ProjectPSK

Due to the sudden interest in PSK 31/63 (and not just me) I embarked on a mission to make a PSK31 program that was powerful, flexible, easy to maintain, easy to use and included macros. After trying several methods, I hit upon a simple idea. Leveraging the power of windows forms and Visual Basic 6, I developed a multi-window PSK client that fits my design criteria.

Features:

  • full macro scripting (including nesting one or more macros inside other macros). Several “built-in” macros are available (<TIME>, <DATE>, <FREQUENCY>, <SIGNAL_LEV> etc)
  • up to 20 (not sure how many *can* be used actually – 50?) user defined auto-tracking “channels”. You can use 1 channel or 20 channels or anything in between. It’s all up to you.
  • each channel has it’s own “window” – not just a line of text – complete with a “compose” area allowing several simultaneous QSO’s. It has more the feel of a multi channel internet chat client rather than a “ham radio” program.
  • double clicking a macro name puts the fully expanded macro text into the clipboard ready to be pasted into any open channel.
  • macros are written in Notepad – very simple with low resource overhead.
  • very few menus and buttons. The mouse and toolbar buttons do most of the work.
  • any – or all – channels can be PSK31 or PSK63. Mix and match. PSK63 is TWICE as fast as PSK31 – very nice if you’re the “compose and send” type person rather than the “transmit and peck at the keyboard” style of operator.

If anyone is interested, I will be posting the software in the download section of this website. As I’m a complete idiot when it comes to installation routines, I’ll include step-by-step instructions on what needs to be done. No worries though, it won’t be that difficult. Probably. I hope. 🙂

Stuff yet to add: (in no particular order)

  • drag and drop macros
  • adding QPSK
  • signal seek mode
  • context sensitive help
  • more robust error checking
  • configuration file (start where you left off sort of thing)
  • speech to text
  • text to speech (who needs digital voice modes eh?)
  • some small windowing details to fix up

Be patient – I’m only one guy…

 

New Age Ham Radio

This is something I posted in my Antenna Building Facebook group:

Although not directly antenna related (well everything ham radio is antenna related, right?), I thought I’d share this. Instead of bucking the internet, what ifhams helped bolster it? We have UHF and SHF and microwave frequencies available to us. Truly a staggering amount of bandwidth. It is sorely underutilized. What if hams could fill in for at least some critical email services? After all, even 9600 baud packet can do about 100 megabytes of traffic per channel in a day. Newer technologies allow operations at 2.4 GHz utilizing small yagis for excellent speeds (1 MBs and higher) over distances of 10km (or less, or more) depending on power and terrain. We have the capabilities to use microwave technology in the 10 GHz range and even much higher than that!

Perhaps instead of arguing about how valid ham radio is today, we can explore other ways to establish an actual presence in our communities and help them like no other agency can in times of need. Passing crutial emails (and other documents) for high priority public services could certainly be called an essential service. Even passing high speed data for the Red Cross or other volunteers could be a make or break service when regular communications go silent – even at 9600 (or even 1200) baud.

And that got me thinking. Instead of using many conflicting digital voice schemes, why not run VoIP on a 2.4 GHz mesh network? Long hauls over internet (city to city for instance) could be established until radio linking can be eventually installed. If your current connection speed is 1200 baud, well, its like having a very slow internet connection. If you’re on a 2.4 GHz connection, you’ll obviously have a faster experience.

There, done. You are assigned an IP sub address on the ham network. Off you go just like having a ham only internet! As long as it was not encrypted (or maybe ‘lightly’ encrypted), everyone could use it for VoIP or data. Now, in an emergency I can still send an email to a loved one or call an emergency agency or tow truck via a Skype like program if I’m broken down and there is no cell service. Repeaters could be just another IP address and I could connect to any repeater – or groups of repeaters simultaneously anywhere in the world – at any time. Or other hams. Or run a remote control program on my HF rig at the home QTH. We could be video chatting RIGHT NOW!

All via ham radio. And all legal. And low monthly fees. Nice huh?

Obviously there will be bandwidth issues. And it won’t be perfect. But if it caught on, and high speed microwave links established, with some computer power it could support quite a few simultaneous users. And wouldn’t the iPhone kids be jealous.

VHF/UHF SSB

The latest craze in Amateur Radio is digital voice. This has come about due to various governmental mandates to reduce bandwidth requirements in the “crowded” VHF and UHF spectrum. Commercial systems must comply to a new 12.5 kHz “narrow band FM” down from the normal 25 kHz channel spacing. This effectively squeezes twice the number of users into the same band. Unfortunately, this reduces sound quality and range. When range is reduced, power levels are increased which causes more interference. The “work-around” is digital voice. Some manufacturers brag of even fitting TWO digital voice channels in this one – already smaller – channel making a voice channel now 6.25 kHz! Fantastic eh? Um, no. Even though the number of voice channels is now effectively quadrupled over that of “standard” wideband FM voice, sound quality and range both suffer.

As a ham, we don’t have the same restrictions on bandwidth and are not required to go “narrow band”. In fact in Canada, a ham can use 30 kHz of bandwidth on VHF and up to 12 MHZ on the UHF (70cm) band! So why have hams embraced this cramming of voice channels into our bands? Some claim the ham bands are crowded. Really? I’ve driven from Windsor to Toronto and passed by over a dozen repeaters and couldn’t raise a SINGLE ham anywhere. Not that busy. There are so many repeaters that rarely if ever get used it’s kind of ridiculous. Are commercial digital radios cheaper maybe? Commercial radios cost MORE than amateur gear. Does digital voice sound better. Certainly not to my ears but I guess if you like the sound of people talking with a mouth full of marbles then it’s excellent. I prefer smooth audio thanks. There is only one digital mode that makes any kind of financial sense and that is DMR (MotoTrbo). MotoTrbo crams those 2 voice channels onto ONE repeater so in effect, you get two for the price of one! Considering repeater sites are few and far between, this does make some sense. But to my ears, the sound quality is horrendous.

So what is the answer? It turns out that hams have always had a “narrow band” ANALOG mode available to them for a long time. That mode is single sideband (SSB)! In the same channel space of 25kHz that the digital guys brag of cramming in 4 voice channels, SSB can cram in TEN! The perceived issue with that is repeating a SSB signal. One cannot use a standard FM repeater setup that depends on detecting a carrier wave because SSB doesn’t HAVE a carrier. But, many amateur (and commercial) satellites contain a “linear transponder” which essentially passes every signal – FM, SSB, CW, PSK, … in a “raw” fashion. Eg. CW in CW out. SSB in, SSB out.

There’s no reason whatsoever that terrestrial linear transponders can’t replace or at least augment current standard FM ham repeaters thus blowing any commercial system right out of the water! Excellent range and sound quality and a 2.5 kHz (or so) bandwidth signal. That’s TEN for the price of one!

So let’s all write to our favourite amateur radio manufacturers and tell them we DEMAND an FM/SSB mobile rig. They might even listen. Let’s face it, CB manufacturers have SSB rigs out there for $150 (or less) so I’m sure it’s technically (and financially) possible for “the big three” to make even a single band FM/SSB rig.

GO ANALOG!


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