Wizard propagation analysis and prediction program (III)
help file and tutorial
the contextual help hasn't provided you all the require information
that you have expected (e.g. it doesn't explain all fields or how to fill them),
WinCAPw provides in option an external manual in RTF format
(Wizard3.rtf) that helps much in understanding how works the program. It is well done but the RTF
file was not a great idea as images cannot be displayed
under Word for example, the most used wordprocessing ! Why not to create a true Word document, an HLP or a PDF file illustrated with
screendumps like do its competitors ? It would have been
my humble opinion, it should have been simpler, and thus more
logical one more time, to complete the online help instead of
creating this addendum that says the same with more detail.
that the best idea is on the publisher website and not only in these
help files. Indeed, you can download a Tutorial
about propagation as a zip file (becoming
HFProp.HLP once exploded).
It is in fact the famous document written
in 1998 by Pr. Robert Brown, NM7M,
a Ph.D physicist retired from U.C.Berkeley who probably didn't think
that his document would be published as it. Indeed, the publisher hasn't had the least
consideration for the readers or almost : the reader is no more at the
university Jim ! : there are chapters and chapters without the least
graph or table and the only "graphs" are made using
typographic characters as shown at above left. Even using Word there are
shapes and other drawing tools to create nice graphs. The index is
no more verbose, displaying chapters without name except a code like PROP 101 #1, PROP 101 #2, etc. Hopefully the
">>" button allows you to browse easily all the
an initiation to propagation it really looks like an austere text book. This
is probably not the best idea to convince a novice to learn this
complex matter... It is like Jim provided this document in a hurry to say, "here is
my contribution. Go with it." My best proof is that sections
PROP 101 #6 and #7 are the same document. However this is a very good
initiative from the publisher as most of its competitors provide no
additional reading to their customers or are "thinking"
only about writing a document on propagation.
tutorial is worth a look for all people already (a bit) involved in
this field. You will learn much things about the interaction between the Sun and
the geomagnetosphere and about mechanisms that drive shortwaves
through the ionosphere. Pr. Bob Brown distributed freely this
document since 1998 to all people interested in propagation. With Bob's permission,
HTML and Word versions of this tutorial are available
on this site with additional illustrations. A must for all
radioamateurs and SWLs.
Since the release of this article, the new version WinCAP Wizard 4
has included a more complete and friendy help file (see dumpscreen
ICEPAC interface showing the S/N reliability for a circuit
from ON to JT.
told in the introduction that WinCAPw came with additional
tools, among them the VOACAP model, without which it should
be well unable to generate the least forecast. Ten other
programs are also installed among them ICEPAC, S_I VOACAP, REC533 and HFANT,
as many models that are automatically managed by WinCAP3 as
soon as you request an analysis or to display a forecast.
you are almost a WinCAPw guru now, Hi!, if you have some
time left and want to improve you knowledge of this product,
it should be interesting that you run in stand-alone, thus
out of WinCAPw, VOACAP and ICEPAC side by side to see how
accurate they are, knowing that both include the IONCAP
model but ICEPAC includes also the ICED model
whatever the variable to display (submenu "View",
"Parameters") , ICEPAC displays always more
information than VOACAP; its graphs are a bit more accurate.
is also interesting to run them at least once to see what interfaces
and processes are hidden behind the WinCAPw engine : as you know,
all data sets that it takes into account are in fact required by the
VOACAP engine that the publisher simply made more attractive and
VOACAP, the most original module is HFANT installed in
\itshfbc\bin_win\Hfantwin.exe. This is a graphic tool able to
display the radiation pattern of antennas in both azimuthal and
sample files can be modified to suit your need as display below,
showing the settings and radiation pattern calculated for a custom 3-element Yagi placed 10m high and
working on the 20m band. This
module will be very useful to all amateurs wishing to buy EZNEC but
who cannot pay for it. This one is maybe less accurate but it is free !
addition to propagation forecasts, VOACAP and thus
WinCAPw, provides free the HFANT program that permits to simulate
radiation patterns of antennas. Its interface is of
course in the pure lineage of VOACAP. Above left the
settings for a 3-element Yagi placed 10m high and cut for the
20m band. A right the azimuthal radiation pattern of
this antenna at the best elevation.
a general point of view, WinCAP Wizard
is the dignified heir of VOACAP as it respects to the letter the original concept of VOACAP
created in 1983 even if the user interface has been redesigned. This
heritage can be considered as a benefit but analyzed seriously, it
is marked by the weigth of ages. Yes, WinCAP Wizard is aging due to its
engine, now as old as an used car.
the one who
can use VOACAP can use WinCAP Wizard after some minutes of adaptation.
That being said, it is maybe time to redesign the kernel, to add new
functionalities and take into account additional parameters. Still more data to
input ? Maybe not, because many of them might be downloaded in
real-time for the Internet while others can be extracted from look
up tables, a process that speed up all calculations in providing a
similar accuracy than statistical functions.
pure practical considerations, the online help and the additional RTF file should be merged together to
provide online all the required information in a real user manual
using the Microsoft HLP format, including screendumps of main
screens, default values and examples.
Wizard lacks of accuracy in predicting the signal quality of beacons
(and other signals). This problem is both linked to the statistical
functions used and the lack of parameters or data sensitive to short-terms
variations. Of course sometimes this is also due to an human error,
setting for example the SRN over 40 dB and using a too low
reliability. But apart in this special case, its accuracy could be improved in using a better ionospheric
model, incorporating more accurate conducting and electron property
models, or more simply real-time data in calculations when required.
Wizard uses also approximate F2-algorithms that give quite often a bad
estimation of the MUF with all subsequent effects.
Forecasts can only be displayed in charts or as reports,
what does not help in mastering the product either. These charts
should be completed with maps at global scale or displaying
Wizard does not permit to get an
overview of the propagation at the earth
scale. In this context an additional feature like a gray-line map
(in Mercator or spherical projection) on which should be incrusted a
propagation estimation in gray scale or iso-contour maps with
dynamic figures (SNR, S/I, Rel, dB>mV,
etc) should be welcome. Like in the VOACAP engine, cross-sections
maps of the ionosphere associated to a variable scale (1-30 MHz up
to as short as 1-2 MHz) should be also very appreciated. Global
views, maps calculated per band or for a predefined time should be
also easier to interpret than austere reports, charts or line graphs, as they
speak by themselves, all the more if they can be dynamically linked
to other forecasts at a depress of a key or a mouse-click.
Wizard missed also its objective
in providing no access to online data from
within the program. Hopefully Jim has felt that problem and provides
now "GeoAlert-Extreme Wizard" and "Beacon-Time Wizard" free,
and published on a new version of his product, WinCAP Wizard 5, that
takes into account some among the
my humble opinion the "user-friendly" interface can
be improved or even completely redesigned. It is austere and don't
take advantage of any graphical option. I think especially to an
object-oriented interface on which the end-user should see a map
describing per layer or mixed all objects included in the circuit
(TX, RX, etc) and their properties. Thanks to a click he might
select an object and edit its properties. The calculation might be
displayed on the same map (the SNR at destination for example under
the specified conditions) instead of have to press buttons, validate
data, request a display, check its layout, etc. In addition, charts
forms and coverage maps should be available.
next major release should also take into
account the effects of the geomagnetic field like do DX
ToolBox from Black Cat Systems for example, effects that become
important when working
with vertical antennas at high latitudes for example or when the F2
layer is involved as it is sensitive to the horizontal component of
the geomagnetic field.
It could also include the weather
conditions like QRN from thunderstorms affecting the top band of 160m using an
close to the one provided in EarthBrowser
from Lunar Software, Inc. At last it should take into account the polar cap absorption,
Appleton's magneto-ionic effects and the ionospheric models
for the low bands developed in the framework of the HAARP project
and applied in the frequency range 2.8-10 MHz (according to ARRL,
HAARP was shut-down in may 2013) or incorporate some
down-sized models from IRI-2001.
An alternate should be to get all these data updates from the
Internet, what should request either add-ons or a redesign of the
application. If the price has to be doubled to get these upgrades, it is worth
well a development; the ham community is strong of more than 3
millions people without to forget all listeners and geophysicists
who could appreciate these new features, knowing that some of them
are already used in some programs (e.g. DXAtlas
in tandem with IonoProbe and Ham CAP).
Wizard is without any doubt sufficiently complete, flexible and powerful to be placed among the best
propagation programs available, but it is not the best yet. Using the
"top VOACAP engine" as like to quote the publisher, it takes into account a great variety of
parameters, and it is flexible through its various customisations
and the use of the user batch manager. However it is by far a power that sacrified its
ergonomy and accuracy. In other words this product is perfectible at several levels listed
first run and without any knowledge of the subject, WinCAP Wizard is hard to master without
calling the help file, even though, because you need to concentrate
on each submenu and see what could be the result if you do such
or such change in one or another data set. Of course as we told
earlier, this is not the
best way to get an accurate forecast if you even don't master your
inputs, I agree... This is thus not a problem to solve by the
publisher, but rather in the mind of the end-user who maybe thinks that
all propagation programs are the same, without considering the
performance of the VOACAP model. Therefore the publisher has
provided two help files online to help novices and all amateurs lost
in the program mysteries.
If you want to master
WinCAP Wizard in a few keystrokes, you really need to call the
online help or to dive in the manual, a bad day for novices, L. But
VOACAP deserves well some efforts...
another way, and it is a positive point, Jim Tabor is very fast to reply
to users' enquiries, what is really very appreciated when you
are experiencing troubles using a so complex application at first (and
even second) sight.
WinCAP Wizard deserve a try ? Currently the program show still some lacks of
accuracy at short-term, of ergonomy, and simplicity.
Other programs, smaller and cheaper
are much much easier to use due to their user-friendly GUI.
Not all are however as poweful. If you install "GeoAlert-Extreme Wizard" I give
it a second chance,
but I am not very optimistic as long as new functions taking in
consideration short-term variations are not incorporated in the
prediction model. Why ? Because near-real-time (a real-time is no
more a forecast, HI!) or short-term
forecasts are at the end requests that are not so abnormal than this
when working on air... As I just
told, if a next release might incorporate my suggestions thanks to
real-time ionosonde and weather data it should become much
more accurate and more attracting.
WinCAP Wizard as it is now available as QSL-ware (i.e. free with
limited options), and preferably in not too good working conditions (otherwise it
is too easy, even though...) but see also its
competitors. Judge by yourself whether the accuracy of the VOACAP
engine justifies or not a so heavy interface or if other lighter
programs doesn't provide a similar accuracy much quicker. But be very serious and careful in doing your comparisons because a graph or a map, even
if it is self-explanatory, is also as difficult to interpret
objectively as settings properly all parameters.
be frank, I don't think that any other propagation program provides
such a flexibility and power, because most of its competitors or alike do not take advantage of the VOACAP
model that shows, objectively, some very interesting forecasts often
ignored by its challengers. Added to the WinCAP Wizard interface,
the latter deserves your attention.
remember that the VOACAP engine is
free and runs without have to buy WinCAP3. So to be more attracting
than the 32-bit version of VOACAP, WinCAP Wizard had to include new
features. It has some, like beacons and multi-circuit charts, chart
settings, a better GUI, good helps, add-ons, but are they worth such a price knowing that
its competitors are free or sold cheaper ?... Even a powerful tool like Beaconsee
in its basic version is free...
but not least, as we told WinCAP Wizard and thus VOACAP as well, uses approximate
F-layer algorithms for its MUF calculations that infer unattended
effects, I mean errors in predictions. It doesn't use the International Reference
Ionosphere either. If you always follow me, this is maybe because you want an impartial
appreciation looking for the best HF propagation program. If this is
of your concern, you will surely not make an error in buying WinCAP
Wizard, but it will not entirely satisfy your needs either. Between
you and me, DXAID by Peter Oldfield is made for you but it is no
more supported. Remain the new versions of ACE-HF
and DXAtlas, two very serious
Wizard is published by Kangaroo Tabor Software.
trial version works 60 days then fails to work
for good. On their side, all models provided free with the program,
VOACAP, ICEPAC, REC533, etc, are not time-limited.
A single user license
of WinCAP Wizard 5 costs
$50.00 plus delivery and comes thus with a free copy of GeoAlert-Extreme Wizard and Beacon-Time
Wizard. Since version 4, the product can be purchased as license or
QSL-ware with limited options.
the VOACAP model, read my review
as well as "Estimating the Performance of Telecommunication Systems Using the Ionospheric Transmission
Channel", by L.R.Teters, J.L. Lloyd, G.W. Haydon and D.L. Lucas,
Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, NTIA Report 83-127, July 1983.
is now at version 5 and includes several new features :
"Smart windows" displaying propagation of NCDXF beacons,
with additional quick charts
a Smart-Map-Geographic view
a multi functional Coverage-Analysis view with animation
a new built-in Help that was seriously enhanced, including
screendumps and additional comments.
a license or QSL-ware version.
warmly thank Jim Tabor for his help and the additional
information he provided me to complete this review.
the passing of Jim Tabor in 2010, WinCAP Wizard and other Taborsoft
products are no longer supported.