The Day The Computer Died

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, QRZ.com, 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. Newegg.org 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.

Time to get in Line

Excitement in the shack! We’ve had a new addition. I have had my Elecraft K3 for quite a while. Nothing but positive words about it. It has never let me down.

We’ve all heard about the K-Line. I am assuming that the term K-Line is an omage to the Collins S-Line.

Through my research of MARS, I know that the Collins S-Line was the choice of MARS stations. Collins even had a repair shop located at the major air base outside of Saigon.

Although I have never operated any Collins gear, from what I’ve read it was built like a tank but clearly was designed to have aesthetic appeal. Elecraft is aiming to achieve the same.

I’ve started my attempt at building my K-line with the addition of the Elecraft amp and tuner. Both easily interface with each other and the K3. This allows for seamless band switching and tuning.

While only a 500 watt amplifier, I have already noticed an notable increase in my ability to make contacts and get to the top of the pileup. Band conditions helped, I’m sure – but it was still enjoyable making contacts with South Africa, Findland, the Canary Islands, and Aruba. Stateside contacts have also seemed to be easier to make with a little extra punch.

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.

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

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.

Unveiled – the new Elecraft K3

This HF 160-10m rig comes in 10 and 100 watt versions. You can also get a kit version so you can build it yourself.

Please read the official announcement from the Elecraft Mailing list.

Greetings!

This afternoon at the DX Convention in Visalia, CA, we unveiled a new top-of-the-line transceiver — the Elecraft K3. This is the culmination of three years of design, test, and refinement, and we believe the K3 will set a new standard for performance and value in its class. It has features and performance comparable to present radios ranging from $4000 to $12000.

(We’d like to thank the many surprised convention attendees. What they all said boils down to something like “Yes!”)

A full K3 web page will be set up by Monday, complete with order form and other details. Meanwhile, please take a look at the temporary page:

http://www.elecraft.com/K3

Among other things, you’ll find a very high-resolution front panel photo (as well as other photos):

http://www.elecraft.com/K3/K3_big_v2.jpg

And the K3 data sheet:

http://www.elecraft.com/K3/K3_Data%20Sheet_rev06.pdf

There’s also an order form that could be printed and mailed, but sometime on Monday the on-line order page will be up and running, which is the preferred method.

As explained on the order form, you can reserve a K3 now for initial shipments in July. A 50% deposit is requested if you’d like to secure one of the first 200 production units (serial numbers 20-220, probably).

Here’s a quick summary of the K3’s specs:

– K3/100 and K3/10 models (the K3/10 can be upgraded very easily, internally, to a K3/100)

– Basic K3 price ranges from $1399 to $1989 depending on whether you start with the
10-watt or 100-watt model, and whether you choose factory assembled or
modular, no-soldering, kit (this is the subject of the next email).

– Desktop/portable size: 4″H x 10″W x 10″D (10 x 25 x 25 cm) — optimized for both
home and travel use

– All modes (SSB, CW, DATA, AM, FM, plus AM-sync receive, and built-in PSK31/TTY decoder)

– High-dynamic range, down-conversion architecture, plus 32-bit I.F. DSP
for software-defined capabilities (and lots of room for future expansion)

– Optional subreceiver with *identical* performance to the main receiver,
including a fully independent front end, its own set of roofing filters,
its own DSP, and low-noise synthesizer; binaural or combined receiver audio

– Up to five crystal roofing filters *per receiver*, with bandwidths as narrow as 200 Hz

– Narrow ham-band filtering, plus optional general-coverage receive filters
(can be added to either or both receivers)

– Internal 100-W ATU option with two antenna jacks

– 100 W PA module includes two large fans, circuit breaker, full parameter monitoring

– All signal sources phase-locked to common 49.380 MHz reference oscillator;
1 PPM TCXO option, firmware-correctable to better than 0.5 PPM

– Built-in PSK31, RTTY, and CW decoding and display allows use of
digital modes with or *without* a computer; use CW keyer paddle or
attached computer for casual, two-way data QSOs

– Advanced noise reduction; auto- and manual notch. Noise blanker included (both
I.F. hardware pulse blanker and DSP noise blanking)

– Easy-to-use DSP shift/width and locut/hicut controls with automatic crystal filter
selection based on selected passband width (in real-time — no filter calculation delays)

– Dedicated CW/voice message buttons; optional digital voice recorder

– 100 general frequency memories with alphanumeric text labeling, plus 4 scratchpad memories per band

– Full-custom, optimized, segmented LCD with two VFO displays, alphanumeric text, and
dedicated filter passband graphic

– Rich I/O set: stereo speaker outputs, fully isolated soundcard interface, dedicated RS-232
I/O (and optional USB adapter), receive antenna in/out jacks (for patching in RX filters, etc.),
and both front- and rear-panel mic and headphone jacks

– One-click PC firmware download program checks for updates automatically and quickly
updates microcontroller and DSP firmware

If you have any questions on specifications, performance, etc., that are not answered by the data sheet, feel free to email wayne@elecraft.com.

Sales questions should go to Lisa:

sales@elecraft.com

We’d like to acknowledge the hard work of the following colleagues:

Lyle Johnson, KK7P (DSP, digital I/O, audio I/O, many of the PC boards, and countless critical tasks)
Bob Friess, N6CM (RF deck, ATU, high-performance 1st mixer, noise blanker, other receiver design)
John Grebenkemper, KI6WX (synthesizer, general receiver architecture)
Brian Broggie, W6FVI (manufacturing engineering — say hi to him at Visalia tomorrow)
Paul Russell (purchasing)
Lisa Jones (who somehow held down the fort during the entire process)

Eric (WA6HHQ), as usual, applied pressure in all the right places to ensure that this would be the best radio we could make: he’s Mr. Performance and Features. Wayne (N6KR — yours truly) was the principle designer, and also got to do all the fun parts (packaging, firmware, and Owner’s manual). And that’s why he gets to answer your questions 🙂

We’d also like to express our thanks to our very patient 15-member focus group. Over a period of about a year, they endured a never-ending series of concept drawings, refinements, and feature discussions. They’re a distinguished bunch! I’m sure you’ll hear from some of them as the K3 is discussed at length.

Finally: thanks to all of you who have generously contributed ideas for a hypothetical K3 during our many on-line “fishing expeditions.” You had wonderful input, and I hope we’ve created the radio you’ve always wanted.

73,
Wayne, N6KR
Eric, WA6HHQ