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.



1 comment:

  1. I've recently discovered PSKreporter after another quick dabble with FT8 and have become hooked on it (as an SWL). I've been using WSJT and Gridtracker from N0TTL with an RTL SDR and SDR# to monitor conditions, 10M when things are quiet but when it opens I move up to 6 and then 4. I've also checked out 40.220 a few times when we've had Es to EI and OZ but nothing so far. I've been thinking about adding another RTL V3 or two so I can monitor all bands at the same time, they're minimal overheads on the CPU and it's interesting to watch the prop move about. It's also quite surprising what paths are open when the bands appear dead to voice traffic!