State of The Shack

I have put in some serious time trying to get the ham shack back in usable order. A lot of progress has been made.

(1) The shack computer has been replaced with a new Shuttle DS77U. Not a fancy, powerful computer but what I really enjoy is that it is small (slightly smaller than a cigar box (remember as a kid when you had a cigar box to keep your treasures)) size and that it is fanless (which equals quiet). It took a few iterations to settle on a linux distribution and to get fldigi and wsjtx working properly. During one of my test iterations I had xastir up and working (kinda of). I was able to pair it with the TM-D710A and it worked for transmitting, receiving, and plotting APRS signals. My failure was in getting the maps to work. Ends up it was an installation issue on my part. My end goal is to get xastir working on a separate linux box, possibly working with my Davis Vantage Pro2. I have seen very few clean, direct implementations of pairing xastir with a Davis Vantage Pro2… so, we’ll see. The other problem was tqsl or the software that runs LOTW. During one of my trial iterations, I had fldigi configured to log every completed contact directly to LOTW – it was great! It was challenging trying to install the latest version of tqsl and get it working properly. The version that is available in the repositories is outdated. The version available for ARRL is difficult to work with (using some distributions) due to dependencies. I had a great deal of success using the latest version of Linux Mint (19.3) which already had all the needed dependencies for tqsl. Now when I log a contact into fldigi’s logbook, it gets immediately uploaded to LOTW. It would be nice if wsjtx did the same, but it is no big deal to sign and upload that log later. All that being said, the shack computer is working nicely for what I need to have the basic functions to get on air.

(2) Selling off gear I don’t need. One of the factors that made the shack uninhabitable was all the excess stuff. I started selling gear off using QRZ.com’s forum. The gear is doing me no good, so it makes sense to lighten the load here. Up to this point I have listed and sold a Bencher BY-1 black-based paddle and two QRP kits I had sitting on the shelf. Next up will be the IC-92AD with all the bells and whistles (drop in charger, DV access point dongle, four batteries, the Nifty manual, the GPS speaker mic, plus the original box. What I like about the IC-92AD is its construction. The chassis is diecast aluminum, so the feel is solid… not something you get with the vast majority of HTs. I enjoyed using this HT from the indoors, using the dual band capability to monitor both my EchoIRLP node and D-STARS. I don’t do that anymore, so I think it is time the IC-92AD goes. I also found an old unbuilt NorCal 40a kit that includes a theory book on electronics. And it is also time to get rid of the FT-817ND that is tricked out with about every modification and additional gadget you could think of. There is a Bencher BY-2 that needs a new home. I also have maybe a half dozen unbuilt kits. Some I am unsure exactly what they are, although still in their original packaging. Many are from the now shuttered Small Wonders Lab. I am going to have to take some pictures of the ones I don’t recognize to see if I can figure out exactly what they are.

(3) Now the biggest issue that faces me is antenna improvement. Currently deployed in the trees off to the side of the house is a Radio Works G5RV. How sad I was to learn that Radio Works has also closed its doors. I was introduced to Radio Works when I lived in Hampton Roads, them being based in Portsmouth. Man they made great antennas. I still have one of their Carolina Windoms that I would like to put up. The G5RV needs to be replaced. It has made it through many Kansas winters and is ready to be retired. In cleaning the shack, I have pulled together all the odds and ends for hanging and installing antennas and I have everything I need on hand. Time to make it happen.

In non-shack news, I was going to replace the XYL’s TM-D710A with a D710GA, as well as a new motor to raise/lower the antenna. The antenna motor install was accomplished without issue. I attempted to install the D710GA without first testing it in the shack = mistake. Ends up the a-side control pot for volume/squelch was bad. As I purchased the rig as a Christmas present, I didn’t test it within the 14 day period required by Gigaparts in order to get the rig directly replaced. Instead, I have to send it in for warranty repair. Hopefully that goes smooth.

I am also hoping to have exciting news tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed.

Notes From The Shack

Friday, November 27th

Had a good day in shack. Was able to get a good portion of it cleaned up. Filled up a trash bag and a big box of “stuff” I just do not need.

Fired up the HF rig and ran it through it’s paces. Had a Phone QSO with a station down in Costa Rica and worked a few stations around the US on PSK-31. Enough to let me know the rig is still working. Listened to my favorite bunch of old timers who meet weekday mornings (8AM) around 7.140 MHz. I’ve never joined in, but used to listen to them all the time from my mobile when my work hours were a bit different. Nowadays I don’t get the opportunity to hear them.

For the last few weeks I have been trying to square away my VHF/UHF setup. My embedded EchoIRLP node has consistently suffered from pulsing. I have tweaked about every software setting and radio setting possible but was unable to fix the issue. It looks like the pulsing generally correlates with my APRS signal. I use a Kenwood TM-D710A in the shack. A computer with UI-View32 is driving the left half of the TM-D710A, sending and receiving APRS data. The right side I usually dedicate to the EchoIRLP node which is normally set to a simplex UHF frequency. I started to notice that everytime UI-View32 sends out my position or weather report, my EchoIRLP node would pulse. I honestly think the rig is the issue.

What I like best about the TM-D710A is that I can use my one antenna that I have mounted off my chimney. The TM-D710A allows me to use both the APRS and EchoIRLP at the same time. But I think that pulsing issue will keep me off IRLP reflectors or Echolink conferences unless I disable UI-View32 and the TM-D710A’s TNC while I am using the reflector/conference.

I upgraded my version of fldigi. I made sure my log and settings were backed up and the upgrade went without significant issue. I was able to setup the WX macro function, which I have been meaning to do. The macro pulls the latest WX from Kansas City International Airport (MCI) and allows me to slide that into a PSK-31 QSO via macro. I wish it could pull the data right from my WX station. Not sure how to do that.

I setup my D-Star DV Access Point Dongle – hadn’t done that in a while. I am consistently unimpressed with the audio quality that I get listening to the D-Star reflector on my ICOM IC-92AD. The audio is very metallic and tinny.

APRS has taken up a bit of my time lately. I enjoy playing around with my Yaesu VX-8GR. I am amazed at the different ways you can send a message from the APRS system to an email address. I have improved my ability to work the VX-8GR to input text for a message.

I figured out how to get my UI-View32/TM-D-710A setup to only digipeat APRS packets from either my callsign or the XYLs. That comes in handy when I have the HT. One thing I have not been able to figure out is how to get my UI-View32/TM-D710A setup to digipeat packets destined for my HT’s SSID. For example, if I send a message from my HT, it is digipeated out through my UI-View32/TM-D710A setup and picked up by a nearby real digipeater. But when the “Ack” packet comes back, my HT won’t hear it and I am not sure how to get my UI-View32/TM-D710A to recognize that packet and digipeat it.

Did I mention the humidity sensor on the Davis Vantage Pro2 is not working properly?

I checked into a net tonight! We have an awesome daily email called Larry’s List that contains all kinds of interesting information about the amateur radio goings on in the greater Kansas City area. From swap and shop, to license testing, and opportunities to volunteer in support of public events to various club activities and nets…. Larry’s List is one stop shopping for anything you would want to know about what is happening. The list mentioned a net conducted from a repeater setup on top of the VA hospital in Kansas City (KC0VA). I decided to check in and was privileged to partake in a very interesting discussion about how to handle an emergency if it occurred during a net. I also learned about the Q-signal “QRRR”… which I had never heard or read of before.

Hamvention from afar…

I was unable to make it out to Dayton but am enjoying seeing the onsite action through various mediums:

(1) w5kub.com – live streaming. It has been a bit hit and miss on the quality and coverage, but the feed is quite popular and it is a lot of fun seeing all the hams walking around the outdoor market. Lots of hams in front of the live feed cam seem to stand there, stare at the camera, and call home (or a buddy) to have them get on the website to see them on the live feed. At certain times the live feed appears to be an actual video version of hamsexy.com. The best part about amateur radio is the people and it is always great to see what an amazing variety of folks who share a common interest.

(2) Jeff, KE9V, is on the grounds of the Hara Arena and is frequently Tweeting and posting pictures. Jeff had an interesting picture of a vendor called Horse Fence Antennas. The product appears to be a dipole antenna that is built into what we in the Army call a cargo strap. The antenna looks a bit bizzare, but the eHam reviews are 5.0.

(3) D-STARS! I have not hooked up my DVAP and IC-92AD since I returned for Korea, but did so yesterday so I could monitor REF038C. Lots of great hamvention chatter on the reflector.

(4) I am going to look for any HF stations operating from the Hamvention. Often W1AW will setup up a special event station – those are always fun to work.

Hopefully I will be able to go next year…. 2013, Dayton or bust!

Autumn = amateur radio time

Out here in Kansas, on the eastern edge of the prarie, the leaves are turning and the first frost is upon us. The time is NOW to get the hamshack in order.

(1) My VHF/UHF antenna and Davis weather station NEEDS to get mounted up on the chimney. I have the mounting brackets – thin aluminium straps that circumnavigate the chiminey. However, the roof at the new QTH is basically three stories high and the roof itself is pretty steep. Too steep for me. The solution? I am trying to get a local roofing company to give me an estimate for the job.

(2) The HF antenna. In the course of sorting through all the hamshack flotsam, I’ve started to identify “stuff” I can part with. Already I’ve said goodbye to some old MFJ TNCs, the Kenwood TS-930S, and my old TinyTrak (thank you Craigslist!). There’s more to part with and I’m still in the process of identfying them (… like an ICOM PCR-1000, TenTec RX-320, and a D-STAR DV Dongle for starters). More importantly (and back on topic), I unearthed two in-the-package wire antennas. The first is an 80M OCF dipole from RadioWavz and the second is a G5RV+ from RadioWorks. Now I need to dust off the CSV19 Pneumatic Antenna Launcher and let the tennis balls fly.

(3) Once I have my antenna situation under control, I can take the hamshack innards to the next level.

Questions to ponder:

Do I retain the hardcopy collection of QST magazines I’ve been carting around since 2005ish? Starting for the late 40’s, it is a solid collection up to 2000. It takes up a great deal of space and I have the same issues on CD. I’d like to find the collection a new (local) home, if possible.

My new job has me on the road – it would be great to take some gear on the road with me. What to take? Needs to have a small footprint. Sounds like a job for the KX1. What to use for an antenna?

Ham radio and my year in Korea

Here is a a re-cap of my amateur radio activities during my past twelve months in Korea:

(1) DX – I enjoyed working a good bit of DX, enjoying most QSOs with stateside contacts as well as Pacific exotics. The greatest limitation I had was my operation location and resulting inability to ideally situate an HF antenna. Living in the barracks (the ultimate in CC&R) restricted any type of permanent antenna installation, further limiting my options. I solely used a Buddipole (which after many additional accessory purchases, became two Buddipoles). Despite the antennas being positioned next to a three story building, I was able to make contacts to North America, South America, Europe, and even Africa. I credit this to improved band conditions over the past months and also the Buddipole… it’s a keeper.


(2) EchoIRLP node – I brought my embedded EchoIRLP node to Korea and interfaced it with a Kenwood VHF/UHF rig. Again, with my poor location and inability, I could not have an antenna installed outdoors. Instead, I kept the Kenwood rig at its minimum wattage setting and used a roll-up J-Pole made from ladder line. With my HT also set on minimum power, I was able to make effective use of the EchoIRLP node. My primary contacts via the node were with the XYL back in Kansas. She has a mobile VHF rig, to include APRS. I could check to see when she was on the road for her morning or afternoon commutes, connect through my EchoIRLP node here in Korea to our EchoIRLP node back in Kansas. With the XYL’s rig set to the frequency of the Kansas node, I could frequently ride along with the XYL and harmonics as they moved about. Additionally, the Echolink capability of the embedded node allowed me to regularly talk to my dad, KD6EUG, while he connected to my node via an app on his cell phone. Another great enjoyment was the ability to monitor the different IRLP reflectors and sometimes participate in ongoing nets. I am sold on the flexability of the embedded EchoIRLP node and will take it with me again when I get deployed for a long duration.


(3) D-STAR – starting with a D-STAR Dongle, I moved to a DV Access Point and got an ICOM D-STAR HT. I enjoyed playing with D-STAR and the ease of having the Access Point as well as the IC-92AD (http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/ht/5092.html) made using D-STAR pretty straight forward. There is no aruging that the audio quality for D-STARS is poor. The complicated nature of setting up a rig at home for the XYL would also make D-STAR a poor choice to replace the EchoIRLP node. However, I enjoyed having the flexibility of having the ability of getting on D-STAR.


(4) Linux – all my radio operations here were supported by using the Ubuntu distrobution of Linux. After toying with CQRlog, I have settled on fldigi as my primary interface to my HF rig.


(5) APRS – although my APRS operations here were limited to the internet (Korea has virtually no APRS traffic), I used xastir (www.xastir.org) to show where my operating location was and also advertised my EchoIRLP node.


(6) WX station – never happen. I could not find a good location to place the collector, so it is still in the box. More importantly, wgoohat I didn’t get the opportunity to learn was how to interface a weather station to the APRS application xastir.


(7) Stars & Stripes article – I was able to discuss my amateur radio experiences with a reporter from Stars & Stripes.

Post-Christmas Wrap Up

Christmas has come and gone – we had a great time here in Kansas. We had friends over Christmas Eve for dinner. The XYL made a huge feast and I took advantage of the home cooking. Meanwhile, we tracked Santa via the NORAD/Google Earth website. At 7pm, we were actually able to raise Santa via EchoLink and the USA Reflector. The kids enjoyed talking to Santa and where able to get in their last minute requests. After the guests left, I helped the 5 year-old put out milk and cookies for Santa. Then it was upstairs for a bedtime reading of The Night Before Christmas. Once the harmonics were snug in their beds (… not sure about the dancing sugar plums, more like dancing Zhu Zhu hamsters), the elves went into overtime setting up for the following morning (to include hanging the stockings with care). With the work finally complete, I was able to watch the last 30 minutes of It’s A Wonderful Life. I have seen it a million times, but always enjoy the sappy ending.

Christmas morning finally arrived. With a flurry of discarded (and ever growing pile of) wrapping paper – treasures were revealed. Lots of toys for the girls – to include an astronaut Barbie doll for the 5 year old (oddly enough, they don’t make a ham radio Barbie). I received an excellent book: Array of Light: Straight Talk About Antennas and Related Subjects (Third Edition) by Tom Schiller, N6BT. My dad picked the book up for me at Pacificon and I was quite surprised when I opened it. Mr. Schiller is a prolific author of antenna articles, co-founder of Force 12, and the dad of one of my good high school friends. Little did I know back then that my friend’s dad was a ham radio guru.

Next out of Santa’s sack with my name on it was the DVAP.

The DV Access Point Dongle is a neat device that plugs into an internet-connected computer’s USB port and allows you to access the D-Star network without having to go through a local D-Star enabled repeater. With my Icom IC-92AD, the DVAP is a perfect solution to access D-Stars. With the IC-92ADs ability to monitor two frequencies simultaneously allows me to connect and monitor a D-Star reflector or repeater while also listening to my embedded EchoIRLP node. It is a veritable cornucopia of ham radio VOIP.

D-Star, DV Dongle, and Ubuntu


Yet again, more success with Ubuntu and ham radio. I purchased a D-Star DV Dongle earlier this year and never had much time to play with it. I do not own an actual D-Star radio and the only time I have really ever seen D-Stars in action was at this year’s Hamvention. I am a fan of Echolink and IRLP – the DV Dongle seemed like a good way to dip my toe in the D-Stars pool without a big cash investment. Additionally, I haven’t been living near any existing D-Star repeaters (either back in Kansas or here in Korea).

Installing the DV Dongle on the hamputer went smoothly. Great instructions are located here or here. For support, there is a Yahoo Group which is active and brings quick response in troubleshooting problems.

Once I had the DV Dongle up and running, NJ6N has a webpage that provides a live look at who is active on which D-Star repeaters and reflectors.

There are plenty of resources out there, which could indicate the growing popularity of D-Stars.

If you are interested in having a D-Stars QSO, let me know.