Laurels for DX Engineering

Mud pie in the face for UPS.

Dear Mr. Duffy,

With regard to my recent order #xxxxxxx, I thought you might want to know that UPS claims to have delivered the package to my front door yesterday afternoon, but the package did not actually arrive.

I am pretty sure that they left the package at the wrong address, because I had another scheduled delivery the same day that required a signature, and tracking for that shipment indicates that they made the attempt to deliver at the exact same time they claim to have delivered your shipment. However, there was no notice left on my door regarding the delivery attempt, so I can only surmise that the driver was, in fact, at the wrong address. Moreover, I was home all day – I telecommute to my job daily as I have for the past 22 years, and at the time they claim to have been at my front door, I was sitting at my kitchen table ten feet away having lunch. I think I would have noticed a knock at the door, or the doorbell ringing 🙂 In addition, I was checking outside every 30 minutes or so all day, to make sure they hadn’t “ninjaed” me and left the package without knocking or ringing, which happens a lot, unfortunately (although FedEx is actually the biggest offender in that regard).

UPS Customer Service is, naturally, giving me the run-around, suggesting I file a claim and otherwise seeming to wash their hands of the problem (of course their driver did not make a mistake, it shows delivered to my address in their system), and I thought as the shipper, you might want to know that. (This isn’t the first time they’ve misdelivered a package here, either – usually they leave it on the next door neighbor’s porch, but that wasn’t the case this time.)

Let me say that I have always been perfectly satisfied with DX Engineering and the products I have purchased from you. This problem is totally owned by UPS and doesn’t reflect on you at all.

Thanks, and 73,
Nathan Brindle KC9YTJ

Not an hour later, I had a phone call from Maria at DX Engineering, who said they were going to reship my item and put in a shipper’s claim with UPS, and to just let them know if the original package showed up.

You have no idea how much that means to me — and I wasn’t expecting it.

And partly you have no idea how much that means to me because my G5RV came apart the other night (on the end we DIDN’T drop the branch on, so I don’t know what happened) and I had ordered a new one to replace it, hopefully this weekend.  That wasn’t looking like it was going to happen, given UPS intransigence.

I just got the shipment notification and the new antenna will be on its way tonight.

Thanks, DX Engineering.  All y’all go the extra mile for Joe Average Ham, out here in the radio store wilderness.  I was already a customer for life, this just puts the icing on that cake.

Masonic Nets and other things

It being Christmas Eve, I figured I had some time to tune around, and thought I’d see if the Ohio Masonic Fellowship Net was still meeting on 3865 as advertised on the Hiram’s Hams website.

Just before 0230 UTC, I heard K8DHC identify way down in the noise.  Of course part of the noise was a couple of yahoos yakking on 3863, so they were bleeding over into 3865 for me and pretty much ruining the entire experience, but my punky antenna and the general condx may have had something to do with that, too.

So I don’t know if the Masonic net went off or not, but I didn’t hear much after that one identification other than somebody tuning up and someone saying something along the lines of, “Goodness gracious!” without identifying.  (They were, however, 5 and 9 from Indianapolis.)

It gives me a bit of a thrill, though, to think there might actually still be an HF Masonic net running on Sunday evenings.  I’ve never heard the one that supposedly runs weekdays at 1600 UTC on 14328.

So, are there actually any other Masonic HF nets running?  I’m not talking about on Echolink — that’s not radio.

Earlier in the evening, I heard K6MYC booming in from California on 7134ish, talking about antennas.  I suppose he would know, I went and looked him up on QRZ and he’s quite the interesting fellow.

Fix for an old irritation

For a long time I had a problem where system sounds would key up my rig if the SignaLink was turned on and connected.  To prevent it, I’d pretty much disabled all system sounds on the machine.  (Hate most Windows system sounds anyway.  First thing I always do on a new install is disable the startup/shutdown and login/logoff sounds.)

Anyway, I finally got fed up with the problem and solved it the other night.

There are two soundcards in the machine — the regular, default soundcard for system sounds, music, what have you — and the “USB Audio Codec” for the Signalink. Digging around with Google I found a page (unfortunately didn’t bookmark it at the time) that said to check to see if your default soundcard had Exclusive Mode enabled.  Which apparently it does by default; I know I never turned that on, but sure enough, it was turned on.

To turn it off, right-click the speaker icon in the system tray, choose “Playback Devices”, double-click whichever device is your regular sound card. (In my case it’s “Realtek High Definition Audio” for the shack machine, “IDT High Definition Audio Codec” for my laptop. Your mileage will likely vary.)

Under the “Advanced” tab, look for the Exclusive Mode box. If “Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device” is ticked, then untick it and click “OK”.  (If the second box is also ticked, no worries, it will untick when you untick the first one.)

Voila, your rig will no longer key up when you make a mistake and your computer lets you know about it in song.

Note that you should NOT change the Exclusive Mode for the codec that’s in use for your digital mode sound card. I think I tried that, and the software wouldn’t key up the rig till I turned it back on.

The one thing that has caused me the most grief with digital modes over the last four and a half years is the incomplete documentation for ham-created software that assumes you must already know this stuff.

FWIW, I know what a pain it is to write documentation; it’s my job at work, and I’ve written, maintained, and updated hundreds of pages of it for the last 23 years.  As we say, the job’s not finished until the paperwork is complete.


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.

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