K4KPN-15 APRS Digi/I-gate Outage

November 15, 2018

Update 11pm local: 

  • K4KPN-15 has been back on the air since around noon local time.
  • The Dry Ridge site lost its primary internet feed due to an extended power outage impacting an upstream distribution facility. The site was quickly failed over to a backup connection via the inter-site Canopy WAN. Another good test of “Plan B” procedures and resources. Also a reminder of the dangers of using the internet as your backbone minus a lot of redundancy.  What is your Plan B and C?
  • Also a good lesson that just because you have generator power doesn’t mean other adjacent 3rd party systems will have the same. Don’t be lazy, plan accordingly.

 

—- original post —-

K4KPN-15 is temporarily down due to widespread ice storm related power outages in the region. As previously noted that site has no backup power nor is it considered a priority site for power/service restoration.

The Dry Ridge site (K4KPN-10) remains online even though it has transferred to generator power twice in the last few hours due to the controller not liking the input power quality. Guessing the grid feed there is just barely holding on. Well at least we have our first real world storm induced test of the recently repaired transfer switch 😉

The Jonesville East site (K4KPN-1,-4,-6,-13,-14) has alarmed a few times due to power fluctuations, but all gear there remains fully functional with the UPS systems handling those brief brownouts/drop-outs. Security cameras show significant icing on the antennas and trees there, but I have seen worse.

Obviously expect the usual signal degradation from iced up antennas. Remember that depending upon the design and band involved, ice accumulation tends to degrade antenna efficiency and drop the resonant frequency to varying degrees.

Talking with my Dad and friends there the predicted “trace” of ice turned out to be considerably more than just a trace. A client said the sounds of limbs cracking and transformers exploding started around 1am and intensified into the early morning hours. Judging by the reports and outage maps the Cincinnati area is dealing with the impact of a serious ice storm.

Judging by radar the freezing rain is almost out of the area. Once that stops and the temp stays above freezing things have a chance of melting off. Telemetry shows 32.2F at K4KPN-4 and hopefully that will start climbing soon.

Welcome to Winter 2018-2019. While snow and power outages are commonplace here, it is odd hearing about 4-land nuisance snows and a nasty ice storm during the Fall months. Makes one wonder what else Mother Nature has in store for us when Winter officially arrives.

 

WA4ZKO


Inbox ?s Frequencies, 80 Meters?

November 5, 2018

Apparently starting blogging again after several months of being scarce results in a rash of inquiries. Since I have a rare Monday afternoon off after unpacking the car and running errands this morning I’ll tackle a couple things.

Frequency wise nothing has changed this year other than the addition of APRS to the six meter port of the Jonesville node. Below should make a good quick reference:

BPQ32 Node KYJVL - Jonesville, KY EM78PP 
Port 1: 441.0500 MHz 9.6k   (primary user port)
Port 2: 145.6900 MHz 1.2k   (user port)
Port 3: 223.6600 MHz 1.2k   (user port, low speed linking)
Port 4: WAN            (intrasite Canopy/VPN links)
Port 5: 28.1480 MHz USB RP  (user port)
Port 6: 50.6200 MHz 1.2k    (user port, APRS Digi/Gate)
 
NODE = K4KPN-4
BBS  = K4KPN-1
CHAT = K4KPN-13
RMS  = K4KPN-14

Some have asked if there will be an 80m RP port? Maybe a temporary one next Fall, but it will involve whether or not some spare gear becomes available. I’m not going to go “buy” gear just for an 80m port because it’s not going to be a viable band at the future site. Problem revolves around space constraints, local noise floors (80 is nasty there), and control op privileges.

10 meters may have to be it for HF depending on who eventually takes over daily control op responsibilities of all K4KPN gear. The two most likely future control ops are still “techs” so that plays into things – I’m doing some nudging LOL. The trustee/control op questions will be part of the decision making on what bands move to the future site. Technician class licensees can both use and be control ops of that 10 meter robust packet port above so NBD there.

 

WA4ZKO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


N0KFQ Silent Key

November 5, 2018

On Tuesday October 30, 2018 N0KFQ Kenneth Oscar Higgs became a Silent Key at age 88. The country, his family and the Branson Missouri community lost a good man. The packet radio community lost a good operator and a well known fixture in and long time contributor to the HF Packet BBS scene.

His obituary can be found here.

Ken, who went by “K.O.” was one of my early packet BBS mentors and helped me with the conflicting documentation out there on BBS HA when I was setting up my first full featured BBS. Years later when I worked with John (G8BPQ) on getting NTS forwarding added to BPQMail, K.O. was a source of good input as his FBB based BBS frequently handled NTS traffic.

To this day I’ve always kept an account on his BBS and would stop by occasionally, but not nearly as much as I should of. We all know how it is with us guys, we want to stay in better contact but “life” happens with family, work, etc.

KO’s wife Billie was also a ham (KB0WSA) and was also active in packet radio and ran one of the area packet nets for a long time. She passed away a few years ago. They both had a good life and witnessed a lot of history.

A comment from a friend’s email regarding KO’s death “We packet guys are all getting old and dying off.”  As I do my best to ignore the proliferation of gray hairs, I can’t disagree that attrition is doing a number on the packet radio community. We would all be wise to try and better engage the younger members of our hobby. Let us try to get more of them interested in and active on APRS and other packet radio applications. They are the future.

Well 88 years was a good long life. On behalf of KYPN and myself…. Rest in Peace K.O.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

 

WA4ZKO


Fall 2018 6m APRS and Misc Update

November 2, 2018

Figured I’d take this “downtime” evening in 4-land and toss together a quick update on the 6m APRS system and a status report. Note that I have several draft blog postings that I’ll try to finalize in the coming weeks. Sorry for the lack of posts, but get used to that being the new normal on here due to other priorities. Hey, you get what you pay for 😉

Well hopefully everyone had a good summer. I wound up being back-n-forth bi-coastal more than originally planned but it’s all good. It stresses the XYL at times, but like I remind her “we’re healthy, we have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, we can pay our bills, job security is not a concern, and we’re ahead of the game on retirement plans so let us realize just how blessed we are.” We recently got in from a nice Fall trip up in New England. We were a bit late for peak Fall foliage color in the inland areas, but there was some spectacular color along the coastal areas.

We stopped in 4-land for a quick work project and I needed to absentee vote this year. A longtime friend and former co-worker is running for Judge Exec and his Chief Deputy is running to fill his shoes as Sheriff. We also have a somewhat interesting statehouse race.

So I just cast what may be my last vote as a Kentuckian. The other half is an official Wyomingite so we’re heading back west this week so she can vote there. Plus we both need to get a pile of work done before holiday hustle and bustle arrives.

Hey where the heck did 2018 go to? Current plans are Thanksgiving in 4-land, then another extended family Christmas in the Idaho mountains, followed by New Years Eve in Wyoming. Hey the snow is piling up on the mountains so holiday mountain grandeur and fresh powder to play in = yes please!

Hopefully during some of the holiday downtime I can get the blog and some other ham radio documentation projects caught up for the locals. No guarantees though LOL.

Okay, moving on to some status reports….

6m APRS:

K4KPN-6/-4 was moved from the Jonesville tower site to the Jonesville “East” tower site (my personal tower) in early September after some coverage testing. The east site has a lower noise floor (better receive performance) and still meets coverage needs into the three tough to cover EMCOMM relevant locations we keep that port around for.

The K4KPN-6 6m APRS Digi/I-gate remains on the air 24×7 on 50.6200 MHz using 1200 baud AFSK and no changes are currently planned.

KI4WEF recently got his home Outpost PMM terminal on the air again from the new home he is building. He’s on a temporary 6m antenna till he finalizes how he’s going to setup his new station. His station is also beaconing an APRS compatible beacon so we have another 6m APRS station on the air.

I haven’t had time to confirm the details but scuttlebutt is 6m APRS is being used in some of the Marine Corps Marathon events. Cool eh?

 

Packet and Repeaters:

Most all the packet gear has been shifted over to the club callsign.  I just got the coordination for 444.4250+ repeater switched over to the club callsign and will reprogram it’s ID when time allows. This is all part of an evolving plan to move things over to the JFD tower site and let Greg, Lonnie, and Mark manage it once we fully retire out west.

There has been some talk about making 425 dual-mode analog/FUSION or analog/P25. The reasoning will be explained later on. It’s currently on the air from Williamstown in low profile test mode as I need to finish tweaking it. Current plans are to relocate it back to its primary site at JFD once some antenna and feedline repairs are completed there. ETA on that move = good question, probably going to be next Spring.

 

Node/BBS/RMS Shutdown plans:

Several have understandably asked if these systems will still be around in a few years. First off I’m not going to guarantee anything. I have plans but I can’t predict the future. It is just just a hobby, we don’t charge a dime in dues, we do what we do for the love of packet radio. Several silent keys and folks moving off for work/retirement reasons have left KYPN and packet activity in N. Kentucky at a fraction of what it used to be. It is what it is.

Actual local utilization will drive choices on what remains. Rack space and site integration issues at the future site will also play a role. There’s not going to be room for everything there so if I was to hazard a guess? The 10m RP, 220 1.2k, and 441 9.6k ports will be what remains. For those wondering what packet gear to invest in? There’s your answer 😉

 

2m APRS:

The K4KPN-15 2m APRS Digi/I-Gate is scheduled to be turned off January 2020. It is at a location where I lease space for my day job. I’m slowly extricating myself from my KY obligations and will not need that space come 2020.

I don’t have any free site that would accommodate K4KPN-15. Hopefully some others will step up and run some of the local 2m APRS infrastructure.

K4KPN-15’s days are numbered. Plenty of notice has been provided.

 

30m RP APRS / K4KPN-10:

While there are no current plans to shut down K4KPN-10 I am looking at moving it to a site near the VA/KY border. This is where one of my day job clients has a spare HF antenna and some rack space.

I’ve had the VA site patched into the WAN loop since July. I’ve been playing with both IP and stream feeding a spare modem on the remote radio there into K4KPN-10. Results show very little difference in NOAM and S. EU coverage and a slight improvement on the N. EU path. So that’s looking like an option I may explore further when time allows for me to run more tests from out west.

 

Well I’m beat and we want to hit the road early so that’s enough for now.

WA4ZKO


K4KPN-6 6 Meter APRS Digi / I-Gate Full Availability

August 10, 2018

Observing a need for a 6 meter APRS I-Gate in this region, KYPN realized the K4KPN-4 BPQ32 node could probably meet this need without any additional hardware investment. Recent versions of the BPQ32 node software have considerable built-in APRS digi/gate capabilities that only need to be configured and enabled.

The past few months showed that the past trend of most activity on the node being on the UHF 9.6k, 220 1.2k, and 10m RP ports was still holding true today. Thus we pondered could the APRS features on the 6m port be enabled and would they coexist with the existing Node and its BBS, Chat, and RMS functions? If both could coexist then it was frankly a no-brainer to do it.  The 6m port puts out a stout signal that penetrates well into the valleys and hilly terrain common to the area.

The 6 meter APRS scene has seen bursts of activity over the years, but good 24x7x365 digi/gate infrastructure is very rare outside of a few pockets of activity. The rest has been more of  what I’d call seasonal activity of folks firing up on frequency to listen for packet/APRS DX during the late Spring and Summer e-skip seasons. Others use it as a less congested alternative to the mess that 2m APRS can be in some areas.

At one time there was a push to build up packet infrastructure on 50.620 across the country for the PropNet network. The WSPR mode and network came on the scene and its many advantages stagnated PropNET growth. What remains of PropNet seems mostly focused on PSK31 operations on HF. No PropNET packet operations have been noted on 50.620 for over a decade now. This means 50.6200 MHz is an underutilized frequency begging to be put to good uses.

Testing showed both APRS and conventional packet should coexist fine on the Jonesville BPQ32 node’s 6m port. Thus on the afternoon of July 9, 2018 KYPN spun up K4KPN-6 on 50.6200 MHz 1200 baud AFSK packet mode. K4KPN-6 offers both full WIDEn-n compliant digipeating and basic R-I-R (2-way) I-Gate messaging functions.

The current plans are to run K4KPN-6 24×7. The 6m port beacons an APRS compatible beacon every 5 minutes to help detect DX openings. Beaconing faster would provide a better chance of catching meteor burns, but 5 minutes was felt to be a good compromise value for a mixed use port.

The advanced APRS digipeater functions available in BPQ32 are downright slick and one can tell John gave them some thought. The I-Gate side has some cosmetic issues, but it is plenty usable from a functionality standpoint. I’ll try to run some changes/improvements past John (G8BPQ) this winter. He is busy sailing/traveling during the Summer months. Thus I avoid bugging him with non-critical feature requests and minor bug reports that can wait. John should be deemed a Saint for his patience with his user base and his willingness to continually improve BPQ32/LinBPQ.

So far K4KPN-6 looks like a valuable asset both locally and for the 6m APRS DX folks. Best of all with our existing 6m port on the Jonesville BPQ32 system there was no need to buy anything else. Just enable and configure the functions you want in the bpq32 config file and restart the node. Obviously you’ll need an APRS-IS login and password if you want to use the I-Gate functionality.

Node and application stack (BBS, Chat, RMS) remain available on the 6m port. The APRS functions are just another application running on the node.

 

6m APRS Path Recommendations?

Making use of the K4KPN-6 6m APRS digi/I-gate functions is no different than operating on 2m APRS. Paths of WIDE1-1 or WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1 are good choices for 1-hop and 2-hop paths.

 

6m APRS Beacon Rate Recommendations?

The 6 meter APRS frequency is not overloaded like the 2m APRS is in so many areas of the country. There is plenty of spare airtime on the channel. Thus the use of aggressive beacon rates is unlikely to be an issue. 5 or 10 minute rates for infrastructure sites should be fine in most areas.

Temporary use of even faster rates for testing or during meteor shower peak times should not be an issue and would increase the odds of snagging a burn. Mobiles can probably dial things down to 1 or 2 minute rates.

 

6m APRS Biggest Range Challenge? Noise Floor

The 50 MHz band propagates locally just like the 30-50 MHz VHF-Low band that you may be familiar with. Not so great in a pure urban environment. So so in a suburban environment, but ultimately best suited to rural environments where its range and terrain penetration qualities can shine.

Note:  There’s a reason why a surprising number of users remain active in the VHF-Low Band spectrum even though it doesn’t get much press. Current marketing/sales efforts are geared towards selling more expensive and complex systems on the higher bands. The range and simplicity of VHF-Low systems are still a good fit for some users.

Don’t laugh at Low band. VHF….  I know of a 46 MHz system installed in the early 1980’s that is still in use. Now that’s serious ROI. Also note that the VHF/UHF Part 90 narrowbanding mandate did NOT apply to VHF-Low systems.

Back on topic….

All things being equal 6 meters has more range potential than 2m. Problem is in the real world of RF all things are rarely equal. On 6m you are probably using a lower gain base antenna and most likely a less efficient mobile antenna system compared to say 2 meters. In most real world installs some of this will be offset by higher standard transmit powers, less free space losses, lower feedline losses, and better terrain penetration. All that aside, the main range limiter for 6m operators today is the higher local noise floor (NF) compared to the higher bands.

The old enemy of power line noise remains, but it is now joined by a wide variety of noise spewing consumer electronics clobbering both HF and the lower VHF spectrum. Sadly this is a problem that will only get worse unless the FCC cracks down on a lot of the cheap poorly designed/filtered junk behind so much of the problem. Even then it would take ages for device attrition to clean up the spectrum much. Plus we’ve become a society that expects everything to be super cheap versus paying for higher quality equipment.

Where you live and operate can make a huge difference and must be factored in unless you like surprises. I was stunned at the NF differences between the old KY QTH and our temp place here. Living out in farm country most of my life definitely spoiled me. I wouldn’t call this “urban” by any means, but having several neighbors nearby = a lot more noise on the bands. I was initially worried about the big power distribution lines a few hundred yards away out back. Turns out they are actually the least of the NF problems here LOL.

Every amateur radio band has it’s pros, cons, and unique propagation characteristics. Six meters is no exception to that rule. It remains a local workhorse of a band that also offers some fun DXing at times. It is called the Magic Band for a good reason.

WA4ZKO /7


K4KPN-10 Storm Damage

July 3, 2018

Update July 4th . K4KPN-10 is back in service.

So far the damage sounds like a power supply (likely repairable), a few fuses/tripped breakers, and unfortunately the tragic sacrifice of a kind gentle soul of a Rev 1 SCS Tracker TNC to the thunder gods. Thankfully there were spares nearby and we were able to get things back online last night.

There may be some brief outages later in the week due to electrical work/repairs at the site.

73 de WA4ZKO

Apparently around noon eastern time the Dry Ridge site took a major lightning hit. Mike ran by and his quick assessment is the site is dark and the transfer switch got smoked pretty good. Judging by telemetry things ran till the UPS systems told things to shut down.He did a cold start and it looks like at least a PSU and the Tracker modem on K4KPN-10 is dead…radio came on but may well be damaged.

He’s heading back out there this evening to get the tower lights back on and start checking and bringing the commercial gear online. Once the commercial gear is back up he’s going to call me and we’ll start doing further damage assessment on the ham gear. I have some spares on hand, but depending on how bad things are K4KPN-10 may be down for the count.

WA4ZKO /7


6 Meter APRS Lives

June 21, 2018

Update:  Dale N0KQX has joined in from SW Kansas as of June 24th. N0KQX-6 has already been heard several times at K4KPN-4 in KY.  The K7BC-6 Virginia I-gate appears offline since the 21st. A few more I-gates on frequency would be nice. I believe I can enable gating on K4KPN-4’s 6m port (ah the flexibility of BPQ32) without impacting general packet operations on that port. I plan to test that option on my next trip back thru 4-land.

It’s not every day you hear and “digi” off the 50 MHz APRS digipeater at the Pentagon.

K4AF-6_20180619_6m_APRS_map_pent

Map showing location of the K4AF-6 six meter digipeater at the Pentagon. I believe this is part of the MARS radio station located there. Frequency is 50.620 MHz using 1200 baud AFSK packet.

 

June 19th 2018 a nice strong opening into NE Virginia revealed that the 50.6200 MHz 1200 baud 6 meter APRS and long time 6m packet “calling” frequency still has some action on it.

K4AF-6_20180619_6m_APRS_KYRDG_Terminal

The monitor for the 6m (50.620 1.2k) and 10m packet/robust packet ports at the K4KPN-4 N. Kentucky node. K4AF-6 is at the Pentagon. K7BC-6 is a few miles to the SW. Both are just over 400 miles away. Opening was very brief. June 20th would produce a stronger opening. Times are UTC.

 

On June 20th things would liven up even more with the Conway AR node “CON50” W5AUU-6 (likely bleed-over from 50.615 MHz) coming in. There was also an extended and strong e-skip opening to Wash DC with APRS packets bouncing around and being digipeated like it was 2m APRS at times. Several K4KPN-4’s beacons were getting digipeated and I-gated into APRS-IS via K7BC-6 in Springfield VA.

 

6m_aprs_raw_pkts_20180620

The June 20th 6 meter APRS opening into the Wash DC area lasted for over an hour. K4AF-6 was even audible at times on a HT (Yaesu VX-8DR) setting on my desk. Gotta love the Magic Band of 50 MHz!

Distances involved where about 410 miles from Kentucky to DC. So I wouldn’t call it really short skip, but definitely shorter than normal. General rule of thumb is when 6 meter e-skip shortens up to 250-300 miles then it’s time to start checking 144 MHz for possible e-skip on that band.

Good to see there is still some life on 6m APRS. Band openings can make things interesting, even on VHF packet. Also nice to see there is some packet radio gear at the Pentagon MARS / AR station(s).

K4KPN-4’s 10m port beacons every 10 minutes and the 6m port beacons every 5 minutes with APRS compatible beacons to help detect band openings. The 50.620 MHz 1200 baud port on K4KPN-4 also supports WIDE1-1 digipeating in addition to normal packet radio connects.

 

WA4ZKO