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

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.

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:

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 1.5.30.0
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 1.5.25.0
https://downloads.winlink.org/User Programs/

Soundmodem – version 1.05
http://uz7.ho.ua/packetradio.htm

VARA FM version 1.2.9 and VARA HF version 3.0.4
https://rosmodem.wordpress.com/

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:
https://ham-basics-102.eventbrite.com

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