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.

On a radio safari

Today was a real adventure on the airwaves. I only made 12 contacts, but there were a few that are quite memorable. My location here in South Korea affords me the ability to make contact with exotic locations even with my modest Buddipole antenna. The first contact wasn’t actually a contact – tuning around 20M, I stumbled across 9W6HLM and 9W6BOB operating from Borneo (yes, 9W6BOB is Borneo Bob… how cool is that?). Both stations were on the air, leisurely trolling for contacts… although they couldn’t hear me. I was able to hear them work Denis, WA5TYJ, in New Mexico. Fortunately, the noise level for me was very low and I could just hear Denis.

The next two contacts were with JA’s – a completely unremarkable accomplishment from the QTH here in HL-land. However, they were made using my newly basedlined Linux Ubuntu hamputer using CQRLOG, Fldigi, and Flrig. Again, an unremarkable accomplishment on the face of it… until you hear about my trials and tribulations of getting it working.

Then I worked ZS6CCY, a South African station, on 20M phone! That was pretty exciting. I switched to Fldigi to give PSK31 a try and was able to work a few Russian stations. Then booming down the waterfall came Kim, HL2DYS. I had yet to work another station here in South Korea… but I had to be patient. Kim was working the South Pacific and Europe. When there was a hole, a jumped in and we had a great QSO. Hopefully I will be able to meet Kim soon for an eyeball QSO.

There was a major JA phone contest underway, so I decided to head up to 17M and see if I could scare up another phone contact. While spinning and grinning I fell upon V73RS… Rob on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Wow!! He was just above the noise level and I was his first contact before the spotters got him and the pile-up hit. Rob stuck with me, which is saying something. First – because my callsign here is HL2/AD7MI…. which is horrendously difficult to pass across less than desirable band conditions. Second – Rob wanted the name of my city, which is Uijeongbu (I spell: Uniform India Juliet Echo Oscar November Golf Bravo Uniform). It is quite a mouthful. The pileup kept building, but Rob stayed with the QSO and told me he was there on Kwajalein and that I should look for him on 10M, as conditions generally more favorable for a 2-way exchange.

Back to 20M where I worked another Russian station. Then I snagged JT1DN, a station for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It is hard to get more exotic than Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia is not actually far from Korea, but it was my first contact ever with the country and I won’t soon forget it.

Maintaining the exotic theme – my next contact was with YC9ETJ – Bali Island, Indonesia. Agung had quite a pile up and I was glad to get picked up by him.

Sunset and the grayline approached and I was successful in working Poland and Norway. All in all – I was quite excited with the contacts for the day.

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.

Grub… more than just a tasty treat

With a dual boot (Windows and Ubuntu linux) system, Ubuntu installs GRUB (GRand Unified Bootloader) which allows you to select which OS you want to boot with. The default is Ubuntu. However, sometimes you’ll have a system that you’d like to have default to Windows (like my wx-aprs computer).

The latest distribution of Ubuntu (9.10) has changed the way GRUB works and the Ubuntu wiki explains what you need to do if you want to change the default OS GRUB will select when going through the boot process.

How To Remove Ubuntu’s Password Keyring

An issue than has creeped up in some of the more recent distributions of Ubuntu is the use of the Password Keyring. While a great idea for security, it makes it a bit more difficult to remotely reboot an Ubuntu computer if it is using a wireless connection. Fortunately a solution was available…

From Dave’s Tech Blog:

I would have made the title of this post “How to remove the Keyring password manager in Ubuntu Linux” but that’s kinda long… Anyway, you might be wondering what the keyring password manager is. It is a built in feature of Ubuntu that remembers passwords for things like FTP account logins, Evolution Email accounts, your wireless network authentication passwords, etc., and locks them all behind a kind of Master Password of sorts. So for example, lets pretend that the password for your wireless network was 64 characters long and was just a bunch of random numbers and letters that you’d only be able to remember if you were some kind of freak savant mathematician. The keyring password manager would remember this for you, but will only allow the system to access and use that long password after you grant it access to the keyring.

As nice and handy as this might sound to security buffs, it’s struck me as a minor inconvenience. For starts, if I were to configure Ubuntu to automatically login to my account after I turn the computer on, I would then also be asked to type in my keyring password so it would connect to my wireless network. This becomes a bigger problem if, for instance, I were to connect to my computer remotely and had to reset it for some reason, like applying a recent kernel update. The snag there would be that after restarting, my computer would boot up, but since I’m not physically sitting in front of it, it would sit there waiting for me to enter a keyring password before it would reconnect to my wireless network, and I’d have to go home or ask someone else to type in the password for me.

So what I’ve always wanted to have happen is this:

* I start or restart the computer by remote (such as through SSH or VNC).
* After booting it automatically logs into my account and connects to my wireless network without asking for any passwords along the way so I can VNC right back into the system with no further trouble.

I’ve finally learned how to do this, and it’s stupid easy to do.

There is of course a few security drawbacks about doing this. For starts, if any person were to gain physical access to my machine they’d be able to connect to my wireless network without needing to enter a password. Then again, if someone I don’t trust has somehow gained physical access to my machine I might as well go ahead and consider it to be compromised.

Now, if the PC were in an office with a bunch of random co-workers always around, I’d be a lot more concerned. If that were the case, I’d have that puppy locked down with a power on password, disable booting from the CD-ROM/Ethernet/USB in the BIOS, perhaps have a GRUB password and be working with an encrypted HD partition, and of course auto-login would be disabled so I would be required to enter anywhere from 2 to 3 different passwords just to login to the system. But this thing is in my house behind two large dogs and a dead-bolt locked door, functioning as a server that requires a password for me to access it by via SSH or VNC anyway. So for this particular PC, I see little harm in opting out of using this security feature.

So here’s how you get rid of the keyring manager. Please note this will erase saved passwords you have so be sure you know or remember them before you make your computer forget them:

1. Open up your Home Folder by clicking Places>Home Folder
2. Press CTRL-H (or click View>Show Hidden Files)
3. Find a folder called .gnome2 (it has a period at the beginning of the name) and open it by double clicking on it
4. In side of the .gnome2 folder, there is another folder called keyrings. Open it up.
5. Delete any files you find within the keyrings folder
6. Restart the computer

After you restart and login (if you’re automatically logging in) you’ll probably be asked to enter your wireless networks WPA/WEP encryption key. After you type that password in, the keyring manager will appear to let you know that it would like to handle the storage of that password and lock it away with a new keyring password. The box looks like this:

Instead of typing in a new password, leave both boxes completely empty and click Create.

You’ll then be asked if you know what the hell you’re doing:

Go ahead and click Use Unsafe Storage.

WARNING: Doing this creates a new file in your ~/.gnome2/keyrings/ folder called default.keyring and it will now house passwords IN CLEAR TEXT and not in an encrypted form. So it is imperative that you are certain no untrustworthy persons can access your user account (either physically or by remote) or they will be able to easily open and read this file and obtain many passwords (for things such as FTP accounts, SSH, e-mail accounts, etc). Proceed with caution.

From here on all keyring stored passwords you enter will not safeguarded behind a master password or encryption. Whether or not you want to do this is entirely up to you. I personally have had enough of the keyring manager and consider it kind of annoying. But as I said before, you may have certain environmental factors that make having a master password over the rest of your passwords a good idea. Keep in mind that the keyring password manager has absolutely nothing to do with your administrative/root privilages password that has to be entered any time you want to apply updates, or add/remove software. You will still have to type your account password in for these actions, and that is something I am quite comfortable with. I’m just happy I don’t have to have to ask my girlfriend to type in a keyring password every time I want to restart the computer while I’m away from home.

Thanks Dave!

Dell Mini 9 + Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix = Netbook Nirvana

My Dell Mini 9 netbook had been limping along on the Ubuntu distribution that came with it – 8.04. This specific version put out by Dell had some flaws. Follow on distributions were rumored to be glitchy with the Dell Mini 9; problems with WiFi, the integrated webcam, and other nits. With 9.04, Ubuntu introduced the Netbook Remix. Ubuntu’s website says that, “a remix is a ‘respun’ version of Ubuntu built for a specific purpose. Although Canonical has encouraged community projects to use this terminology for some time, this is the first time that Canonical has used it. We are using it to differentiate from an ‘Edition’ which we consider a complete version with daily builds suitable for the average user with no additional work beyond installing the CD.”

I loaded the remix from a USB flash drive (the Dell Mini does not have a CD drive). Everything worked flawlessly. The initall WiFi connection is quicker, Skype works with the embedded webcam, and the menu driven layout of the remix is intuitive. The initial OS took up only a mere 2GBs worth of space on the Dell Mini’s solid state hard drive.

While I do not enjoy the small keyboard and screen, the Dell Mini is a great little netbook to take notes on in a classroom and makes for a light load when traveling. Perhaps a good companion for a QRP field operation?

I look forward to playing around with my revitalized Dell Mini.

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.

Kind of looks like a toaster

I think I have come up with a good home networking storage solution: the D-Link DNS-323. This network storage device can do quite a bit. It arrives out of the box without drives – you have to supply them. I like this because I can determine the types, speed, and size of the drives. My solution was two 1.5 TB drives running at 7200rpm. I configured the drives for RAID 1. This gives me only about 1.5 TB worth of storage, but if a drive fails all I need to do is swap in a new drive and I will be back in business. The device connects directly to by networks hub and can be configured using a web interface. The firmware on the device is linux based and allows for ftp and telnet. Other interesting features include UPnP, iTunes server, and print server. I already have a print server, but later on that feature might come in handy. The UPnP works great with my Phillips Streamium device. I have not played with the iTunes server yet, but I think that will be fun to see how it works.

Linux in the Ham Shack

I found an excellent podcast focusing on using linux in support of amateur radio. The show is hosted by Richard, KB5JVB, and Russ, K5TUX. The first episode debuted in October 2008 and as of this month there are a total of 8 episodes with another episode due any day. Richard is a good ol’ boy from Dallas, TX and it is worth listening to the show just to hear his banter. Russ is the brains behind the operation. There is also a forum for discussion.
I am trying to find a good logging program that I can use. Under Windows I use Ham Radio Deluxe, which is hard to beat with all its features. Is there any piece of linux software that is a feature rich?
There is CQRLOG. This looks like a fairly new piece of software that is described as: an advanced ham radio logger based on Firebird database. Provides radio control based on hamlib libraries (currently support of 140+ radio types and models), DX cluster connection, QRZ callbook (web version), a grayliner, ON6DP QSL manager database support and a most accurate country resolution algorithm based on country tables developed by OK1RR. CQRLOG is intended for daily general logging of HF, CW & SSB contacts and strongly focused on easy operation and maintenance.

How-to: Mount a Network drive in Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a great distribution of linux – setup is quick and painless. However, mounting network drives can sometimes get tricky. Here is a great reference to get through it.

From the blog Automaticable:

#1 First you will need to install the “smbfs” package. This is what we will use to mount the drive.

sudo aptitude install smbfs

#2 We will also need a folder to mount the drive in. I used /media/public.

sudo mkdir /media/public

#3 Then, we need to edit /etc/fstab. This is where we add all the information needed to find and mount the drive. Open /etc/fstab using the command:

gksudo gedit /etc/fstab

At the end of the file add the following lines:

Mount our network drive
//SERVER/SHARE /MOUNT-POINT smbfs guest 0 0

Where “SERVER” is the name of your drive on the network. This can be either a name or IP address. For example, mine was “MAXTOR”. Replace “SHARE” with the folder in the drive you’d like to mount– mine was “Public”. “MOUNT-POINT” is the directory we created earlier, such as “/media/public”. The rest of the parameters have to do with permissions, and also where you can add advanced options. For more information on the advanced preferences, see

man mount.smbfs

#4 The final step is to tell the system to reload /etc/fstab and mount our drive. Do this with the command:

sudo mount -a

Then, you’re done! At this point you should be able to see the files in your drive with the command


More info here.