SCSmail – small and helpful
The new, free email tool by SCS
You may be wondering probably if there aren’t enough possibilities already for “Email through PACTOR”: for example, SailMail is one of the best-known service providers for HF email, offering about 12 minutes of connecting time per day to its members (of mainly yachting community) over a worldwide network of powerful dial-in access points.
All these services have one thing in common: first, you must register yourself, then you require a special and new email address – which means your personal “HF email account” – and normally so also a special email software. In other words, you cannot use an email client like Outlook Express which you are accustomed to.
But there are also workarounds: the new email tool SCSmail opens up the possibility of building small one’s “own” email dial-in nodes and transferring any email through them. To make such a dial-in node available all one needs is an Internet connection and shortwave equipment. The best thing about it is that one can continue to use his normal email program through such email nodes as a “user” and access any email postbox. You don’t need a new email address.
When I heard about SCSmail for the first time, I knew at once: I must try it out soon! As I am a radio amateur and yachtsman myself, I could hardly wait to test the new tool practically. I got the software just 30 minutes before “heaving up anchor” in St. Helena in the South Atlantic, as I was checking up my email accounts just once again on WiFi before going off, for nearly 22 days without Internet 2200 nautical miles away, to Rio de Janeiro. Actually, I wish I had SCSmail two weeks earlier, because during the last two weeks the time limit through the “normal” email provider was already too short. I usually send a lot of emails (along with attachments) over shortwave, because I keep feeding daily my own blog page with images and text. The nice thing about a “private” SCSmail dial-in node is that there are no time restrictions inherently.
As mentioned earlier briefly, the basic condition for the (maritime) mobile use is a shortwave station ashore with Internet connection which turns into a Host dial-in node for email with SCSmail. Essentially, the system functions just like the major email providers “ashore” that one is familiar with. The only real difference is that the mobile user does not dial-in through DSL or any other cable-bound physical services, but through SSB/PACTOR. Everything else is similar to “email back home”: dial-in and retrieve the emails through any POP3/SMTP access modes.
Nonetheless, a major problem had to be overcome before starting with the initial practical trials with SCSmail: first, there was no one within the surrounding area of several thousand nautical miles in the South Atlantic who had already setup an SCSmail node. So, I had to first make my own SCSmail node available for the tests in the area of interest in the South Atlantic as a remote station.
After I had asked around in the amateur radio scene, Volker (amateur radio call sign: C5CAT) volunteered to spare for two hours per day his shortwave station, comprising a Yaesu FT-897D with a connected PTC-IIusb, and the obligatory (WLAN) Internet connection for an SCSmail node. Through this simple and hurriedly setup email access I was finally able to access my Gmail account during my 20-day sojourn from St. Helena to Rio de Janeiro and test SCSmail extensively.
The software was also installed quickly on my Laptop on board of the Iron Lady. In fact, there is no installation routine at all, the program files are manually expanded into a program folder; for an experienced PC user, of course, this shouldn’t be a problem, the inexperienced may require some clues. I feel, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if SCSmail is packaged with a genuine installation routine, even if that may sound like “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. After the “installation”, SCSmail needs to be configured for the actual use. For this, some experience with SCS modems, SSB Transceivers and the POP3 and SMTP terminology will be an added advantage. In this regard, the SCS vendor or the SCS hotline can be of assistance if matters should become too confusing. The manual is short and crisp, but contains all necessary information.
After entering all necessary data, soon as I click eagerly “RUN”, and select 14112.50 kHz through Remote-Control, my ICOM 706 jumps to the frequency I agreed on with Volker. From my email program I have already kept two emails ready for sending, one of which with an image for our Internet page. With a click on “Connect to C5CAT”, which is Volker’s SCSmail node on Martinique in the Caribbean, the transfer gets launched with a “bzrr, bzrrrrrr...”. Volker uses the same software, I mean SCSmail, but in server mode. The change over from client to server mode can be implemented with a single mouse-click. Volker has defined the email size limit at 100 kB, because otherwise the shortwave link could possibly become overloaded. Besides, PACTOR is not necessarily ideal for transferring very large files, because maximally only about 5200 bit/s, i.e. 40 kB/min can be transferred. Once the connection is automatically over after receiving all emails on my Gmail account and sending all emails from my local Outlook account, I retrieve them using the download button in Outlook, close SCSmail and my wireless connection and edit my recent emails in Outlook in the usual way.
“Hey, that’s easy!” I say to myself. However, during further tests on the next few days, I notice also some of the possible drawbacks as compared to the big, public HF email providers: between two obviously weak marine shortwave stations the PACTOR connections tend to be often just mediocre and possible only at certain times, that is, if the conditions of wave propagation are fairly good. But one must consider the fact that Volker and I are as far as 2000 nautical miles away from each other. Nearly all SailMail and many of the Winlink stations operate with very good /large antennas on exposed locations and partly at high output power and are, therefore, better reachable. That is the possible “crunch point” in the whole thing. For operating on sail boats, it is recommendable, therefore, to switch over to the “private” SCSmail alternative only if one has a powerful ashore station which, for example, is capable of establishing an optimal shortwave connection by means of a directional antenna. Besides, one should be able to use SCSmail meaningfully generally in the case of relatively short distances like in coastal areas, in the Mediterranean Sea or the Caribbean.
Moreover, the new SCS software represents a fine tool for all those who wish to try out the SCS modems quickly and at no obligations or use its capabilities mainly in a customized shortwave network. A testing setup can be arranged within minutes, and you get directly reproducible and comparable results. Moreover, setting up a customized PACTOR network is free of charge and quick - a fine job by SCS.
In my opinion, what needs to be improved is the protection against spam. If the email accounts being used are infested with spam mail, the short wave link will become overloaded in no time. The option of data volume limitation doesn’t help much. So, in the case of the current version of SCSmail it is worthwhile to use those email addresses which are exclusively intended for use on the shortwave (which means not too frequently) and not on the Internet or, the user must make sure that the account is 100% protected by appropriate spam filters. On the other hand, SailMail uses excellent anti-spam software, but this too can lead to a situation that emails are simply lost. To overcome this, there is a solution; instead of the whole of email messages transfer only the headers, that is to say, details like the sender, date, subject, and file size. You can check in a list if you really wish to have a particular email, with or without the attachment, if you want to delete mail on the server or leave it there, and so on. Jim Corenman has implemented this concept excellently in his application software AirMail and he calls this feature “Shadow Mail”. Also email programs like “TheBAT” have been successfully supporting this technology quite for some time. Another approach to a solution is, as in the case of Winlink, to allow a white-list, that is, only emails from senders for receiving who are managed in a list or to whom the user has sent an email in an earlier instance.
For professional multiple operating systems indispensable, for example in my case, where Windows is running on a MacBook under Parallels, optionally the POP3 and SMTP ports as well as the IP of the LOCALHOST should be freely definable, because, otherwise it is not possible to import the received emails into the MAC OS.
In all, SCSmail in its current version is purported to be extremely interesting software for personal or commercial use underlining the versatility of the SCS product range. For the yachting enthusiast, SCSmail is nevertheless only partly an alternative to the otherwise worldwide extended networks like SailMail or Winlink and, as admitted by SCS, it is not meant to directly compete with them or even replace them.
Here on this website you can download the software free of cost from the download area.
Michael Wnuk, DL1JD, April 2010 auf 20°00S 023°09W, www.ironlady.de