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Old 08-01-2008, 11:13   #1
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Inexpensive Pactor 1 Text-Only Email from the High Seas

Inexpensive Pactor 1 text-only email from the High Seas.

For less than $100 you can email anybody from anywhere for FREE, if you have a Ham radio license. These are really easy to get nowadays. (Morse code is no longer required.)






I use an old Kantronics Kam Plus HF Modem (TNC) with Pactor 1 capability (important), for sending and receiving E-mail from the Internet on my laptop hundreds of miles out to sea and from the woods, using Winlink2000.

Any of the following TNC's should also work for an inexpensive Pactor 1 connection:

Kantronics Kam +
Kantronics Kam 98
Kantronics Kam XL
PK 232
PK 900
DSP 1232
DSP 2232
MFJ 1276
MFJ 12788
DXP 38

All supported by Airmail 3.3 e-mail software for both Winlink and Sailmail.

Winlink2000 would like everybody to use very expensive Pactor 2 and Pactor 3 TNC's (HF Modems) for faster connections, (and thus shorter connection times), but these TNC's are outside of the scope of reality for Africa, in my humble opinion.

However, if you do have the money, then by all means buy one of the SCS PTC II TNC's, at +/- $800 to $1200 a piece.

The Kam cost less than $100 on the used market (Ebay), (or sits idle in your shack since your Packet Radio days), and I had the radio, cheap manual antenna tuner and laptop anyway. (Plus a Ham Radio license).

It can only do Pactor 1 at about 200 baud, but that is fast enough to do text-only E-mail, the length of this post, in about 15 seconds, or so.

I connect it to my old Icom 735 Ham radio through the microphone socket, but it can also be connected to the accesory plug at the back.

If your wire interface or harness (between the transceiver and the TNC)was professionally built, then you are definately good to go.
If you did it yourself, just check and double check your work and soldering. (See the links later on for wiring diagrams.)

Watch out for ground loops.
I would say, as a rule of thumb, if your transceiver and the tuner is grounded (they should be), then do not have any ground wires connected in your interface wire or harness between the TNC and the transceiver. This causes a hum when the ground wire in the harness is connected, due to different phasing in the slower or faster ground wire connection, compared to your main ground connection to the transceiver and tuner.

If nothing works, I have disconnected all wires on my interface harness, and just left the TNC's audio transmit line connected. Now open the vox on your transmitter and set it to key the transmitter when you hit the green connect dot on Airmail's Terminal Window. This crude arrangement works. However, you could then reconnect your other wires one by one untill you get a workable arrangement without having to use the vox. Once again, try not to use the ground wire in the harness.

I assume you know how to tune your transmitter and load it up on a desired Ham radio frequency.
I assume you are a Ham.
I assume your computer talks to your Kam. (Airmail 3.3 does this automatically - no need for other software).
I assume your Kam can do Pactor 1 (important) - see the specs. You need firmware version 7.0 or thereabouts, but if it says it can do Pactor, you are good.
I assume you downloaded Airmail version 3.3
Find a Winlink2000 frequency in your area here: http://users.iafrica.com/z/zs/zs5s/bulls/PMBO.TXT For the Kam, (Pactor 1 only), use the frequencies without the # (Pactor 3 only.)
Copy and paste this whole list into Airmail and update the frequency list (see the Airmail Help file).


Now:

Turn everything on.
Call up Airmail on your computer.
Open the Terminal window (Far right icon on your tool bar up top)
After a few seconds,it should say: "Kam modem initialized OK" in the Terminal window.
Tune your transceiver for the desired band (7Mhz, 10Mhz, 14Mhz, 21Mhz)
Highlight the frequency up top on the Terminal page with your mouse and cursor.
Now set the transceiver's dial frequency to the frequency displayed at the bottom of the Terminal page.
Tune up the transmitter with the antenna tuner.
Run only about 60 - 70 Watts (or less). - Pactor has a very high duty cycle, and your rig will warm up, if you run full power. This is adequate power for 1000 NM or more.
Make sure you are on LSB (Lower Side Band ) for ALL bands.
LSB is the traditional Pactor mode, however, Winlink2000 now advises to use USB. Bottom line, if you set your audio tone up as LSB, then use LSB. If USB, then use USB. (Tools, Options, Connection from Airmail's menu bar.)
Click on the "Transmit" icon in the Terminal Window (Green dot) (After listening out for any other Ham activity on the frequency)
Your Kam should now make your transmitter cycle through transmit and receive.
Listen to your signal with a portable radio on LSB, or from another yacht (RF gain turned way down!). The signal should be a nice, clear audio chirping (Not hoarse). Hoarse, means RF in the system, or ground loop in action, or overdriving the audio into the transceiver.

If you hit a PMBO, you will eventually, after a few seconds (up to about 15 secs), hear Pactor chirping coming back in your receive cycle.
Two green lights (Lock and Val) should come on, on your Kam. ("Val" only comes on, when an excellent signal is present - look for a frequency and time that gives you this, for a faster connection, but the system works (just slower) without "Val " on.
Read the message in the Terminal window.
You are in business !!!

Open any unread e-mails in the message index window after all activity stops.

Try all PMBO,s within 1000NM, on all frequencies at different times of the day, untill you find a good, clear, fast connection, and log all settings and times for future ease of use.

All the above might work for Sailmail as well, but since I don't have a Sailmail account, I did not test it yet.

Here is some more info:
>
> Definately read "A Pactor Primer",
> http://www.airmail2000.com/pprimer.htm
> Good general info here.
>
> See the "Help File" in Airmail
> Specific info about your radio and Kam and USB ports
> to serial ports, in the
> file.
>
> See more on Sailmail and download Airmail here:
> http://www.airmail2000.com/down.htm
>
> And http://www.spaceyideas.com/ozzie/pinouts.html
>
> The system is not "Plug and play", and needs a
> little research and free
> consultation, but works excellent and inexpensively
> when done.
>
> Once all is set up, it could be tested on Winlink 2000 Winlink 2000 (free to Hams), or
> Sailmail ($250/year for sailboaters worldwide)

Easy, and cheap for Hams who are far away from the Internet, though.

Excellent for emergency communications.

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Old 08-01-2008, 11:54   #2
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Very good, OM! Your post is a good reminder of what's really necessary to get the job done - basic tools and some motivation. Getting maximum speed requires buying into the closed-source proprietary protocol (which is hugely irritating to me, as this is ham radio, not corporate computing), but the open-source alternatives in the spirit of amateur radio are, as a friend recently put it, still at the science-project level.

Nice to be reminded that the retro stuff still works...

By the way, the other interesting digital protocol that has a lot of buzz these days, although not tied in with the Internet-connected gateways of Sailmail and Winlink, is PSK31. It works beautifully with low-power rigs and is very resource efficient... and intelligible communications can be extracted from very sloppy propagation conditions. I'm building a NUE-PSK modem into my nav station.

73 de N4RVE
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Old 08-01-2008, 21:53   #3
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I've been keeping my eye on PSKmail - pskmail home since they've already got about 10 mailservers online. It's quite a bit 'fatter' than PSK31 though.
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Old 09-01-2008, 06:38   #4
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Very few PMBO's support Pactor 1. Maybe not any.
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Old 09-01-2008, 07:42   #5
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All good info. Just keep in mind that, if operating with a U.S. issued license, any communications done must be free of the normally prohibited categories such as business related and stuff content normally available through commercial venues.
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Old 09-01-2008, 07:57   #6
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"Getting maximum speed requires buying into the closed-source proprietary protocol "
For now, but that is open to change. Elsewhere I read that the Pactor3 patent was granted in the 90's, but the the grantees did not make a patent payment apparently due in the 8th year of the patent--so technically, the patent for Pactor3 may be abandoned or voided for non-payment of fees. (Not a lawyer, don't know the details.)
If that's so, it would allow others to use the same protocol, and possibly implement it in software on the computers instead of requiring expensive hardware. If you know any engineer/programmer types interested in serving a small cheap market (ham radio worldwide) this is something that might interest them.
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Old 09-01-2008, 08:12   #7
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Hellosailor - hmmm, that's very interesting... I'll send this to a friend who's finger is on the pulse of HF datacomm and see what I can find out. I've managed to avoid Windoze all these years; it would be nice to similarly avoid lock-in to a predatory pricing model (even if, yes, it's very cool and high-performance stuff... no questions there!)

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Old 09-01-2008, 08:57   #8
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How much is a HAM, in total, including installation? I've always put it into the multi-thousand-dollar-system category with an SSB.
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Old 09-01-2008, 09:14   #9
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How much is a HAM, in total, including installation? I've always put it into the multi-thousand-dollar-system category with an SSB.
A wide range... with the latest and greatest (IC-M802 SSB, AT-140 tuner, existing backstay, tricked-out PACTOR modem, and accessories... assuming no new laptop) you're looking at about $4K not including installation costs. Older radios and avoidance of PACTOR can quickly drop the cost to under $1K... basic ham radio HF operation with a used rig from eBay or a hamfest is not a difficult proposition at all. Adding simpler data modes that are not reliably linked to shore-based servers is then very cheap, with $100 TNCs (terminal node controllers) readily available. The expensive PACTOR stuff is used because it has been adopted as a standard by both the marine-grade Sailmail (any kind of traffic) and ham-grade Winlink (no business traffic). It's also faster and more immune to noise and channel fading.

The 802 is the rig of choice, as it not only provides channelized marine SSB but also conveniently tunable ham operation. Ham-only rigs can be "unlocked" for use on the marine bits of the spectrum, but that violates FCC regs (including the purely technical "type acceptance," involving frequency stability and other specs); marine-only rigs, unlocked for ham use, are quite legal but tend to be extremely inconvenient for the usual ham-flavor operation that involves tuning about, rather than punching up a channel. The Icom 802 does both very well, and legally.

You still need a General-class ham license, of course... and that's not just a formality. It's not hard, and is well worth the effort.

Cheers,
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Old 09-01-2008, 10:51   #10
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But the IC802 is not a ham radio and does not represent the price of one. it is one of the few radios approved for legal dual use, ham and marine HF.

Pactor3 is about a thousand dollar hardware purchase. Pactor1 can be $100 or less , in hardware or software. Good ham HF radios can be had used at $500 or new over $1000, figure $750 as a midrange for something good enough, then add an antenna tuner and antenna, same price as marine HF counterparts.

Can you set up a ham marine station for $1000? Probably, but not without some learning curve on the way before you start buying things. Half of that, if you really scrounge and take your time and compromise.

But then as Steve says, a general class ham license isn't trivial, you'll be expected to learn some radio electronics that will serve you will in setting up the station and running it. Cost of the license: $14 or so for the exam session, $30 or so for a good book, and then some investment of time.
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Old 09-01-2008, 11:00   #11
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Rebelheart,

Steve (aka Miccroship) gave you the pricing for a Marine SSB installation. If you're looking at getting your fingers wet by experimenting with a marine amateur radio installation on a boat, it can be done "on the cheap".

Once you get your General (or Extra - it's just a bit more study) you can experiment with a used Icom IC-706MkIIG or an IC-718 and a couple of wire dipoles strung up the mast by a halyard. With a tuned dipole, you don't have to worry about installing an RF ground, but because it doesn't have an automatic tuner/coupler, you'd need to change antennas every time you changed bands (you'd learn all this when you study for the license). You can add a cheap modem - hopefully soundcard implementation of various modem protocols will accelerate soon so you'd just need a PC and not an external modem.

Or you could forego the whole ham thing (notice it's a word, not an acronym!), and fork over $4k for the marine SSB install and pay an annual fee for SailMail which isn't restricted to non-commercial use like WinLink2000 is for hams.

Steve,

I'm definitely interested in the PSKmail goings-on. I'd love to see the Pactor III protocol opened up and have someone make a GPL'd version of it which used an internal sound card as well. What I'd really like to see is someone do a software-only implementation of the NATO STANAG 5066 protocol used by the military for HF email. It's an open standard (I think Rockwell actually published their TCP/IP stack for it) which is multipoint-capable. No more point-to-point connections.

And I'd like to see all the old-f@rt hams move over to Linux as well. They just can't seem to admit that open source is the embodiment of the old-fashion ham radio ethic - share what you learn with everyone - it makes ham radio better...

Now if I can just finish installing MythTV on my new media PC for the boat, running Fedora 8. And get WinXP running under a VMWare image, since no one's seen enough of a market yet to port their chartplotting software over to Linux (even though one or two dedicated chartplotter lines are actually Linux-based - go figure!).


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Old 10-01-2008, 15:20   #12
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Rebelheart,


I'm definitely interested in the PSKmail goings-on.

And I'd like to see all the old-f@rt hams move over to Linux as well. They just can't seem to admit that open source is the embodiment of the old-fashion ham radio ethic - share what you learn with everyone - it makes ham radio better...

Now if I can just finish installing MythTV on my new media PC for the boat, running Fedora 8. And get WinXP running under a VMWare image, since no one's seen enough of a market yet to port their chartplotting software over to Linux (even though one or two dedicated chartplotter lines are actually Linux-based - go figure!).


KB1HTW
It has been a couple of years now since I have messed with it, but my oldest daughter and I have used PSK-31 quite successfully with my old Icom IC-728, a Buxcom Rascal interface and an ancient laptop. Total cost about $250 including a freeby dipole antenna. My daughter (now 11 years old - AE7MC) had loads of fun talking to places like Tierra Del Fuego and Tonga. (Ok, Typing)

BTW - I never did get my Myth TV up and going. I just ran out of time and ambition. But that was when it was first being developed. How is it doing now?

Tim AC7SP
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Old 11-01-2008, 09:26   #13
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I never did get my Myth TV up and going. I just ran out of time and ambition. But that was when it was first being developed. How is it doing now?
All I've had time to do is install the software and an Avermedia ATSC/NTSC dual tuner card. My old DVD burner died, so I'll wait until next week when the replacement from Newegg is delivered. I gotta work on the boat this weeked - ripping out all the electrical cabling to prep for rewiring everything!

From everything I've read, MythTv works flawlessly on a wide range of hardware. I'll post some info when I get it done. It'll be nice to have a terabyte or so of video and music, and have the ability to receive TV broadcasts as well. And I'm sure an Intel Core2Duo-based system would have no problem handling ham ATV slow-scan images!
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Old 23-02-2008, 08:06   #14
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- hopefully soundcard implementation of various modem protocols will accelerate soon so you'd just need a PC and not an external modem.
KB1HTW
Introduction - Sound Card Packet

From what I read online, it looks like email is being sent and received without the modems. Just using a soundcard and AGWPE software.
Has anyone here tried this?
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Old 23-02-2008, 09:36   #15
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"without the modems"
BSEE's please stick your fingers in your ears, this is gonna hurt.

OK, a modem is just a box that takes raw data and converts it into audio sqwauks that get spit into your telephone line. (DSL modems and cable modems aren't modems at all, ignore what your entertainment supplier tells you.)

Now, is there a telephone line connecting your boat to the internet? If not, you don't need a modem. The soundcard, controlled by AGWPE or other software, is taking data and converting it into audio sqwauks that go into a RADIO instead of a phone line.

There is no modem--because the same functions are being provided by different tools. Those tools can be a TNC and a radio, or a soundcard plus software plus a radio. Doesn't matter, same trick, different performer on the stage.

(OK, it's safe to bring the children and the BSEE's back into the room now.)

Oh, and soundcards plus software are problematic versus actual TNCs, you'll find lots of discussion about that on radio forums. Including setup problems and stability of AGWPE in various incarnations. There are reasons why folks still spend $1000 for a PactorIII box.
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