Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Groundhog Day

After installing the four port serial card in the shack PC which allowed me to have computer control of my Elecraft K2 I decided to borrow the USB sound card that was being used by my EchoLink hotspot and get my HF APRS gateway up and running again on transmit as well as receive. It is running very well and, although I suppose it may just be conditions, it seems to be receiving more stations than when I was using the K3. I am also surprised at how well my 10W output gets out. The experts are always saying how poor a mode FSK300 packet is, but I transmitted several test messages (into my stealth attic magnetic loop) and they were all received by other gateways.

However, something went very wrong on Sunday. Replies to a couple of messages I sent kept being received over and over again. I also kept receiving the same messages over and over again from a couple of stations. It was like the film Groundhog Day, except it was more like Groundhog Five Minutes. And it was very annoying as these damn messages kept generating pop-up balloons from APRSISCE's new messaging system.

Eventually I became convinced there must be a problem with APRSISCE and I sent a bunch of logs over to Lynn, KJ4ERJ, the program's developer. However I now think the problem is down to the configuration of some stations in Europe that are unnecessarily digipeating or gating traffic from the internet to RF and somehow managed to create an endless loop. Aprs.fi shows that some of the messages continued to circulate for more than 10 minutes after I had shut down all the computers and radios and gone downstairs in frustration. But even Lynn hasn't manage to figure out who the culprit was.

The trouble with the APRS HF network in Europe is that there is no co-ordination at all. Anyone can connect some software or a TNC to a radio, configure it however they see fit (perhaps basing their settings on out-of-date books, obsolete web pages or nonsense thinking like "WIDE5-5 must be more than twice as good as than WIDE2-2") and start digipeating or gating traffic regardless of whether there is a need for it. There are stations in France who are gatewaying information from VHF to HF that serves no useful purpose there. What use is it to me in the north of England to know the meeting date of a club in the south of France or the details of a repeater in the Pyrenees?

These days it is far too easy for people to get on the air without first having to properly understand what it is they are doing. And many hams seem to think it is their duty to radiate RF even if the most useful thing they could do in this particular case is simply to receive.

You can't have a network without co-ordination of the stations that participate in it. But, no doubt in part because we all speak different languages, there is no online forum that everyone doing APRS on HF in Europe can join to discuss the issues and resolve the problems.

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