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‚Ķ 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.

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,, 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

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.

A little DX

I spent Saturday filling out QSL cards, stuffing them in envelopes, and putting on $0.98 worth of postage for the USPS first class international air mail rate. To make life easier I ran both the return envelopes and main envelopes through the printer to get my address on. It would be easier to get some kind of mailing label sheets, which I think I will try to find when I get home for Christmas. Any way you slice it, filling out QSL cards and getting them in the mail takes a while. Keeping me entertained during the QSL card envelope stuffing session was the Insomniac Net through my IRLP node.

Sunday I woke up early and put up my Buddipole antenna, configuring it as a dipole for 20M. Exceptional DX catches for the day were:
UN7FU – Kazakhstan
WH0/WH7C – Northern Mariana Islands
FK8GX – New Caledonia Island
CW3TD – Timoteo Dominguez Island, Uruguay

I am continually surprised by my ability to work stations in South America. I’m not sure what path I am getting the propagation from. There is no one single time of day for my South American contacts – some are in the morning, others in the afternoon.

Today was the first day using my MicroHam USB III. The device is small, just larger than a pack of cards. The radio cable, which comes with the interface, is very well shielded. I used the USB III for both CW and PSK – the device worked well in both modes. Is the MicroHam USB III better than the West Mountain Radio USB PnP RIGBlaster? From a performance standpoint, I think it does a better. With PSK streams, I was able to detect and have QSOs with much weaker signals using the USB III. The fact that the USB III has its own soundcard is a big plus.

Almost done reading A Year of DX by Bob Locher, W9KNI. Bob details his year-long run in the CQ DX Marathon. The reader gets to sit side-by-side with Bob as he uses his Elecraft K3 and DX cluster alarm to work country after country. Bob demonstrates the importance of researching the various rare entities, determining when they might become active and how best to work them. The book is divided month by month, detailing the QSO with each new entity. Between the month chapters are useful chapters concerned with amplifiers, SSB phone techniques, and an amusing Walter Mitty-esque short story themed around DX contacts. I’m enjoying the book and recommend it (…potential stocking stuffer!).