RIP KC9DN

Wherein I pause for a moment to remember Robert F. Albright, KC9DN, who passed away last night at the ripe old age of 94.

Bob had been my stepfather since 2014, and was also a Freemason.  He held an Extra license and was a ARRL VE for a number of years.  He was (obviously) originally licensed under a different call, but I don’t have that handy, and it was so long ago that the change doesn’t show up in ULS.

Resquiescat in pace, my brother.

The “go shack” with DMR

I took this picture weeks ago but never managed to get it up here.  The “go shack” has been updated (as noted below) with the TYT MD-9600, replacing my Kenwood GMRS rig that I think may have bitten the dust anyway.

(The SignaLink is collywobbled because the bolts holding the FT-7900D in place stick up from below the shelf.  I have a plan to deal with that at some point, by simply installing a wood spacer beneath the SignalLink with holes in it to clear the bolts.)

This is, for what it’s worth, the cleanest you will see my shack desk until I build the new one that will have about twice as much square footage.

Another planned change will remove the power supplies from the top of the rack so speakers and other things (maybe including the Kenwood GMRS mobile, if its finals haven’t actually bitten the dust) can be installed.  The power supplies will go into a 2U Gator box that’s collecting dust under the desk at the moment, and the interconnect will use two sets of 75A PowerPoles that are also sitting around collecting dust.  The intent is to be able to take the go shack in the car and run it off of battery power without having to lug the heavy power supplies along with it (and I will make up a heavy cable with a splitter on the radio end for that purpose).  For normal operations, or operations with generator or utility power, the power supplies can then be brought along and hooked up separately.

Anyway, that’s for the future when I actually have time to tear the box down to that extent.

The cake, by the way, is a lie.

The firmware upgrade instructions for the MD-9600 say (in Chinglish):

“Press P1+ Alarm key(red key) to connect the power of  MD-9600, ( NOT JUST TURN ON THE RADIO!!!!!!)display blinks and open upgraded software”

This seems to translate to most American English speakers that one should press and hold P1 + Alarm and then hit the power button.

Nope.  That gets you exactly nowhere.  And I can see how they tried to explain it (“connect the power”) and why an American English speaker would misunderstand it.

The actual sequence goes like this (and it’s documented here and there on the web; I can’t remember now where I found it):

1) Turn the MD-9600 on.

2) Turn off the power supply connected to the MD-9600.  (Do not turn off the MD-9600 first!)

3) NOW press P1 + Alarm key (red key) and hold them in

4) Turn on the power supply connected to the MD-9600.

 Blank screen will blink on and off, you are now in Firmware Upgrade Mode.

They also get the concepts of “upload” and “download” backward, in my book.  The button that says “Download Update File” really ought to say “Write Update File to Radio” or something like that.  But eventually you get the idea.

Exit question:  Would it kill Tytera/TYT to hire an English-As-First-Language speaker to at least edit their documentation?

MD-9600 working fine

The TYT MD-9600 is up and running with the latest Hoosier DMR code plug (I used the one for the MD-2017 dual band handheld; the code plugs are interchangeable).  I’ve just got it sitting on my desk in the office, hooked up to my old 23W power supply, and connected to a Slim Jim J-pole that’s just hanging in the window.  So not a fabulous receiving setup, but I did get a really good signal back from the Parrot when I tested it earlier. I haven’t been able to raise the W9AMT VHF DMR repeater yet, but I think I need to use 1) a better antenna that’s 2) mounted up a little higher to get line of sight on that repeater. That’s been a constant problem from here with the hand-held transceiver, and generally having trouble reaching both the UHF and VHF DMR repeaters here is why I invested in the MD-9600. (Cue Tim Allen shouting, “MORE POWER!”)

I like this radio.  It seems like a robust unit, the mic is better than the one that came with my Tytera TH-9800, and if I had a complaint about the radio in and of itself, it would be that the radio doesn’t have a detachable control head.  Which is OK, because I’m going to put it in my go-box anyway, but it would be nice to see TYT/Tytera come out with one of these in the same case as the analog TH-9800.  Then I’d consider putting one in the Escape.  Given that I’m sure this radio has the same guts in it that they use for more expensive commercial DMR radios, I doubt that will happen.  But a ham can dream.

Which brings me back to my major bitch about this radio, hinted at in the previous post.  If you’re going to put this much thought and care into building a DMR radio, why in hell would you ship it with a cheap-ass USB programming cable that was probably bought from the cheapest cable maker in Shenzhen, and which broke before it was even used the first time?  Just because the thing said “TYT” on it isn’t good enough.  Just ship a decent generic USB cable and be done with it.

Otherwise, I have no complaints; I got the radio from Grapevine, down in Texas, and I couldn’t be happier about the service; Jason kept everyone advised about the status of their preorders, and he was even shipping radios out while Harvey was wreaking chaos down in the southern half of the state.  It’s not his fault that the cable that shipped with the radio was sub-standard, and I didn’t even bother him with it once I realized I could use a generic cable.  I look forward to buying more DMR stuff from Jason in the future.

With any luck, I’ll be able to get on the roof this weekend and swap out my 6M ground pole with the dual-band J-pole I’ve had sitting on the window sill in the shack for the last four years.  I’m not doing any 6M FM right now and I’d really like to string up a dipole for that band anyway, so it’s time to make that swap.

Well, I’ll be durned.

I purchased a TYT MD-9600 DMR radio a little while back, and when trying to program it, kind of soft-bricked it because the programming cable that came with it was a piece of crap and kept dropping the connection to the computer.  I thought I had the cable working at one point, and tried sending the code plug to the radio, but it failed in mid-send and the radio just sat there saying “UNPROGRAMMED”.

So I sat on it for a while because I didn’t really have time to fiddle with it.

Then I ran into John Miklor’s review of the radio today, and it caught my eye that the programming cable…

…is just a standard, straight-through USB to mini-USB.

Well, alrighty then.  Grabbed a spare USB cable with a mini-USB end, plugged it in, and voila, I could program the radio no problem at all.

Now I just need to grab the latest Hoosier DMR code plug and throw away that flimsy piece of crap programming cable that came with the radio.

FT8 on 6m

Must have been a big opening last night.  I’m really not set up here to do 6m SSB, but I managed to make three 6m FT8 contacts not long after sunset, using nothing but my vertically-polarized ground plane that’s up only about 18 feet.  While one contact was just up the road in Noblesville, the other two were in Texas (881 miles) and Florida (630 miles).  Both were with 20W and an SWR of ~2.0 — after all, the ground plane is really cut for FM up around 53MHz, not digital down at 50.313.

Imagine what I could do with a yagi or a moxon up about 30 feet.  Oh, and a rotator.  A rotator would be nice.

Tree trimming day yesterday

Yesterday, with the help of the boy, I finished some tree trimming that I started last week.

When I hung my G5RV back in 2014, I had a lot of trouble with the trees that overhung the side yard.  Mostly they were the neighbor’s trees, and while he didn’t have a problem with me trimming them back at least to the fence line, there was probably $500+ worth of trimming to be done if I had a professional tree company do it.  So that project hung fire for three years.  And since the side yard was the only decent place to hang a 102′ wire antenna, I made do…but about the most I could lift the midpoint of the antenna before the wire hit branches was about 18 feet or so.  The two ends of the antenna, conversely, were up about 35′ in the trees on either end, courtesy of a tree climber who was (ironically) working for the neighbor the same day the boy and I hung the G5RV.  So for the last three years, I’ve had a “V” antenna that frankly didn’t work very well, and was a lot of the reason why I got so far into digital modes.

Last weekend I got fed up with that, and went to the hardware and bought a 16′ extendable tree pruner with the long attachable blade.  I cut out a lot of the low-hanging stuff but, at only 5’8″, I’m not tall enough to reach the branches that actually mattered. So when the boy and the girl and the grandkids came down from Fort Wayne yesterday, I shanghaied him to reach the stuff I couldn’t.  He was game, and we got just about everything out of the way and the antenna rehung in a couple of hours.  So for about $70 for the tool — which is going to be used elsewhere around the yard, so it wasn’t bought solely for this project — I got most of the trimming done that would have cost at least $500 and probably more to have done professionally.

And yeah, I’m kind of crazy.  I’m a 57-year-old fat boy with medical issues, and probably should be having professionals do this stuff.  As it is, my wife won’t let me get on the roof and is skeptical of me climbing ladders, so thankfully I have a son-in-law to help with that stuff occasionally.

We did not, unfortunately, get the midpoint higher than about 25-28 feet.  There is another branch in the back yard that is interfering with us getting the line up any higher; we may take a look at that in a couple of weeks and see if we can get it down, since it’s dead anyway.  But we did get it considerably higher than it was before; the 450Ω ladder line that used to drape across the ground is now mostly in the air.

I ran a tuning test on 20 meters after we got things rehung and for the first time I can recall, I can actually operate on 20 meters with an SWR under 3.0.  Weak signals in the JT modes seem to be coming in a little better, but given that solar conditions suck, it’s possible we may have improved things significantly more than it appears.

Now that I have the problem branches out of the way at the antenna midpoint, I may experiment with dropping the ends to around 10-15 feet and raising the center as high as I can get it with the 40′ Spiderbeam HD fiberglas pole I’ve got in the garage (thereby making an inverted V rather than the current “V” (even though the angle is much more obtuse than it used to be!).  But we’ll see.  Right now I’m tired, sore, and need a nap, and it’s raining outside anyway 🙂

Oh, and one more thing.  I have to praise the hell out of the MFJ-1778 G5RV antenna.  Not only has it held up for the better part of four years without appreciable wear (other than the surface of the wire oxidizing, but that’s to be expected), we actually dropped a fair-sized branch on it by accident (the plan had been for that branch to fall away, not into; oops, we miscalculated) and it held up until I could get over to the far tree and lower it.  That’s some hefty #14 stranded wire, and a good job of connecting it at the center point, too.

Notes on SignaLink with FT-450D

I finally got tired of the odd behavior I’ve been seeing with the SignaLink paired with the Yaesu FT-450D, where the silly thing would either not raise PTT or would flick it on and off rapidly if the power level was set too low.  So I hauled out the SignaLink documentation and went reading.

Way down on page 11, in the Troubleshooting section, is this little gem:

Some radios such as the IC-746PRO, IC-7000 and FT-450D have a very sensitive Data Port and require different settings to allow smooth control of the RF power level.

Gee!  Do you think? 🙂

So I ran through the instructions for mitigating that.  I think things are better, but I have the radio set to 50 watts rather than 100 watts now.  On the other hand, I’m trying to keep my digital wattage below 30, and then only when someone is really down in the mud.

I suspect the same settings will be useful with the FT-857D I carry in the field.

 

Florida again

The XYL and I have been in Florida since late last week, for R&R and for her to attend a conference (she has an MS in therapeutic recreation and is the aquatics director at a local hospital-owned health club, and she spends a certain amount of time keeping her skills honed in aquatic therapy).  We were in Naples for the R&R portion of the trip, and we moved up to Fort Myers on Monday for her conference.  I didn’t bring any radios this time (other than a couple of handhelds) because I didn’t want to go through the TSA hassle with them and didn’t want to spend the money to FedEx them down here like I did last year.

Of course, ARRL Field Day was last weekend, so I wasn’t able to attend with WD9BSA and the Indianapolis Radio Club.  But I did wander over to the Field Day setup put on by the Amateur Radio Association of Southwest Florida (ARASWF) in Naples, and spent about three hours with that club.  Which was nice, because it’s no great secret that we intend to retire down here, and for some time I’ve wanted to see what the local club was like.  The answer is that the local club is great.  They welcomed me and treated me like one of their own, and even let me make a few Qs for them once the station went on the air at 2PM Saturday.

They had a very nice 4A station, all Icom, and working 15, 20, and 40 meters through a triplexer and 6 meters run to a separate antenna, which I think they said was a moxon of some sort. There were a couple of beam antennas on mobile crankup towers and a dipole strung between them.  The logging software was N1MM Logger+, which I’d never had a chance to use, and which I promptly fell in love with.  Need to get that installed at WD9BSA.

Anyway I had a great time with them until I had to leave to feed the XYL.  If I hadn’t had the rental car I probably would have stayed longer 🙂

I was also listening to their Fusion repeater for awhile, back at the condo.  We have a couple of them in Indy but none of them seem to be close enough to the house for my FT-2D handheld to pick them up.  (To be honest, the DMR repeater in Indy is also barely within range.)  The Fusion in Naples on 147.030 came in just fine.  I picked up a digital QSO between a ham in Kentucky and a ham in Australia, so they must have their Fusion repeater hooked up to WIRES-X — I didn’t get a chance to ask them about that.  I’m just sort of vaguely aware of Fusion because a) the reception issues noted above and b) DMR has been the big digital mode back home for quite some time, and will probably continue to be if the two sides in our current little civil war over access to the statewide talkgroup can resolve their differences.  But there seems to be an interest in Fusion down here alongside DMR (they use DMR+ down here) and D*Star (a mode I’ve never had much interest in).

Anyway, had fun, looking forward to going home, but it’s good to have made eyeball contact with some hams in our likely future QTH.

More APRSdroid on RPi 3 B…

Got the neat little case for the RPi “official” touchscreen and put that all together yesterday.  So I now have a nice little desktop APRS tracker.
Pretty nice, right?

Now I just need to figure out a way for APRSdroid to start at boot time instead of having to open an adb session and start it manually, and how to hook up a GPS to it, and the best way to hook it up to a radio so it’s not “crippled” by having to use APRS-IS.

The first may be fixable by writing a small “wrapper” program with the appropriate default activity to run at boot time.  The wrapper would then start APRSdroid.

The second may or may not already be fixed; I have a USB GPS puck hooked up, but since it won’t get a signal indoors, I’ll have to test that outside.

The third may be tricky, since either the Pi or the touchscreen is really sensitive to RF.  It may be something that can be solved by using a remote antenna, or I may have to find a better way to shield the assembly.

Optionally, I also need to add the open source maps that are supposed to work with this version of APRSdroid.

Anyway it’s been fun messing with this.  And yes, eventually I’ll take the protective wrap off the screen 🙂

LATER:  Added the open source map for Indiana.  Works fine.

That said, it’s a little frightening that you can get superuser in adb by simply typing “su”.  Boom, you’re root, no questions asked.  No wonder people are starting to look askance at the whole IoT thing.

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