Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mapping your QSO

As I've written in this space before, amateur radio is a wonderful way to see the world, albeit vicariously. Personally, I like to peer into the hometown of my QSOs, tracing streets and streams and really learning something about the locale. A map is a great resource, as is a globe. But the best mapping application for doing this, hands down, is Google Earth.

Even by itself Google Earth would be a fantastic application, but combined with a logging program plus some free plug-ins it becomes an indispensible tool.

What makes Google Earth so powerful is "metadata," a dynamic layer of information about specific places, like repeater sites or station locations based on latitude and longitude. Metadata is saved in ‘My Places’ which offers persistent storage for personal information within Google Earth.

Tom White (K5EHX) has taken advantage of this feature with his collection of radio repeaters.” Tom has plotted the location of every repeater site in the continental United States. With this file loaded into Google Earth I can see all of the repeaters in my area. By flicking the yaw control I can fly over the terrain from my home QTH to the repeater site, inspecting the terrain along the way.

HB9TLK has taken this a step further by enlisting amateur operators around the world to contribute their home QTH to his Ham World Map project. Enter your call sign and latitude/longitude in decimal degrees (Google Earth can report information in this format) and click ‘Submit.’ Now open Google Earth, click ‘Add’ and then ‘Network Link.’ Enter a name for the file, say ‘Ham World Map,’ and type ‘www.qslnet.de/member/hb9tlk/hammap.kmz’ in the link field. Click ‘OK’ and you’re ready to roll. Now when you look in the ‘Places’ window you’ll see the Ham World Radio and a list of call signs. Scroll through them – they’re alphabetized – double-click the call sign of your contact, and Google Earth will fly you there. Voila! When other hams search for your call sign using the Ham World Map database they’ll see your home QTH. Lean out the window and wave!

For my money the best integrated package is still Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD), a free logging program from Simon Brown, HB9DRV. Enter your QSO’s call sign in the log, confirm the info at QRZ.com from within HRD (the maidenhead coordinates are required for this to work), click the ‘Google Earth’ lookup button, and you’ll see your contact’s home QTH up close and personal.

There you have it – three ways to use Google Earth to visit your latest QSO. Bon voyage!

- 73
- Steve KB3IHX

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