[pskmail] (Long) Report of "extensive" use of PSKmail while crossing the Pacific Ocean

  • From: Christian Wagner <wagnerschristian@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: pskmail@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 9 Jul 2012 03:09:51 -0500

(Long) Report of "extensive" use of PSKmail while crossing the Pacific
ocean from Panama to the Marquesas May/April 2012

We just finished our Pacific crossing. The server used primarily was
the one of KB2PNM- thank you here again for your wonderful service.
Even if we where well over 2500 nautical miles apart, the connection
was possible quite reliably. During the second half of the crossing
things got more complicated as the propagation got worse and I also
got a lot of QRM from some automatic stations on the same frequency
which was really frustrating. Since these tended to come on frequency
just at the end of some huge download, the download could not be
finished during the session then. I had to wait sometimes a couple of
hours to finish the download. So in the first half I used PSK250R a
lot- it is a very reliable mode and it also is reasonably fast. In the
end I had to use a lot of THOR22, mostly because of the QRMers. Slower
modes weren't used because of the longer duration of transmission
which resulted in drained batteries. If THOR22 didn't work, I tried
another day.

I used mostly email and Grib file download. In the beginning I also
downloaded some news sites to keep up to date with whats going on in
the world, but after a week or so I became a participant in a ham
radio net ("Pacific Island Net") and it was much more fun to get your
general news and gossip that way. BTW, I'm quite happy to report that
my rig works beautifully acording to the Net Operator my signal is
very good (5-8/9 on good days, 5-5 on bad ones) compared to a lot of
other yachts. Also, I could receive other yachts much better than many
of the other listeners.

Generally I found the 20 meter band much more reliable than 30 m. But
this was the case in the carribean also.
Also, I found that propagation during the night was much better than
during the day, so I ended up in using PSKmail between 0.00 and 2.00h
local time. Not much of a problem when under way since then someone is
up anyways, but when on anchorage it will be very inconvenient I
think.

Bottomline: we need more servers in the Pacific. Would it be possible
for some of the US- servers on the west coast to switch to 20 Meters?
I will be happy to do some testing when my other internet connection
is better so that we can coordinate a bit better?
Since we will be spending the Winter/Summer in New Zealand I hope I
can convince some of the local OMs to start a PSKmailserver of their
own to get a better coverage the South Pacific.

About half a Megabyte (about 80-90 mails) where downloaded in about
1,5 months. My estimation is that the uploaded mails were less in
volume, because they were kept short due to the longer transmission
times and battery life. We got our Grib files every couple of days,
stayed in touch with our friends and updated our blog- all with
PSKmail.
So, our basic communication needs where fulfilled.

As allways the better is the enemy of the good, so here are my
suggestions for making PSKmail even better:

Automatize some tasks like up-/ and download of multiple emails:
The place on my boat where I do the PSKmail stuff is not very
comfortable, especially in heavy weather, so not being there helps a
lot in keeping your sanity.
The problem is that when using PSKmail I find myself glued to the
screen and watching modechanges, general traffic and especially, to
minimize total airtime, the end of one downloaded email to immediately
start the next. This could be automated:
I like the way PSKmail first downloads the headers and then lets you
choose which mails you really want to download.
But couldn't one choose the emails you want, all at one time, and let
the client download them one after the other without user interaction?
Also, why couldn't you just upload all of your mails in the outbox
without user interaction? (Something like an "upload all" button)

BTW, IMHO the little "involvement" with the process is precisely the
reason why they don't give a sh*t about QRMing over existing QSOs-
they just don't listen if the frequency is in use (OK, here I'm
probably exagerating by extrapolating from two use cases I whitnessed.
Idon't think allthe Winlink users are like these particularly folks.)

Bug in Header/ Inbox panels:
After reception of a mail the view changes to inbox while the Folder
Headers on the left is still highlighted. If you then click on an all
ready downloaded mail (Get or Open), it will send a command to the
server to download it again.

Mails should be sorted by date- latest on top! I scrolled like a
thousand times down all the Headers and Inbox folders.

The mails in the outbox folder should be editable. Due to my brain I
forget quite a lot of stuff, so it happens with about every other mail
that I want to add something after I wrote the original version.
Currently this is only possible when I copy & paste the old mail
content into a new mail draft and then delete the original version in
the outbox folder.

Grib file center position should be chosen independently from your own
position. Because, quite often when on the move you are more
interested in the weather ahead of you, not centered on your current
position.
So why not have a little popup window there it lets you choose the
grib files center position, probably have default values allready in
the input fields with your current position.

Pos. Button has to move to the APRS Tab. I'did so many wrong positions
because my GPS- mouse lost contact at the USB plug (salty environments
make for bad connections) and jpskmail defaulted to an old position
which I didn't realize because I have no indication of that in the
Terminal tab. Also the current position should be entered right in the
fields of the APRS tab to streamline the whole operation. Right now
the workflow looks a bit like this on board of our ship:
If you enter your position manually you have to go to
1. Edit -> Preferences, click on dd.mm to convert and then go back to
2. APRS tab to check position, enter your short message text (e.g. all
well on board etc.) and then go back to
3. Terminal tab and hit Pos.- button.
It would be much nicer IMHO to go to APRS tab, enter your current
position and the short message text there and hit Pos. Button, all on
the same tab.

Current Modes in use on my client are:
PSK250, PSK250R, MFSK32, THOR22
Ultra robust modes (read: ultra slow) are probably nice to have
academicaly, but PSKmail is there to transmit data, so you want speed
as well, because you want to be finished before next year also.
I found that FSK modes are much more robust than PSK- why not
implement MFSK64 for example- anybody tried that one?
For non- American Servers I'd suggest something like that as a default:
PSK500, PSK500R, PSK250R, MFSK64, MFSK32, THOR22
Forget the slower modes...
On the other hand, I found that we ended up with THOR22 quite often,
so in practice, the propagation wasn't very good over the long
distance. So I don't think mobile stations gain much from the
development of even faster modes.

Sometimes, due to stupidity on my side, I downloaded the headers
multiple times- this should not be allowed by the client. Something
like a warning that "you already requested new headers from the server
and do you really want to proceed or something".

BTW, just out of personal interest: PSK500 can't be used in the US
because of some weird law I read somewhere. What about Pactor3
stations- much more baud, much more bandwidth. Aren't they are banned
too?

Cheers, Christian

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