Linux in the hamshack

I have endeavored to have my hamshack be 100% linux for a number of years. Licensed in 2001, my ham career really got going when I returned to the States in 2005. Upgrading to General and getting on HF, I integrated a computer into my operations. Ham Radio Deluxe was one of the most popular at the time and I used it – great for logging, digital modes, and rig control. When I had fun with APRS, I used UI-View, which was Windows based.

My first experience with linux was in the late 1990s. I had limited success. Not much later, Ubuntu gave me more of an opportunity to use linux for meeting my requirements for computing. I began to dip my toe in, using linux for rig control and logging. I switched to Mint around 2010-11. I found that Mint was easy to use and allowed me to use fldigi for digital modes, rig control, and logging. ARRL’s LOTW could also be used with linux and was integrated into fldigi. It was hard to find any aspect of the amateur radio hobby that required a computer and could not be done with linux.

Except, in my case, for one area of pursuit. APRS and my weather station. I had become a Davis Instruments fan since I got my first weather station in 2005. As mentioned before, UI-View handled the APRS portion and Davis had its own Windows-based software for handling the weather data the console produced. Back in 2011, the standard for linux-based APRS was Xastir. Xastir is a solid application and I had success using it to handle both internet and RF APRS traffic. But Xastir would not play well with the Davis Vantage Pro2. There was internet talk of a work around using a MySQL database. I had no luck. I kept my system on Windows, using UI-View for weather and APRS.

About two years ago, my Vantage Pro2, which I had since I was over in Iraq in 2007, finally died. The sensor package was mounted off my chimney when we first moved in to our current house over a decade ago. A great location for the weather station as it it high and clear of obstructions. Our roof, however, is steeply pitched and not something easy for me to traverse. I had gotten a TV antenna installation guy to install it – he did a great job. I think I had him back a few years later to swap out the battery. At one point, the board on the unit when bad and I replaced it. Then two years ago, one of our dogs shows up with an anemometer cup in her mouth. Perhaps a good sized chunk of hail had it the cup? Outside temperature data stopped working.

The old Vantage Pro2 with missing anemometer cup.

Rather than attempt to fix/repair the existing unit, it was time to replace. Over a decade is a long time to be exposed to the elements. I purchased a new Vantage Pro2 but then had a hard time finding someone to install. The local tv antenna guy took one look at my roof and said nope. A month ago we were getting our chimney inspected and cleaned and the gentleman was showing me pictures of the crown of the chimney. He’d just climbed up there. I asked if, for a reasonable fee, he’d be willing to swap out the weather station (and the VHF/UHF antenna). We struck a deal and now the weather station was operational again.

But could I still achieve my goal of a linux-based APRS/weather station? Enter weewx. This is an application that is like the Swiss army knife of weather station apps. I am not sure of what it does not do. The key aspect is that weewx produces a file (wxnow.txt) every minute using the same format used by APRS for weather data. Even better, the good folks at xastir created a script ( that copies the wxnow.txt information and pulls it into xastir. This was the solution!

And it works! Both weewx and xastir are happily working together on their own minimalist linux box, pulling in weather data from the Vantage Pro2 console via a serial connection while xastir is using a serial connection to transmit the weather data via my TM-D710A TNC functionality into the APRS system via RF. Weewx also creates a simple weather webpage which you can see here.

I kept a careful list of all the steps I completed in installing both weewx, MySQL, and xastir that I will post here soon – in case I need to reinstall. As of now the system seems to be stable and working nicely.

News from the shack

Keeping the shack in some semblance of order has always been a challenge for me. But the battle continues. Maybe a year ago or more I went through my shelves and transferred the vast majority of the contents that had been stored in a collection of totes and cardboard boxes to a fairly standardized set of see-through storage totes. During the holidays I went through these totes again to actually sort through the items to (1) see what I actually have and (2) attempt to organize and group items in some sort of systematized fashion. And now I am just about there.

Here is a list of small projects I have been working on or hope to soon:

(1) I have an EchoIRLP node that is connected to my shack’s TM-D710A. Previously when someone connects to my node, my only indication is to hear the fan start on the TM-D710A. I have an old, unused and gathering dust, Uniden Bearcat BC245XLT scanner that would be perfect to monitor my nodes frequency from inside the shack. The battery pack that supported the BC245XLT had long expired. Now that all my Anderson Powerpole items are organized I was able to find the correct 12v cable with fitting connector to power up the scanner sitting on the shelf. Now if someone connects and I am in the shack, I will certainly hear them.

(2) There is a lot of excess gear in the shack. Stacks of stuff I really do not need and am not going to use. Now it is time to part with it and send it to a good home. And now I can figure out what I have and what I can sell.

(3) Clean up my J-38. I have checked out the key, it adjusts well and I have used it for some QSOs. I have ordered a base for it from Wally, W6PPP, who has an eBay store that sells a variety of sturdy bases for straight keys as well as knobs for keys.

(4) Adding the sidecar (formally called an attendant console) to my Hamshack Hotline connected Cisco SPA525G2. I can use the sidecar to load up speed dial numbers for connecting to RF nodes, a constant stream of Art Bell shows, or the BBC. If you have a Hamshack Hotline, give me a call: 6100000065.

(5) When the weather clears, I hope to get some work done on the dipole as well as replacing the Davis Vantage Pro2.

News from the shack

     I have had my Elecraft K3 for almost ten years. But I have been remiss at keeping my firmware updated. As part of my effort to square away the shack, I updated the K3 and KAT500 tuner. Elecraft supplies the utility application, which includes a nearly effortless linux version. The K3 update took place through my microHAM USB Interface III connection between my shack computer and the rig; although I had to shutdown fldigi first to allow the utility app to have full access to the USB connection.
     The KAT500 is connected through a 3.5mm stereo connection on the back panel. This took me by surprise, as I would have expected a RS-232 serial connection. The cable for this job is the KXUSB. 3.5mm plug at one end and USB into the computer at the other. The Elecraft utility for the KAT500 worked just as seamlessly.
     The KPA500 requires a serial connection to update the firmware. At first I looked around for a RS-232 serial cable. For years I had a tub full of serial and parallel cables, sitting and gathering dust. Apparently I got rid of the tub and didn’t even keep one. Then I realized I could just use one of the serial to USB connectors I have, which worked great. Updating the KPA500 went as smoothly as the tuner and rig.
     To exercise the rig and the newly organized shack, I have been trying to get on the air. The first way I have tried to do this is through checking into the OMISS Net. I joined OMISS a few years back, but hadn’t checked into a net in a long while. It has been fun making contacts on their 80m, 40m, and 20m nets. With the large number and geographically distributed net participants, it gives me a great idea on how my antenna is performing as well as how propagation is impacted by frequency and time of day… as well as the fickle whims of the HF gods.
     The other opportunity to get on the air has been the Kansas Weather Net. They meet twice a day on 80m: 0700 and 1700 local time. Its a directed net that runs off a set list, but they allow all comers at the end. It is good practice passing a message and allows me to check my equipment for 80m. I’ve made up a “cheat sheet” that gives me the blanks to fill in for my own weather report as well as tracking those participating in the net.
     Participation in the weather net also serves as a reminder that I need to repair/replace my Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station. My dream of using Xastir to run an APRS, including weather data, seems possible – although setup will include many hoops to jump through. At a minimum, I want to be able to pull all my weather report data from my station. Right now, that is not possible.
     Part of the shack cleanup has been offering up unused equipment for sale. So far I have been able to hand off a pair of Bencher paddles, an MFJ combo of a code oscillator, Morse pocket tutor, and set of Skilman Morse training CDs. I’ve also parted with some kits that I didn’t think I’d ever actually build. There is more to part with and I need to keep the pace. It may help fund a replacement Vantage Pro2.

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.

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.

Get crackalackin’

As Fall is here, it is time to put together a To Do list of everything I have been putting off all Summer and the beginning of the school year.


I have four of these rigs and they need some TLC. I need to make sure they have the updated firmware on the main unit, TNC, and operating panel.

The latest versions:
TNC: 1.02 – May 2011
Operating Panel: 2.12 – Janurary 2015
Main unit: 2.10 – May 2011

For the benifit of emergency operations, I have been performing the modificiation to the TM-D710As to open the frequency range.

Standard frequency plan. I developed a spreadsheet of the repeaters in the greater Kansas City area, frequecies for FRS/GMRS, the Kansas City Airport (MCI), Sherman Army Airfield, and various national park frequency plans. This is the first step in standardizing the configuration across all four of the TM-D710As. I can additionally take the spreadsheet and use it for programming my HTs. This should allow for a memory channel standardization that will make my life easier.

Weather Station

The current Davis Vantage Pro2 I have installed on the roof needs maintenance. Wouldn’t it be nice to get the top of the line version?

For some time I have been talking about finding a weather station setup that will work with a linux-based computer. That quest continues. I have read about a piece of software called Meteo that is suppose to work with Xastir.

And if I can’t get Xastir to work with the Vantage Pro2… is there another comparable weather station that WILL work with Xastir? Life would be a lot easier without Windows.

HF Antenna for home

I need to string up the Carolina Windom I have had sitting on the shelf for the last few years. The G5RV that is up now is showing its age (not to mention one of the legs is drooping badly). Now that the leaves have fallen, I should be able to get the Windom up there without too many problems (… famous last words).

HF setup in the mobile

Time to get going. I have all the materials I need. What I don’t have is an installation plan… mainly for the Tarheel antenna. I can’t do a hitch mount because I need the hitch for pulling my travel trailer. Two possible options: (a) get a swinging gate for the back bumper where you could mount a spare tire and a water can or (b) find some way to afix a mount coming out behind the left rear tire.

Homebrew Weather Prediction?

I enjoy having a weather station at home. It is hooked up to APRS,, and I even have a weather webpage. One of the standard exchanges of information in most general QSOs is the weather: temperature, rain, …. I also like telling the folks in Florida that my humidity is 40% (I am not a fan of humidity having expierenced Fort Benning, GA in the summertime and monsoon season in Korea, not to mention my unairconditioned room at The Citadel (although I hear they have air conditioning now!)). It is easy to look at my desktop display and get all the data I need. I have heard of some folks who have a way to pull their weather data directly from their weather stations and input it into their PSK QSOs. Pretty slick, but I have never figured out how to do that (… yet).

All that being said, I do not get into weather prediction that much. If I see the barometer dropping, I may check the locak National Weather Service radar to see if anything is moving in (weather here moves from west to east). But if I wanted to get into weather prediction, this would make an interesting homebrew project: The Tempest Prognosticator.

Developed in the 1850s by Dr. George Merryweather, this device used leeches that would ring a bell if a storm was approaching. The device was even featured in Britian’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite the publicity, Dr. Merryweather was never able to get the government interested in putting the device into use.

I am sure there would be a way to interface the slugs with some kinda of Arduino device that would send out weather predicitions via APRS data. 🙂

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?

The Lansing, KS Hamshack

Progress has been slow in getting my shack setup at the new QTH in Lansing, KS. I had success running three differnt feedlines from the shack, through a narrow path between the basement ceiling and the main floor to an access box on the houses exterior wall exiting to the side yard. I purchased 50′ coax cables for each run, thinking that 50′ feet might have been too long. However, 50′ ended up being right on the nose, offering me just the right amount of slack in the hamshack and easily reaching the access panel on the exterior wall.

I have unpacked the majority of my equipment that came from Korea and from the old house in Leavenworth. The weather station and VHF/UHF antenna is temporarily mounted on our deck. The plan is to mount it on the chimney, but I am going to need some help getting it up there.

I have a Buddipole up in the side yard and connected it up to one of the feedlines. I fired up the K3 and the radio seems to be working well. Next I tried connecting the Microham USB III digital interface, but have run into some trouble in getting it to cooperate with fldigi. This time, once I get everything working, I am going to copy down all the settings as well as the connections to make sure next time I move it, I don’t have such a steep curve to re-figure out what I had already figured out some time ago.

Some minor problems I am encountering (besides the fldigi/Microham USB III): the weather station gets buggy when I am transmitting on VHF and the weather station software freezes up when I transmit on 40M. The later problem is nothing new and I had limited success trouble shooting the problem by adding chokes to the weather station data display power supply and putting the computer that runs the weather station software on an UPS. The VHF transmission problem is new. I have a 2″ PVC pipe that both the VHF antenna and the weather station are mounted on. I have not previously had a problem with any interference from the VHF antenna, but I will try and move the weather station down the PVC pipe a bit and see if that eliminates the interference issue.

Tasks that still await me: cleaning up the workbench, clearing out the excess boxes that are lying around, organize the QSL cards. I need to establish (and stick with) a system for managing QSL cards. I am pretty sure I have enough cards to get my DXCC, but I have to put the cards in order. I also have a stack of cards to send to the outgoing bureau for the YI9MI operation and a handfull for HL2/AD7MI and HL9MI.

Here Comes the Sun

After a week of cold temps here on the eastern edge of Kansas, it looks like we are finally going to see some relief and also bid farewell to all the snow that’s been hanging around.

Some initial high temps back around New Year’s Eve was able to melt a bit of the snow around my weather station perched way up on our roof. Then temps dropped and my wind vane froze pointing almost north (indicated by the solid red line at the top of the graph).

Some increased sunlight and rising temps finally freed the vane. Probably next will get some melting snow making the rain collector indicate some rainfall.

My Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station is going to need a good spring cleaning, replacing the on-board battery, cleaning off the solar panel that helps with power, and cleaning out the rain collector.

So far, so good with my new weather station >dedicated< computer setup. The computer has been puttering away without issue. I do still need to hook up the UPS to keep both the computer and radio alive should the AC power get interrupted.