The Day The Computer Died (aka dialout)

I have been using small footprint computers in ham shack for a while. It started with the Dell Zino. Always a bit under powered, but enough to get the hamming done. The latest computer driving everything was one of those barebones models that was the size of a shoe box. The first sign of decline was when the fan kept getting louder and LOUDER. The the drive (500GBs of SATA) then decided to give up the ghost.

An immediate lesson learned… back up my log. I have been good at uploading my logs (almost daily, when on the air) to LOTW,, and eQSL. But I would only export that days contacts, consistently replacing the previous days exported log.

I choose not to abandon the small footprint computer and went back to the Shuttle. was my one stop shopping:

The case and motherboard: Shuttle XH81 Intel Core i7 / i5 / i3 / Pentium / Celeron 65W Intel H81 1 x HDMI Barebone system
– small form factor, fits neatly underneath monitor.
– 2x RS-232 connections on the back. Perfect for connecting to the Elecraft amp and tuner.
– Plenty of USB connections

Intel Core i7-4770S Haswell Quad-Core 3.1 GHz LGA 1150 65W BX80646I74770S Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics
– not the fastest, but fast enough.
– comes with a super quiet fan.

Transcend JetRam 8GB 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Laptop Memory Model JM1600KSH-8G
– I got two DIMMs to keep things moving… 16GBs = snappy!

SAMSUNG 850 EVO 2.5″ 250GB SATA III 3-D Vertical Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) MZ-75E250B/AM
– Good bye disk, hello solid state. Faster. Silent.

The actual build was plug and play. The Shuttle line has come a long way since my last experience with their product. I think these specific computers are designed to operate older types of technology (hint…. 2x RS-232 connections?) which works great with most amateur radio needs.

The next step was loading the OS. LiLi USB Creator is my go to solution for installing linux when I don’t have an optical drive (which is more often the case). This allows you to load the OS through booting directly from the USB stick.

The linux flavor of the day: Mint with the MATE edition. I was an Ubuntu man until Unity. Then made the jump to Mint. The OS loaded without issue and I was off and running.

Amazingly enough, I was able to install TQSL-2.2. In the past, I have been able to install TQSL from the Software Manager. But this has been an older version of TQSL. The newer versions ALWAYS gave my problems with dependency issues during attempted installs. I stayed with it this time and finally got it working. Phew!

The install of fldigi went smoothe, but configuring it to work with my Elecraft K3 was giving me fits. In my past setup, I’ve always used hamlib for rig control and the trick was just finding which USB number was being used for my USB Microham III. But this time, the USB Microham III was identified by name as a choice. Great! But it didn’t initialize. I tried USB0 (…. nothing), combed over the results of lsusb…. not… working. After some intense Googling, I ran across a command I had never seen before:

sudo adduser [username] dialout

Dialout!? Who knew? But that did the trick.

Now, here is something funny. We all have our junk boxes. As hams, we are pack rats. We hang on to stuff that has no current use, but may someday. I had a box RS-232 cables. When Fall Cleaning swept through the ham shack, I looked at the RS-232 cables. I am really going to need 15 RS-232 cables ranging in length between two and 15 feet? The box headed to the dump.

Now, with my growing K-Line, I can use Elecraft software (linux versions available) to monitor data from the amp and tuner. But the connections are serial. SERIAL. I turned the ham shack upside down and not an RS-232 cable to be found. I really don’t want to have to actually go out and BUY a serial cable.

Ham Radio Deluxe vs fldigi

I’ve recently re-established my station here in Kansas. The majority of all the components of my station I was using previously in Korea: Elecraft K3 rig, a Dell Zino PC, using the MicroHam USB III as an interface between the radio and computer. The Dell Zino PC is configured for dual-boot: Windows 7 and Ubuntu. Last year I spent a good deal of time configuring fldigi, under Ubuntu, to fulfill the majority of my amateur radio automation requirements (rig control, logging, digital modes). After a bit of trial and error, I had fldigi working quite well.

Once I was back here in Kansas, I had a problem configuring the K3 – CW, as a mode, wasn’t working. Figuring I had messed up a setting, I reset the K3… which ended up not being the smartest move. Up to this point, I had never updated the K3’s firmware or backed up the settings. I (incorrectly) believed that Elecraft’s configuration software was for Windows only. An email to Elecraft generated a quick response with a copy of the software configuration file for my specific rig.

Weeks past as I avoided getting the hamshack into proper order. The hamshack became the default location for stashing half unpacked boxes. Once I finally made serious progress in sorting through and organizing everything, I was able to get to the K3 and PC. I booted up Windows 7, connected the PC to the K3, updated the firmware, and reloaded the original factory software settings. Things were looking up.

I decided to see if Ham Radio Deluxe under Windows 7 was easier to use than fldigi. I updated Ham Radio Deluxe to the current version and then attempted to get the MicroHam USB III to work. Frankly it was a pretty kludgey process. An additional program had to be installed to create a virtual com port in order to allow the MicroHam USB III to work. Configuring the soundcard, resident in the USB III, was also not very successful. Then I tried Ham Radio Deluxe, which had been my software of choice a little over a year ago. Bottom line, I was not pleased with Ham Radio Deluxe and decided to switch back to fldigi.

Booting into Ubuntu, fldigi worked from the get go…. rig control, log, and digital modes. For now, I’ll be sticking with Ubuntu and fldigi.

NOTE: Here is a list of settings that I use:

Fldigi config:
Rig control
– RigCAT
– /dev/tty/USB0
– Baud rate: 38400
– Toggle DTR for PTT

Ubuntu Sound Preferences
– Hardware: USB Audio CODEC, Analog Stereo Duplex
– Input: Internal Audio Analog Stereo [this confuses me, because I would expect the input would be associated with the USB Audio device (aka the Microham)
– Output: USB Audio CODEC Analog Stereo
– Application: No application

Linux is finally in the Ham Shack

Back in February I talked about my plans to piece together a portable station based around the iPORTABLE enclosures, an IC-7000, and a Dell Zino HD computer. In one iPORTABLE I installed an LDG AT-200pro and the IC-7000. The other iPORTABLE contains an Alinco DM-330MV power supply and the Dell Zino.

The iPORTABLE enclosures keep everything contained and compact. I’ve set them up, one stacked upon the other on my desk near the window in my quarters here in Korea… which makes it easy to connect to the antenna feedline.

When I recently received my Buddipole and subsequently got on the air, I looked to an Ubuntu solution for managing my log, digital modes, as well as rig control. Fldigi, by itself, was great for digital modes… but was difficult to get working with my Dell Zino’s sound card and my West Mountain Radio’s (not so) Plug & Play RIGBlaster. Using Grig for rig control was unsatisfying. Logging with Xlog worked, but it wasn’t integrated with either rig control or Fldigi. I was looking for a similar experience that I got from Ham Radio Deluxe.

Many of the Linux crowd bash Ham Radio Deluxe – and I am not fully sure why. First off – it is free… doesn’t cost a dime. The two primary gripes are that HRD doesn’t offer a linux version and that the overall software package is bloated. I’ll be the first to say that I used HRD for quite a while and found all its features quite useful. The integration of its digital modes software package with HRD made HRD that much better. I used HRD as my primary logging/digital modes suite when I was operating from Iraq and the software never let me down.

That being said… I still wanted to find the Linux solution, if for no other reason than to just do it. I tried shackbox. shackbox was on the right path, but installation was a bit wonky and then the developer stopped supporting it. Linux In The Ham Shack taunted me with the elusive vision of a amateur radio station seamlessly powered by Linux. Using WINE to run HRD under Ubuntu seemed ridiculous… using WINE, to me, seems to defeat the purpose of having Linux.

Fldigi has long been a linux ham radio star. Featured in the January 2010 issue of Linux Journal, it is a favorite. But for me, it wasn’t a replacement for HRD. It lacked full rig control and the logging was pretty basic. CQRLOG offered a solution. It claimed to integrate Fldigi and provide top-notch logging along with rig control. Was this the solution I was looking for?

For hardware, I selected the Dell Zino HD. It has a small form factor – just fitting into one of the two shelves in the iPORTABLE enclosure. The computer ended up being easy to configure as a dual boot – Windows 7 and Ubuntu. I tried using Fldigi, but kept running into problems. Thinking it was a problem with the Zino’s soundcard, I ordered one of those USB stick soundcards from… which I got and stuck in the drawer, still in its blister-pak.

The arrival of the Buddipole spurred a renewed sense of urgency to achieve a Linux-ham solution. I tried to install CQRLOG… it looked like it installed fine but when it I tried to start it – nothing happen. Caught between a decision to get on the air and participate in CQ WW DX Contest or dork around with Linux, I defaulted to using Windows 7 and HRD.

Now that the big contest is over – I decided to tackle this issue of ham and linux. The problem, as I’d left it, was that CQRLOG wasn’t working and I had a questionable soundcard. After researching, Googling, peeking, and poking I figured out that the problem was that CQRLOG does not play well with 64-bit distributions of Ubuntu. I reinstalled Ubuntu using a 32-bit distribution, installed all the required libraries, configured, make’d, sudo’ed make install…. and then…. it WORKED! After more tweaking with the rig control, Fldigi worked along side CQRLOG. Flrig as well – which is a great rig control app.

The final nail in the coffin for Windows and HRD was when I exported my log and then imported into CQRLOG… without issue. Now I am truly Spinning and Grinning in a 100% Linux Nirvana.

Sunday Snowy Sunday

Lots of snow here on the eastern edge of Kansas. We got a good dump of slush on Friday but with the temp too high none of it stuck. Then Saturday afternoon the temp dropped below 32d F and decided to stay around 29d F. Saturday night the snow started coming down and has not stopped since.
The snow has been a big hit with Sarah:

My trusty Toyota Tundra (no recalls yet… keeping my fingers crossed) is wearing a nice, thick coat of snowy goodness:

I’ve rekindled my interest in EchoLink and now have a full blown EchoIRLP node (EchoLink Node #496698 and IRLP Node #3370) and am using a TM-D710A to run the node as well as my APRS weather station. What I have been enjoying most so far about IRLP is the ability to tweak and play with the linux software via a (or multiple) terminal session(s). It is helping me improve my linux skills.

Speaking of linux, I have been piecing together my iPORTABLE-mounted station. Each box comfortably fits two components. Box #1 has an IC-7000 and an LDG AT-200pro tuner. Box #2 has a Dell Zino HD and an Alinco DM-330MV power supply. Box #3 will have an embedded EchoIRLP node and a TM-D710A. Box#1 and #2 are already assembled and it makes for a nice, portable working station. Back to linux… it has long been a desire of mine to switch as much of my computing to Ubuntu as possible. Currently the Dell Zino has a dual boot configuration of Vista (which was already installed) and Ubuntu 9.10. I have been trying to put together a nice amateur radio software collection on the Zino and have had mixed results. For rig control, it is hard to beat the Windows program Ham Radio Deluxe. The closest linux version I’ve been able to find is an application called Grig. Not quite what I want to take advantage of all the bells and whistles that the IC-7000 has. I’ve been listening to the excellent podcast Linux in the Ham Shack for recommendations (episode #13 is dedicated to rig control), perusing the January 2010 issue of Linux Journal (the issue is dedicated to Amateur Radio and Linux), and am also looking at shackbox, which is a linux distribution designed with amateur radio in mind. I think I am going to give shackbox a try and see how it goes.

… all of this on a snowy Sunday.

If you get a chance, connect to my EchoIRLP node (EchoLink Node #496698 and IRLP Node #3370) and say hello. You’ll help me procrastinate in finishing my paper on the Army Amateur Radio System.

Let it snow!

It is snowing now – NWS says we’ll get 2 inches. I am hoping for more. I’ll have to do a bit of shoveling to clear the driveway in the morning, then I’ll head out with the 4 year old for some sledding. Should be a good time, although with the low temps (the high today was 10F) we will have to bundle up a bit. It has been so cold since New Year’s Eve that the wind direction sensor on my Davis Vantage Pro2 has frozen, pointing north.

I’ve been doing a little configuration work in the shack. I decided to dedicate one of my computers to running my weather station/APRS combo. Before I had the software (Weather Display and UI-View32) running on the same computer I used for my HF work. Things got busy with the log and Ham Radio Deluxe going plus the APRS and weather applications. Moving the weather and APRS applications onto its own computer should give me a bit more stability. I installed a dual boot configuration of Win XP and Ubuntu 9.10. I am initially sticking with Win XP as I know it works well with both Weather Display and UI-View32. My plan is then to migrate to Ubuntu 9.10 and run Xastir and the Linux version of Weather Display. I need to do some googeling and see who else is doing that and see what issues they ran into. I did find and interesting linux application called wview – will definitely explore that. Looks like it is also a replacement for Weather Display Live.

I have a new computer than I am going to dedicate to just HF operations – one of Dell’s new Zino computers. I like the small form factor and I will also install a dual boot configuration to have some fun with both Win XP and Ubuntu.

The old (circa 2005) desktop computer that used to run both the HF ham applications, Weather Display, and UI-View32 has now been moved to another table in the basement and has become the arcade machine. My cool xmas gift was the X-Arcade Tankstick – an amazing arcade controller that is built like an old school arcade console. Along with MAME software I have been able to play some wonderful, classic arcade games: Pac-Man, Galaga, Berzerk!, Robotron, Battlezone, and my favorite – Scramble. The Tankstick also has a trackball, so I have been able to relive the glory of both Missile Command and Centepede as well. I’ve had the four year old behind the joystick playing Frogger – and she did pretty darn good. It is hard to beat the classic arcade games.

The plan for my HF station, based around my Icom IC-7000 is to mount it in two iPortable boxes. The set up will include the IC-7000, a tuner, power supply, and the Dell Zino. If (…when…) I am deployed again, I will be able to have these two iPortable boxes sent out to me. I’ll take some pics as I put the iPortable station together and post it here.