Author Archive

Rebuilding the Shack PC

My ham shack PC is an older Dell desktop PC.  It’s not fancy, but it does the job I need it to do.  I’m pretty sure this PC and its present Windows installation date back to 2011 or 2012.  Initially it was built with Windows 7 and then I applied the free Windows 10 upgrade whenever that came out.  With exception to just general sluggishness which one can expect from a machine of this age…the machine still works fine.  It’s just slower than molasses on a cold winter day.  This slow/sluggishness can be eliminated by reformatting the HDD and reloading the OS and all the software. 

Sticking with Windows

While I’ve certainly dabbled in Linux, I’m a Windows guy by profession.  Plus my main ham radio software is Ham Radio Deluxe.  I’ve been running HRD since I was first licensed back in 2007.  It’s what I like, it’s what I’m used to and it does everything I need it to do.  I use HRD for all my general logging and use DM-780 for PSK, RTTY etc. and it seamlessly works well with WSJT apps for all things JT/FT.  For contesting, I generally stick with either N1MM Logger or the N3FJP logging software.  While I realize there are Linux solutions available, I’m just not interested in taking the plunge.

Taking Backups

The first order of business for this project is backup.  Backup everything.  Of course the most important thing to backup is my HRD Logbook.  It is automagically backed up each time I exit the logbook to my Dropbox folder.  But I wanted to make sure I had a good backup.  Done!

Ham Radio Deluxe also has a feature to archive/export all HRD settings.  I’ve never actually tried this feature, so this will be the first attempt.  Hopefully this works and will help speed up the process of getting HRD running again after the rebuild. 

The next important item to backup is my TQSL file.  You can easily export your TQSL file by launching the TQSL app and exporting your station data.  this makes getting this app set back up a breeze.  Again…Dropbox comes to the rescue. 

As I’m running a few USB to Serial dongles, I wanted to make sure I had the driver software stored safely somewhere I could find it.  Once again Dropbox is the answer.   I also verified I had a few other misc. files that I may or may not need readily available and saved on my Dropbox (Just in Case).

Finally, I’ve backed up all the other files/folders of the machine just to make sure I have everything I might need.  I don’t anticipate I’ll need anything other than the items I’ve moved over to Dropbox, but you never know.

Reset Windows

Windows 10 has option to perform a full reset of the OS which removes all applications, settings, configurations and files/folders on the machine.  Essentially this is a fresh install of the OS and is the option I opted to go with.  I could have performed a partial reset which keeps the files/folders…but as this machine had 8-9 years of clutter on it…I wanted to completely start over. 

The process of resetting Windows 10 took about 30 minutes or so.  I was doing a few other things in my office at the time.  But in the end, I was left with a fresh install of Windows 10 and a much faster performing PC. 

After reconnecting Dropbox, I proceeded to reinstall Ham Radio Deluxe, WSJT etc.  The HRD settings saved me a lot of time and by mid-morning, I had the PC connected to both my Yaesu FT-897 which I use for digital modes and my FTDX 1200.  I made a few FT-8 QSO’s on 20 meters and tested to make sure I could upload both to ARRL LoTW and eQSL.  My callsign lookup is functional with QRZ and my QSO’s get updated to HRDLOG.net so they are visible on my blog site.  I still need to reinstall a few additional items such as N1MM Logger and N3FJP Logging Software.  I’ll get these done before the next contest. 

For now, I feel this old Dell will last me at least another year or perhaps more.  I really don’t need it to do anything other than serve as my ham shack PC and it works very well in this function.  Even better now.

I certainly hope all who are reading this are safe, healthy and weathering the quarantine as well as can be expected.  Of course our hobby is perfect for times like this and I hope you are getting some quality on-air time. 

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Online US Ham Radio Exams

The COVID-19 global pandemic has certainly had a major impact to all of us.  While I certainly don’t need to point out all the pain points, for those who may stumble onto this blog posting you’re either interested in getting your ham radio license, planning to upgrade your license, already licensed at the level you want to be or just simply wanting to read the entire Internet while you are quarantined at home with nothing better to do.  If you fall into the latter category, then you’ve pretty much reached the end of the line.  Smile

Controversy Galore

I’m sure the very mention of  moving away from the standard VE exam process has some old men stirred up beyond imagination.  I get it…I really do.  The most obvious concern of course would be some form of cheating.  I’ve also heard concerns that this new method of remote testing will replace the in-person exam process forever.   Then there’s the category of just being reluctant to change and the idea of “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.  For those who are always reluctant to change, may I suggest reading a book titled “Who Moved My Cheese”, available on Amazon.  But I digress.

The Right Move

I personally support this idea of conducting online ham radio exams.  I believe the technology exists to be able to conduct a secure exam process and I believe within the hobby and service of amateur radio we have the resources to make this happen.  After all, one of the key points of our “Radio Amateur’s Code” is being Progressive!

More Information

Richard Bateman, KD7BBC who is also the owner of HamStudy.org recently recorded a short video discussing how he (and others) are working to help bring Online Amateur Radio exams to the US very soon.  I’ve embedded the video below for your ease in viewing.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning, I do understand the concern some amateurs have regarding the subject of online exam testing.  But I have a greater concerns over how this pandemic will impact our hobby. I truly believe the efforts being led by Richard will only do our hobby good.   I’m sure at some point life will get back to some kind of normal.  I’m certainly looking forward to finding out just what the new normal will be.

What do you think?

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

D-Star & Pi-Star

I was first introduced to D-Star some twelve years or so ago.  I purchased the ICOM IC-92AD hand-held and managed to get setup on one of the local D-Star repeaters.  Being one who (at the time) preferred all things HF, my D-Star activities were almost non-existent.  But it was fun to tinker and learn.

Some time passed and I experimented with various DVAP type devices that came onto the market.  I preferred using these to the local repeater, since I could connect into reflectors around the world and share in all the fun of digital radio.

Around the early 2016 timeframe, I purchased the Hardened Power DHAP Mini Mega Self Powered Enclosure along with a Raspberry Pi 3 and the DVMEGA Dualband add-on for the Pi.  The DHAP case is a 3-D printed plastic.

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Inside there’s plenty of room for the Raspberry Pi, the DVMEGA and four rechargeable batteries.

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I setup the Raspberry Pi with a popular image at the time from the Maryland D-Star group.  As I have never claimed to be a Raspberry Pi expert, even though I do own three devices.  One being an ADS-B aircraft tracker and second which has been running [email protected] and then the third running the Maryland D-Star setup.

Anyway, the Maryland D-Star image was easy to setup and at the time (2016) the group was active.  They had a website which contained more knowledge needed to setup the Pi and a very helpful forum community.  I could fire up my DHAP and via my radio connect/disconnect reflectors all around the world, reboot or shutdown the Pi.  It was all very cool.

Burnout

When the burnout occurred in late 2016, I wasn’t doing any form of operating and as a result I shut down the D-Star Pi and placed it (along with the IC-92) in a closet.  It sat there until just about two weeks ago when (like many of you) found myself bored out of my skull from the self-isolation COVID-19 routine.  I decided this was a project that might take my mind off the events of the world and might even help rekindle some of my amateur radio interests.

Power Up

After being sat idle for over three years, everything needed a good charge.  Surprisingly my ICOM batteries all came back to life and even the DHAP powered on just fine.  Everything worked (just as it did when I shut it down) but I figured at the very least I needed to update the software.  That’s when I realized the Maryland D-Star Pi was no more.

Pi-Star

While everything worked (best I could tell), in my hunt for what happened to the Maryland group, I discovered Pi-Star.  The Pi-Star group is an active group and appears to be the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to all things D-Star hotspots.  So I downloaded their latest and greatest image (4.1.0), installed it onto an empty SD card and began noodling around.

Of course “Noodling” around is much like driving around trying to find something without actually stopping to ask for directions.  The end result left me sort of frustrated and wondering if I should just go back to using the old Maryland setup.  At least it worked…for now.  But it’s not like I don’t have time or the mental capacity to figure this out.  So, diving head first into the forums I began to find the answers I needed and more importantly, I knew once I had everything working…it would be a much better setup.

All the Pre-requisites

As my DVMEGA was several years old, one of the first things required was to update the firmware so it could take advantage of all the features in Pi-Star.  This wasn’t as straight forward as I had hoped it would be.  It required some risky soldering of a short wire so the firmware of the DVMEGA could be updated.  I found all the documentation required for performing this risky step located here.  Well…almost!

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With soldering iron, wire and some solder in hand, I completed the risky step and proceeded to update the firmware.  However, each time I attempted to perform the update it failed.  What have I done?  Did I ruin the DVMEGA?  I decided to go to bed and then take another stab at it the next day.

With a strong cup of coffee in hand, I proceeded to double-check all my work.  I felt confident in the soldering job, so hardware was all GO!  I then looked at it from the software perspective.  I decided to try using an older version of Pi-Star to rule out some issue with the latest version.

BINGO!

Once I rolled back to version 3.4.17 (from earlier this year), the process of updating the DVMEGA firmware worked just as it should.  In just a few minutes I had managed to update the firmware of my DVMEGA board from 2.19 to the latest 3.26.

More Frustration

With the DVMEGA updated to 3.26 and my Pi running Pi-Star 4.1.0, I began digging into the programming requirements of my radio.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure  out how I needed to setup the radio so I could still control the system from my handheld.  After a bit of swearing and more digging in the forums, I discovered a fairly significant difference between how the radio needed to be setup from what was required with the Maryland D-Star setup.

I got there in the end

Yep, all appears to be working perfect.  I can easily connect and disconnect from any reflector I have programmed into my IC-92 from anywhere in the house.  While I tend to leave the setup in my shack (basement man cave) connected via Ethernet cable, I also can move the device around the house and use wi-fi.

From within my QTH the device is fully self-contained.  I can run it off the batteries and wi-fi and have coverage anywhere within the house (or even from back deck) should I choose.

Next Steps

I do have a few additional setup steps which I plan to experiment with in the coming days.  With the old Maryland setup I had my smartphone hotspot configured which would allow me to take this mobile.  Pending I had good broadband coverage, I could activate my hotspot, turn on the DHAP and place it all in the car for mobile ops.

Want more info on Pi-Star?

Your first stop needs to be the Pi-Star homepage.  From there you can join the forums, download the software and learn everything you need to know about Pi-Star.  I also found another great source of information on the Amateur Radio Notes blog site which is managed by Toshen, KEOFHS.  He’s a fellow Coloradoan living in Lyons.

Well I think that just about does it for this posting.  I wish you and your family a very Blessed Easter weekend (if you celebrate).  I’ll return soon with another update.

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Hello Everyone!

WOW!  It’s been a while.  Almost four years have passed since I last posted any content to my blog site.  Also, according to my blog site it appears the last thing I posted about was announcing the 71st episode of PARP.  PARP of course was my Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Anyway….I’m not dead…at least not yet!

Extraordinary Times

We’re truly living through and in, extraordinary times at the moment.  I’m currently at the half-way point (hump day) of my 4th week of self-isolation, work from home.  Thankfully both my wife and I have jobs which allow us to work from home.  My role, occasionally  requires me to venture into the office (generally twice a week).  Of course the office is mostly empty.  Just a few security guards and on a rare occasion I might see, from a socially acceptable distance, another employee. I guess with almost four weeks of self-isolation under my belt, I can easily do another 4-6, perhaps more.  Who knows?

Radio Activities

There hasn’t been much.  I seriously burned myself out between the podcast, the blog, attending (or trying) multiple club meetings per month etc.  I found myself truly not interested in amateur radio anymore.   I’m starting to come around to the point where I’m enjoying the hobby again.  I’m enjoying working the digital modes and even have been dabbling with D-STAR just a little bit.  I think I’ll save my D-STAR topic to another blog post (coming soon).  For now, my HF operations have been limited to 20 meters.  I pulled down the 6BTV last year as we were having some work done on the house and I didn’t want it to get damaged.  Before it goes back up, it needs a good bit of TLC work done.  I need to replace the plastic coil caps (I have them already)

Until next time….I hope you stay safe and healthy. 

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

Episode 71 Practical Amateur Radio Podcast

Episode 71 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast has been released and is available for download either through iTunes, Android, any other RSS podcatcher software or direct via the PARP website.

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The general discussion theme of episode 71 borrows the motto from the Worldwide Floral and Fauna Program “Make Nature your Shack”.   While I won’t complain about the warmth of my ham shack on a cold January day, as fall approaches we have many reasons to take our gear outdoors.  I discuss the 2016 ARRL National Parks on the Air, Summits on the Air and the Worldwide Floral and Fauna programs. 

During the featured website segment I introduce PARP listeners to the FieldRadio.org group and also share a new US amateur radio license preparation site called Ham-Cram.com

Remember, this Saturday is the Colorado QSO Party.  I hope you’ll hear me calling CQ.  Thank you for listening to the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast and reading my blog. 

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)

2016 Colorado QSO Party–Next Weekend

  As the long, dog-days of summer begin to come to an end it marks one of my favorite operating activities and that is the Colorado QSO Party.  While I’m not a native to the Centennial State, I am always proud to represent Colorado and this year marks the 140th anniversary of statehood.

The 2016 Colorado QSO Party takes place on  Saturday, 3 September beginning at 0400 UTC (7 AM to 10 PM MDT).  I have a few mid morning commitments which I need to take care of, but KDØBIK should be on the air shortly after the lunch hour. 

Perhaps it is naïve to anticipate better band conditions for next Saturday.  After all…..

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But I for one will be giving it a solid effort from the basement ham shack located in grid square DM79np.  I hope to work you in the 2016 Colorado QSO Party. 

Until then…

73 de KDØBIK

P.S.  Episode 71 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast will release Saturday, 27 August.  Thank you for listening!

RFinder Lifetime Membership

Some very welcome news popped into my inbox this morning from my friend Bob Greenberg, W2CYK.  Bob is the owner and founder of RFinder the Worldwide Repeater Directory.  

I had the opportunity to meet Bob via social media many years ago when RFinder first launched and have been a fan and supporter of RFinder ever since.  I even discussed RFinder in episode 55 of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast back in May of 2012.  

For several years I used the ARRL repeater directory along with their TravelPlus digital version to search for and program my transceivers.  While this solution worked very well, it was limited to just the ARRL database.   For the traveling ham, this meant being at the mercy of the internet to find information on repeaters in the region and countries visited and this information was not always accurate.

In the time I’ve known Bob and been a user of RFinder, it’s grown to become a truly worldwide solution with partnerships with many national radio societies including the Radio Society of Great Britain, Amateur Radio Society Italia, Deutscher Amateur Radio Club, Radio Amateurs of Canada and the American Radio Relay League (just to name a few).  Finally, the current database contains current and validated repeater information from over 175 countries. 

RFinder the Worldwide Repeater Directory is available in app form for both the iOS and Android platforms and is also supported by both RTSystems and CHIRP radio programming software.  Normally the cost for an annual subscription is $9.95 USD, but for a VERY limited time an RFinder Lifetime Membership is available for $99.99 USD.   When I say VERY limited time, I truly mean this offer will not last long.  It’s a very good deal.

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK (Jerry)


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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor