Next iteration

I wasn’t liking the whole minimalist setup that much.

The first problem I had was regarding the web browser in my iPad. When using hotspots I typically monitor their status screens (web pages) in tabs on my web browser so that I can see who’s talking. It seems the Shark RF folks made a weird design decision when it comes to their status page strategy. They actually don’t write the status log to any kind of file. They write it directly to the browser. Unfortunately, the iOS browser goes to sleep if it’s not in the foreground. So the status activity gets lost when the browser tab goes to sleep. When I go back to view a sleeping tab… the status page completely resets and doesn’t show the recent activity.

So, apparently the iPad won’t really do the job as my main computing device after all. That means I need to put a computer back on my desk. After contemplating laptop vs iMac… I opted to set my iMac back up.

Ok… do I run macOS or Windows on the iMac? I like macOS better. But Windows is certainly better qualified to work with ham radio. Giving up macOS is not a huge problem. Ok, Windows it is.

And if I’m going to have a computer on my desk that runs Windows… hmm… I could easily run WiRES-X. So I’ve set my node back up using my FTM-100DR and an HRI-200.

While I’m doing all this… how bout I bail on the idea of using handhelds at my desk and go back to using base radios instead. Luckily I can totally do that without buying gear.

Also, the guy who wrote QnetGateway just pushed a new update. I should probably try that. I have way too many hotspots. Time to trim these down and get back to basics. Rather than trying to do more things in more ways, I will pare things down and choose the best method for each mode.

  • For C4FM I will use WiRES-X.
  • For D-Star I will use terminal mode with QnetGateway.
  • For DMR I will use my openSPOT2.

Hmm… that adds up to only one hotspot. And I have five. Oh well. Maybe next week I will want to use them for something.

My new 50ft length of LMR-400 coax arrived today. So I replaced the run that went to my attic antenna with the new cable. This allowed me to take down the makeshift antenna I had set up in my shack when the old coax went bad. It’s pretty funny that getting a new cable with ends was way cheaper than getting the tools to put a new end on my existing cable.

Down to the bare bones

Hahaha, here is the current iteration of my shack. This is as minimal as I can possibly get. I’ve gone to using my iPad Pro as my main computing device. I have only one mobile radio on my desk (a Kenwood TM-D710G hooked to an actual antenna for use with local repeaters). I have my radioless Allstar node. And I’m doing all my digital voice modes with my handhelds and hotspots. I think I’ll try this for awhile and see how it goes.

While this setup is very tidy, when I do this sort of thing it is often short-lived. I always have a tug of war going on in my head between the efficiency of minimalism vs the bigger is better concept. And the fact that I have bigger and better options sitting in my closet not being used makes it even harder to stick with the approach of making do with less. At least I’m starting to learn that selling things when I decide to scale things down is a bad idea. Because I will often swing back the other way at some point. And that gets expensive.

I use LMR-400 with my attic antenna. It’s very stiff. As I was rearranging again today, I noticed the end that hooks to the radio was at an angle that indicated damage. I tried to straighten it out. But when I put it on a meter… it was clearly not usable due to very high SWR. So I put up a makeshift indoor antenna using a tripod, a Larsen mobile antenna, and a Larsen ground radial kit (see picture below). Using this on 10 watts will work just fine.

This will have to do for awhile. Amazon Prime arrival time for PL-259 ends is over 30 days thanks to the coronavirus (it would normally be 2 days).

Hotspot situation

I use a combination of three different handhelds to work digital voice modes. They are:

  • Yaesu FT-3DR
  • ICOM ID-31A Plus
  • Radioddity GD-73A
Above is a shot of my two homemade hotspots. I just slapped a ZUMspot-USB stick on a Raspberry Pi and loaded up Pi-Star. Works great! So good that I decided to do it twice.
Then I have my three openSPOT2 hotspots. I had one, and then when they announced the openSPOT3, the openSPOT2 went on sale. So I grabbed two more.

Back on track

My FTM-100 came back from the shop and they totally fixed the odd audio artifacts that were present when receiving WiRES-X data. Also… ICOM released a firmware update for my ID-4100A that fixed a bug that was messing up terminal mode.

These two problems derailed the plan I had last November when I swapped a bunch of equipment. My intention at that time was to use the ICOM ID-4100A in terminal mode… and to use the Yaesu FTM-100DR in Portable HRI Mode (direct). Now that the issues are resolved… I’m back on plan. This allows me to do D-Star and WiRES-X, both without any RF involved.

But I also did one more thing. I bought an Allstar Radioless Node Adapter. This little goodie takes the place of my Allstar node radio, and allows me to use my Allstar node with zero RF as well.

I should also add… my last entry mentioned needing a laptop on the desk just for WiRES-X. Well, I went ahead and gave in… and solved the problem by running Windows on my iMac full-time. No need for a laptop when I’m doing that. RIP macOS.

This bites

Well, I no sooner sprang for new ham gear… only to change strategies a week or two later. Now I have gear I don’t need… including some that I just bought. Actually, including some that I haven’t even received yet.

I’m afraid that there are just a ton of ways to set things up. And the perfectionist in me wants to keep adjusting the configuration to make things better. This clearly results in two different, equally annoying things.

  1. I buy gear and then end up not needing it
  2. I sell gear and then end up needing it

I suppose if I were to just stop selling the gear that I thought I didn’t need… I’d already have it the next time I rearrange things and found myself needing it again. That seems reasonable. So it’s cool really.

FTM-100 repair

Still waiting to get my Yaesu FTM-100DR back from the Yaesu repair shop. I am very curious to see if they will even acknowledge that it has a problem. Honestly, when it comes back I’m not even sure that I will use it. It really boils down to whether or not I decide to go back to running WiRES-X. I do know that I really like not having a laptop on the desk. And since the only reason for the laptop is to run WiRES-X… it makes the idea of using a hotspot instead very attractive.

Below, you can hear the recording of the problem that caused me to send my radio to Yaesu for repair. It happens when receiving data via WiRES-X. And it happens even with the volume all the way down.

New blogging setup

I used to have a “personal website” back in the day. And I played with that quite a lot. But that whole concept seemed to go away at some point. I probably milked it for awhile too long, but I eventually chose to setup a blog to replace my personal web site. The free Google Blogger product seemed like a good choice.

I used that for years, and my wife even made a few of her own blog posts. But we never really took it seriously. I suspect very few people read any of it.

But at some point I sprung for a nice blogging app for macOS. And it worked with Google’s Blogger product. At least until a couple of weeks ago. I had wiped the drive on my Mac and was running into problems reconfiguring this blogging app with the Blogger service. It was just refusing to work.

After the author pretty much gave up trying… he suggested I switch to a better blogging service. I thought that was a fine idea!

It was probably less than 24 hours later… I have a managed WordPress site at my own domain with an actual site security certificate. And it’s pretty dirt cheap.

I migrated my two old Blogger blogs into the new WordPress site. And the blogging app that wouldn’t work with Blogger, works very nicely with WordPress!

Downgrade… leaner and meaner

Hmm, I see it’s been over six months since I blogged about ham radio. I’ve done a lot of things since then. I guess I’ll try to touch on them in order.

First, I did get around to using my HF setup. And it worked perfectly… just like I had envisioned when I bought the gear. The Kenwood TS-590SG hooked to an MP-1 Super Antenna in the front yard. And I tuned the MP-1 with the aid of a Comet CAA-500 antenna analyzer that was hooked up to the antenna with a two-way coax switch. Perfect! And… I really liked the Kenwood radio. Very smooth and intuitive once I got familiar with the basics.

I did become aware of something over the last number of months. I think maybe I’m a little on the OCD side. I swear. Perhaps it’s just an aspect of the hobby. Or maybe it truly is a personality trait. Or both. But I have rearranged my radio setup a whole lot. Like a zillion times in the last year. There are so many various ways to set things up. I have a lot of different combinations of gear that I can put together. And many different ways to do the same basic things.

Not only do I change things around a whole lot… I also have a tendency to keep adding capabilities to my arrangement. Sorta like “scope creep”. I spent a few hundred bucks on an actual TNC so I could do APRS properly. But after playing with it for a couple of months I concluded that it was a waste of time, and I pulled the plug. I also added a cheap DMR radio to my mix. And… I resurrected my Allstar node. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of the things that I have dealt with since I initially sprung for my main set of gear back in March… is the feeling that I was locked in to my initial choices with regards to what I had chosen. The amount of money I would lose by selling any of my gear and buying different gear was a serious deterrent to making that sort of move.

But eventually I really felt that I wanted to try ICOM’s terminal mode that they have on their ID-4100A. I had the ID-5100A. And while it’s a better radio in most ways… I think the ID-4100 is more recent technology and it has this feature that the ID-5100 does not have. The feature in question allows the radio to connect directly to a Raspberry Pi hotspot via a data cable… no RF involved.

So I decided to bite the bullet, take the loss of the buying/selling… and I sold my ID-5100 and bought an ID-4100. The data cable to enable the terminal mode cost about $80. All in all… “downgrading” from the ID-5100 to the ID-4100 actually cost me over $200. Yep… that would be a prime example of why to not do this.

Wait… it gets better! After I pulled the trigger and launched that swap into motion… I figured what the heck. I proceeded to sell 4 more of my radios… and buy 5 more new ones. I pretty much did all this swapping around without knowing what the final cost would be. This was because most of the stuff I sold was done via eBay auctions. So there was no way to know what I would really get out of things until it was all said and done.

The biggest loss was the decision to sell my Kenwood TS-590SG and replace it with an ICOM IC-7300. That move cost me almost $300. Well, it was $300 out of pocket cost. If you factor in the original price of the Kenwood… downgrading from the Kenwood TS-590SG to the ICOM IC-7300 cost me almost $700.

All said and done… all this swapping is what I wanted to do. And so that’s a bonus. It felt rather liberating to finally do it. And while my ideas about what I want to do change frequently… I think that’s just part of the hobby. I will say that now… my gear is much better-suited to the purpose at hand. It is function over form.

In the end the swapping cost me very little out of pocket money. But pretty much every single move I made was a downgrade except for one.

My swaps included…

  • Kenwood TH-D74A out, ICOM ID-31A Plus in
  • Kenwood TS-590SG out, ICOM IC-7300 in
  • Yaesu FT-2DR out, Yaesu FT-3DR in
  • ICOM ID-5100A out, ICOM ID-4100A in
  • Yaesu FTM-400XDR out, 2 Yaesu FTM-3200s in

And I paid money to do this!

Ham radio, again

Back in February I made the decision to jump back into amateur radio. I’ve had an extra class license for a number of years. So I have the maximum privileges. And I just renewed it for another ten.

I dropped a pretty good load of cash on a bunch of new gear. Probably the biggest piece of the expenditure is an HF setup that I haven’t even used yet.

This is partly due to laziness. It’s also partly due to being so entertained with the other gear that I bought that I haven’t really been wanting for more to keep me busy.

The HF setup I have uses an outdoor portable-style antenna. I did this because we have antenna restrictions where we live. While I’m not allowed to have a permanent antenna outdoors, I can’t see that it would be a problem to have one that I setup and take down each time I use it.

So this is what I have. But that actually presents a bit of a barrier to actually using the thing. All my other gear is setup to where I can just sit down and use it any time I like. But the HF rig, I have to hassle with setting the antenna up each time. So I haven’t done it yet.

Another aspect is… I have never really understood how to operate on HF. And conditions aren’t good these days. I am really expecting that it will be a frustrating experience when I do get around to trying it. For many this is the most fun part of the hobby. For me… I haven’t spent enough time doing it to really get the hang of it yet.

On the other hand… virtually all of the other gear that I bought is oriented to digital communications via the internet. Yes, some will say that this isn’t “radio”. But the fact is, it has four things that are very much in the spirit of amateur radio.

First, I am talking into a radio on my end. And the person I’m talking to is typically talking into a radio on their end. So we still get to play with the cool gear. It’s really a minor technicality that it’s the internet that is connecting us.

Second, this form of digital communications has the aspect of enabling conversations with interesting people around the world. And for me, that has always been the most appealing aspect of ham radio. Good conversation!

Third, when using these digital modes there is really plenty of tinkering around to do. Sure, maybe there is more computer tech and less radio tech. But it’s still tinkering all the same.

Fourth, there is the aspect of a cohesive community. Hams helping hams has a long tradition. And with many internet groups dedicated to this digital communication tech, there is plenty of opportunity to learn and help others learn.

One major difference between these digital modes that use the internet vs HF, is that communicating via the internet is quite reliable. It is not dependent on solar conditions or propagation. Whereas operating HF is very hit and miss. In my experience, one can operate for hours without even making one contact. 

There is no doubt that I will be trying out my HF gear before too long. Maybe even today. I do know that I picked out some good gear. And it ought to be a lot of fun. My challenge will be learning the appropriate operating procedures for the mode. People do things differently on HF.

Regardless, so far my foray back into ham radio has been a lot of fun. There are so many things to learn that I think the process could go on for quite awhile.

Ham shack

I recently decided to jump back into amateur radio with both feet. This last weekend I picked up a bunch of gear. And I have a couple of radios still on their way. Our little home office (man cave) is now looking like an actual ham shack.

Previous to this, I was using a couple of raspberry pi VoIP nodes to do IRLP, AllStarLink, and echolink. I was using a handheld transceiver to utilize this. Well, I unplugged that stuff and decided I would try some new things.

 Here is a list of my new capabilities:

  • I now have a regular VHF/UHF dual-band dual-receive mobile rig as part of my shack. This is an improvement.
  • I now have HF. And a very capable radio at that. Unfortunately I am stuck with a definite compromise for an antenna in that I will be using something small, portable, and temporary. I will set it up outside when I want to use it. And take it down when I am not. I have very little choice about this due to neighborhood restrictions. Although the antenna situation may evolve into something better if I get creative.
  • I’ve added D-Star capability. I built a little D-Star hotspot using a raspberry pi with a DVAP. And I obtained a new handheld transceiver that has D-Star capability. 
  • I have also added WiRES-X capability. To do this right I went ahead and ordered the official WiRES-X interface box and a node radio. One downside is, this forces me to run Windows on my desktop computer system. This will be a big change. I’m not that happy about this aspect. Luckily I already had my Mac setup to dual boot. So it’s doable. 

Most people reading this probably don’t know what these things are. Here is some explanation:

  • HF is a mode that uses radio frequencies to potentially communicate with other hams around the world. Signals bounce off the ionosphere. 
  • VHF/UHF is pretty much local only. It’s a line-of-sight mode that uses repeater systems located at high elevations to communicate with others. 
  • D-Star and WiRES-X are digital modes that are directly supported by radio manufacturers. These modes use UHF/VHF as described above. In addition, they use the internet to link repeaters (or private nodes) together. This facilitates long distance communications where one can talk to individuals and groups of users around the world. There are typically radios and repeaters on each end of the connection, with internet in between.