Congratulations to LRS member Colin Murray GM4EAU for winning the RSGB Constructors Contest (Software Category) for his WATT software (WSPR Analysis & Transfer Tool).
Colin's narrative, submitted with his entry:
At the start of the project I had recently re-discovered amateur radio, joined the local club, (Lothians Radio Society in Edinburgh) and was looking for a software project to complement my amateur radio activity. I had just discovered WSPR on HF, a low power based method of observing propagation on amateur bands by transmitting a data signal with multiple receivers located around the world reporting receipt of signals into a database via the internet in near real-time. At the time there were few software tools available to analyse WSPR signals and traffic beyond basic reporting and mapping. None of them offered animation over a period of time for WSPR traffic. I therefore had my target project identified and work commenced.
PROJECT: I called the software WATT - WSPR Analysis and Traffic Tool.
The software was written in Microsoft Excel VBA using Windows 10 since a spreadsheet based approach was the overall direction providing a mechanism for the deep analysis of data. With hindsight, VBA was not optimal for this task given its many limitations, undocumented bugs, and obscure ways of handling data such as dates. Alternative ways of coding the solution were considered, however the deciding factor was the requirement to create a spreadsheet based tool, since this approach is in common usage.
The WATT software has approximately 6000 lines of VBA code plus multiple display screens. Some of this VBA code was the most complex I've ever written in my professional life. Several thousand additional lines were discarded over time as non-viable due to Microsoft Excel product issues. In a recent talk I summarised the eventual coding effort as similar to building a multi-band communications receiver from a very large box of random components with a vague understanding of how the system should work, supported by an old smudged Wireless World magazine circuit diagram! Many hundreds of hours of effort were required, but all very enjoyable (with just a little frustration along the way!)
It’s important to note the code was not designed to compete with Google maps or similar for the display elements. The focus was for data reporting for propagation analysis, supported by a basic map display.
The software was developed and evolved over a two year period and hosted for download on the website www.gm4eau.com and also more recently added into the open source repository GitHub. It’s free to use and to modify. The tool has now been running for a further year and is fully bedded-in. It is thought to be error free subject to the many constraints and limitations of Microsoft Excel and has been tested on all Windows platforms and Microsoft Excel back to Office 2010 and Windows 7. The final software offers a useful and practical way of observing and reporting on WSPR traffic. It's designed to be simple to operate for a beginner, but also provides formatted data for expert analysis. WATT can be used simply to observe current traffic in real-time, or for deeper analysis by requesting and acquiring filtered data extracts. A unique feature is a timeline reporting function, whereby WSPR traffic can be animated over a period of time to visually and easily identify trends. i.e. Similar in approach to the MET office weather radar reporting etc.
A web-site was built to host the software. This was a significant 3 month UNIX based side-project and was a key part of the WATT solution to supply the distribution mechanism for the software.
At the start of development there was no software available similar in functionality to the WATT tool, however during the development period other web centric WSPR solutions were created by amateurs as WSPR grew in popularity. The community now operates a significant number of tools covering various aspects of WSPR. The WATT tool runs standalone in Microsoft Excel, pushes the Excel VBA language to its limits (and perhaps beyond), and has been downloaded over 400 times to date. It has given me immense satisfaction in a complex job duly completed and operational and has grown my understanding of amateur radio and digital data. Searching today on the internet for WSPR MAP, WSPR MAP ALTERNATIVES or my Callsign or other similar keywords now the finds the WATT tool on the www.GM4EAU.com website near to top ranking: something I'd not envisaged credible or achievable at the start of the project. My ethos was that if the software was deployed by a few WSPR operators, then that would be an excellent outcome for the project.
I have included a couple of screenshots for the software. My recent WSPR traffic and a WSPR based Amateur balloon circumnavigating the world on 20m. Also, I have attached a control panel screenshot. Please refer to www.gm4eau.com for more information and for a software download. Comprehensive documentation is available within the WATT tool and on the website.
Note: For technical reasons the software only runs on Windows (Not Mac/Apple) and only with Microsoft Office, not OpenOffice or similar.
Cheers, Colin GM4EAU.