Rocky Road to the Cluster

    Last week we were relaxing in the sun, this being one of the last nice days before winter set in for good. One of the local QRPers hove into sight, beating his way up the hill. This one was bearing a problem. "It's all the repeater nodes and paths to the DX cluster", the QRPer explained, "I just get it figured out and then I find it's changed or there's a better way. Then someone else tells me a third route and by this time I'm really confused. Can you help me?" We were properly sympathetic for often it is not just the young and trusting who are confused for we had noticed that a lot of the Big Guns were showing the symptoms.

    "Tell us about it", we advised and the confused light faded a bit in the QRPer's eyes. "First," the QRPer starts off with, "I connect to NSD and then DAR and then to the cluster. The next day I can't get in that way unless I specify port 3 on DAR." We had to smile for this one was going to be easy. "DAR was down for a few hours and the BPQ software hadn't had time to figure out the ports.", we snapped right back, "Next problem?" The QRPer had a list. "NSC is a link to the cluster and I can hear it but I can't connect to it.", he explained and our smile was broad. "Undoubtedly, your two meter radio's output rolls off above 147 MHz and, since the NSC port is above 147, it can't hear you." The QRPer checked that one off. "How does TXD talk to NSD if they are on different frequencies?", he asked. For a moment we thought he had impaled us but we did a fast shuffle and came up with the answer. "It goes through RNE-7, of course!", and we started to see the return of the bewildered look in the QRPer's eyes.

    "You are beginning to lose me," he said, "but let's try another. Last summer and fall I could connect to the cluster direct on 91 and now I can't" Our smile of practicing to be the DX Cluster wizard was shining even more. "That was because the cluster was at Ken's and on a hill . . . now that it's at Wayne's you have to go through a node to get to it." The QRPer sighed and the bewildered look deepened. He asked wearily, "And what's this talk about a high speed UHF network to the cluster? Do I have to buy a 440 rig and antenna?" We admitted we knew a bit about this and explained, "No, the UHF link is for the metro area and you come in on VHF and you can connect to NSD or BBS-7 or NSC. Or maybe DAR if there is a lift on and you can eliminate a node. Any one of these except NSC will route you to DAR via UHF and on to DXC. NSC will get you in direct, provided you can hit it. Except if DAR is down, then NSD will got to BBS-7 and then on to NSC. And if NSC is down, NSD may have a direct UHF link to DXC unless DAR is still up, in which case it will route you through DAR. You might have to over ride the automatic routing if one of the nodes has been down for a few hours, though so you should memorize the port allocation on the hub nodes, O.K.? However, you should keep in mind that all of this will change after Christmas, maybe."

    "I don't think I will ever understand it.", the QRPer advised us sadly and tore up his notes. We held up a hand to get his attention. "Let's run through it again, we'll review the TXD to NSD link, the UHF LAN and all the various redundancy routes available. And we'll explain the problem of hidden transmitters to you too. Ready?" The QRPer shook his head. "I may still be a relatively young QRPer," he said, "but I doubt if I'll live long enough to learn it all. I will just continue to be confused." And with that he was on his way down the hill, perhaps never to return. Son of a Gun! All of this is simple once you understand the nodes, the problem is getting to understand them!

This story is in the public domain and may be reproduced in any format. - VE1DX

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Last updated 15 December 2020