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

Thursday, 6 October 2016

QRP and other Ramblings

Back on HF at last! My lovely other half got me a Yaesu FT-817 for my birthday, I've added a Z817 tuner and a multi-band antenna and I now have the ideal portable set-up. As a power source I have one of those car boost starter units - very small but packed with multi-voltage outputs and runs the 817 very well. As I write this I'm out in the car putting the set-up through its paces and I have to say that I'm mightily impressed.

Last weekend saw the National Hamfest,  just down the road from me at Newark. I went on the Saturday and had a fantastic day, meeting up with friends and making new ones. I collected my competition prize from the Practical Wireless stand, in conjunction with Yaesu UK. The Yaesu FTM-100 and HRI-200 interface are now up and working my Gateway, MB6IAG, on System Fusion/Wires-X. I did encounter a small problem with the interface in that it was the review model used by the magazine and had been previously registered on the Yaesu system. An e-mail to Yaesu quickly resolved the conflict and it's now working well.

JOTA is upcoming this month and it's my favourite event of the year. Members of South Kesteven A.R.S. (www.skars.co.uk) will be activating the event for several Scout groups in the Grantham area and I'm hoping to be there, all being well.

SKARS now hold a weekly net on a Wednesday evening using GB3GR and it is well attended. GR is Echolink (GB3GR-R) and AllStar  (node 28202) enabled, so if you wish to participate, please do. The net starts at 20:00 GMT and all-comers are very welcome.

Back to the radio for a bit longer now....

73 de 2E0ENN

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Rambling On........

What's been happening Radio-wise since my last Blog? Well, I've now got more or less full Digital capability. I have acquired a D-STAR Icom ID-51 handheld, along with a second DV4 Mini and a Yaesu FT-1XD Fusion handheld.

I have one DV4 Mini coupled with a Pipo X8 Windows device that I use for Fusion and DMR, and the second DV4 Mini is coupled to a second Pipo X8 for D-STAR.

Activity is a bit limited on the FCS Reflectors for Fusion, but I suspect that word will get out and the number of users will grow. There is a lot of Fusion activity using WIRES-X and I hope to eventually get a Yaesu FTM-100D and WIRES-X box. D-STAR is a bit more lively with plenty of activity on REF0001C, so there's plenty of traffic to keep me occupied. DMR remains a small issue with the DV4 Mini in that it's awfully tricky to get just right with the settings, however it works sufficiently well provided I keep my overs short.

After months of indecision, I finally took the plunge and drilled a hole in the roof of the car to hard mount the SG7900 Super Gainer aerial for 2m and 70cm. I'm very glad I did, as signals are hugely improved over the triple magmount. Received signals are at least 2 to 3 S points higher and I suspect my transmitted signal is improved.

Back in the early 1980's, when I was a teenager, I had a CB radio. I had a shack and a Silver Rod half wave aerial and spent hours playing radio with fellow CB'ers in the local area. It fell out of favour for me when it became a haunt for ne'er do wells and the language and music playing made it an unpleasant experience. Fast forward to the present day and I notice that in my area are a number of Amateurs who still dabble with "The Dark Side". I have found an old Jesan KT-750 handheld CB and, after cleaning it up and installing fresh Ni-Mh batteries, it still works perfectly, so that's another weapon in the arsenal.

Have a listen out on AllStar  (nodes 41522 and 27066) D-STAR REF 0001C and Fusion  FCS001-55 for a natter sometime.

73 for now, de 2E0ENN