Computers/Software

SOME SOFTWARE UPDATES

I checked the log the other day and realized it’s been about two months or so since getting on the air.  Well, I decided to remedy that real quick with some digimode fun.  Before doing that, though, I decided to run some updates.  So far I’ve updated PowerSDR, VAC, and Ham Radio Deluxe.  The VAC is a slick little program that passes all the audio I/O from the Flex to the computer via the same firewire cable that’s used by PowerSDR.  It sure simplifies the whole concept of rig interfacing.  Everything is passed on one cable with no need for a hardware interface at all.

While I was at it I updated a program called DDUtil.  It act as the exclusive client for all COM port communication to and from the radio.  This simplifies operating the Flex since it sees only one COM port and the DDUtil acts as traffic cop.  It also allows me to run multiple programs (whether digimode or logging, etc.) simultaneously.  As an example I could run N1MM contest logger at the same time as my HRD general logging program is open or maybe DM780, Easypal, and WSJT all at once.  I use vspMgr to setup virtual COM port pairs.  One end goes the software and the other to DDUtil.

If this sounds like a lot of computing, you’re right.  Fortunately a lot of it only requires setup one time and it runs in the background.  Once it’s all configured there is so much flexibility in the system.  One of the nice things about the SDR concept is that you’re constantly getting new features and options with each upgrade.  I learn something new every time I use the Flex.

I took a screen shot of my desktop with the new PowerSDR up and running with the DM780 waterfall beneath it and the Wavenode  program on the right.

Desktop

You’ll see that I’m watching several data streams on psk31.  I’ve been using the Flex to make several digimode contacts here lately.  I think I even picked up a new country.  Lots of fun to work DX with only 30W.  All for now.

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IP POWER

This post is a continuation of the previous post dealing with remote operation.  To configure a truly remote operation one would need some way to turn equipment “ON” and “OFF” from afar.  West Mountain Radio has engineered a solution for this.  The RIGrunner 4005i seem to fit the bill.  It’s an IP-based power distribution panel that allows the user to remotely switch DC power to multiple accessories through the use of a built-in webserver.  It allows for monitoring and control of five outputs.  I found this item advertised in a recent copy of CQ magazine.  I’d heard this was possible but the West Mountain folks seem to have it packaged into a unit ready for mainstream use.  The price is a little salty, about as much as a current tablet computer or netbook.  The price will deter many folks but for those who are dedicated to remote ops, I think it’ll be a winner.  This is definitlely a product designed for a niche market.  However, one thing the West Mountain has been good at has been engineering various products that are well-made for a variety of specialty applications–whether it be digimode operation, rig control, or DC power distribution options.

I have a RIGblaster Pro that I used with an older ham radio and it’s worked very well for rig control and digimodes.  With my new Flex-5k I don’t need these external peripherals but there are many hams out there that still use radios that cannot simply be interfaced to computers and soundcards by simple plug-n-play USB cables and the like.  So, I hope this doesn’t come off like an add for WMR (since I’ve purchased all my own components over the years).  I hope this might be of interest and provide options to further enhance remote operations to those who are away from home or cannot have a station in their home.

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I HAVE THIS IDEA…

I was thinking about remote operations the other day.  This can mean different things to different people.  For me it’s usually just operating the radio that’s out in the shack, while I’m sitting in the family room.  Since I have my own domain I could technically do this from anywhere with a broadband internet connection.  And there are many hams who are doing this due to vacations, business travel, and any assortment of antenna deeds, covenants, and restrictions.  I have already successfully used Windows Remote Desktop to lot onto my home desktop while visiting my parents in Indy.

Modern software such as Ham Radio Deluxe allows hams the ability to command and control a rig remotely as well as log and operate digital modes.  Adding a VOIP audio program such as Skype allows the ham to go a step further and operate phone modes as well.  Since PowerSDR is a standalone program for the Flex Radio operating HRD tends to complicate things.  The few times I’ve operated remote from inside the house I just Remote Desktop so that I could see my exact desktop screen from the shack on my remote computer.  It worked pretty well for psk-31.

So all this leads me up to my idea.  In order for this to work I have to leave everything in the shack setup and in line so it’ll be ready for remote access.  This included the coax switch.  I normally like to switch mine to the center, grounded position when I’m not out there.  I know this won’t protect me from a lightening strike, but it my be good enough to save the front-end from static dishcharges brought on by dry, snowy winter winds, etc.  I’m thinking about a way to run a small app on the desktop of the computer that would ground the antenna feedline or switch it in for operation.  It would have to be USB since serial ports are so yesterday!  It could be used for one to many antennas.  I know there are several remote antenna switches already on the market that have the ability for computer control.  They’re pretty pricey…even the one from Ameritron.

I don’t know if I’ll ever build this thing.  I’ve attempted to draw circuits and make plans a couple times in the past but never get around to building it.  It seems like it could be a useful and interesting project.

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BUSY WEEKEND

The old year is behind us and the new year is now upon us.  I don’t believe in making resolutions but there are many things I hope to accomplish in 2012.  Among them is more ham radio fun.  Seems I never have enough time but I hope to be able to make more time this year for ham radio.

I’ve made a little progress on the crystal set.  All of the pieces are removed from the board and ready to be cleaned.  I’m going to clean up all the wood with Murphy’s Oil Soap.  After that I’ll probably give it a light sanding and some new stain and sealer.  Since it’s not exactly a collector’s piece I’ll just do whatever I want with it.  I want to freshen up the looks of the radio and keep the period look to it.  I have some nice pieces of magnet wire and I’ll order some farnstock clips for the missing connections.  It also looks like I’ll need to get a 47k ohm resistor and a crystal earphone.  Assuming my crystal is still good that should put it back to original condition.

With a lot of help from Nick, N9SJA, I was able to construct a new server over New Year’s Eve.  We used an older IBM server with dual Xeon dual core processors and 10,000 RPM four-disk RAID 5 array.  It has 3 GB of memory which I may upgrade in the future.  As it is right now, it’s pretty beefy.  This machine will be able to host my LAMP server for this website and also act as a perimeter firewall and handle routing for my home network.   I also took the step of purchasing my own domain.  That will be nicer that the long URL used now to get here to the blog.  I’m really looking forward to getting the new server online later this month.

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COMPUTER CHAOS

One of the perils of using modern technology is you have to deal with it when it goes down.  Last week someone cut Frontier Communication’s (my ISP) fiber optic trunk that serves pretty much the whole state of Indiana.  That led to about twenty-four or more hours without service for me and other Frontier customers.  Once it was finally restored a day or so later I found that I still didn’t have any internet connection.  For some reason it whacked out my whole network setup and my wired computers were just sitting there confused.  It took me a little while to figure out that the wifi computers were working.  So far one out of four phone support techs have had a clue how to troubleshoot a system.  They finally just decided to replace my modem.

The replacement modem is a totally different style that appears to be incompatible with my network, argh!  Since it used the same IP address as my router they had to change my my routers’s IP address.  This meant I had to change all the static IP’s of the computers I was using on that network.  It also screwed up my port forwarding for remote access and the webserver.  Then the router wasn’t getting the right IP.  It was trying to forward the modem’s IP instead of the ISP’s and forwarding it on to the DNS service.  Nothing was getting to the server.

I managed to find a super old DSL modem I had extra and put it back in the system so I could get things working again on the blog.  Fortunately one of the Frontier service techs live here in town.  I know him and his family pretty well.  I actually have a direct line to his desk at the phone company.  He’s going to hook me up with a better modem that should fit my needs.  Handy guy to know.  The life of a part time computer hack is filled with bouts of  frustration and disappointment and random cases of success!

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INTERNET ENTERTAINMENT

Most of my radio-related activities take place on the weekend. I find that the kids’ sports and Cub Scouts and homework pretty well keeps me occupied through the work week.  Because of this I search the internet for various sites, links, youtube videos, etc. I can peruse in small tidbits over various sittings as I have time.  I’d like to share a few of my favorites in case anyone else might be interested.

Amateur Logic is one that I’ve been watching the longest.  These fellows from Mississippi as well as a ham from Australia have been making videos for several years and cover various aspects of the hobby.  Some episodes have better segments than others but there’s usually something of interested in there.  The last three or four have been really good.  I particularly liked the episode with a segment on a middle school high altitude balloon launch and also the most recent one with a segment on a homebrew regenerative tube receiver.  Episodes usually come out every month or so and are now available for download in an HD format.

Bill Meara N2CQR has a nice blog site called SolderSmoke.  It covers a lot of homebrew, QRP, and also astronomy.  In addition to the blog he also releases a podcast about once a month.  At first I found it a little dry but it seems to be addictive as I’ve been listening now for almost a year.  He also published an interesting book call SolderSmoke — Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics in which he explores various aspects of amateur radio and reveals his roots in the hobby and how it has followed him in his career path as a foreign diplomat.  I enjoyed the book and read it very quickly.  It really makes you want to build and understand electronics.

My last outlet for weekly internet entertainment is Ham Nation on the TWiT Netcast network.  This weekly show has only been out for about six months but is quite entertaining.  The format and content has improved since the first several episodes.  The main hosts are Bob Heil and Gordon West who’s ham radio credentials speak for themselves.  They normally have a theme of some sort and often include interviews with notable hams and a lot of friendly banter.  Episodes are streamed live on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 PM CST.  I typically download the video a couple days later so I can watch when I find the time.

So when you can’t get into the shack to get your ham radio fix I hope can find a computer with broadband access and maybe check into some cool content.

Categories: Amateur Radio, Computers/Software | 1 Comment

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