Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Cruel, cruel Es, the DK8NE conundrum, and PSK Reporter

Since I wrote about Es on 4 May, until today, there has been no more Es here. Well, one isolated contact.

Quite a nice contact actually, not a new one, but good all the same, with UR5WCE (KN29 1873km) on 6m on 4 May.

Es is a cruel master. It can turn on and give you access to the world, and then again turn off and leave you fuming. Maybe that is why it is called Sporadic.

It is not just the presence or absence of Es on any one day which frustrates, it is most annoying when it is happening all around you and not involving you.
6m Es on 4 May 2017 - definitely not involving Scotland
The problem is when Es occurs and the cloud is either too close (depends on the level of ionisation, but generally less than 300km away), or too far away (variable, but definitely over 1100km is too far away).

The wonderful service provided by DXMaps then just becomes a goading match whereby Es taunts you by showing other people working 9K2 while you hear nothing. It is infuriating, and a product of living at 56 degrees North where the Es starts later and ends earlier.

Or it is just not coming your way. Lets face it, Es is very selective and can work here and not 50km away. Everything is down to the distances and the angles.

You may wonder if, on the days when Es is favouring me and ignoring you, am I sympathetic to your plight? Of course I am, but I am too busy working stations to mention it.

Be assured, your welfare remains my highest concern.

Then there is the more straight forward annoyance with Es. Some days it just does not happen at all.

I will not post up an empty map, but we have had an empty map for several days in a row now.

As Gianfranco, IU1DZZ, once put it to me, there is often Es about, but not always where you want it. This is very a profound thought. Of course it does what it wants and it does not bend to my will.

DK8NE (JO50, central Germany, east of Frankfurt, near Fulda) has set up a receiver to report several several modes which are relayed to PSK Reporter. More on PSK Reporter below.

The modes involved include CW, MSK144, JT65 and WSPR.

Having used MSK144 for meteor scatter for quite some time, I have become accustomed to seeing DK8NE showing up on PSK Reporter showing that he has heard my signal. No surprise there, as at 1000km he is at a good distance to receive meteor scatter signals from me.

What has surprised me is that since changing over to JT65 at the start (!?) of the Es season, I am still being reported by DK8NE. This cannot be meteor scatter, and although DXMaps is interpreting it as Es, it cannot be that either.
Typical spot from DK8NE, with no Es showing anywhere in Europe.

So let me run through the various propagation possibilities.

1) Tropo - no, not very likely on 6m, and no other reports of tropo at the same time
2) Meteor Scatter - no, JT65 does not support meteor scatter. Might be possible during an intense shower, but there were no showers at the same time.
3) Aurora - no, not with JT65 and anyway there was none.
4) Es - no other Es reported. Plus, Es is sporadic, but I have done this repeatedly on days with no Es.
5) F-layer - are you having a laugh?
6) Ionoscatter or Troposcatter - maybe?

Now Ionoscatter and Troposcatter are both known to be very reliable means of propagation. I may get time to explain the process later, but let us just say that ionoscatter occurs mainly in the D-layer and troposcattter in the troposphere (obviously), so these factors will set the probable distances reached.

With ionoscatter path are usually over 1200km ("not much less" says one source) , and with troposcatter it is 700 to 900km. Ionoscatter has a skip zone, whereas troposcatter does not, and I am not hitting any other station along the way (of what must be admitted to be a largely over-sea path). That might suggest ionoscatter, but so far I am not reaching anyone further away either, or perhaps there simply are no JT65 listeners in these places to hear me.
I am not going to suggest that I can reach DK8NE every time I transmit. Nevertheless, it feels like that. The PSK Reporter reports are automatically relayed to DX Maps, which makes it look as if I am regularly having contacts with DK8NE. Even I get surprised when I turn to DXMaps to see who is working anyone on 6m and I find that it is me and only me!

Looking up the DX Maps database (great tool by the way) I see that DK8NE reported me 9 times since the Es ended here on 4 May. 9 times in 6 days. The reports ranged from -1 to -22dB. Times are from 09:33 to 15:11 (not sure how significant that is). On the face of it, evidence suggests that DK8NE's logger is not on all the time, at least as far as I can judge from PSK Reporter. Nor am I, as I have not been trying for this path and I did notice one report arriving as I pointed to Spain, and another when I was beaming at Sweden.

More experimentation is needed on this. Is it just a stray result? I do not know. These scatter modes, whichever it may be, are usually stable and provide regular, steady, but weak signals. Yet, I am getting reports as high as -1dB, which is a level I might expect from Es. I am using a simple 3 element antenna (not the 5 ele, more on that another time) and he is using a 7 element. Also, I do not have a massive station and I do not run a kilowatt.

If DK8NE is using that beam, which way does he point it? The questions are legion.

So, more than anything, I am puzzled with this result.
PSK Reporter is another voluntary mapping system for data contacts. I already use WSPRnet (compiled from WSPR reception reports sent directly by users) and DXMaps (compiled by cluster postings, plus reports from some other sites including PSK Reporter).

You can find a link to PSK Reporter on the sidebar. It takes a bit of getting used to.

I find that the most useful information comes from the settings shown below:-

Click to enlarge image!

Anyway, you may play about with the settings as you wish.

OK, sometimes it gets a bit clunky. For example, clicking "Go" sometimes produces no result and then you need to click the reload button on your browser. Or sometimes it goes blank. But that type of thing does not take much away from its usefulness, which is considerable.

You can, for example, select a mode, such as PSK or JT65, and search for all the stations working others using that mode. Or click the "active monitors" link to find who is likely to be around - but beware as it seems to default to 12 hours for that one!

I find that it works very well in most situations. If you are using WSJT-X or MSHV you can click the option to report to PSK Reporter (though PLEASE, if you do that on MSHV, please keep your band setting up to date or your posting will turn up on the wrong band. Grrrr.). If you do not report yourself, you may still be reported by receiving stations, in which case you will show up only as a transmitter.

As well as a general propagation measure, you can use it as a "reverse beacon" network. In other words, transmit and see on the map who hears you. Nice as this is, it revealed that on MSK144 I was being heard by seven or eight stations but none were replying to my CQs. Clearly, many operators just leave their software running and leave the shack. Or maybe they just don't want to talk to me. Anyway, off to JT65 I went, where at least no replies really means nobody is listening. True amateur radio for me: loads of silence and time to ponder if the antenna has fallen down.

Modes covered include SIM and OPERA, as well as the JT modes and, of course, PSK.

It is time to appreciate all those who run sites like PSK Reporter and WSPRnet. OK, we get a chance to fund sites like Solarham and DXMaps if we choose to (and they are free even to use if you don't contribute). Others we just take for granted. But either way, these folks put in loads of hard work and the services they provide are really useful.






  1. An interesting and informative blog as always! Thanks for the heads up on psk reporter.

  2. Jim,

    Some of your questions about DK8NE are answered on his QRZ page. I had wondered what he used etc too, as he always logs my MSK144 transmissions.

    I must try JT65 and see if he logs me on that too.

    I got a bit confused when you referred to DX Reporter in the blog, I think you meant PSK Reporter at that point. Please check your spelling, it seems to have gone berserk in a couple of places with compiled coming out at complied. Darned spelling substitutions I expect. I only comment because normally all of your writing is perfect, unlike mine which is full of mistakes, not all caused by the iPad keyboard.

    I wonder why the 3 ele again, did the neighbourhood watch complain?
    We all await for the next episode of life at Jim's place.


    David GM4JJJ

  3. 1)Gavin
    Thanks. Good to know, as I often have doubts about the usefulness what I write.

    2) David
    Yes I see those typing errors now. I would say that there is never a posting of mine without an error. I try my best. Usually they improve in stages in the day or so after posting. Try as I do, a perfect posting continues to elude me. It is a question of time commitment - if I spent more time they would better. And, of course, mistakes which produce real words (compiled and complied) can slip through more easily. My typing speed is very high, which does not help.

    Discipline, that is what I need. Or at least, that is what my Divinity teacher, Rev J McConnell Auld, used to say.

    Correct about the antenna. I have changed back to the three element for now.

    I have just beamed South East and called on JT65. Guess what? I was heard by DK8NE at -14dB. There may be a little bit of Es around, so Es may have done it this time.

    Studying the logs, it seems he is recording other stations at two ranges 600km and 1000km. However, I seem to be one of his best customers.



  4. Hello Jim, have you ever thought about plane scatter? I've been spotted ( and also spotted) in similair situations. But though I'm right below a flightpath. 73, Bas

  5. Bas
    Good point. No, I had not thought about aircraft scatter.

    Often aircraft scatter shows up on the waterfall trace as multiple signals and variable Doppler shift. As I am transmitting of course I cannot see the trace.

    There are many aircraft in the air above Europe and the aircraft tracking software can give an indication of which flights are invloved.

    I will think about this. I wonder if the aircraft would need to be flying very high to produce a 1000km range.

    Thanks for the suggestion.



    1. Hello Jim, sorry for not using the correct words. But you understood that's the important thing. Aircraft scatter could be a possible answer indeed. If time allows I will get on 6m MSK144. I'm right below a important flight path to/from asia with planes (visible) above me all day. Might be intersting to see what I am receiving. 73, Bas

  6. Jim, where you are and the direction of DK8NE is right across one of the busiest flight paths in Europe, to test the theory you'd ha to try at about 4am when there is little about...

  7. 1) Bas. The ideas matter: the correct words are not important. Thanks.
    2) Gav. Funny you should say that, I was thinking the same thing. Unless there is a handy Icelandic volcano available it might have to wait until next week to try. Or maybe you can persuade your pals to take a day off. But I have a plan - which may not work!
    73 Jim