July 3rd, 2010

Realtime Cloud Logging to Spot Band Openings

(Note: This is a total ham radio geek-out entry, so if such things make your eyes glaze over, be advised that there's an extreme glaze warning in effect until at least tomorrow morning.)

Anyway. I stumbled on a band opening yesterday by accident: I scanned the 6 meter band, expecting its usual near-silence, and instead heard something like a continuous pileup from 50.2 up to 50.6. Such openings happen semiregularly, especially in the summer and during sunspot maxima, but they're not reliably present when you want them. Typically, people either monitor the bands for openings using a panadaptor (a way to visualize the whole band at once, often built into high-end radios) or they hear about it from their friends via Skype or some other chat system. (Hey Jeff! 6 is going batshit nuts!)

While copying my notesheet to my log last night, I thought of a better way. Suppose there were a sophisticated Web app allowing people to record their contacts in a central database off in the cloud somewhere. Serious contesters work their radios with both hands on a keyboard these days anyway, but they're logging their contacts locally, on their own PCs. If enough people were logging enough contacts online in realtime, you could plot those contacts on a map as great-circle lines between one station and another. If you wanted, you could age the plots, so that a given line was displayed on the map for a selectable period of time, say the past fifteen minutes. Older plots would vanish and new ones would be continually added. What you'd have is a lookback time window onto what's happening on the ham bands, plotted geographically. If you click on the "6 Meters" map and alluva sudden there's a thick web of lines between Colorado and the east coast, you'd know that there's a band opening underway.

This would be possible in part because the geographical coordinate locations of stations are implicit in logged contacts. Base (at home) stations are licensed by the FCC to particular addresses, and these addresses are matters of public record, easily queried by software. Mobile stations aren't required to be at any particular location, but GPS logging for mobiles is possible, and I think has been done, if not commercially. Plus, there's another way: More and more people (especially on higher bands like 6 meters) log the "grid squares" of the stations that they've worked. There's a system for tagging 2 degree by 1 degree rectangles of the Earth's surface, such that each rectangle has a 4-character callout. (There are an additional two characters of precision that almost no one uses.) My own is DM78. Here's a map for the US and for the Earth as a whole. Plotting a line between DM78 and EM94 isn't hugely precise, but it will tell you that radio signals are propagating usefully between central Colorado and northern South Carolina, and that's all most of us need to know to make us scramble downstairs and turn the radio on.

I think this is one case where doing something out in the cloud that was previously done locally provides benefits that local storage alone does not. The whole point is to brag about how many locations you've worked worldwide, so privacy is not an issue. (If it is, just keep your logs local.) And the benefit of online collaboration is knowing just what propagation paths are open at any given moment of the day. I'd pay a quarter for that, or at least provide data by logging contacts.

I looked around just now to see how close we are, and whereas there are a couple of online logging systems in operation, they are nothing even close to realtime, and none that I can see makes any attempt to plot propagation paths for logged QSOs. That said, nothing I call out here is rocket science.

So. Did I miss something somewhere? And if not, what Ajax wizard is going to give this a try?