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.

APRSDroid on Raspberry Pi 3 — yeah, not under Raspian.

So last night I was fiddling about and my Raspberry Pi 3, which has been sitting on the desk unused for awhile, caught my eye.  And I started thinking, hmm, what to do with the Pi.  And then I started thinking, I wonder if I could run Android on it.

Sure enough.

So then I started thinking, “OK, can I run APRSDroid on that?”

And the answer is, yes:

And it works, too:

I have to get dressed, gear up, and head out to WD9BSA shortly, so I’ll post how I did it later.  However, the trickiest part is figuring out how to start it (Android Things doesn’t act like a phone, so you don’t get icons on the main display).  Basically you have to do a

pm dump org.aprsdroid.app

and then you find that the android.intent.action.MAIN is mapped to the activity “.APRSdroid”, so that’s what you want to start it with:

rpi3:/ $ am start -n org.aprsdroid.app/.APRSdroid
Starting: Intent { cmp=org.aprsdroid.app/.APRSdroid }

See here for more complete instructions on how to install an APK under Android Things.

I thought I saw something somewhere about how to make an app start when you boot, but I can’t find it right now.  Again, later.

LATER:

Yeah, this is a great idea…except that I need to figure out how to force audio away from the HDMI port and to the headphone port, so I can hook the stupid thing up to a radio and use AFSK.  Apparently when you have the HDMI cable hooked up, the OS forces audio to HDMI, and there seems to be no simple way to fix that.  Perhaps the addition of the RPi “official” touchscreen will work around that; I don’t know yet.

Anyway, if you don’t mind using TCP to send your packets, this setup makes a nice static position beacon, without going through the effort to make a TNC out of the RPi — which, from what I’ve read, is a daunting task.

I may correspond with the APRSdroid author and see if he’s interested in tweaking the program a bit to make it more Android Things friendly — although it doesn’t seem like it could be much more friendly; it works, after all, it just doesn’t work the way I want it to, and that’s not his fault.  And it’s early days for me with Android Thing anyway; I never heard of it before yesterday so I guess I have a bit of research to do 🙂

MUCH LATER:

The official RPi touchscreen solves the HDMI audio problem.  I have successfully connected the RPi to my Baofeng BF-F8HP.

Last position: 2017-06-13 17:05:12 EDT (3m24s ago)
2017-06-13 17:05:12 EDT local time at Meridian Hills, United States [?]
Device: Open Source: APRSdroid (app, Android)
Last path: KC9YTJ-5>APDR13 via W9ICE-10,WIDE1*,qAR,W9SMJ-1 (good)

Two problems:

  1. The touchscreen (or the PI itself; not sure which) is VERY SENSITIVE to RF, at least at 144.390MHz.  The screen goes kinda nuts when the Baofeng transmits.  Admittedly I’m using high power, so I could cut that back for testing.
  2. I’m seeing the radio receive inbound packets, but they are not showing up in APRSdroid.

Problem one is simple enough, use a remote antenna or shield the Pi and display better.  Although even on low power, man, the screen is not happy.

Problem two is going to take some thought, as I don’t think there’s anything preventing APRSdroid from receiving the packets from the radio, unless maybe I need to enable a driver for the microphone or something.  I may simply try a USB audio dongle.  However, I’m looking at the verbose log and it’s clear the packets are being received; they’re just not being displayed.  So that may be related to why the touch screen suddenly stopped accepting touch input after the first transmission, and I’m using the physical mouse now 🙂

So I’ve turned VOX off on the radio so it doesn’t transmit, and now I’m just trying to see if the thing will receive and display packets.

Aha — the 3.5mm jack on the Pi is audio output only.  Well, $#!7.  Now I know what to do about that problem.

And I thought the Florida repeater situation was bad.

So here we are in Indiana, on the cusp of having a seamless DMR repeater network that would let you talk on 70cm throughout the state and around the world.

And now there’s a spat because one group of repeater trustees are championing the Brandmeister DMR system and another group is championing the older cBridge-dependent system.  And then there’s Crossroads, but who cares; I don’t.  I was perfectly happy with the Hoosier DMR setup.  Not that I get on much, but that’s another story; I don’t really like to talk.

Anyway, each group apparently has their reasons, each group is stubborn, and each group is now locking the other group out — even from Facebook discussion groups.  At least so far as I can tell; I’ve got likes and follows on both sides of the equation and all I know is that one side snorted that the other side locked them out, and now the other side is saying the same thing about the first side, and in point of fact, the Brandmeister Indiana Statewide group has been locked out of the cBridge — so from the DMR point of view, the state is now fragmented.

The section manager was just on Facebook asking if the Brandmeister group might consider adding TG 31189, which would have the effect of knitting things back together again on the statewide side.  31189 is apparently the Crossroads statewide TG, and it’s not being blocked by the cBridge.  The Brandmeister folks are against it for a couple of different reasons — one, why ask a thousand DMR users to reprogram their radios when 3118 would be perfectly fine if the Brandmeister repeaters weren’t being blocked from the cBridge, and two, “we hate Crossroads” (essentially what one of the trustees responded to the section manager).

The section manager is at least trying to deal with the situation where there is no longer a common DMR talkgroup for the ARES statewide net.  I appreciate that he’s trying to be proactive and at least provide a workaround for the current stalemate.  But I think (and I said this earlier today in a comment to a post that has (the post I mean) apparently been taken down) that the section manager has a role to play here that only someone who represents the entire Hoosier ham community can do.  He needs to call the warring sides to the table and they need to hammer out a working agreement that benefits all hams in the state.  And I admit that this isn’t a League problem, and it’s not technically his job, but what other ham radio organization has a statewide team and leader within the Hoosier ham community?  Who else will people listen to?  (And if people hate the League, as some people do for no particular reason that they can articulate, then fine, piss off and go play in your corners, and let the adults sort this out.)

Anyway…I have only about $300 invested in DMR handhelds (one VHF, one UHF), so I’m not terribly affected at this point.  I can always sell the handhelds or repurpose them for analog.  I’m not a big repeater guy anyway.

I’ll also acknowledge that a repeater owner can do pretty much anything he damn well pleases with his repeater — leave it open, lock it down to members only, or just shut it off and sow the wind (and probably get his repeater pair repo’ed by the Repeater Council, eventually).  But with great power also comes great responsibility.  If nobody is using the repeaters, what the hell good are they?  And in this case, if I could talk to someone in Fort Wayne the other day on a DMR handheld and I can’t today, where is my value in caring whether the DMR system continues to build or falls by the wayside?

While I’m not sanguine about the chances of the DMR network staying up in a real, balls-to-the-wall emergency — particularly given that a lot of DMR repeaters seem to get their Internet bandwidth via cellular wifi modems, and certainly not via hardened copper or fiber optic lines — the fact is that a DMR statewide talkgroup was a boon to the ARES organization, which prior to the rollout was pretty much stuck with an HF net on 80 meters.  DMR had the promise of bringing a lot more people onto the net, and was doing so, until this little dustup happened a week or so ago.  And that’s why I think the section manager has a dog in this fight — a pretty important dog, too, if we are all the public servants we claim to be when we sling slogans like “When all else fails, amateur radio works.”  The radios might work, but the humans behind them may not all be on the same page.

To top it all off, damn few people are using the repeaters anymore, analog, digital, name your favorite flavor.  Do you want people to use the repeaters?  Because this isn’t how you encourage them to do that.

Review: PSKer – an app with issues

While hanging out at the WD9BSA station the other weekend, we were playing with NBEMS via handheld tranceivers…well, OK, we were using Baofengs.  Tom had a copy of a program called PSKer on his iPad and said he’d been playing with that off and on.  So I downloaded it to my iPad for $2.99 to give it a whirl.  We both had our HTs directly connected to our iPads with appropriate 4-wire headphone/microphone jack cables, for what it’s worth (Tom’s is a semi-homebrew, mine is the “official” Baofeng APRS-K2 TRRS cable that BaofengTech has been selling lately; I bought mine on Amazon).

Bottom line, this app ain’t that great.

It seems to decode OK, but it’s supposed to be a transmitting app, too.  Which is fine, you can tell the Baofeng to transmit on VOX, and it does work — sort of.  Generally it cuts off the first few letters of the message, because it starts pumping text out immediately instead of waiting for the VOX to pick up.  And since it has no VOX delay feature, there’s very little you can do about that, short of padding the transmission with a bunch of leading spaces.

Before you blame this problem on the Baofeng, I’ll make the point that I have APRSDroid on my Android phone, and it works just fine with the same Baofeng.  But that’s because the guy who wrote APRSDroid actually knows what he’s doing, and took the time to include a “Frame Sync Prefix” feature in the connection preferences.  With that feature, you can add a “No-Op Preamble” that’s set in milliseconds (the recommendation is 3000, or three seconds), so that the software basically sends nulls to the speaker for three seconds to open up the VOX.  With the Baofeng’s VOX set to 1, that works perfectly.

I would guess that PSKer is really designed for the ham who doesn’t have an interface cable and is simply keying his HT and holding it up to the iPad’s speaker.  But it seems like a major shortcoming not to acknowledge that someone might want to use it with a cable hookup.

The other shortcoming, of course, is that the app doesn’t have a clue about NBEMS — no standard forms or anything are available for use with ARES or any other emergency services group.  But it’s cute if you want to send text back and forth across a big room on a simplex VHF channel.

There also appears to be no way to clear the screen short of stopping and restarting the app.  Come on.  Black Cat Software’s PSK31 Pad lets you do this by shaking the tablet.  It can’t be that difficult.  (Too bad Black Cat’s offering doesn’t support transmission, because they’d probably get the VOX delay thing right.)

If I were reviewing this on the Apple Store, I’d give it 2 stars; it’s a reasonable start, but it needs a lot of work if it’s to be considered anything other than a toy.  And at this stage of the game, it isn’t worth paying money for.

(I’m not reviewing it on the Apple Store, FWIW, because to do that I would have to install iTunes on my computer, and I categorically refuse to do so.)

Here’s one for the guy on eHam

who was bitching about Universal Radio’s cat haven.

2015-10-04-21-52-39This is Frankie (so called because of his blue eyes).  He was sitting in his buddy Tiggr’s usual spot while I worked the local weekly Scout net on UHF the night we took Tiggr to the vet for his trip across the Rainbow Bridge.

Opinions are like assholes.  Everybody’s got one.  If you don’t like the fact that UR has a gazillion cats wandering around, don’t go into their store.  I’ve been in there three times myself, and I’ve only ever seen one or two cats, and the store is cleaner than a lot of shops (of all types) I’ve visited.

At 11:04AM: “The time is now 11 AM.”

One of the local repeaters reports the time on the hour.  Which is a cute feature.

Problem is, it’s 4 minutes behind.

You’d think the repeater owner would fix that.

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