Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Aggregator - A Big Step Forward

Thanks to the programming skills of Dick, W3OA, we now have a new version of the Aggregator, the software that collects CW Skimmer or Skimmer Server spots and forwards them to the Reverse Beacon Network's server. The highly-stable beta (version 0.92b) is available for download here. Several of us have been using it for a month without a single problem, and it only takes about 5 minutes to get going. It offers several very significant new features, and we urge every RBN spot contributor to download and begin using it as soon as possible. If you encounter any bugs, please report them to; for operational questions, please write to me (

There is one system requirement for the new Aggregator - you must have Microsoft .NET 4.0 installed on your computer. You can get it here, and it takes only 5 minutes to download (on broadband) and install. This is the reason why the Aggregator is only 90 KB - and since it is increasingly a requirement for other software as well, we hope this won't be an obstacle for anyone.

For users of Windows Vista and Windows 7, you will need to put the new Aggregator somewhere that the operating system will allow it to write an .ini file. That means installation almost anywhere but the Program Files directory - many of us use C:\Ham Radio as an alternate location, to avoid these issues.

Some security software (Norton Security's SONAR, for one) will try to block Aggregator from running, and even removing it from the installed location. These packages make their "decisions" based on what they regard as "risky software behavior." We can't really avoid getting them stirred up, given the way that Aggregator operates. If you run into this, you will need to tell the busybodies that you know best; all these security software packages have provision for reversing their "decisions."

Here is a screenshot of the new Aggregator - probably the best way to explain its features.

The biggest thing you'll notice is that the new Aggregator is a "real" Windows program, which means that you do all the setup on a single screen, rather than having to set command-line options. Despite that, it is very small,uses essentially no CPU power, makes no changes to the registry, and does not have to be installed.

The upper panel is the initial setup

These settings should normally work for your installation. is the IP address of the computer the Aggregator is on, which must be the same one where you are running Skimmer or SkimSrv. The port number must correspond to the one you have set on the Telnet tab of Skimmer or SkimSrv. If you have set controls on access to your Skimmer or SkimSrv, by username or password, you'll need to set those to match. If you lose your connection to Skimmer for any reason, the green message at the bottom of the pane will change to red to alert you.

The next pane down controls what spots are sent to the Reverse Beacon Network. This is where things get really interesting.

The new Aggregator provides the functionality of the "Paranoid" validation setting in CW Skimmer, which users of SkimSrv may have been missing. If this option is selected, only spots that match calls in a master file are forwarded to the RBN. The Aggregator uses the text version of the widely-used master.dta file, called master.scp. You can download it here. Be sure you put it in the same folder (directory) as the Aggregator.

If you use the first option ("Send all spots RBN server requests"), but the Aggregator only forwards those spots requested by the RBN. Why should you care? Well, that means the Aggregator is responding to direction from the server - currently, that means it will send only CQ spots on HF, but all spots on VHF. In the future, we anticipate adding beacons and other non-CQ spots to the list that the server requests.

Once you are using the new Aggregator, please uncheck the "Post Only CQ Spots" option on the Telnet tab of your Skimmer or SkimSrv. That will send everything to the Aggregator, and it will decide which spots to forward. This will facilitate experimentation with new features, while not loading the RBN server with unwanted spots.

And again, the green text at the bottom of the pane tells you that all is well, and changes if there is something that needs to be corrected (your Internet connection is down, or the master.scp file is not found.

Moving on...

The bottom pane is an added feature that some users will find useful. It lets you feed spots locally from the Aggregator to a logging program, and choose whether you want to see everything locally or only spots that have passed through the Aggregator's filters and been sent to the RBN. Again, the text at the bottom tells you the status of this feature - when a local "user" is connected, the text changes to green and reports that the connection has been made.

The final pane (on the right) is basically a confidence-builder, to confirm that the Aggregator is getting spots from Skimmer or SkimSrv.

It gives you all the information collected on each spot. Note, though, that it displays the spots as they arrive at the Aggregator. In this case, I have SkimSrv sending all spots to the Aggregator, be they CQ, DE, or undetermined. The Aggregator will strip out all but the CQ spots (on HF).

So that's the story. We hope you will all thank Dick for his contribution, by downloading and using the new Aggregator.

73, Pete N4ZR