Posts Tagged ‘Shack’

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.

Ham Radio & PLT devices

Over the past few years and again recently I have heard a lot of chatter regarding PLT interference. Especially with Ham radio and shortwave bands. These devices plug into a power wall socket in your house and allow you to create a wired network via your mains wiring in the property. It’s a perfect solution for properties that cannot send a wireless signal from one end to another (Just like mine).  It does however have a draw back. In creating a wired network these PLT devices create a lot of mains born interference and this can effectively block out any amateur radio bands.

In recent stories I have heard audio samples and read stories of how these devices can create S9+20db of noise. Thus reducing the amateur bands unusable.

I wanted to see for myself the effect of using PLT devices in my property. So I visited PC World and purchased 2 devices from NetGear. The Powerline 500 promise 500Mbit/s and this would solve a huge problem I have in my home right now, but feared for what it would do to my beloved radio.

The results were interesting and nothing what I expected. You can see my full test in the video below – but for a spoiler alert keep reading....


The results were - It did nothing. It had zero effect on any of the bands I use at home. After the video I monitored the shortwave bands and tried other frequencies. Again, nothing.  I tried it while the network was busy - I streamed 4K films and copied a 25Gb file. Guess what. Nothing.

The moral ? – Don’t believe the hype.

Ham Radio & PLT devices

Over the past few years and again recently I have heard a lot of chatter regarding PLT interference. Especially with Ham radio and shortwave bands. These devices plug into a power wall socket in your house and allow you to create a wired network via your mains wiring in the property. It’s a perfect solution for properties that cannot send a wireless signal from one end to another (Just like mine).  It does however have a draw back. In creating a wired network these PLT devices create a lot of mains born interference and this can effectively block out any amateur radio bands.

In recent stories I have heard audio samples and read stories of how these devices can create S9+20db of noise. Thus reducing the amateur bands unusable.

I wanted to see for myself the effect of using PLT devices in my property. So I visited PC World and purchased 2 devices from NetGear. The Powerline 500 promise 500Mbit/s and this would solve a huge problem I have in my home right now, but feared for what it would do to my beloved radio.

The results were interesting and nothing what I expected. You can see my full test in the video below – but for a spoiler alert keep reading....


The results were - It did nothing. It had zero effect on any of the bands I use at home. After the video I monitored the shortwave bands and tried other frequencies. Again, nothing.  I tried it while the network was busy - I streamed 4K films and copied a 25Gb file. Guess what. Nothing.

The moral ? – Don’t believe the hype.

Shack photo

This was me on the 2m FM net in East Cambridgeshire last night. There were only 3 of us on last night. These days I tend to use WSPR quite a bit as my voice is still pretty poor. We meet on 144.575MHz FM at 8pm local time most Mondays. Note, this is in the all-mode section. Newcomers are always welcome to join us. QSOs are never more than 1 hour and frequently much less.

It’s time

As much as I hate to do it, I need to look for a new laptop for the shack. A few months ago, when the family computer gave up the ghost, I pressed my shack desktop into service in that role.  To fill the void in the shack, I resurrected my old Acer Inspire One netbook. It's a small machine with a very small screen, with hardly any processor power. It was performing duties way beyond its pay grade. This is the kind of computer that was designed for looking at e-mails and Facebook, and that's about it. Needing something better, I tried recruiting my even older HP laptop (the one with the broken top lid hinges - thanks, kids!) into service. Alas, it's better than the Acer, but only by the breadth of a hair.  It has a bigger screen, more RAM and a bigger hard drive, but it's still an old XP machine that has grown long in the tooth.

To explain what I mean ..... I went down to the shack last night to add some entries to my main logging program from the HamLog app I use when operating portable. I flipped the on switch at 9:30 PM and by the time it had booted up and the logging program had loaded it was about 9:47 PM.  17 minutes is not good. I wanted to start pulling out my hair by then. I think watching paint dry, or grass grow would have been less stressful and more entertaining.

That exercise in frustration drove me to start searching the Web. At work, IBM issued me a Lenovo T410.  I still use this model every day. Yes, they are slowly being refreshed out with the newer T440 model, but mine has served me decently well at the job over the last few years. I have found a couple places where I can pick up a refurbed T410 with 4G of RAM, a 250 GB hard drive and Windows 7 Professional in the $150 neighborhood.


This model has everything I would need. It can hook up to the Internet wirelessly, it has 3 USB ports (need one for the KX3, one for a mouse, and one for an external keyboard), provisions for adding a second VGA monitor and the standard audio ports, so I can do the digital modes, should I ever be inclined to go down that road. Not planning to go there, but you never know. I'll have to dip into savings to acquire one, but having a computer in the shack has almost become a necessity.

Of course, I could always go native and log strictly with paper and pencil, but I don't think the ARRL would accept mailed in Xerox copies of my log for LoTW.  Also, I like to keep my eye on QRPSPOTS as well as SOTAWatcher.  Can't do that without some kind of computer, although I guess I could always just use my cell phone for those. And having a Telnet DX Cluster at my disposal for confirming that I correctly copied the call of that DX station who was sending at a blistering 45 WPM is a nice thing to have, too. (Was that an "H", or a "5" ? - 37 years of Hamming and my ears still wig out on those two, at times.)

This is another occasion where I'll just have to bite the bullet and take the plunge.  Good thing I wasn't planning on going to Dayton.

Oh, and by the way, as long as I mentioned Dayton .... best wishes to all those heading to Ohio for FDIM and Hamvention. May the weather be good, the traffic light and travelling conditions safe - there and back!

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

It really does work.

When I got home from work last night, the temperature outside was 10F (-12C).  My basement shack was a relatively balmy 57F (14C). Just before it was time to go downstairs for the 80 Meter QRP Fox hunt, I changed from the "regular" sweatshirt that I was wearing to a "hoodie" type sweatshirt.

I plugged the earbuds into my ear holes, and pulled the hood up. I was able to remain comfortable, not quite toasty warm, but comfortable in the shack for my duration of the hunt.  I do have to admit that once I nabbed the second Fox of the night, Randy NC4RT at about 0244 UTC, I shut everything down and hightailed it upstairs. But as the tip was given freely to me last winter, I pass it on to those who may also need it.  If your shack is semi-unheated, as is mine, covering your head makes all the difference between shivering and operating comfortably.

It looks like the coldest weather of this round has left us. It actually warmed up overnight and was 20F (-7C) when I woke up this morning, but snowing. Until the next Vortex comes to visit (and I'm sure there will be more!) the basement should warm up to the low to mid 60F range (15-17C) and playing radio down there won't be so bad, at all.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

My shack

Shack – operating position Jan 8th 2015

As many of you know, I had a cerebellum brain bleed in Sept 2013 which was operated on. I am steadily recovering, but my voice is still poor so I much restrict operations using voice modes for now.  The picture shows the operating position in my shack. As shown, I am using 500mW on 10m WSPR (WSPR-AXE-CW beacon) and 5mW ERP on MF WSPR via a homebrew transverter (just below the clock) and the earth-electrodes in the garden.  MF uses the PC and FT817 whereas the 10m beacon is tiny and needs no PC. The loading coil (above the power meter) is not used with the earth-electrodes. It is used when on MF when loading up miscellaneous other antennas. It is not in use at all currently.

When fit again, I intend to resume field experiments.

Not shown are any of the optical, 136kHz or VLF kit or the bench used for building. The latter is currently awaiting better health again.


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