Hello everybody and welcome back to the Everything Ham Radio Podcast! In today’s episode we are going to be talking about different types of computers and their uses in your shack. In the world that we live in now, our lives are so intertwined with technology that it would only make sense that the amateur community would use computers in their shacks. Years ago, the hobby was more of just ragchew, two or more people talking, type hobby. Now, when I say that I mean it in the utmost respect, because those people that were talking, more than likely built their radios themselves instead of buying them from some dealer like we do now.
So with the commercially available radios, comes more people into the hobby and different ideas and things to do. More people also means, more people working on projects that they then share with the rest of us. With the advent of computers, people found uses for them in the shack and now is an integral part of the setup of pretty much everyone’s shack.
Computer Uses In The Shack
So first off, probably the most obvious uses for a computer in our shack is for logging your contacts. There are many ways that you can use your computer to log your contacts. The most basic way is to use like a spreadsheet or word document to list them out. This is probably the first step up from logging contacts by hand. Then again, if you really know what you are doing, a spreadsheet can do a lot of stuff automagically.
The next step up is to use a logging program. There are a BUNCH of logging programs out there. If you go to Google and type in “Amateur Radio Logging Software” you will get a massive list of them. On top of that, if you head on over to eham.net, you can find a big list of them all on one page or your can goto the W1WC website and get a log list there as well. Each link on that list will give you a description of the program, a link to the actual program website and any reviews that have been posted on the eham website.
Logging programs can be either online or offline. With an always on internet connection being so “in the norm” these days, more people are writing online log programs. One of the most common of the online logs is the ARRL’s Logbook of the World(LOTW). Another one is EQSL.net. With some contests though, especially those that are sponsored by the ARRL, you will have to use the LOTW in order to get credit for your contacts. Sometimes, I have heard/read, that you can use EQSL. If you are participating in the National Parks on the Air here in the US, you will need to us LOTW.
LOTW is internet based, I believe, but there is logging programs that will log for you and then automatically upload your log to LOTW. Because I rarely have the privilege of spreading my Extra Class wings on HF, I can’t really advise yall on what a good program is, or which is the easiest to use, etc. I have read in several places though that registering for the LOTW was a beast and a pain. Maybe I will do a how-to post on how to register on it in the near future.
Over the past couple months, we have been talking about Digital Communications, so if you have been following me for a little while, maybe this is the part that jumped into our mind first. With modes like RTTY, Packet, Olivia, the TOR family, a computer of some kind is pretty much a must. If you want to learn more about these modes check out my previous posts on the topics:
Another use of computers in your ham shack is for rig control. Twenty or so years ago, this was probably unheard of! With the modern radios that we have now, and mainly HF radios, you can hook your radio to your computer and your computer will display a front panel digital image on your computer screen. From there you can do any of the functions that you can do on the front panel of the radio. You can change the frequency, apply a filter, adjust your gain, anything…
This also comes into play when you are using certain logging programs. Those programs can actually grab information, like frequency, mode, etc, from the radio and automatically fill in the fields on the log entry.
Rig control can be done locally with a radio that is sitting on the desk next to you or a radio that is sitting at your repeater site, or if you have access, on the other side of the world. This really comes in handy when you have a radio in a hard to reach location, like at some repeater sites. You can sit in the comfort of your own home and change settings on it in your PJ’s.
On a similar topic of rig control, you can control your antennas from your computer. Let’s say that you are trying to work a satellite and you have a beam setup on your tower with both horizontal and azimuth rotors on it. You can load up a satellite tracking program, set which satellite you want to use, and your computer will automatically move your beam so that it is always pointing to the satellite. How cool is that?!
General Purpose Uses
Other than specific amateur radio uses, how about some other things. Let’s say that you hear a station on the air and you want to know where they are from. You can use your computer to look up their call sign and see where they live. What about wanting to know where a certain country is from the contact you just made, you can look that up on Google.
In amateur radio, we often use the UTC time when making contacts so that any contact you log will have the same time as you do when the contacts are compared. Rather than having to figure out how many time zones you are away from UTC time, the adding/subtracting from your time, you can have a handy dandy little program that displays your local time and UTC time on your computer screen so you will always know what time it is at a glance.
Can’t remember if the frequency that someone is calling CQ on is one that you can talk on? Rather than having a band plan on your wall taking up space, why not just look on your computer screen at your digital copy of one. On my desktop for my computer when I had my shack set up, I made a image that had the band plan on it but was blown up some and only had the bands that I commonly used.
Using computers in your shack can save you a whole bunch of time whether you are looking for information, logging a contact, or controlling your antenna to make that contact. Back before the use of computers were the “norm”, when you were working field day or other contest, you wouldn’t know until after field day if you already worked that station from some small country on the other side of the world from you. When you type in the call sign, most logging programs will tell you that you already worked them and you don’t have to waste your time trying to dig their exchange out of the mud again.
In the next episode we will be continuing our discussion on computers, but in a slightly different way. In the next episode we will be talking about the latest craze, Small Computers. Don’t know what that is? Guess you will just have to tune in next week and find out. I know, that was a little mean, but…
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73 de Curtis, K5CLM
Amateur Radio Club Spotlight
Rocky Mountain Ham Radio
Digital Repeaters – http://www.rmham.org/wordpress/mototrbo-radio-site-information
Analog Repeaters – http://www.rmham.org/wordpress/membership-and-club-information
- Critchell Mountain – 447.500 -5 MHz Offset 88.5 tone
- Squaw Mountain – 448.225 -5 MHz Offset 141.3 Tone
- Thorodin Mountain – 449.225 -5 MHz Offset 141.3 tone
- Lookout Mountain – 449.625 -5 MHz Offset 141.3 Tone
- Lee Hill – 447.750 -5 MHz Offset 141.3 Tone
Rocky Mountain Ham Radio is not your traditional amateur radio club. They are more of a group of hams that help other hams. They have all kinds of equipment that can be lent to other clubs including a command trailer, a communication van with pretty much any mode of communications you might want, portable repeaters, generator, and a lot more.
Not only does this club have an enormous amount of equipment to lend, but they also have several repeaters that they maintain or work with other clubs to maintain for them. They also have a microwave linking system already in place and growing continually so that the repeater systems that they have in place will stay online even when there isn’t an internet connection. Their network stretches from Cheyenne, WY to Albuquerque, NM
They also have what they call a RMHam University. From the looks of it, this is basically classes that they have put on in different places and then put the presentation on their website for all of us to see and learn from as well.