Thursday, August 20, 2015

FSQCALL for quick messages

In the September 2015 QST magazine, there is an article about FSQCALL. This is an interesting digital mode with some free software to send quick, short messages between other hams. It's meant to be more conversational than PSK - you type a sentence, hit enter, and away it goes. It has some selective calling features that let you address stations individually.

I loaded the software on my Windows 10 desktop, turned on my KX3, and was up and running on 30M with 5 watts in about 5 minutes. The software is pretty simple, especially after watching a couple of videos on YouTube first. I ran into Jim, W1PID, and also talked with Maine, and Texas.

For me, this is a great place to just hang out and see who's around. No expectation of making endless CQs on 14.070, or sharing signal reports on JT65.

The simplest application for FSQCall is that it provides a 'watering hole' for a group of friends who wish to keep in touch and chat occasionally. Experience has shown that leaving your equipment running on 7105 kHz during the day, and 3580 kHz at night, will provide fairly reliable communications over about a 500 - 1000 km range. Depending on propagation, 40m may well work day and night. Only modest power is required. You can leave a message for your friend if they aren't available, and even use one friend to relay a message to another. The software will tell you who is currently available.
I'm going to play with the message store/forward functionality next. If you didn't see the QST article, you can read more  from ZL1BPU. Or, take a look at this video:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Control of Your Transmitter?

Are you really in control of your transmitter? I visited another radio club last night. It was interesting to hear the discussion about two new repeater projects the club is working on, including swapping the RF and control decks out with Yaesu's Fusion offer. I could write a book on the pros and cons of the Fusion's post isn't about that.

What was interesting to me is that the club wasn't concerned that they wouldn't have remote control of their repeater transmitters the way that they do today. They are planning on running the repeaters in analog mode for output, and maybe dual mode for input. The comment that stuck with me is that they didn't see any need for the repeater controllers they have today. The ability to make remote changes to the configuration, or to be able to shut the system down (and turn it back on) were not of interest to any of the members.

I've only run repeaters for a couple of years now. It has been quite the adventure. During that time, I had a cheap controller go belly up in such a way that it held the transmitter keyed down. The transmitter would overheat, shut off, cool off, then key down. Rinse and repeat. Over and over. The controller wouldn't respond to any commands. It was a week before I could get to the site to replace the defective board. Since then, I've got a remote controlled power strip like we use in corporate data centers that allows me to power cycle equipment over the internet.

The thought of putting a repeater on the air without being in positive control is crazy. Sure, it's very unlikely that the FCC is going to find you and fine you. That's not the it good practice to throw a system on the air that you can't control? There are plenty of great solutions here that can be used. Put a second radio with a dtmf decoder on receive side of cans that controls the power. Use the internet and a $50 remote control power strip. Whatever solution you choose, please do something!

In this club's case, the repeater guys are all retired and have easy walk-in access to the sites. In my case, the three repeaters I work on all required coordinated access, can't be reached without taking man lifts or elevators, and two can only be accessed during my work day. Remote control - and positive control of the transmitters - is extremely important.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An update on boating

Ah, the difference a good motor makes. When we bought our old (1982) pontoon boat, we knew within a few weeks that the 1992 Evinrude outboard was going to be our nemesis. It didn't work right all the time. After three years of tinkering we got it running great. And then, the gears and clutch started messing up. It would go in forward, but would not go in reverse. Then we got it in reverse, but couldn't get it in forward.

Even with all of the other expenses we have, Regina and I decided that a new outboard was something we wanted to buy.

Watkins Marine in Pekin, IL gave us a great deal on a 150HP Mercury 4-stroke. Wow, it is a beast of a motor. It starts every time. It goes forward. It goes backwards.

Boating is fun. Boating is easy. Boating is enjoyable - all because of having the right motor!

Days of Summer

So many projects, so little time! I have to keep reminding myself that amateur radio is a hobby and not a profession. I've got three main projects in the hopper.

My experimentation with AREDN continues to be quite fun. I was able to join the beta team, and I got to flip roles from my day job in Information Technology. Instead of being the project manager, I was a dreaded software tester! The AREDN team put together a thorough set of test cases. Running these resulted in finding a number of bugs, some minor  and some pretty good ones. There are some really neat new features, the most exciting being the new ham only channels - frequencies that aren't shared with public or commercial users. I'm going to use the software on two $95 off-the-shelf commercial radios to create a 15km link to provide data to a homebrew D-STAR repeater. I really love using amateur radio to solve other amateur radio challenges! If successful, I'm planning on introducing AREDN to our area's emergency management leadership. Being a volunteer firefighter, I've already got an "in" to talk with that team. Bringing them a solution they don't already have, and one that is already working, will be interesting.

On HF, I've got a 160m antenna I need to get up. I keep hearing that I'm missing out by never going below 80m. My buddy Fred, KC9REG, gave me a 160m antenna that I still haven't gotten up. I need to get this done before winter!

Finally I need to get my Icom 2820 installed in a new-to-me truck. I haven't installed a radio in such a new vehicle before. There sure is a lot of plastic molding now! After reading numerous blogs and Ford truck forums, I've got a plan. Surprisingly I found that there is a simple way to get wires from the engine compartment into the cab. And there's just as easy of a way to get coax from the bed into the cab. We've got an upcoming boating vacation, and I'll want the radio for the trip. This is one of those must-do projects!

All in all a fun time for me and ham radio.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Latest on AREDN

The beta test period for the latest release of the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN) firmware is underway. The project released information on the beta that includes details on the new functionality. Some of the new items that are quite exciting include support for 3.4GHz where US hams have no commercial competition, the ability to use low-cost TP-Link hardware, and the ability to use ham-only channels in the 2.4GHz band. For as little as $100 you can have two mesh nodes running to play $50 a piece, you can have a neat little experiment in your neighborhood. If you're at all interested in data networking and digital communications, take a look at the AREDN project.