers.

Click the title page below to download Jeff’s presentation as a PDF.

The lastest versions of the software mentioned in Jeff’s presentation (as of 08/05/20) are listed here:

Winlink RMS Express – version
Soundmodem – version 1.05
VARA FM – version 3.1.1
VARA HF – version 4.0.4

If you’re new to Winlink, Jeff’s presentation is the perfect place to start. Then, check out this introduction from 2017 and download the Winlink Book of Knowledge FAQ, which has all the information you need.

Another great resource is this recent video hosted by Oliver Dully, K6OLI who is the coordinator of our local ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) section, LAX Northeast. Oliver explains how ARES uses Winlink for emergency communications:

Here’s another video introduction as described in the July ARRL ARES newsletter. On June 6, 2020, Phil Sherrod, W4PHS, a Winlink developer, gave an excellent presentation on Winlink and how to use it. A Zoom audience of five hundred saw the Winlink presentation.

Finally, there has been a lot of excitement in the Winlink user community over a recent addition to the program: a way to submit data directly to the U.S. Geological Survey’s “Did You Feel It?” system. Again quoting the ARES newsletter…

On July 9, the ARES/Section Emergency Coordinators … hosted an excellent Zoom presentation on the radio amateur’s role in the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Did You Feel It (DYFI) reporting system. The speaker was Oliver Dully, K6OLI, who captured the audience of some 67 coordinators across the country with his galvanizing presentation.

Jeff W2JCL will discuss the development and use of the “Did You Feel It?” form in more detail at an upcoming SPARC meeting.

November Meeting Wrap-Up: Configuring Winlink

At our November 6 meeting, Jeff, W2JCL presented “Using Winlink for Emergency Communications.” This was the second in a planned series of discussions and workshops which will develop members’ skills in these useful communication techniques. Jeff’s focus was installing and configuring the Winlink email program on a Windows laptop. Click here or on the image below to download Jeff’s presentation as a PDF.

One of Winlink’s time-saving features is a collection of templates used to share damage assesments and situation reports with hospitals and served agencies. Jeff has built a custom template matching the city of South Pasadena’s preferred damage assesment format. Click here to download that template plus ARES Northeast “quick check-in” and “quick check-out” templates. Then, save the files under:

C:\RMS Express\Global Folders\Templates

To use the ARES check-in and check-out templates, customize them with your personal information. However, items in brackets such as <CALLSIGN> are completed automatically by Winlink, so they should not be edited.

Below are links from the last page of Jeff’s presentation where you can download the necessary software to start becoming a Winlink expert. (Version numbers current as of 11/6/19.)

Winlink – version
https://downloads.winlink.org/User Programs/

Soundmodem – version 1.05

VARA FM version 1.2.9 and VARA HF version 3.0.4

Click here for part one of the presentation (176 kB PDF).

October Meeting Wrap-Up: Digital Mode Training Begins

At our October 2 meeting, SPARC president Stan, KR6CV and SPARC treasurer Bob, WB6YJJ reported on the club’s sale of radio equipment from the estate of founding SPARC member Tim Cox, WA0PTC. Funds from the sale are being set aside to fund the purchase of a dedicated SPARC repeater. 

Bob and Rick, KI6ZKM discussed our demonstration of the new city-owned amateur station during the ARRL September VHF Contest. We logged twenty-three contacts over approximately four hours.

In recognition of September being National Preparedness Month and October’s upcoming Great Shakeout, Stan led a discussion of home preparedness best practices. Several members and guests shared ideas and experiences, and there was an informal show-and-tell of radio go kits.

The main topic of the meeting was a presentation by Jeff, W2JCL entitled “Digital Modes for Emergency Communications.” This was the first in a planned series of discussions and workshops which will develop members’ skills in these useful communication techniques. Jeff demonstrated the Winlink email program by exchanging messages with Oliver, K6OLI and Mike, KM6KAQ. Click here or on the image below to download Jeff’s presentation as a PDF. The last page includes links to further information and software downloads.

Click to download (176 kB PDF)

SPARC Members Featured in This Month’s QST Magazine

This month’s QST Magazine features an article written by SPARC member Oliver Dully, K6OLI about using MESH networking to support the annual Baker 2 Vegas race. Oliver explains how the combination of MESH (wifi over amateur radio bands) and a satellite link dramatically increases the capabilities of hams in an emergency. (See our write-up of Oliver’s presentation about Baker 2 Vegas here.) Also mentioned in the article are fellow SPARC members Tran K6NHI and Brian KM6IGY, as well as members from Pasadena Radio Club and ARES Northeast.

Click here for the full article.

Reprinted with permission, February 2019 QST; copyright ARRL

Get to Know the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network

One of the fastest-growing areas of ham radio is mesh networking. You can think of it as homebrew WiFi — using the amateur radio spectrum to create a WiFi network without relying on the normal Internet infrastructure of phone and cable companies. Several SPARC members are active in a regional effort to build a robust mesh network that can transmit data when the Internet isn’t available during an emergency. (It also comes in handy out in the Nevada desert.)

If you’d like to know more about mesh and what it can do, two of our resident experts recommend this episode of Ham Radio Now. It features an interview with members of the AREDN group (Amateur Radio Emergency Network), the organization that maintains the mesh software of the same name. Take a look, then stop by one of our monthly meetings to talk about building your own mesh go kit.

Go Digital at Ham Basics 102 on July 28

SPARC treasurer Oliver K6OLI writes:

Our long awaited NBEMS (Fldigi) and Winlink Basics Workshop has been scheduled for July 28, 2018, that is Activity Day, at Huntington Memorial Hospital from 9:00 am to 1:00pm! Our goal is to enable participants to send and receive messages using Fldigi/Flmsg and Winlink and understand current best practices for both.

For more information, and if you would like to register, please use this link:

Tho goal of this workshop is to provide radio operators with experience and a deeper understanding of using NBEMS/Fldig and Winlink Packet for emergency communications. There will be hands-on exercises for those who want to try out their setups.

Any licensed amateur radio operator is welcome to join! We do ask that you familiarize yourself with your own radio beforehand, i.e. understand how to enter simplex and repeater frequencies and change power levels.

Thank you and 73,
Oliver K6OLI

April Meeting Recap: Digital Modes and Baker to Vegas

We had a full house at tonight’s monthly SPARC meeting, which featured two informative presentations.

Tim's presentation

Understanding digital radio

Tim WA0PTC explained the pros and cons of the three major digital radio modes: D-STAR, C4FM/Fusion and DMR. Eric K6EJC added that, based on the volume of business he sees at Ham Radio Outlet, DMR growth has soared in the past two years. Bob WB6YJJ and Rick KI6ZKM demonstrated the vocal clarity of Fusion using their handhelds.


How hams help B2V run smoothly

Oliver K6OLI reported on his service as a volunteer at the annual Baker to Vegas relay race — as he put it, “a near Death Valley experience.” With no cell service for huge stretches of the race, amateur radio is vital to the safety of over 8,000 runners, guests, family members and support staff.

AREDN mesh kit

Example mesh deployment

B2V also presented an opportunity to test mesh networking capabilities. Thanks to a portable Verizon satellite link, Oliver and his team were able to connect their laptops and VoIP phones to the regional mesh networks in Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. This has exciting implications for the future of emergency communications since mesh go kits are fairly inexpensive and extremely portable.

Our May 2 meeting is scheduled to feature John Vidale, Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. On June 6 our guest will be an administrator from our local FEMA district. Hope to see you there — any changes will be posted on SouthPasRadio.org. 73!

End of an Era at Voice of America

This post was written by SPARC’s Oliver Dully, K6OLI.

Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott will retire from the Voice of America on June 23, 2017, after thirty-two years as audience research analyst and broadcaster.

Therefore, the last VOA Radiogram will be the weekend of June 17-18. There is no word on a replacement, if any.

VOA Radiogram

As a new ham the VOA Radiogram has been of immeasurable value to my understanding of HF propagation, antenna setups and using SDRs like websdr.org or RTL-SDR. But most importantly VOA Radiogram was my gateway to Fldigi, providing a stable and reliable platform to experiment with, and learn about the many settings and modes.

For hams focused on emergency communications, VOA Radiogram has been a one-of-a-kind training opportunity, increasing our skills and allowing for experimentation, all of which ultimately benefits our served agencies and therefore the communities in which we live and operate.

Moreover, hams without HF capabilities or licensing found VOA Radiogram useful because they had to think out of the box, using SDR dongles, shortwave receivers, or web-based SDRs to access the digital transmissions with Fldigi. By demonstrating capabilities such as fast transmission of text and even image transfers over long distances, Dr. Elliott has inspired many hams to upgrade their license and their stations.

I want to thank Dr. Elliott for his work and dedication. The VOA Radiogram has been one of the most valuable and useful transmissions over the airwaves. I also want to express my hope that VOA will continue a regular schedule of digital transmissions via Fldigi. The benefits for the community and its preparedness are immense.

For those  who want to try VOA Radiogram during the remaining transmissions:

  • set Fldigi to use your computer’s internal soundcard
  • find an SDR that covers the band you want on websdr.org (UTwente SDR will work best for most people)
  • and tune to the frequency at the correct time using AM.

Fldigi will pickup the transmission from your computer speakers and decode the signal through the internal microphone. You can watch and read it as it happens. (Those of you with appropriate HF capability will be able to tune as you normally would and decode acoustically or via your soundcard interface.)

Here is the schedule for the next few weekends in Pacific Time:

Sat 0900-0930 17580 kHz
Sat 1930-2000 5745 kHz
Sun 1230-1300 15670 kHz
Sun 1330-1400 11580 kHz
Sun 1630-1700 11580 kHz

You can find the program, official schedule in UTC and further information on http://voaradiogram.net.

Oliver K6OLI

Learn Fldigi at Our April 5 Meeting

Fldigi released a major update on March 28, and Oliver K6OLI has updated his online guide to cover the new version.

At our next monthly meeting — Wednesday, April 5, 19:30 at the EOC — Oliver will give a brief hands-on introduction to Fldigi. All are welcome, and you don’t have to bring anything other than your curiosity. But feel free to you bring a laptop and HT and practice with us. Oliver will guide everyone through the set up and demonstrate how to send and receive messages.

You can download and install the software for your operating system here:

  • Windows or Mac
    Download and install fldigi, flmsg and flwrap.
  • Android
    Download and install AndFlmsg. (Detailed instructions for Android are provided here)

For experienced users, the meeting will be a good opportunity to upgrade, test and double check your setup with the new version Fldigi 4.0.1.