obligatory obscure reference

self-deprecating yet still self-promotional witty comment


APRS using a RPi3 and some old MFJ gear

Filed under: Amateur Radio — jet @ 15:47

(placeholder, will add some detail later)

Set everything up again on an RPi3 and it works just fine.

Used these instructions:  http://xastir.org/index.php/HowTo:Raspbian



OSX / Yaesu software I’m fond of

Filed under: Amateur Radio — jet @ 22:18

If you’re on a Mac and using Yaesu rigs, here are a few tools you might find useful:

MacMemoriesManager, a memory manager for the 897/817. It plays well with my microHAM USB Interface III.

MacLoggerDx, a contacts manager for contesting and whatnot. I’m not thrilled with its memory management — it can only tune frequencies from a list and can’t set options — but it’s very good for logging and looking up contacts. If you program your radio’s memories/settings then use MacLoggerDx in “read-only” mode, it’ll work quite nicely.

VX-7 Commander, which is a Windows program for managing VX-7 settings but if you tweak the comms settings it’ll work nicely under VMWare.


A new twist on yet another DIY 2M ground plane antenna

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Hacking,MakerBot — jet @ 23:26

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve come up with a simple mount for making portable/storable 2M ground plane antennas. They aren’t nearly as sturdy once they’re deployed, but they’re easy to fold up and store behind the seat of your truck, carry on your bicycle, etc.

If you have a MakerBot, RepRap, or other 3D printer, I’ve posted the STL over on Thingiverse. If you don’t have access to such a printer I’m in the process of setting up a store on Shapeways.

I’ll have more photos soon, including some ideas on how to store/transport the antenna.


Making a Yaesu FT-897 work with OSX

Filed under: Amateur Radio — jet @ 15:52

I have a nicely functioning OSX FT-897 setup and thought I’d document things to make it easier for others wanting to do this.

What didn’t work

Let me start out with what *not* to do. Do not buy anything that is not %100 guaranteed to work with Mac OSX by the manufacturer. When I say “%100 guaranteed” I mean an explicit statement that it the product is fully supported on the Mac by the manufacturer, not “it will work if you get drivers from a third party.”

I used a West Mountain Rigrunner Nomic with my old Powerbook using a USB<->Serial adapter and it kinda worked most of the time. When that third party solution stopped working due to driver conflicts when I switched to my G5 desktop, I upgraded to the West Mountain Rigblaster Data Jack plug & play because the very first line of the description says, “USB interface support for Mac (OS9,10), Linux, Windows (98SE – Vista 64)!”. What I missed was this on a different page of their site: “NOTE: WEST MOUNTAIN RADIO DOES NOT OFFICIALLY SUPPORT MAC INSTALLATIONS. PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT US WITH ANY QUESTIONS OR PROBLEMS USING THESE DRIVERS. THE DRIVERS ARE SUPPLIED BY SiLabs THE MAKER OF THE CHIP”. In other words, if you can’t get it to work with a third party driver, they’re not going to help you. I wasted a better part of a weekend trying to get it to work and got nowhere fast, and I like to think I know a thing or three about *nix, serial, and USB. (And I now have TWO Rigblasters I need to sell.)

What worked

After the West Mountain fiasco, I broke down and spent 2x as much on a microHAM USB Interface III. It’s a pretty cool little unit that does everything over USB — only one cable to hook up to your computer! It’s actually supported by uHAM and therefore supported by OSX software authors. For software, I finally got around to upgrading my aging copy of MacLoggerDX to the 5.x release which has full Cocoa support. It really was just a matter of setting the internal jumpers, installing all the uHAM drivers, plugging in the USB cable and the rig cables, launching MLDX, setting some configs, and I’m chasing clusters and beacons with the best of them. Serial seems to be working pretty reliably at 38400. (Note that this is under 10.5.8, I haven’t taken the Snow Leopard dive just yet.)



Mac OSX + VMware + VX-7R Commander

Filed under: Amateur Radio — jet @ 20:29

If you’re into Amateur Radio and a *nix nerd, you probably know firsthand how little support there is *nix/*bsd/OSX. There’s a really great freeware program for managing a VX-7R, but it’s only on wintel.

Turns out that isn’t a problem if you have VMware and XP Pro. I wouldn’t have bought those just to support a radio, but the only PC app I “need” is SolidWorks. Everything else I do in darwin/bsd or linux. I really can’t justify carrying around two laptops all the time, and I’d have bought XP and SolidWorks if I did have a PC…

Here’s what I did to get VX-7R Commander working on my MacBook:

1) Use an IOGear QUC-232A cable as a USB<->serial adapter to the VX-7R adapter cable.

3) In XPPro under VMWare, download the drivers from IOGear’s site and install them. They installed as COM3 on my system by default.

4) Launch Commander, set it to use COM3, and I was able to download/upload with no problems.

[tags]OSX, VX-7R[/tags]


Attention PA Amateur Radio Operators

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Pittsburgh,Politics — jet @ 12:51

I don’t follow PA state politics closely to understand why this is a partisan issue, but the claim is that Democrats in the house are trying to kill a bill that reflects current federal law regarding antenna regulation by sending it off to a subcommittee.

This from the Atlantic Division Director, Bill Edgar, N3LLR:

Please see the attached document from Joe, N3TTE. They’re sample letters to be sent to your local rep as well as Rep Dwight Evans, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. After speaking to my local representative his office suggested that all interested parties contact Representative Evans urging him to bring the bill out of Committee and up to the house for a full vote. AB3ER also called Rep. Evans office and the staffer there commented that the Appropriations Committed was being “used” to kill the bill. We need to look like an 800Lb Gorilla who votes coming at these representatives to keep the special interest (PA State Association of Township Supervisors) from killing this legislation.

The full email, along with sample letters is here. Take a minute and write/fax/call your local Representative and ask that this bill be brought out of committee.

[tags]amateur radio, antenna, pennsylvania[/tags]


Arduino: Generating the Morse Code

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Arduino,Hacking — jet @ 16:08

Ok, this was stupid fun and really easy. I’m relearning the Morse code — I originally learned it using the excellent ARRL CDs. As part of re-learning it, I thought it would be fun to see if I could learn it visually as well, by looking at a blinking LED. It kinda makes my brain hurt, but it actually might be doable.

So here it is, my simple Morse Code arduino sketch.

I think I might try parsing Morse next, it’s a much more interesting problem…

[tags]arduino, morse[/tags]


My First HF Mobile Installation

Filed under: Amateur Radio — jet @ 22:54

[edit: 20070114 – I’ve had some questions in email and in comments, I’ll try to take some more photos and answer everyone’s questions.]

I recently finished my first HF mobile installation and while I learned a lot, I learned how much more I still have to learn. Much of my decision-making was based on my theory (hope) that the aluminum shell on my truck would be a better counterpoise than an access door, even with a ground strap from the door to the cab of the truck.

The short version is that I did a lot of planning and measuring before drilling some holes that couldn’t easily be patched to install the antenna and the radio. More details on the planning involved after these photos:

897D from the driver’s view 897D from the passenger’s view
ATAS-120 from driver’s side rear (I need to take a better picture against a different backdrop)

Notes on the antenna mount

The antenna mount I used is for putting a CB-radio whip on a rear-view mirror, similar to the “standard three-way mirror mount“. The thru-hole for the antenna base is a tiny bit too small for a SO-239, so I drilled out the L-bracket with an oversize drill bit that cost more than the mount itself. Deciding where to locate the mount was a bit tricky. My requirements were:

  • a location as far from the cab as possible so I can drive the antenna at max wattage from the driver’s or passenger’s seat
  • keep the antenna vertical
  • get the antenna as high off the ground as possible
  • no interference with the operation of doors, windows or accessories
  • easy to remove and mount elsewhere when I take the shell off to haul large objects

However, my placement restrictions were:

  • robust mounting location: the shell’s skin is very thin, so I need to either bolt around an internal strut (with U-bolts) or use a patch of skin very close to struts
  • blocking as little of the antenna as possible with the shell
  • prefer driver’s side, due to there being fewer tree limbs hitting the vehicle than on the passenger side

I decided to use the rear of the shell on the driver’s side and found a patch of skin near where two struts formed an inverted V. The inside of the shell is bare metal at this location, so I have a decent ground going from the mount thru the bolts to the inside of the bracket. Another thing I like about this location is that it is near the corner so not as much of the signal is blocked by the shell. (Yes, I will take more closeup photos of the mount…)

Notes on the radio mount

The radio mount was pretty straightforward — the 897D is bolted to the transmission tunnel using the stock Yaesu mount. I found a location that allows the display to be seen from both the driver’s and passenger’s seats. One downside of this location is that it is unsafe to operate while driving as you have to turn your head so far away from the road that you lose even peripheral vision of your surroundings. On the other hand, it can be operated from the passenger’s position with little difficulty so you can easily operate while someone else drives.

Future improvements and modifications

There are a few improvements I want to make, but I want to do a few road trips and some work with a field strength meter first. This is my first HF install, and it’s quite possible I’ve fubared all sorts of things that will need fixing before I start tweaking the minor details. I’m pretty certain I’ll need to:

  • Replace the RG-8X cable that came with the SO-239 mount with something sturdier and with more shielding. I might go so far as to run grounded EMT under the bed rails then put Andrew Heliax thru the EMT. Hardline thru EMT is probably too expensive for a fixed station running 1KW to a dipole; for a short run in a noisy, dangerous environment, the price differential is minor.
  • Make a proper gasket for the antenna lead coming thru the shell. I completely cheaped out on this and used RTV silicone instead of making a grommet out of rubber. What I did works but is embarrassingly ugly.
  • Route the antenna line thru the bed and cabin wall instead of thru the windows. Yet another short-term, aggie engineering solution while I sort out the bigger problems.

A few things to consider before doing this yourself

After I finished this first install, I thought to myself, “Damn, I’m glad I have some idea what I’m doing.” There were multiple times where a simple mistake would have caused me to set my carpet on fire, drill holes in the wrong place on a a $2,000 shell, fry my radio or zap my truck’s wiring harness. One of my photography professors used to say that it was as important to know how to fix a mistake as it was to know how to do something in the first place. I think that’s true, but I also think it’s true that one should strive not to make mistakes in the first place. Before you start doing something like this, a few things to remember:

  • Make models, or at least test-fit everything before drilling any holes. I used double-sided tape to stick the antenna mount to the outside of the shell then opened the doors to verify that I wouldn’t interfere with door movement.
  • Put the radio where you think you want it, then adjust everything in the cabin. I forgot about the 2nd set of cup-holders in the dash that I rarely use and nearly mounted the radio too high for them to be opened.
  • Prop up the radio where you want it or have a friend hold it in place, then try to use the radio from a seated driver’s or passenger’s position. Put on your seat-belt, adjust the seat, then look at the display, twiddle the knobs, and otherwise play radio.
  • If you don’t have the factory service manual for your vehicle, buy/borrow it while deciding where to mount your radio or antenna. Even with the manual, I still needed to crawl up under the truck and verify that I had clearance for the thru bolts and that there were no wires attached to the transmission tunnel.
  • When you decide to drill a hole, think about what will go there when you take the bolt out of the hole. Will you be able to plug the hole? Tape over it? Weld/braze in a slug?

Final thoughts

As I was finishing the install, it occurred to me that I might some day buy an FT-857D that would easily fit in the dash. The holes for the mounting bracket that I carefully drilled thru slits in the carpet to keep the resale value high will be easy to close over simply because I want to move the radio mount. Because I used a common antenna mount with plenty of clearance I can easily replace the ATAS with a VHF tri-band or a single-band HF antenna.

Safety was one of the reasons I went so bolt-and-mount happy on this install. I put a lot of effort into this installation, far more than simply putting a mag-mount on the roof and leaving the transceiver laying on the transmission hump with loose wires running across the carpet. Loose equipment in the cabin can turn a minor panic stop into a minor injury accident or interfere with operation of the vehicle; a loose antenna can cause all sorts of problems for other drivers on the road.
[tags]amateur radio,hf mobile,tundra,yaesu[/tags]


Element 3? Piece of cake.

Filed under: Amateur Radio — jet @ 17:25

After reading the ARRL General book and spending a few days going over the question pool I screwed up my courage and took Element 3. I was so nervous when I went in that I filled out the FCC application incorrectly — definitely not a good way to start the exam. Went through and answered the questions I knew cold then counted them: 26, enough to squeak by. Answered the ones I’d skipped, turned in my exam and was really relieved to hear that I’d only gotten one wrong.

Now to set up an HF antenna and do some QRP on the low bands. Unfortunately for me the nearest ham store is in Cleveland, a 2.5 hour drive away, so it’s all mail order or Radio Shack until I can spare an entire weekend day. On the other hand, they do have a better selection of wine over that way, there’s a Trader Joe’s, and a few other things we don’t have here in Pittsburgh.

[tags]amateur radio,hf,qrp,Pittsburgh[/tags]

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