QUICK-START

ORCA DIGITAL NET – QUICK-START GUIDE

ORCA DIGITAL NET is first and foremost a Training Net. We’re learning and practicing ARRL Directed Net protocols, digital netiquette,  and digital EMCOMM traffic-handling. We also focus on Situational Awareness and Reading Comprehension. These agendas generalize to all forms of Amateur digital-net operations. As a training net, we’re error tolerant. We’re particularly tolerant in the more complex area of digital traffic-handling where there’s a lot to learn. We’re less flexible with Directed Net Protocols and ORCA DIGITAL NET Protocols. These simple conventions are key to smooth and efficient digital networking. Monitoring stations usually outnumber participating stations. Many are learning by observation; implementing net protocols correctly creates a solid learning example for new stations.

Digital operations are computer dependent. Digital operations Require basic computer skills. Handling digital traffic often entails operations with PC applications and the file system.  For emergency operations, it’s important to have sufficient computer knowledge to resolve technical issues quickly.

ORCA is based on the FLDIGI (Fast and Light DIGItal modem program)  NBEMS (Narrow Beam Emergency Message System) software suite developed by Dave W1HKJ.  We use FLDIGI, FLMSG, and FLAMP every session. The net is brisk and interactive; NCS may engage you numerous times during the net.  If you’re not yet familiar with digital traffic-handling, check-in to ‘Monitor-only’ by sending, ‘CALLSIGN QNX’ (Monitoring/In&Out). Or, simply monitor w/o checking in. The main events are the weekly NBEMS Exercises.  The first 2 Tuesdays every month are Basic NBMES Exercise sessions.  The 3rd, 4th, and sometimes 5th, Tuesday are Advanced NBEMS Exercise sessions.  See: ‘NBEMS EXERCISE’ Tab.

The Advanced NBEMS Exercise includes a Traffic Round to complete the traffic-handling process. The Traffic Round is part of the Advanced NBEMS Exercise; we don’t process actual Traffic, emergencies excepted.

Visitors/Monitors are always welcome.  NCS logs first-time stations, ‘QNX’ (in&out/monitoring).  Monitoring stations are inactive (not-engaged) during net. New stations should check-in ‘QNX’ long enough to learn net protocols.

ORCA Agenda:
Early Check-In, 45min
Check-In
Following Check-In, NCS transmits three files:
1) A gray-scale image to help assess band conditions (30sec)
2) Ck-In/Rotation list.  (keep it handy to know your position)
3) Announcements

The weekly NBEMS Exercise is our Main Event. Pay particular attention to this exercise.  The message is brief; the exercise moves briskly.  Following the message, NCS goes quickly around the roster for FLAMP REPORTS,  prompting each station in order with their CALLSIGN only.  Know your place in rotation and wait for your CALL, then Press the REPORT button or send ‘No Copy’.  Mode may change numerous times;  have RxID active.  NCS will send all missing Blocks, or have them relayed. You may be asked to Relay. See the ‘FLAMP EXERCISE’ tab for more detail.

A Comment Round follows the NBEMS Exercise for reception reports, comments, questions, observations, brief QSTs, etc.  Here, you can keyboard live or use FLMSG Blank Form.  We’re interested in how well you received other net stations. You can add reception info to the rotation list you received from NCS and resend it during Comments. Or, keyboard live if you prefer. See Keyboard tab. If you would like to send a QST, please summarize it briefly and include a URL with your Comments in a single transmission of  +/-2min. Following the Comment round, the net closes.  After closing, we hold a brief Monitor’s Session where stations working the NBEMS Exercise silently as Monitors can FILL or CONFIRM files.

TIP: After reading this guide carefully and monitor a few sessions, Re-read the guide.  It will increase your understanding and retention.

Prerequisite Digital Skills

Digital operations are technical. They require sufficient computer, software, hardware, and radio knowledge to configure and sustain a digital station. You will be well poised to succeed with Amateur digital operations when you can:
1) Parse and Implement written instructions
2) Work a Directed digital net
3) Maintain and update your computer Operating System
4) Install, uninstall, configure, update, and troubleshoot software applications
5) Configure communications equipment forNBEMS software

Participation Path for Incoming Operators

We log incoming Ops QNX (QNI/QNX = In&Out/Monitoring) for a few sessions.  Stations logged QNX are not engaged during net. They are Monitoring the net silently, learning net Protocols and Conventions.  They can work the NBEMS Exercises as Monitors, participating silently.  Following the net, we hold a brief Monitor’s Session to FILL or CONFIRM their Exercise files.  Practice the Exercises silently along with the Active Ops and check your work in the Monitor’s Session.  You should be comfortable working the Exercises as a Monitor before checking in to participate.

There are two FLAMP Exercises, Basic and Advanced. Basic FLAMP Exercises occur on the 1st and 2nd Tuesday every month. The Advanced NBEMS Exercises occur on the 3rd, 4th, and sometimes 5th, Tuesdays every month.

Basic NBEMS Exercises have a brief file sent with FLAMP in three different modes.   After sending each mode, NCS calls each station for a Report.   CONFIRMING the file completes the Exercise.

The Advanced FLAMP Exercise is more challenging.   It’s more complex and requires more time to complete. Occasionally, it requires you to work between the NBEMS software, the PC file-system, and PC apps like a Text Editor.  You may have to COPY from the RX buffer and PASTE text into an FLMSG form, concurrently maintaining focus on your place in Rotation.

NBEMS Exercises progress quickly, like a busy Traffic or Emergency net; you need to be focused and ready to respond to NCS.  NCS may ask you to Relay Fill Blocks.  Do not work the ADVANCED Exercise until you’ve mastered the Primary Exercise. Tracking your position in the net is as important as working the Exercise. If you don’t Report when  NCS calls you, the Exercise stalls.  This reduces the effectiveness of the Exercise. A little time pressure helps simulate a busy Emergency net.

Learn the Exercises silently as a Monitor or Lurker.  When you can work them successfully while Monitoring, you’re ready to participate on-air.

PRE-TONE

Pre-Toning is a prime digital networking tactic.  Pre-Tones help prevent doubling.   A Pre-Tone is sent before your message with a brief activation of the FLDIGI ‘TUNE’ Button. A brief tone alerts other Ops that you are about to transmit.  Wait a second or so after the tone to be sure the frequency is still clear. This simple convention will eliminate most doubles.  Doubles are more troublesome in the data modes because both signals are usually garbled.  On CW and Phone, you can often catch enough of the signals to understand some of each.  Not so in the data modes.  Doubling stations must resend and often double again.  Always send a brief pre-tone when doubles are likely.

For example, when NCS calls you, reply without Pre-Tone.  Everyone expects your transmission.  When NCS asks, ‘Can anyone relay that lite station?’, doubles are likely, so you reply with a Pre-Tone.  There will still be doubles with weak stations that don’t hear everyone on the net,  but using Pre-Tone avoids the avoidable. Do not use the FLDIGI feature ‘Pre-Signal Tone’ for nets. It gives no opportunity to pause before the transmitter engages.  The automatic Pre-Signal Tone is redundant when doubling is unlikely, wasting time and bandwidth.

The ‘Pre-Signal Tone’ feature on the Config/ID/RxID tab sends an adjustable length tone before your transmission.  It cannot pause for you to check the frequency for traffic, but follows the tone directly with your transmission.  You’ve warned others of your intention to transmit, but you cannot hold your transmission if the frequency is busy.  It’s similar to honking your horn when approaching an intersection, warning others you’re about to zip through, but having no intention or ability to avoid collision. The correct use of Pre-Tone is the mark of an experienced digital Operator.  Send it manually, then Stop, Look, Listen before sending.

Check-In/Out

For your first ORCA Check-In, send CALLSIGN, NAME, QTH, QNX.  After that, we’ll remember you; please send only your CALLSIGN.  To log in as a Monitor, send ‘CALLSIGN QNX’.  Monitoring (QNX) stations are logged on the Roster, but not engaged in net events; we hold a brief Monitor’s Session for Monitoring and Lurking stations immediately after net.  ORCA is a Training net; we don’t list or process actual Traffic.

In poor band condx, send your CALLSIGN twice. If NCS doesn’t copy you, another member will probably Relay you. In really tough band condx, you may not be able to work the net. That’s radio.

Ck-In protocol is determined by NCS. Read and follow Ck-In protocol; your digital credentials are on display. Ck-In on a single line. Don’t send extraneous information at Ck-In. It’s a busy time for NCS. We’re replying to your Ck-In request while copying and pasting the Roster between two applications.  Because the RX screen scrolls, we can’t begin to copy until you stop transmitting.  You’re contributing to an orderly and efficient check-in by following Protocol and waiting while we acknowledge the previous station.

Between net events, NCS calls for late Ck-Ins; you can Ck-Out (QNX) early at these points too.  ORCA is interactive and brisk; when you miss Ck-In, please monitor until NCS calls for Late Ck-Ins.   Remember, ORCA is a Directed Net. If you have to leave early, Ck-Out with NCS.  You can get our attention at any time with a TUNE signal between transmissions or VidID at 2000wf.

Ck-In examples:
New Station = ‘K7DV Dave Idaho Falls,ID  QNX’
Known Station = ‘W1EEP’
Monitoring Station = ‘KD7CL QNX’

In poor band condx, send x2, ‘CALLSIGN CALLSIGN’

Some long-term ORCA Stations will occasionally check-in with an (*) after their callsign, ie: WA7HHE*.  These stations are not called for the NBEMS Exercise or the Traffic Round.  They are called for the Comment Round as usual.  These are seasoned digital Operators that occasionally skip the NBEMS Exercise to make room for newer Ops.  As check-ins increase, it becomes difficult to engage every Active station in a reasonable amount of time.  We try to keep the nets to +/- 1hr.

Please don’t change net-mode during ck-in. NCS determines net-mode.  If you can’t work NCS in net-mode, you won’t be able to participate.  You’re welcome to change mode for your traffic in the Traffic Round. If you do, be sure to enable TxID. If you forget, you’ll be the only station in your chosen mode.

FLAMP

FLAMP is a file transport program. We use it every session.  FLAMP breaks messages into BLOCKS, reducing the need to resend an entire file.  It works very well and has additional features useful for bulletin broadcasting.  It doesn’t auto start, so you should have it configured and running before you need it.  FLDIGI can be configured to auto-start FLAMP from the Auto-Start tab.  Long files are compressed by FLAMP; they cannot be read in the FLDIGI RX buffer; some can be read in the FLAMP ‘Data’ window when complete. They also open normally in their native  program.  FLAMP can process almost any file type, including images and music files.

FETCH and RELAY are important features on the FLAMP Receive tab.  FETCH copies all missing BLOCKS into the ‘blocks’ window.  RELAY transmits these BLOCKS.  If the ‘blocks’ window is empty, RELAY sends the entire file.  Fill blocks don’t have to come from the originating station.  Stations needing fills may  better copy a stronger station that has verified the BLOCKS.  You can erase BLOCK numbers from the ‘blocks’ window to send the entire file, or enter BLOCK numbers in the window as needed.  When FLAMP indicates it missed the ‘Preamble’, enter a ‘0’ (zero) in the ‘blocks’ window to resend the Preamble.

WEEKLY NBEMS EXERCISE

ORCA’s main event is the weekly NBEMS Exercise. There are two Exercises, Basic and Advanced. The first two Tuesdays every month are Basic NBEMS Exercise sessions. The 3rd, 4th,  and occasionally 5th, Tuesdays are Advanced NBEMS Exercise sessions. The Basic Exercise accommodates twelve stations. It entails copying a brief file in FLAMP and Reporting reception progress and/or CONFIRMED when NCS calls for Reports.

The ADVANCED exercise accommodates 8 stations. It entails creating and manipulating files in your PC file system and includes a Traffic Round for the files created. With practice, it can be completed in time for the Traffic Round. The Advanced exercise prepares you to manipulate files on your PC during Traffic and Emergency nets. If you don’t complete the Advanced Exercise in time for the Traffic Round, send QRU when called for Traffic. You can complete the Exercise as the net progresses and CONFIRM your file in the after-net Monitor’s Session.

The key to both Exercises is maintaining focus on net flow and your position in the net. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss NCS calling for your Report. The Exercises move briskly, simulating busy Emergency and Traffic nets. After sending the Exercise file in FLAMP, NCS prompts members for a reception REPORT with their CALLSIGN only. Stay aware of your position in rotation. When prompted, press the REPORT Button to send your report. If you didn’t copy or have FLAMP issues, send ‘NO COPY’. NCS will send FILL blocks to complete your file. Or, NCS may ask another station to RELAY the blocks you need. NCS may also ask you to Relay Fill Blocks.

Monitoring stations that work the Exercise silently can Fill or CONFIRM their files in the after-net Monitor’s Session. See ‘Monitor’s Session’ Tab.

Q-Codes

Are  CW Q-Codes used on Digital Nets? Absolutely! Some Q-Codes are equally useful on digital nets as CW nets. We save time and bandwidth by using Q-codes to send standard questions and statements with only three characters. Here are the Q-Codes we us on ORCA:

QTH = location
QNX = request to be excused from net
QRP = low pwr, <5w
QRZ = who’s calling

Checking in to Monitor the net with ‘URCALL QNX,’ is the same as sending ‘URCALL QNI QNX’.  I want to ck-in and immediately be excused from the net. Brief and concise is a digital Operator’s axiom. To check in&out (Monitor), send, ‘URCALL QNX’. QNI is assumed.

In addition to  Q-Codes, we use a number of CW/Digital abbreviations and shorthand:
NCS = Net Control Station
BK = Break
BTN = back to net
TU = thank you
TNX = thanks
TX = transmit
RX = receive
HW = How
CPY = copy
VY = very
SRI = sorry
STN = station
FB = fine business ( great, good 2 hear)
RR = roger
NIL = none, nothing heard
OP = Operator
UR = your, you are
WF = waterfall
HV = have
FREQ = frequency
RADO = radio Op
HZ = hertz
SIG = signal
PWR = power
ANT= antenna
2 = to
4 = for

MONITOR’S SESSION

Monitoring stations can work the NBEMS Exercises silently and check their work in the after-net Monitor’s Session. Immediately after net we take a quick Roster and Fill or CONFIRM files for Monitoring stations. This is the path to learning the Exercises w/o time pressure. Incoming stations learn ORCA DIGITAL NET Protocols and conventions as Monitors. Ck-In QNX for enough sessions to learn net operations and the NBEMS Exercises.

The on-air Exercises move briskly, simulating busy Emergency and Traffic nets. For the on-air Exercises, your prime task is paying close attention to net flow, so you’re aware of your place in the net and prepared to respond when NCS calls you. Work the Exercises silently while Monitoring until you’re comfortable and confident. When you’re ready to go live, begin with the Basic Exercise and work it a few sessions before working the Advanced NBEMS Exercise.

KEYBOARD

Your Keyboard is central to digital communications.  Once your station is configured, most activity is through the keyboard.  Some digital Ops compose their thoughts in the TX buffer before sending.  This insures the message is clear concise and spelled perfectly.  It looks great and sends our thoughts in their best form.  But, it takes a lot more time.   While you compose and edit, the other net Ops are idle.  On a busy net, these long blanks add up quickly.  Better digital comm strategy is typing into the TX buffer while transmitting.  We all make typos and mis-spell words now and then. Radio Operators can read around typos and mis-spelling easily, or they’ll question what they don’t understand.

If you’re not typing while sending, begin in QSOs with your friends.  They’ll appreciate the brisker pace of the QSO.  Soon, you’ll be comfortable with the tactic.  We don’t like the entire net to see us back up and correct, but it’s more efficient than pre-composing and polishing each transmission.  Soon, your typing and confidence will increase and the skill will become subconscious.  Even though you may type slowly, you will reduce dead-air time. Your digital colleagues will appreciate your effort.

 

CALLSIGN Lookup by WM7D

Download Path Evaluation Macro Files

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FEMA Region X HF Interoperability Testing (60m)


FEMA Region X Monthly Interoperability NET, which comprises Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, conducts a monthly interoperability communications exercise on the 60-meter band. This exercise often includes a voice portion and a digital portion.

FEMA Region X uses the call sign of WGY910. The COMMEX occurs on the third Wednesday of the month from 1730 to 1900Z. Primary check-in is usually on 60-meter channel 1.

FEMA Region X Monthly Interoperability NET

3rd Wednesday 1730Z - 1900Z
Channel 1: 5330.5 kHz
Channel 2: 5346.5 kHz
Channel 3: 5357.0 kHz
Channel 4: 5371.5 kHz
Channel 5: 5403.5 kHz
1730Z Open net, delay check-ins
60M - CH1
1735Z NCS sends 1st dig msg
60M - BPSK31 - CH 2
1740Z NCS repeats 1st dig msg using alt mode
60M - MT63-2KL CH2
1745Z NCS calls for check-ins and reports
60M - CH1
1815Z NCS TX 2nd digital msg
60M - BPSK31 - CH 2
1825Z NCS reTX 2nd dig msg using alt mode
60M - MT63-2KL - CH 2
1827Z NCS calls for reports
60M - CH 1
1850Z NCS closes the net
60M - CH 1

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SHORTWAVE RADIOGRAM

Shortwave Radiogram transmits digital text and images on an analog shortwave broadcast transmitter. The program is produced and presented by Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott KD9XB. Shortwave Radiogram continues VOA Radiogram's tradition testing new modes and is an interesting source for Digital Ops wishing to practice more with FLDIGI & FLAMP.
 

Shortwave Radiogram Transmission Schedule (AM)

Fri 2030-2100 UTC
7780 kHz
9455 kHz
WRMI Florida
Sat 1600-1630 UTC
9400 kHz
Space Line, Bulgaria
Sun 2330-2400 UTC
7780 kHz
WRMI Florida
Mon 0800-0830 UTC
7730 kHz
5850 kHz
WRMI Florida

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