QSO Today Ham Expo

Not sure how I missed this, but the registration for the QSO Today Ham Expo is now open. Early registration opened on January 4th. Last year the event was free to all those that registered, but given the cost of putting on the event the early registration has been set at $10 for the two day event. Really still quite a bargain given the amount of information that you can walk away with.

This year the presentations will be held March 13th and 14th, 2021. While the schedule has not yet been set, a list of presentations can be found at https://www.qsotodayhamexpo.com/speakers.html. Lots of variety of topics listed there, so I am sure you will find several that you are really interested in.

So head over to the registration page now before you forget and miss out on the event.


Net Schedules

Something I have been working on for quite a while now is a easy to manage list of Ham radio nets. Now I am ready to reveal to the world the work that I have been doing and allow people to start to consume it.


The nets are organized as a set of YAML files that describe each net. You can find the YAML files here: https://gitlab.com/wt0f/ham-radio-calendars. Each time a change is made to the files a new set of iCalendar files are generated. The iCalendar files can be subscribed to at https://nexus.wt0f.com/service/rest/repository/browse/calendars/.

More Details

I started thinking about the fact that there was not really a good catalog of nets or a way to stay up to date with the changes of nets. I liked what WA7BNM has done for contesting with making schedules available as a calendar file. That made sense to me given that one could have a list of nets but it gets hard trying to visualize when the nets occur or where there may be conflicting schedules. Hence I started building a catalog of nets.

Certainly this catalog is not complete. Even for the Seattle area, this is really just a subset of nets that occur. I have tried to include all the ones that I could find out about but I am sure that there are many more that occur that are not listed anywhere.

I have tried to organize the nets in a reasonable way that can be extended to support other areas and most situations. Although I expect that the structure of the files will change over time as others contribute to the effort.

Oh, yes, did I not mention that this is a cooperative effort? This is not just the nets that I want to track or publish–this allows anyone to contribute to the catalog of nets. This could be adding a new net (or one that is currently not listed) or updating information about a net that is not correct. This is accomplished by one of two methods. More on that in a bit.

Structuring the nets

I am not going to really talk about the YAML format for describing the nets here. You can find more information (which should stay pretty much up to date) at the GitLab repository that has all the files. Look at the README.md file for a pretty good description of the format. For those that are not familiar with the YAML format, it is a format that is easy for computers to process and equally easy for humans to digest. For an introduction to YAML look at https://www.redhat.com/sysadmin/yaml-beginners.

The net catalog is being organized into files that are broken down by counties and in some cases cities (for large cities–think Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, etc.). These files are stored in a directory named after the ARRL section. So for example, the nets that occur in the city that I live in (Issaquah, WA) would be stored in WWA/king.yaml.

I think this provides a pretty reasonable compromise between the geographical location of the net and the grouping of the nets. In other words, there is not a huge file listing hundreds of nets which becomes cumbersome to manage and keep up to date. Conversely there is not a thousand little files that need to be kept up to date. In either of these extreme cases, it is not terribly difficult to duplicate information because the number of things to look at is just too large.

This scheme will cover North America pretty well. But what about other areas of the world? Well, I am not opposed to moving things around to extend where in the world the schedules represent. So without hardly any trouble at all, it would be pretty easy to add say a directory level for the continent and maybe a second directory level for the country. It is just not needed at this time, but it is easy to grow file structure to accommodate more schedules.

Now you may be asking what to do with nets that cover more than just a geographical region? These nets tend to be organizationally driven or using communications technologies that link over the internet (like DMR, Allstar or D-STAR). Right now I have been starting to organize these schedules in separate files and I figure that many of them will be in a directory at the top level called organizations. The idea here is that there would be a file for Allstar nets, American Redcross (national nets), NAQCC to name a few.

Again, this is subject to change in the future as the needs to organize the schedules becomes more complicated. But others will also have a say in how everything gets organized also.

Now It Is Your Turn

So how can you contribute? As I stated above there are two ways that anyone can contribute schedules or updates to existing schedules.

The first is to fork the repository (https://gitlab.com/wt0f/ham-radio-calendars) into your own GitLab account. If you don’t have a GitLab account, you can get one for free at https://gitlab.com/users/sign_up.

Once you have logged into your account you want to navigate to the repository. Then it is as simple as clicking the “Fork” button in the upper right corner of the repository page. Below is the top of the repository so you can see the Fork button.

This will create a copy of the repository in your GitLab account. With those familiar with Git, you are probably all set and don’t need anything else. If you have never touched Git or not even sure what it is, you can use the Web IDE that GitLab provides. In your copy of the repository you can click on the Web IDE button and this will allow you to make changes to the files.

Now that you have changes to the schedules, you want to commit the changes back to your local copy of the repository and create a merge request back to the original repository. The merge request then gets looked at and is either approved or provides a way to have a discussion about the changes so that all can agree that the changes should be made. Once approved that changes get applied to the original repository and a few minutes later the iCalendar files get updated.

The alternative way to get changes made and this is primarily for those that don’t quite understand how that darn YAML thing works. Visit the original repository and create an issue where the changes can be described. This will generally take longer as I need to collect the issues and then go make the appropriate changes in the repository.

I hope that many Hams out there will find this a valuable resource to keep track of nets and discover new ones. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to hit me up.


Good Info from HRU 2021

Today, January 9th, Ham Radio University is providing a number of presentations over GotoWebinar. This I think is the first time they are providing the presentations online and it is working well! Registration was free but $5 donations were suggested to support the costs of providing the GotoWebinar sessions. Personally I suggest doubling or tripling the donation to pay for some of the Hams that are unable to donate this year. Especially this year when so many have been unemployed.

I just sat through the HF Digital Modes presentation by Neil Goldstein (W2NDG) and there were a few good tidbits that came out of this presentation. His blog site looks like it has a lot of useful information also. You can find it at https://fofio.blogspot.com.

First a wealth of information can be found at https://www.g4ifb.com/. There is a bunch of information about running FT-8 there and I am still exploring a bunch of that information.

Another site to visit is https://midnightdesignsolutions.com/. They have a number of nice kits and I will leave it at that.

Next year when the HRU 2022 registration comes around, don’t hesitate and fill in the registration!


Weekly Winlink Net

I have been thinking for several weeks of starting a Winlink net to get more involvement in the local ARES/RACES group. Starting for the new year I sent the following to the group. The response has been good and with any luck it will be a success.

I am wondering if doing the net every week will become tiresome, but I figure it will be good to get started and it can be dialed back if the participation starts to fall off. It may also transform into a monthly net and the remaining weeks will be other methods of communicating. It has been a long, long time since we held a voice net, so maybe it will change to a schedule of Winlink one week, a voice net another week and other weeks have other types of nets.

Here is a copy of the email that I sent to the group to announce the net. If you are not in the City of Issaquah, you are still welcome to participate. We just like playing with others, so everyone is always welcome.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Something I was thinking about during the month of December is to start a Winlink net. This will start as using only Winlink, but there maybe occasions where other protocols/technologies are used to keep a variety and keep things interesting. Even with introducing other protocols this will remain primarily a Winlink net.

So how does a Winlink net work? I am going to model the net after the original Winlink Wednesday net that was started in Virginia. So on Wednesday between the hours of 0800 and 2000 (PST) you would send a Winlink message to check in to the net. We will start with a basic check in and later on add a bit more variety by posting a question for the answer to be submitted with the check in.

So the basic Winlink check in is simple. Compose a message to K7ISQ and on the first line of the message include the following:

    callsign, first name, city, county, state, connection type

So for me I could checkin with something like:

    WT0F, Gerard, Issaquah, King, WA, VHF

If you are traveling that week, then you would check in with the current city, county, state that you are currently in. Or lets say that you are at work when you send the Winlink message, use the city that you are in when you send the message. The last item (the connection type) is generally optional for many nets, but I think it would be a nice thing to add. Generally the options for the connection type are HF, VHF, telnet. I think as we go forward this list will get extended to include if the connection is over 9600 baud or a P2P connection or even a VARA-FM, ARDOP or other unique connection is being made. But for now lets keep it simple.

While I am thinking about it, check ins are welcome to come from any source. So you can use any of the Winlink RMS nodes–so don’t feel that you have to use my nodes for the check in–or a Pactor station if you want to practice sending over HF. Quite honestly if all you have available is a telnet connection over the internet, then that is sufficient. The purpose is to exercise the use of Winlink and getting used to using it periodically so that everyone is familiar with it and it is ready to go at a moments notice. My suggestion is that people should be using various RMS nodes so that they have a good understanding of what nodes they are able to normally hit and know what alternative RMS nodes can be used when the one that is normally used is out of commission. Maybe that will be a bit of a contest one week–who is able to hit the furthest node from their station. Get those Yagis tuned up

I plan on producing a Winlink form template for the net and the variations to the net that will develop. So stay tuned for where you can get that and use it to construct the check in message.

So you send a message to check into the net, what happens afterwards? At about 2000 PST or some time afterward, I will collect all the messages sent to K7ISQ and respond to all the check ins to acknowledge that the check in was received. Sometime around the beginning of the week I am planning on sending Winlink messages to all the stations that checked in the prior week (and probably for some amount of weeks after the last check in) with any information that would be useful for that week’s net. This might be simply a reminder of the type of net that will be functioning that week or a question to be answered in the check in for the week. It is my hope that this will provide a moderate amount of Winlink messages back and forth to insure that everyone’s Winlink setup gets exercised enough to find any issues with stations on a regular basis and not just during drill time.

As the net develops, there will be other things that are brought in such as a week that the ICS 213 form is used or using P2P connections for the net. I have also started to build a list of questions to use for some nets to add something more than just a simple check in. I would also like to get the net to the point where there is a couple of people that act as net control and that it can be moved around.

Finally, while I am sending this notice out to the ICST members, it is by no means that the net is restricted to just ICST members. Anyone is welcome to participate in the net no matter where they are located. So, if you have friends that may have an interest and want to work with Winlink, feel free to forward this email and invite them to participate.