Saturday, October 31, 2009

CQ-WW-SSB 2009 Contest

I had lots of fun with this contest. It did not start well for me though. First, I had intended to give a trial run to the N1MM contesting logging software a week before that at teh NY QSO Party, but I was too tired aftera train ride and  a long day in Old Forge NY to operate my station let alone with new software. So when thsi contest came, I had not even prepared its logging file. So it took me a few minutes to do that and then things seemed to work out OK but I noticed some problems, with the software, including it not staying connected to my radio and thus not logging the frequencies correctly and a few more minor glitches. So I decided to revert to my trusted regular logging software, Ham Radio Deluxe and again it took me a few more minutes to set a new log up but then I was up and hopefully running. That first evening was disappointing, conditions were awful and I soon called it quits for the night, as I saw not reason to stay awake just for a few QSOs that I might be able to make. Things remained slow early in the next morning but started getting better as suddenly the 15 meters band opened, while the 20 meters was so crowded it was difficult to make calls there, unless you had am amplifier. I'm operating at low power, 100 watts maximum, single operator, non-assisted. So I made quite a lot of contacts on 15m. Things quieted down in the evening, again I saw no reason to stay awake overnight. I had 117 QSOs so far, not bad, kind of opening the possibility to beat my own 181 QSOs record. On Sunday, things got really busy on 20m and almost as busy on 15m. I got busy and in the afternoon I had beaten my own recors and now was forging ahead, setting a 200 goal, reaching it, setting a 225 goal and reaching it too. I finally set my sights on 250 QSOs and reached that goal with 15 minutes to spare in the contest. I decided to quit there, claimnig a score of 89206 points. Some calls are multipliers and the math is too cumbersome for me to figure it out, that's why I have a computer!

I ran into troubles with the Cabrillo formatted log I am to use to report my activity. Saving my ADIF file from Ham Radio Deluxe, and using adif2cabr to get the Cabrillo file, I lost a colums of data. Using the HRD ADOF file and importing it into N1MM, then exporting a Cabrillo file from N1MM, I got a file where the frequencies were not right, there were some mistakes in the file mainly in Canadian calls (15) but I had the missing column. So I Took the Cabrillo file I got from adif2cabr, imported it as text file to Excel, imported teh N1MM cabrillo file into a different sheet in Excel, copied the missing column from the N1MM cabrillo file and pasted it into the adif2cabr file in Excel. Saved that Excel file as a text file, used Note Tab Lite to check it, reformatted it a bit, just added some tabs for clarity (although the file would have read correctly, but I like my columns well aligned and send the file in. It was accepted quite easily by the robot.

Why did I write all this? Simply, so I'll remember next time, if I bump into similar problems and if someone else needs that information, I got it here.

Do I expect to win? Heck no! Some of the big gun stations amass millions of points. But I already have accomplished my goal, my score is yet higher than ever before, I've also found some ways to improve on my operation. I started controlling my transmission via computer, instead of the foot switch. Takes a lot less coordination and my dog can sleep at my feet without being distrubed. I also used VOX, voice activated transmission, but I have to be careful as whatever I say may be trransmitted, including what I say to my dogs oand/or wife...

I ran into enough problems with N1MM to scrub it and revert to HRD. N1MM is supposed to be a very good contesting software. I'll give it another trial at a more minor contest and see if I can use it efficiently. I know that some of the problems I had were due to user error. The 400+ pages manual doesn't help much, too much information when you need quick answers but I've found a few shorter versions that may just put me on the right track. I already found some answers to problems I had so it may be worth another look. Also, if I get it to log right, then the Cabriullo file export will be a breeze, something I really like, especially since now, I tend to ahve a log that is getting longer and more problematic to edit, even if just for formatting.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Topofusion and kmz files for the Oregon/Colorado/Dakota

I happen to be one of the beta testers for Topofusion and a few days ago, I had requested  from Scott Morris, the brain behind Topofusion to check out is kmz file export would be possible in Topofusion (TF). I got my answer yesterday night with a new beta version ot TF Pro that can do exactly that. Topofusion offers you WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get on your Oregon/Colorado/Dakota.

Anything on TF's screen can be sent to the Oregon, topo map, aerial, color aerial etc. Even custom maps, and TF really shines here as the georeferencing is simpler and much faster than Google Earth and if you downloaded the mapping tiles ahead of time, you don't even need internet access to georeference a user map.

What more, I made these maps using a 6-megapixel picture taken with a camera I use for SAR. When on a search, I hate having to play with cameras settings or with jpg file that need to be shrinked etc. It is all easy to do but these are details that distract me from my main task. Once the user map is georeferenced in TF, the screen display is 1274 pixels wide by 853 in height sending out a kmz files of 106-140KB.

Also, I enlarge the screen display on TF and made three kmz files, the UTM grid helped tremendously in making sure I don't have huge overlapping areas or worse, holes in my coverage.

Once on my Oregon, the three files are there on screen, and I can scroll seamlessly from one area to the other.

Thank you Scott, for coming up with so far the best and easiest way of sending maps to the Oregon!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On GPS and sense of direction.

Please read the article mentioned in the link.
It is quite interesting.

Online Exclusive: Does My Sense of Direction Suck? from The Walrus Magazine on Vimeo.

I have been a GPS user since the early nineties. As units became better, the system matured, I have relied more and more on GPS navigation. I now use GPS as my main navigation tools.

I've also been blessed by a very good sense of orientation, ever since I was a kid. My mother used to tell a story that when I was about 7 years old, she was shopping in Naples Italy and it was time to return to our ship. Only my mother was walking uphill... My mother said I constantly told her to go downhill but she never listened util she took a cab and dow the hill it went... I've always been very aware of my surroundings and I navigate by terrain features, topography, land cover and man-made objects.

Has the use of GPS lessened my sense of orientation? Well, I don't know what's going inside my head, but I don't think I lost any of my natural abilities. Why? Well, most of my outdoors activities are related to canine search and rescue. I have to interpret what the dog is tellng me and how the scent might propagate. So navigation while important, is not the only factor I am using. In order to help put my dog in a position of success, I still have to look at the wind, the topography, the terrain cover, well, see the common points with navigation? So I think that I kept using the same skills for a different purpose and thus, they never dulled.

And I can certainly understand that even a skilled navigator might lose their skill when relying solely on instruments such as the GPS. But then, aren't maps and compasses also instruments? Maybe they deserve the same caveat as the GPS? As I see it from the article, Inuits navigate a lot like I do, using natural elements to guide them. And the secret of preserving the skill lies in using them, trust your GPS but verify its findings, using the traditional methods.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Raster pictures on my Oregon

A couple of days ago, we had a search in Highland Forest Park, NY. Stryder, my dog never got out of the truck, as the victim was found by the Sheriff's department trailing bloodhound, but since I had the time, I started making a raster map of the park fr my Oregon. I quickly took a couple of digital pictures of the park's trail map, two maps, one for snowshoeing trails and the other for x-country ski trails (they are getting ready for winter fun).

I did not change the camera's settings (6 megapixel camera) when I took the pictures. That gave me files of about +/-2.5Mb. Georeferencing with Google Earth was ok, but I really prefer the quick method that Topofusion has, just click on 3 points on the layer and the base map/aerial. Much simpler, quick and easy. I talked to Scott of Topofusion about making kmz layers with TF, especially as if I download the maps prior to leaving home, I can then use TF even without internet access.

The screen dump below is of the 2.5 Mb file

This screen dump is with a jpg taken at 2 megapixels resolution giving a kmz file of +/-950Kb. The map is a 24K topo map in both these pictures.

This last picture is the same as above the only change being the map, this time it is the Garmin Topo 2008.

I noticed that the re-draw of the screen is faster with the smaller kmz files, but still the 2.5 Mb files were quite usable. That means that if I have to do some hasty work and don't reset the camera back to 2 megapixels, the results are not going to bite me back. Actually the lesser trails show better on the larger files and since I would be moving at pedestrian speed, screen redraw speed is of lesser importance and it is more important to me to better see the secondary trails too. I also have ample room on my 8GB uSD card.

Another lesson learned is that when you have two kmz files of the same area, only one shows on screen. I have not managed to find out the reason why  one has precedence. The only solutions I see for now are either move one file off my uSD card (needing a computer -which I have in my truck) or putting them on two different uSD cards (and try not to lose/misplace those - good luck).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oregon vs Garmin 60CSx track precision revisited

If you look down my blog to the February7, 2009 entry, you will see some older results which are no longer valid, as there have been major software changes in the Oregon and even one in the 60CSx. Just 8 months, but such a difference!

Below are yesterday's tracks:

Well, you probably like the aerial picture better, that's an improvement too, but looking at the tracks, what can we see? Remember, clicking on the picture will enlarge it nicely.
I started by going clockwise, on the right side of the street, following traffic laws, as I was on my electric bike.  Both units were in the waiste pockets of my jacket and that means they were switched around when I turned around for the second go around the block.

My conclusions: frankly, both results are very good. I think the Oregon is a triffle more true in a few places, but really does it matter? We are talking single feet in distance and look how much I had to blow the picture up in order to even see it. It is well beyond the precision expectations of either instrument.

I'm really happy with both of these GPS units.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Sometimes it is good to know that even totally unprepared, a well trained SAR K9 will work things out and perform 100%.

Well, things did not start too well this morning and Stryder, my working SAR dog regurgitated his breakfast and the gobs of water only Labrador retriever can guzzle down. OK, major clean-up time so I managed to lock up the 5 other dogs in the living room and got Stryder downstairs to the basement and the fenced in back yard.

Once the clean-up done, I decided to pick up the back yard, as it was Monday, meaning also trash day. So here I was, busy with the pooper-scoopers and Stryder was just hanging lose. Now I needed to get out of the yard and get my heavy laden plastic bag to the end of the driveway. Stryder wanted to come along. I then remembered that I had planted a training aid for him, the previous day, not too far from where we were about to go. Well, I knew Stryder was not ready to work and didn't even have that in mind, but what the heck, let's see what might happen. I opened the gate, got my bag out, closed the gate and from the corner of my eye, I saw Stryder heading towards some bushes, blessing them in his canine way and suddenly his nostrils flared, his tail started wagging and he followed the scent stuck to the wet leaves to the side of the house and to the location of the training aid. Not only that, he performed a perfect refind, hitting my right hand and showing me the way to the target. I didn't even have his reward toy but I praised him lavishly and we ran to my truck where his toy was stashed behind the back seat, and ended the session in a lot of play and rough-housing.

I was really happy to see my dog working it out like that, totally unprepared. I think that I gave him as little cues as I could, walking uphill with the contents of my poop bucket... Not exactly the picture I normally try to project in training or searches. And no other cues were given, such as the reward toy or search vest etc. And in addition, the training aid was the lightest I have, so the problem was not easy to begin with. He's a good search dog, that Stryder pup of mine!