Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Obsessive Compulsive Ramblings

I keep on doing it. I can’t help it. I can’t resist a bargain when it comes to radio equipment. As if the recent purchases of DMR radios wasn’t enough, I’ve bought another two radios this month. Both are DSTAR radios, an ID-880 mobile and it’s handheld counterpart the IC-80. Both were very reasonable used bargains. This brings the number of DSTAR radios to four. 



I have a Ham friend locally and we have talked on and about radio since I first became licenced. After a bit of a lay off from the hobby he decided to rekindle the hobby with a new TYT MD380 DMR handheld. I spent a Saturday afternoon with him, updating the firmware on his DVMega, installing Pi-Star software on his Raspberry Pi and writing a suitable codeplug for the radio. After a bit of coaching about how to access reflectors and imparting some knowledge, he has now found a renewed interest in the hobby and is now active again. It’s always good to have a Ham returning to the fold and it was particularly gratifying to be able to help him along the way. All in the spirit of Amateur Radio. 


I have decided to replace the AllStar RF node with something a little more suitable for a personal hotspot. I have always thought that using the Icom IC-E208 as a node radio was a bit of a waste of equipment, bearing in mind that attenuating the output to around 10mW with a radio capable of 50W is not exactly exploiting the radios capabilities. It would be fine if I was using it as a Gateway radio, but even then NoV conditions would be likely to limit the output to a fraction of the radios potential. Thinking about options, I considered a Micronode built by G7RPG but had issues in justifying the cost. I have used UHF for an AllStar node before but had to abandon it due to my neighbour’s not being able to use the remote central locking on their vehicles while the node was transmitting on its licenced frequency. I switched to VHF with no issues whatsoever. So, I needed a compact node, using a handheld radio and also using VHF. I approached the Guru of all things AllStar, Alan, M0AQC, about converting a VHF Wouxun handheld that I had in a cupboard, doing nothing. Alan suggested that the Wouxun might not be suitable but suggested the Baofeng UV-82 as an ideal candidate to build a dual band AllStar node. He then began to look into converting a UV-82, with one of his modified USB sound fobs. It’s a work in progress but my RF needs for AllStar will soon be met with the new node, freeing up the Icom for more suitable work. 


My involvement as part of the Admin Team for the UK Hub on the AllStar Network continues. Recent developments have included a bridge to WIRES-X and also a link into the Fusion FCS reflector System. Negotiations are also underway to allocate a Brandmeister Talkgroup for a DMR crosslink. Not too bad considering that the Hub has only been active for a few months. Join us if you can on AllStar node 43909 or 27066, alternatively EchoLink G7KDZ-L. Access can also be made through my nodes, which are 43989 or 42536, EchoLink 2E0ENN-L. 





Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Overdue Ramblings

It’s been a while since my last blog but things are a little different here at the home QTH. My station is now almost exclusively Internet linked, with the exception of a couple of local repeaters, mobile on V/UHF and portable ops on HF. 

DMR


I now have access, via Hotspots, to both Phoenix and Brandmeister reflectors. I have two Hytera MD785 mobile radios, one VHF and the other UHF. The UHF radio is used for Phoenix, with a DV4 Mini and the VHF radio is used with a dual band DVMega RPi, using Pi-Star software. I still use the venerable TYT MD380’s, both VHF and UHF, for the same purpose. I also use a Radioddity GD77 dual band handheld for both. For portable/mobile use I have the DVMega/Bluestack, running BlueDV for Android, with the very useful Hytera PD365 radio.

DSTAR


I have added a second DSTAR handheld to the inventory. It’s a IC-91 with the DSTAR module fitted. I bought it on an online auction site for a very reasonable price. Battery life is good but would be improved with a new battery. The audio quality from this radio is superb and I just love the quality of build and ease of use. This supplements the ID-51 and both are used with a single band DVMega RPi with Pi-Star software.

WIRES-X


My Wires-X gateway, MB6IAG, has now been decommissioned due to lack of use and the NoV has lapsed. The equipment is now employed as a personal node, with both the FTM-100 node radio and the FTM-3200 working through dummy loads. The FT1 XD is still in use as back up and when out and about. Two of our local repeaters are Fusion enabled so the handheld comes in useful when out.

ALLSTAR 
Not much change with the AllStar set up - RF needs being met with the Icom IC-E208 node radio, M0AQC interface and Raspberry Pi.
There are four more RPi nodes, connected with IAX to my TeamSpeak server. These continue to provide excellent service and reliability.

Winter has somewhat curtailed any forays into portable HF operations but it is hoped that I may just wrap up warm and brave the elements with the FT-817 and selection of home brew and mobile antennas.

The mobile set up has altered slightly with the FTM-100 being replaced with a Yaesu FT-7100 dual band radio, the Super Gainer antenna still being used with good results.
73 for the moment and Happy New Year






Monday, 13 February 2017

Updated Ramblings

The Shack is now reinstated following the recent building work here in Cranwell. MB6IAG is back on form on Wires-X and I have had a jolly time reinstating my personal AllStar node. I've been busy configuring and reconfiguring systems and now I have the definitive internet linked set up.

The Wires-X node has benefitted from a new PC, with a faster processor and more RAM. The results are outstanding and I'm now reasonably happy with the set up. I do need to set up an Ethernet connection in the shack, I'm thinking of a long ethernet cable from the router to the shack with a two or three port ethernet socket on the shack end. More on that in the next update.

After trials and tribulations with AllStar I have now settled on the definitive set up for my personal node. Previously I ran the node on a netbook which ran Linux, but there was a constant loud hum on the audio. This was traced to the PSU for the netbook so the whole node was mothballed. I decided to try to rectify the issue by going back to the Raspberry Pi as node computer. I had previously used an image developed by Ken, K5ENB, and I used this image initially. The downside to this approach is that the Pi has to be initially set up on an Ethernet connection, wireless being configured afterwards. This is all well and good but I found myself dashing between the shack and the living room, where the router is, setting and resetting the Pi and I eventually had the node running. For some unknown reason the node just would not register on the AllStar network so the image was scrubbed and a new image was sourced from Doug Crompton. This is a great image for AllStar, you do need to spend some time setting it up and it can be a bit complicated but it is excellent in operation. I have a 7 inch TFT screen and a USB keyboard attached to the Pi, so monitoring the node is simple, and there is also the option of using SSH to administer the node, so portability is possible. I have Allmon configured to monitor the node from a GUI, and EchoLink is also set up. After a bit of head scratching and a few late nights I now have the node pretty much as I would like it. The icing on the cake would be an Ethernet connection.

With my new found enthusiasm for AllStar, I feel confident enough to leave the node running, connected to either HUBNet UK or the AllStar UK Hub, and accessing via Echolink on my F22 RoIP handset.

There is now lots of C4FM activity on both the FCS reflectors and Wires-X. CQ-UK has a room on Wires-X which is well populated and there is a link from the FCS reflector system, which gives activity all day long. C4FM-Net is active most nights on FCS001-54, and once a fortnight there is a very well subscribed net on there on alternate Saturdays from 20:00 to 22:00 GMT.

DStar remains my Achilles heel at the moment. I've got hold of an Arduino dual band DV Mega but, as usual, I can't get any of my computer equipment to communicate with it, so it's a "work in progress" until such time as I can summon up the required enthusiasm to get on and sort it out. I've downloaded and installed drivers for it and I have the BlueDV program in the PC, but I need to flash the DV Mega firmware in order to use it. I can't do that until I can get the thing to communicate with my PC. I will persevere - it will not have me beaten - I would like to spend some time "on air" instead of tapping on a keyboard for hours.

The alternative (and looking more and more promising) is a Shark RF Openspot. It gets rave reviews but at over £200 it is a bit of a financial outlay - I'm still thinking on that one. I do need a stable platform for DMR, as the DV4 Mini is still not great, so that's another reason to consider the Openspot. I'm not convinced, as there are almost daily beta releases of the firmware - perhaps I may wait until there is a definitive stable release. I'm reminded of the debacle when the DV4 Mini was first released, with no support for software and catastrophic problems, particularly with its DMR capability. The jury is still out, but it's looking as though I might take the plunge.

I'm told that Spring is on the way, time to get my shoes wet with dew and a spot of portable HF ops with the FT-817. Roll on those lazy, hazy days of Summer.

73 for now and bye for now

de 2E0ENN

www.hamvoip.org
www.allstarlink.org
www.echolink.org
www.hubnetwork.uk
www.skars.co.uk

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Rambling Without Antennas

We have the builders in this week to rectify our kitchen floor, after water damage. This means that the Shack contents have had to be relocated, resulting in having no access to the aerials. So, I am reliant on internet linked systems for a while and I'm really enjoying it.
I've had another bash at using the Raspberry Pi with the DV4 Mini and I've had a measure of success. I am running two Pi's with The DV4 Compact software, using a TFT screen. Its a bit fiddly, and small, but they work rather well. I have enclosed one in a plastic box to take out whilst in the car, however the performance whilst on the move is not as good, due to fluctuations in the quality of the 3g signal while moving. Having said that, as a portable hotspot it works well.




I have made quite a few ill-advised radio purchases in my time but by far the worst waste of time and money must be the speaker mic bought for the wonderful, Chinese F22 handset. I was so happy when it arrived, fitted it up to the handset and lo and behold - it didnt work. Nothing wrong with the mic, the audio power on the handset was so pitifully low that it wouldn't drive the speaker. So, if anyone wants a Motorola style speaker mic, get in touch.




With the builders being in, MB6IAG has had to shut down, as they are working in the shack area, rendering use of the antennas impossible. So, temporarily, I have the FTM-100 node radio working on a portable antenna, via a 2m ATU and the other FTM-100 is on a dummy load. At least the Wires-X capability is still functional, even if, for the moment, it is for personal use.

Interstingly, there is now a bridge between Wires-X and the FCS reflector network. It is connected to FCS001 Module 55 and is bridged to the Wires-X room CQ-UK. As I understand it, the FCS link is hosted on a DV4 Mini, and its output is sent to a Wires-X node, which is connected to CQ-UK. So, the DV4 and Wires-X node are on the same frequency, and traffic is passed via RF between the two. I'm not sure that it is a satisfactory set up, but it appears to work.

That's enough for now, I have some projects in the pipeline - more of which in the next bulletin.

73 de 2E0ENN







Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year Ramble

Well, that's Christmas and New Year over with. I have to say that radio activity for me has been quiet over the Festive period, due to being away for a large part of it and away from the shack.

Since returning four days ago, I have had MB6IAG running on the UK Hub Net on Wires-X and have heard little or no activity. There was a net publicised on the NWIS room for New Years Eve, where stations from all over the world were invited to take part and celebrate the New Year from wherever in the World they were, in real time, but that was also under subscribed.

There was a short local net on 2m on New Years Eve, for an hour or so earlier in the evening, but I couldn't make it to the radio due to visitors.

The Gateway is running at the moment and apart from a few overs earlier, there has been nothing for at least three hours. Admittedly I haven't called either as I'm doing other things, and I suspect that is what everyone else is doing.

This all points toward a distinct lack of activity in general. Could this be a sign that the Hobby is in decline? I know of several Operators locally to me who have forsaken the hobby to pursue other interests. Propagation on HF has been poor, lack of activity on other bands and modes and general disinterest have contributed to ghostly silences of late.

I'm concerned that we will soon have no hobby, despite record numbers of Licensees, where are they all?

New Year, new objectives -  I intend to get the studying in and the Advanced exam under my belt this year. I did say the same last year but circumstances led to my time being prioritised in other directions. I also want to tackle Morse this year - its something I feel I'm missing out on at the moment, so to have that capability in the arsenal would be an advantage.

I'm looking forward to the Spring and better weather to go out portable - it's awfully chilly at the moment, so I haven't been out lately.

VoIP seems to be growing in popularity and I have plans afoot to become more involved with AllStar and EchoLink - if the inactivity on 2m and 70cm continues it will soon be the only way to talk to anyone.

Anyway, let's hope that things will improve somewhat and in the meantime, I will carry on regardless.

For now 73 de 2E0ENN

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Gateway to Rambling Heaven

I have been bemoaning my absolutely abysmal broadband connection for quite some time now. It was slow, unreliable and would drop - out at the drop of a hat. Well, that seems to be all in the past now, as I have a super - fast, high speed fibre connection now. It's been connected for 36 hours without a single drop out and the up and download speeds are improved threefold. The upshot of all this is that MB6IAG  (my Wires-X gateway) now operates as flawlessly as it can.

Heartened by this improvement I have obtained a second Yaesu FTM-100DE. The original FTM-100 is installed as node radio and the gateway operates through that and the HRI-200 interface, while the second FTM-100 is used for node access, local FM and to access the DV4 Mini.

The FT-817ND still continues to give a great deal of pleasure. I have found a superb spot for /P work and last Sunday I had a couple of hours working HF. I managed a QSO with a portable station in Denmark on 40m and a contact into Canada on 20m, amongst others which were mainly European stations, and all on just 5 Watts. Pound for pound that little radio has given better value in terms of enjoyment and functionality than any of my other radio purchases.

I'm still disappointed at not being able to have a decent V/UHF antenna at home but at least with the Internet Linked and Digital modes I am able to carry on enjoying the hobby. To be honest, working /P suits me fine - at least it gets me out of the house and into the fresh air.

And there I will leave it for now. Tune in next time for another exciting edition.........

73 de 2E0ENN

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Ramblings

It's been almost a month since I set up my Wires-X gateway and I can report that it appears to be working well, despite not holding a solitary QSO on it! There are countless nodes and rooms connected but few, if any, conversations happening  I have called out on numerous occasions in various rooms and, apart from US rooms, I have heard next to nothing. I wonder why this is? Maybe it's a low number of operators on the system? Doubtful, as a glance at the connected node list shows thousands world wide. Are we becoming a hobby filled with licenced SWL's? It's a great shame, as the audio quality is superb, the infrastructure of the Wires-X system is extremely sound and the potential for a huge uptake is certainly there. Even using the Fusion reflectors in the FCS system shows a distinct lack of activity.

D-STAR is very busy at times, I connect to REF001 C regularly and there is always a lot of traffic. Granted, D-STAR has been around for much longer and there are far more people using it, but the audio in comparison with C4FM is a little "robotic".

As for DMR, the almost constant monitoring by the "DMR Police" and the equally constant changes in the infrastructure, and the Politics involved with the various networks has spoiled a once pleasurable experience.

AllStar has not been without its difficulties as well. There has recently been a "branching out" where members of the UK Hub have splintered away to form HUBNet UK, taking users and splitting the community. It's impossible to pledge an allegiance to one particular "network", I just want to talk to people regardless of their particular differences.

Locally, the already depleted ranks of operators on 2m have dwindled away to the occasional few. Not so long ago a QSO could be guaranteed almost every evening, but not so now. Even use of repeaters has decreased to the levels that would not justify a Repeater Keeper continuing.

What do I glean from all of this? I suspect that there are many disillusioned Amateurs out there. There are the "Die Hards" who only use Simplex, Analogue and decry "new fangled ideas" such as Digital and Internet Linked systems. There are the up-takers of systems like DMR, who are put off by the almost constant derision by those who are seldom heard in a QSO. They only come on air to chastise those who they perceive to have transgressed. The fact is that, regardless of the means used, it's all about talking to people. Why participate in a hobby that involves communication if you don't wish to speak to anyone? So, let's put the calls out, let's answer a few of those calls and get talking again!

On a somewhat lighter note, the FT-817 is still impressing me greatly. It really is a superb radio, and if power (or the lack of it) is an issue, just look at some of the QRP forums out there to see just what can be achieved with a measly 5W. I bought a Moonraker SPX100 portable multi-band antenna to use with the 817 and I have to report that as a dummy load it is as useless as it is as an antenna. It is not resonant (at all) on any of the bands and flatly refuses to tune with a tuner. Even adding counterpoises has made little difference, so my Hamfest bargain has flopped somewhat. All is not lost though, my trusty wire with un-un is still doing its job. I have it mounted on a 10 metre fishing pole, as a vertical, and it still tunes 80m to 6m with no problems. Granted, it's a compromise antenna, but for portable use its fine. It telescopes down to a metre in length and can easily be carried whilst out and about.

Last weekend was JOTA and myself and other members of South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society activated the Scout Hut at Foston for the event. I was unable to participate on the Saturday but managed to spend the whole of Sunday operating and assisting with the station. Best contact of the weekend was into Cyprus, and many European stations were also logged. The Cubs, Beavers and Scouts all had a whale of a time, as did Stewart, Andrew, Richard and myself. Looking forward to next year.

Not much else to report, but watch this space.....

73 de 2E0ENN