Wednesday, 27 May 2020

PSK Reporter - a very useful tool

If you are a user of many data modes, PSK Reporter has the ability to be a big help. Like most things, it is not perfect but it does offer a lot of information.

As the name suggests, PSK reporter originates from the days when PSK was the main data mode in use. Nowadays it also works directly with most "sound card" modes such as PSK itself, FT8, JT65, JT9, MSK144, etc. Obviously it does not work for modes such as JT6M or FSK144 which do not have sufficiently strong error correction to produce reliable decodes (which is also why I do not use those modes).

PSK Reporter also aggregates data from other sources, in addition to what it gathers itself. So although most of the info comes direct over the internet from stations using WSJT or MSHV software, and to a lesser extent fldigi and DM780, it also receives data from sources such as CB-reporter, various CW skimmers, and many other places. So it does sometimes record CW and SSB contacts too, but rarely in my experience.
PSK reporter for 144MHz centred on Europe on 27 May 2020
I have shown the map above, but there is a very handy page of statistics too. For example, it lists who posts most reports ... surprisingly, not me by a long way ... and which modes are in use as reported via their sources ...
Random shot from PSK reporter statistics showing the modes received
It seems that PSK reporter developed out of the page of statistics, but I find the map very useful and this is where I will be concentrating my efforts today. A while back somebody asked me to explain on this blog how it works. I cannot claim to be an expert but here goes.

PSK reporter is a voluntary effort and its users are hugely grateful to Philip Gladstone for keeping it running. Of course, it has its glitches and failures, but in general it is wonderfully reliable.

There is a similar though separate effort for the WSPR mode,

So every time you use WSJT software, or MSHV or many others, they communicate via the internet with PSK reporter. You can turn it off, so you will not send any reports, but pretty well everybody else will have it turned on, so basically turning it off at one point is a waste of time. There are millions of reports in a day, tens of thousands an hour - recording and processing all this is a remarkable achievement for a volunteer effort.

In case you think that displaying all this information is some infringement of your liberty, well, if you press a transmit button then you have already made yourself pretty visible. The data from others is already out there because it is coming from people who can hear you on the radio. If you want to stay in hiding I suggest you take up some other hobby. Plus, you are probably already sending the data reports yourself.

From my point of view I set PSK reporter four tasks.

If you transmit, dozens of stations will report you. That is, unless you signal is bad, or you have done something silly, and that is the first task of PSK Reporter. So, first task, it shows IF you are getting your signal out. The second task is showing WHERE you are getting your signal out to. This is easy to appreciate thanks to the map. Even if nobody replies you can use PSK Reporter to see whereabouts you are being heard.

Third task is to show WHO heard you, at the level of a specific station. I use the map for situations where I am calling CQ and I see someone in, say Greece indicating that they heard me. Perhaps I see no reply, which may be because I am not beaming directly at them and signals just hit a peak when he heard me. So I can turn my beam directly towards Greece. This often works. It is quite common for a DX station to get just one decode from me when I am beaming somewhere else, but I need to beam directly to make a QSO.

Then the fourth task is recording and publishing WHO I HEARD. This does not seem quite so important but of course it is crucial if other people are to turn their beams towards me. Perhaps they do not have a beam but were about to go QRT because they were not getting anywhere. Now they can see that I am hearing them, so there is scope to get through.  They need to know there is a path open just as much as I do.

Short wave listeners play an important part in our hobby and PSK Reporter offers them a chance to show everyone who they are hearing. This is often very valuable information. There is no restriction on who can report to PSK Reporter so many SWLs take part. Rather than taking ages to send a QSL card, they can use PSK Reporter to give their helpful information straight away.

So what information is available on PSK Reporter? You can see directly by putting your mouse over the pin in the map (pins are explained later) what the details are. "Here is one I made earlier" ...
Screenshot from PSK Reporter of a reception report.
This is the type of info everybody gets to see on PSK Reporter when you are reported as having been heard. It gives my distance, locator and bearing from the point of view of the receiving station, in this case G8ECI. It also gives the information from WSJT or MSHV or whatever he is using. That includes my locator, frequency down to a hertz (if his frequency is correct), mode, band, and signal strength received.
This information is freely available to anybody with an internet browser. The other day somebody on KST chat room decided to abuse me about something he thought I said about shielding information on KST. It is a fact that the information he seeks to shield on KST is available for anybody too see via PSK Reporter (see image above). Repeating it on KST does not make much difference. I did not say anyone should or should not shield information on KST but despite this he decided I had some view on this and lambasted me anyway. Insulting me is not the best way to get on my side.
I have no need to give reception data on KST because it is all on PSK Reporter all the time. Sure, showing on KST that I am receiving a particular station is a good thing, but I do not feel any need to put any more data on there than a callsign. It is all published on PSK Reporter for anyone in the world to see. I never have and I never will put details on KST simply because there is no point repeating something that is published somewhere else. It seems strange to me that somebody thinks I might. And he got very steamed up about the idea that I might do something which is pointless. Anyway, a bit more aversion therapy from KST for me.

Returning more directly to PSK Reporter. There is also sending information associated with the pin (some call it a "flag" though it is clearly a pin) on the PSK Reporter map. This information will not appear if you turn PSK Reporter off at your end, but the more detailed data will appear from the other end anyway if they are on. I managed to accidentally report myself last night ...

As you can see it is possible to post yourself, but you have to try pretty hard to do it. Unless you have multiple radios with multiple sets of software running at the same radio you are unlikely to find that an issue. My secret is out. I was running five sets of software and four radios, but they are not usually on the same band. Honestly. But in reality this was not a false report, I did indeed receive my own signal, albeit over a very short distance.

As I have chosen to enter this information, it shows my antenna details. In my case I have also entered into WSJT, for example, my 28 element yagi for 23 cms. This will show up on the appropriate band. Some people either enter nothing, or we get a default "dipole" or we see that they have entered the wrong information for the band in question. Some people put their power and equipment details in the antenna field too.

When people enter the wrong information it can produce interesting results. For example, get your locator wrong and you may appear to be in the North Sea, maybe in the German Bight just off Heligoland. Or anywhere else for that matter. Change frequency in WSJT at the wrong moment and you may send reports for the wrong band. Those errors can be quite spectacular when someone comes up from 80m to 70cms and plasters their 80m contacts all over the 70cm map. The issue here is not PSK Reporter's fault but those of the operators. In WSJT you can stop this happening by having a different configuration for each band, or just press "Stop" between bands. Yes, I have done these things myself. I was that soldier.

So having looked at the information which thousands of computers are sending to PSK Reporter, 5218 active reporters sending 200 reports a second as I speak, we are getting near discussing the map. But even above the level of the PSK Reporter map, the PSK Reporter data is aggregated further to the DX Cluster. So when I look at DX Maps I can choose an option to have the PSK Reporter information added to that picture. We might think of DX Maps as something which carries QSO reports, but it can also show real time reception reports directly from software, if you select the PSK Reporter option. PSK Reporter is an the heart of lots of these systems.

Now much as I love the PSK Reporter map, on first acquaintance it looks bewildering. I think you need to tame it by choosing the options you need, bookmarking that page on your computer, and then using your own set up from the bookmark.

The opening page comes up with an array of colours, thousands of contacts in different colours on different bands, and a generally puzzling tub full of information. At the top of the map page here you will find a row of drop down boxes and one text field. To make some sense of it all, I would suggest that you enter On [pick a specific band band], show [signals] [sent/received by] [anyone] [leave this field blank] using [all modes] over the last [15 minutes]. Press the "Go!" button. That should calm things down, though on some bands it will wipe everything off! So you can work from there by selecting what interests you. Once you have the page that suits you can use the bookmark to come back to there as a starting point.

If you follow multiple bands you can open a new tab in your browser with another instance of PSK Reporter in that tab set to the other band. It needs you to press "Go!" every time you open it the first time, but after that each page updates automatically, Flicking between the tabs changes the band, but you will need a decent video card as these maps are quite demanding on computing power. As you learn about the different tabs your use of the thing may change.

If you enter a callsign into the text box which I suggested you should leave blank at the start, the field before automatically changes from "anyone" to the "the callsign". If you press "Go!" only contacts with that station will appear, but it can look a bit confusing as other stations pins still show up but are greyed out. You can put your own callsign in to see who is hearing you (select "rcvd by" in place of "sent/rcvd by). Or you might want to see where on the map people are located who are calling you, in which case you would enter "rcvd by" and your own callsign.

Or you can just nosey about seeing how your competitors are doing. Competitors? This is a scientific hobby Jim, we are not competitors but fellow researchers.

Returning from "the callsign" to "anyone" takes the specific callsign out of the callsign box and if you press "Go!" the screen returns to a general map of activity on your chosen band. You can look to see what you have heard on any band, in which case you use the "all bands" option. VLF bands are bundled together, and then all widely-used amateur bands are covered up to 23cms, including also 11 metres.
11m data contacts (mostly ROS or JS8Call) on 27 May 2020.
There are ways to get the feel for the enormous volume of data being updated every minute or less. If you click "display all reports" you get an enormous table of results. Clicking "show all bands" gets you to that rather bewildering opening map with hundreds of pins all over the map. Be ready with your bookmark because the browser's back button takes you right out of the PSK Reporter (or mine does anyway). This large scale information is of course valid and correct. It is just at the scale of a continent and over the entire spectrum. I feel that PSK Reporter can be a bit overpowering to start with, but it is very good once you learn how not to get overwhelmed.
12 hours all band monitors with map centred on Europe on 27 May 2020
At the other end of this scale, with 411 monitors on 2m alone, there is much to be seen by looking at the whole world view. Not so many people on at night of course, but you quickly see that most activity is in Europe, followed by the US, Japan and South America. Lots of areas with low populations such as in Africa and most of Asia have almost no activity. Frankly, the same it true on most bands. You begin to see why on some bands nobody replies from some places - there isn't anybody there.
15 minutes of 144 MHz with map centred on the world view on 27 May 2020

You can enlarge or reduce the map using the + and - buttons or the scroll wheel on your mouse (I find using the mouse for this makes me dizzy). It is a trade-off between more detail and less coverage. On some bands it is hard to get the optimum balance.

The map pins are different colours on different bands. If you are listening on more than one band at once, such as using an SDR or several radios, your pin will be multi-coloured. As you send in more reports for any period, your pin gets more or fewer segments depending on how many bands are receiving in any period. In my case this can be 4 different colours.

Someone asked me why PSK Reporter does not find beacons, especially data beacons. I have no idea. Perhaps it was decided that they would clutter everything up so they were excluded, but I do not know how or why. There are online discussions (link at the bottom of the PSK Reporter page) and I suppose I could find the answer there. I am not saying I couldn't be bothered to look it up - but then I do not have to say everything I think. The person who asked me should consider the possibility of looking the answer up without assistance from me. I was never a details person, and I am not starting on details at this point in my life.

PSK Reporter is a very useful tool. Sure, it has its issues, just like anything else. I think that if you can find out how to use it best for you it can be a useful tool. I have certainly got more contacts by using it. There is nothing in my book like seeing that somebody is hearing you from an unexpected direction. I still use DX Maps, where the sporadic E propagation map is superb. And PSK Reporter is not good for SSB and CW contacts, as during an aurora for example, or for most contests. I generally have them both DX Map and PSK Reporter open together.

Good luck with it anyway, and thanks once again to Philip Gladstone.



Tuesday, 19 May 2020

IC-9700 preamplifier power (again) and Asian Es at last.

Firstly, I hope this is the last posting on the topic of the DC power provided by the Icom Ic-9700 over the coax for preamps and other in-line items. AI4Y has produced this excellent video clip ...

This does not deal with the issue of using TX Delay to add sequencing to the timing, as M1BTR pointed out in  my last posting. AI4Y says that his SWR does not show a spike using his SSB preamps, and so he seems safe. I found the same thing, and I use a mix of SSB and SHF made preamps. However, to be safe, and when using other preamps, I would suggest adding some delay via the TX Delay control. I also have some added delay selected in the WSJT-X software which I often use.
I have mentioned that I am working from home. I have not had a "full-time" job since the last century, having been self employed with occasional part-time work since then. This suits me fine. The problem with the present project is that it is too big for my "office", which also contains the shack, so I have to set the work station up in the dining room in the East Wing of FVM Towers.

Mrs FVM is given to have a "proper" dining experience on a Sunday evening, I have to clear everything of a work nature away every Sunday afternoon. This week dinner was trout. As we live in an area associated with wonderful fishing rivers, it is only right we should enjoy some fine fish. And Sunday night's trout did indeed come from the banks of the River Tweed. From Berwick upon Tweed in fact. To be precise, from Aldi, in Berwick upon Tweed.

Faced with setting everything up again on Monday morning I decided to exercise my control as my own boss, and give myself the morning off. As my employer I deemed this to be expedient for me, my employee. Why rush to get everything set up on Monday morning?

So I used my time on the radio instead. This was partly down to a hunch that we might be due some Sporadic E. It turned out to be a very productive morning.

On 6 metres there was an opening into Japan and I heard several Japanese stations but as usual only once. After that there was an agreeable opening into Asia and I worked two new countries, A9 and 7Z.
50MHz FT8 stations worked at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020
 As usual click to enlarge if necessary. I worked 13 stations in 7 countries.

This was not easy as there was a considerable pile up on 7Z1SJ. I knew this would have been a new country for me, but pile ups are not to my liking so I went off and found A92GE instead. As it turned out David, A92GE, is further away anyway, so that made the best DX of the day 5326km. Not bad to the East. After quite a few attempts I did eventually work 7Z1SJ too.

All of this was on 50.323, as that is the frequency supposedly set aside for European stations to work outside their own continent. I had moved from 50.313 to find the stations from Japan, so I was already on 323 as all this emerged. There were, of course, European stations working other European stations on 323. It is easy to make a mistake. Then again this idea of reserving a set frequency for DX working is good practice not the law. Of course, all the European stations I worked were all contacted on 50.313.

I kept an eye on the 6 metre band but my main focus was on 4 metres. Last year I remarked on this blog how irritating it was that I had failed to work a station Cyprus run by Norman, 5B4AIE, on 4m. This irked me because we both heard each other, and because not only would it be a new country but a new continent (Asia) on that band. I was rather hoping for another chance of working Norman. As it happened it turned out differently ...
70MHz FT8 stations worked at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020.

My first 4m contact into Asia turned out to be with Efi, 4X1TI. I am not complaining. Norman is 3514km from here, whereas Efi is 3958km away. That is a new personal DX record for 70MHz for me. And then, better than that, I worked Norman too, to make it both countries. Norman often uses the callsign 5B4AIF for his "club" station, and this time he had 5B60AIF. Sounds like an informal type of club.

I was pretty chuffed to work 4X1TI as it has taken me years to repeat being heard in 4X on 70MHz.
70MHz at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020
So that is it, at 11:41 on 18 May 2020 I worked my third continent on 70MHz. That has only taken 43 years, 1 month 6 days and a few hours since my first continent on that band (Europe). Only 9 years and eleven months to the day since the second continent (Africa). Not that these things matter to me, you understand.

Worked All Continents on 4m? How long do I need for that?

Those other 4m contacts are pretty good too. Many of them are over 1500km and OH7RJ very nearly 2000km.In total 21 QSOs in 3 hours 32 minutes, 18 squares, and 9 DXCC. Oh, and two continents, one of which was new - did I mention that?

Now, I need to get my work gear out again and start proper activity.

The trout was great by the way. We must fish in the Aldi pool by the Tweed more often. They do not help you pack your bag at the check-out though.




Monday, 11 May 2020

More on IC-9700, tropo and lockdown

Greetings from sunny Berwickshire.

I have been out on my statutory walk
The "Post Road", Ayton.
This lock-down thing is not so bad out here. I get to walk in places like this.

Katy isn't so keen though ...
Katy on lockdown
I know that for a lot of people the insecurity is overbearing, plus the lack of work and money destabilising. It is better than spreading an illness though.

Luckily here I am working from home. I have been working from home since 1999, but rarely have I been so busy. Will I ever sell what I am working on? Who knows. But it does keep my brain cells going. So radio has had to take a bit of a back seat. It is always a tussle which work usually wins. I am lucky that I have anything I can do at the moment, and if you are stuck unemployed I sympathise. I remember what that is like too.

What I am saying here is that I consider myself fortunate and I know that many others are much worse off. Despite this, I only have my own furrow to plough, so I plough on.

I have received a very useful email from John M1BTR. He has done a sensible thing by contacting Icom UK about the DC power supply on the IC-9700.

He writes:-

Total current available for pre-amps is 750mA

Sequence delay is set for each individual band through:


The chap who phoned me says he uses a setting of 15mS for his transverters.
The preamp 12V lines are fused. A short will blow the fuse. It's a big job to replace them as a number of circuit boards have to be removed to gain access to the fuse(s). 

Ah, SET - FUNCTION _ TX Delay. Why didn't I think of that? (Answers on a postcard not required).
As you can see I have now set mine to 15mS too, though I did not find any SWR reaction at "OFF" anyway. Best to be safe here I think.

Again --- why did this not occur to me before? I had set this up on my IC-7100 6 years ago. I looked again now and I see that they are all set to 30mS on the IC-7100. I think that was for using RF Vox amplifiers made by RM Italy as I used to have those - in fact I still have two small ones kept for a future HF/VHF portable rig which nobody is making yet.

 This is how the IC-9700 manual explains it.
The reference is to avoiding SWR spikes on the IC-9700, which is fair enough in the 9700 manual; I am keen to have it to save damage to the "external equipment" as well and that aspect is not very clear.

Still, I should have known and clearly I did 5 years ago. I just seem to be finding the manual hard to comprehend.

John has provided the information on total current available and the fuses which is very important. I think that should be in the manual and if it is I cannot find it. The turn-off and warning I mentioned in my last posting may be in addition to the fuse. 750mA is certainly enough for my purposes. Even with one of the common generic preamps on each band they would only draw about 600mA. I imagine that fitting a fuse is cost effective from Icom's point of view and not everybody uses the power output facility anyway. I suppose that a re-setting fuse would just create a different set of problems.

So thanks to John for making a helpful contribution to this emerging debate.

If you are joining that stream there is lots more on the IC-9700 to be found by following the label in the sidebar.
There was nice tropo opening between 4 and 7 May ...
144MHz FT8 contacts at GM4FVM 4 to 7 May 2020
On 2m that brought in 24 QSOs to 5 countries and 13 squares. I always enjoy a contact into LA on 2 metres. This time I was heard repeatedly in the Faeroe Islands again, but still no contact on 2m there - yet. On 70cms it was 6 QSOs into 3 countries, with each being in a different square. ODX on 2m was DK2EA in JO50 at 1114km, and on 70cms DJ5MS in JO54 at 903km. Once again 70cms DX was not bad at all compared with 2m, and I bet more activity would bring it closer to being equal.
432MHz FT8 contacts at GM4FVM 4 to 7 May 2020
As usual, click to enlarge the images if you need to.

Another feature of recent conditions has been that I have had 9 FT8 QSOs into PA on 4432MHz since 14 April. Many of these have been stations running quite low power and vertical antennas. I bet I could have done better if my antenna had been vertical. It also shows what happens when there is activity. I simply noticed these stations on PSK Reporter and then tried very hard to reach them when the QSB permitted. It took time and patience though.

On 23cms I have had another contact with Niels Erik, OZ2ND. My last one on 23 March was a bit scrappy, this time I worked him with no difficulty at all. That makes me feel a lot happier with my 689km distance record on 23 cms.

Outside the tropo lift I was pleased to work a new DXCC entity on 23 cms when I completed an SSB contact with GD1MIP on 11 May. Despite the dramatic reduction in passenger flights at the moment, there are still enough planes around to ensure some contacts via aircraft scatter. We had been trying for a while and I must say that my hopes were flagging. Andy's enthusiasm kept me going but I had just suggested giving up when he said "one more plane". So I explained I could only wait 2 more minutes. He was right, it worked. We could have had a longer SSB QSO from that one plane, but I had to go QRT. But still, another country worked on 23cms for me, bringing it to four (G, GM, GD, OZ) and seven squares. Thanks Andy.

Various others have helped the 23cm square count up and I appreciate their efforts too. The VHF/UHF section of the GMDX group have been very helpful in this effort. They are mostly focused on contests, which is not my primary goal, but we share a common interest in working each other so everybody gains.

I have made various improvements to the 23cms set-up, as mentioned before. Latest arrival is an ex-equipment Jenelec power supply. Sadly it has a dodgy electrolytic so that has gone into the "to do" pile. With work beckoning I doubt if it will be fixed soon either.

Not much Sporadic E yet.
Our First Minister continues to encourage us to "stay at home", and only to leave the house under certain clearly defined circumstances. I am following her guidance. Please follow best advice where you are because we do not want to have to go to severe lock-down..
Katy under severe lock-down