Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Beacon monitoring with Faros

Alex, G7KSE wrote recently about monitoring the International Beacon Project beacons on 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10 metres, which gave me the idea to try it again for myself. I did try the Faros beacon monitoring software by VE3NEA a few years ago but being a tightwad I never registered it so the trial came to an end after 30 days. I was also less than enthusiastic about leaving the computer and radio running every day 24/7. Work out the power consumption and it can add a significant amount to the quarterly bill which is unlikely to go unnoticed by the chancellor of the exchequer (the XYL.)

These days the computer is usually running from when I get up (or after breakfast) until when I go to bed in order to run my HF and VHF APRS gateways so it is no extra trouble to do some beacon monitoring as well. I don't have a spare radio or antenna so I will have to use my main radio (my K3) and antenna for the beacon monitor. This means that if I want to go on the air the beacon monitoring will stop. Currently my enthusiasm for actually making contacts is at a very low ebb so this is not much of a problem. I shall still shut down at night and restart in the morning, at least during the winter months when there is no night time propagation on 20m and up. Apart from the pointless waste of joules, the loud click from the K3 each time Faros changes bands will be a disturbance as the shack is only just across the landing from our bedroom.

The antenna I am using is the short multiband 80plus2 dipole bent to fit into the roof space, with additional 10m and 6m elements. It works fine on 20, 15, 12 and 10m. On 17m I can get a good SWR with the aid of the K3's built-in tuner (which is the source of the loud clicks) but performance is noticeably down on the magnetic loop. However, the magnetic loop is used by my K2 for the HF APRS gateway so it is not available.

VE3SUN has written a very good article explaining how to set up a system to display the beacon reception charts created by Faros on a web page. It looked easy so I went ahead and set up an IBP Beacon Reception page on G4ILO's Shack. I found that the WinSCP software that VE3SUN recommends to automate the uploading of the reception charts to the website popped up annoying windows whenever it updates so I used SyncBack SE instead. Unlike WinSCP it isn't free, but I had purchased a license a few years ago and the code still worked with the latest version.

I converted the JavaScript in VE3SUN's example page to PHP. This means that I can test for the existence of the beacon monitor graphics and display a friendly message rather than have the browser display a "missing picture" graphic if the monitor has not been running and that day's GIF image doesn't exist.

I have added to the page a short list of currently active beacon monitors to make it easy to compare my reception reports with other people's. It would be nice if, instead of each beacon monitor having his own results on his own web site, there was a central site that collated all the IBP reception reports and displayed them on a map, like WSPR does. Perhaps that would rejuvenate interest in the IBP which seems to have been overshadowed in recent years by WSPR and reverse beacons.
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