Getting Started with Active DX Identification and Analytics
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, VHF and UHF spotting networks began moving from voice repeaters to VHF and UHF PacketClusters that exploited personal computers. In the mid 1990s, the Internet's Telnet protocol was used to construct a network of DXClusters, making it easy for any DXer to monitor spots -- reports of active DX stations -- on his or her Internet-connect computer.
Being aware of DX stations that are currently active or have recently been active, on what bands, and in what modes provides valuable insight to the modern DXer, particularly if the locations from which a DX station was heard are known:
- actual (as opposed to forecast) band openings are revealed
- operating patterns of specific DX stations can be deduced, increasing the probability of making a future QSO
Identifying a currently active DX station as being needed for one or more awards the DXer is pursuing provides the opportunity to make a QSO that will advance award progress.
Viewing raw spots in a scrolling window as they arrive from a PacketCluster or DXCluster requires the DXer to perform the above analyses - a challenging task even with a single source of spots and one or two award objectives. SpotCollector ingests raw spots from multiple PacketClusters and DXClusters and processes them in real time to provide continuous answers to these questions:
- what DX stations are currently active, on what bands, and in what modes?
- from what locations is each active DX station being reported?
which active DX stations are needed needed for any of the awards the DXer is pursuing?
- what bands are currently open from the DXer's QTH, and to what continents?
- what bands have been open from the DXer's QTH at what times in the past, and to what continents?
To accomplish this, SpotCollector captures DX spots from up to 6 spot sources:
a local PacketCluster, by way of a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) attached to one of your PC's serial ports
the DX Summit spotting network, by way of the #CQDX IRC channel
up to four telnet-accessible DXClusters.
Collecting spots from multiple sources is useful because some spot sources report DX from some geographic areas faster than from other areas, and because individual sources can occasionally become unavailable or inaccessible. SpotCollector combines DX Spots for the same station/frequency/mode and stores them in a Database of Active DX Stations on your PC that can be simultaneously displayed in a table, on a world map, in a bandspread display, and to reveal actual propagation:
By using spots to track active DX stations, the DXer can see current band openings from his or her QTH, observe propagation patterns over time, and discover the operating habits of needed DX stations. If you are using DXKeeper to log QSOs and track progress against DXing awards, SpotCollector will use font color to identify active DX stations that are needed for one or more of the DXCC, IOTA, Leaderboard, Marathon, VUCC, WAS, WAZ, or WPX awards you're pursuing, as specified in your DXing objectives; when you work or confirm a needed DX station, SpotCollector automatically updates the information it displays to reflect the new status. You can configure SpotCollector to audibly announce newly-reported DX stations that meet specified criteria, and to alert you via email.
PacketClusters and DXClusters also convey WWV spots -- reports from the United States National Institute of Standard's radio station WWV that include information relevant to HF radio propagation: the Solar Flux Index (SFI), the Boulder A-index, and the Boulder K-index. SpotCollector captures and records this information, and presents it in a graphical view illustrating the behavior of these indices over the most recent 31 days. Clicking the History button in the WWV panel in the upper left corner of SpotCollector's Main window displays this window:
You can examine each of the three indices individually by checking or unchecking the SFI, A, and K boxes in the lower corners of the display. Given the sun's 27-day rotation period, this information can also be helpful in predicting future HF propagation. SpotCollector automatically conveys this information to PropView.
On installation, SpotCollector comes preconfigured with connection information for several spot sources, but you must specify a username and password before a spot source can be enabled to supply spots. Start by connecting to the cluster known as DX Spots:
click the Config button to open SpotCollector's Configuration window and select the Spot Sources tab.
in the Telnet DXClusters panel, you'll find connection information for the DX Spots cluster in the top-most sub-panel.
check the Auto box; this will configure SpotCollector to automatically connect to the DX Spots cluster on startup
leave the Hide box unchecked
type your callsign into the Username textbox
if you have previously used the DX Spots cluster and have established a password, type this password into the Password textbox; otherwise, leave the Password textbox empty
click the Spot button; this directs SpotCollector to route outgoing spots via the DX Spots cluster
check the Enable box; a new window entitled DX Spots will appear on screen, and this window's large Received Data pane should show SpotCollector connecting to the DX Spots cluster on your behalf
to verify the connection, type SH/DX into the text box immediately below the Received Data pane, and then strike the Enter key
- the Received Data pane should then display the ten most recent DX spots
close the DX Spots window by clicking the X button in its upper right corner
via the Power Options section of the Windows Control Panel, configure Windows to never put your computer in hibernation, sleep, or standby mode
via the Network section of the Windows Control Panel, configure Windows to never power down the wired or wireless adapter by which your computer is connected to the internet
The Spot Database Display in SpotCollector's main window is a scrollable grid with entries for each DX station operating near a particular frequency in a particular mode. Each Spot Database Entry includes
the DX station's callsign
the frequency on which the DX station was most recently spotted
the mode being used by the DX station (in not specified in the spot notes, inferred based on frequency and the current Sub-band Definition file
the first time (in UTC) at which the DX station was spotted near this frequency in this mode
the last time (in UTC) at which the DX station was spotted on this frequency in this mode
the most recent notes accompanying a spot of this DX station
Spot Database Entries are automatically constructed and updated as incoming DX spots arrive at from spot sources like DX Central. Unless the bands are dead, you should already see a few entries.
You can sort Spot Database Entries, and you can filter the Spot Database Display to show only entries matching a particular callsign, DXCC entity, band, mode, continent, origin (location of the stations that spotted the DX) or combinations thereof.
- red: a QSO with this station will give you a new DXCC entity, entity-band, or entity-mode, or a new CQ WAZ zone, zone-band, zone-mode, or zone-band-mode
- blue: a QSO with this station will give you a new way of confirming a worked but still uncomfirmed DXCC entity, entity-band, entity-mode, CQ zone, zone-band, zone-mode, or zone-band-mode
- black: a QSO with this station will not advance your progress
You can direct Commander to display a Bandspread Window showing active DX Stations with this color-coding.
There are several ways to determine why a Spot Database Entry is needed.
Double-clicking a Spot Database Entry will convey the entry's callsign, frequency, mode, and grid square to Commander, DXKeeper, DXView, PropView, and/or Pathfinder, enabling them to QSY your transceiver to the appropriate frequency and mode, rotate your antenna, display DX information, prepare to log a QSO, prepare to predict propagation, and/or prepare to seek QSL information. If WinWarbler is running,
Double-clicking a Spot Database Entry whose mode is PSK31, PSK63, PSK125, or RTTY will convey the entry's callsign, frequency, mode, and grid square to WinWarbler, which will populate its QSO Info panel with this information and direct Commander to QSY your transceiver to the appropriate frequency and mode
Double-clicking a Spot Database Entry whose mode is CW, SSB, AM, or FM will only convey the entry's callsign, frequency, mode, and grid square to WinWarbler if that mode's box is checked in the Service column in the Actions with Digital Mode Application connection panel on the General tab of SpotCollector's Configuration window
Information from most recent WWV spot is displayed in the Main window's WWV panel. To see a graphical view of propagation parameters over the most recent 31 days, click the WWV panel's History button to display the Solary & Geogmagnetic Parameters window.
Managing Spot Sources
Whenever you start SpotCollector, it will automatically connect to the spot sources specified on the Configuration window's Spot Sources tab; you may find it convenient to check the Hide button for each spot source to keep their individual Spot Source windows hidden.
Some DXClusters are parts of a sub-network that permits only a single connection. For example, if DXClusters A and B are part of the same sub-network and you are connected to A, connecting to B will cause the connection with A to silently drop. If SpotCollector is configured to automatically reconnect dropped connections, then when SpotCollector reconnects with A, the connection with B will silently drop. When SpotCollector reconnects with B, the connection with A will silently drop - ad infinitum. Thus after configuring SpotCollector to connect to a new DXCluster, monitor the messages in its Spot Source window for a few minutes; if you see a spontaneous reconnection, the new DXCluster may be part of a sub-network to which you are already connected, in which case you should choose a different DXCluster.
SpotCollector's Main window provides a Spot source status panel containing six LED-like indicators to show the status of your spot sources, where
red means disconnected
yellow means connection in progress
green means connected
Clicking one of these indicators displays its associated spot source's window; double-clicking the Spot source status panel's caption displays the Configuration window's Spot Sources tab, from which you can specify and select spot sources.
If a spot sources's status indicator remains yellow, it means that SpotCollector has not received a message from the source of the form
YourCallsign de ClusterCallsign
where YourCallsign is the Username specified for the cluster on the Configuration window's Spot Sources tab. Some clusters permit you to specify a non-standard prompt. To correct this, send the cluster this command via SpotCollector's Spot Source window for that cluster:
DXClusters that utilize DX Spider can be configured to disable the "prompt sequence" that enables SpotCollector to confirm that you've logged in, preventing the cluster's tatus indicator from advancing from yellow to green. To correct this, send the cluster this command via SpotCollector's Spot Source window for that cluster:
Automatically Updating the Spot Database and WWV History on Startup
click the Config button to open SpotCollector's Configuration window and select the Spot Sources tab.
in the Initial Cluster command panel,
paste this command into the Command box: SH/WWV/36<13><10>SH/DX/100<13><10>set/dxgrid
check the Enable box
Now when SpotCollector starts up, it will direct each cluster to report the most recent 100 DX spots and the most recent WWV spots