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 The version that is available in the repositories is outdated.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’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.

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.