Live Field Day QSO and Information Display

Update: I’ve rewritten chunks of the Perl code to make it work on both Linux and Windows (using DwimPerl).  For Windows, you’ll need to make one change to the plot-latlong Perl script that you get from the CAIDA site.  Add the line:

binmode STDOUT;

early in the plot-latlong script.  I put it at line 92.  Thanks to Steve N4TTY for motivating me to make these necessary changes.

Looking to add a little “eye candy” to enhance interest at your next public operating event? That’s exactly what the Albemarle Amateur Radio Club (AARC, www.albemarleradio.org) was looking to do for our 2015 Field Day site. As a part of our overall plan to up our game in community outreach and recruitment of new hams, we decided to hold our Field Day at the Charlottesville-UVA-Albemarle Emergency Communications Center. We planned a public information booth at the Field Day site, and included a large-screen display with a loop of information about amateur radio, a display such as you might see in a local business or public office. This is what it looks like (http://concerto.kq9p.us/frontend/2). I hope that this adds a little pizzazz to your next public operating event.

KQ9PDigitalInfoDisplay

I’m a big fan of open source and software reuse, so I started looking around for existing tools for map creation and digital information displays. It turns out there is a great variety of options for open source digital information displays at various levels of capability and complexity. I chose the very fine Concerto project out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) (http://www.concerto-signage.org). It is easy to install and configure; supports any display that can run a Web browser; can display a variety of content including images, movies, and Web pages; and produces a very professional-looking display with little effort. It requires a Linux server, so find one of your buddies with that skillset to help with installation. Content is managed via a Web interface and requires no special computer skills. We filled our display with information about the various activities available in amateur radio and with attention-grabbing pictures illustrating the many aspects of the hobby.

Since this was an operating event, I thought “why not include live information about our on-the-air activities?” I decided to create maps of our operating success updated throughout the course of Field Day.

This turned out to be the tough part. There are a number of Web-based tools that will take an ADIF file and produce a map of contacts, and some of the popular logging programs have a mapping function built in. I needed something that could be automated, though, updating the contact maps regularly and without human intervention. Extensive searching for an existing solution turned up nothing.

Perl to the rescue! I wrote a set of Perl and shell scripts that automate the process of going from ADIF file to finished map on the Concerto server.

(Download qsomap.zip)

There are three steps to the process.

First we had to get a copy of our log in ADIF format. AARC uses the N3FJP ARRL Field Day Contest Log software (http://www.n3fjp.com), which produces a backup ADIF file every 15 minutes. Logging software typically either stores contacts natively in ADIF format or will produce an ADIF file on request, so any logging software your group chooses should work fine. (The N3FJP software will also upload an HTML file with stats such as contacts, points, and contact rate, which I included in our display.)

Next, we needed to get the ADIF file to the computer where the mapping would place. You can run the mapping script on the logging server, but I decided to run it on the Concerto server to minimize on-site complexity. I enabled FTP on the Concerto server to support both the built-in status HTML upload from the N3FJP Logger and my upload of the ADIF file. (The security folks are certainly rolling their eyes at the thought of FTP; I’ve already figured out how to do it more securely next time. . . .) I used the Watch 4 Folder tool (free for watching a single folder at http://leelusoft.blogspot.com/p/watch-4-folder-25.html) to trigger the upload of the ADIF file when the N3FJP Logger creates a new backup. Alternatively, I could have used the built-in Windows Task Scheduler to run the script on a schedule.

We then needed to turn the ADIF file into a map. As with digital information displays, there are lots of open source choices in the geographic information systems (GIS) space, but most of them have a steep learning curve. I chose the plot-latlong tool (http://www.caida.org/tools/visualization/plot-latlong/) from the Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) for its simplicity and ease-of-use. I was aided by an excellent article on the IBM developerWorks Web site (http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/os-perlgdplot/) explaining how to take the very simple plot-latlong output and label it with any additional information you wish. Again, I chose to trigger execution of the Perl script on upload of the ADIF file using the incron system; you could use cron to execute the script on a schedule, if you prefer. The finished image file containing the labeled map is deposited in the public directory of the Web server where it is immediately accessible to Concerto.

Finally, one of my fellow club members suggested that in addition to the public display it would be helpful to have a separate display facing the operating positions. On that second display we focused on the operating progress maps and status, and included some live HF propagation and solar activity images and graphs to aid our operators in selecting the most effective bands at any given time. Feedback on this live operating information was very positive.

All-in-all, this was a fun and useful project. If you have an upcoming event that is open to the public I encourage you to adopt some modern electronic marketing technology and include a digital information display in your outreach efforts.

73, Mike KQ9P